I cannot sleep, so I slide out of bed, and walk out the door. Out into a forest, pitch black. Everything is silent, no breeze, no rustling in the forest, no noises. You’d think all the animals had dropped dead. Maybe they have. I squint into the black, trying to catch a hint of movement. I listen for small sounds, the buzzing of an insect, or the unnatural late-night panicked chirping of some bird. Well, alright, it’s not that unnatural – I’ve lived near this forest all my life, and I know that the “birds go to sleep in their nests when its dark and start chirping in the morning” belief that most people seem to have is not true. Birds often break into a loud racket in the middle of the night. But it is always very shrill and panicked. Are they having nightmares? Collective nightmares? Or do they sense that something wicked this way comes? I’ll never know.
It’s crazy, walking out into a forest like this. In my part of the world, there are countless stories about beautiful young girls who go out in the night and fall prey to supernatural possession. It goes something like this: She went out into the dark, with her long perfumed hair open, trailing behind her. She stopped to rest beneath a tree.
Unwilling, unknowingly, she ended up seducing the djinn that lived in that tree. He possessed her, in love. He never let her be, never gave her a moment alone, and she, poor sick rose, caught in the corrosive embrace of the invisible worm, languished, until her parents decided that the only way to end this was to marry her off – that would cure everything.
On her wedding night, when her husband walked into the room, decorated with garlands of fresh roses, to consummate the marriage, the djinn revealed himself. The girl, who had hitherto been sitting demurely on the bed, her voluminous red wedding dress spread artfully about her, and her feet, decorated with henna, placed femininely close together, spoke in a man’s voice, a loud, unnatural, inhuman voice, threatening death to the groom if she was so much as touched.
I wish I knew how it ends, but I don’t. That’s where the stories usually stop, because the listeners are terrified. God, of all the things to be thinking of while walking through a forest at night! I have half a mind to turn back now, and the hair on my arms is rising. But I think I’m safe – for a number of reasons. Firstly, my hair is tied up, and covered. I am all covered up, from head to toe, because it’s freezing – all the trees are silvery, covered with a thin frost. Secondly, I am not particularly beautiful, at least not right now – I spent a lot of the early hours of tonight crying because I feel like I can’t understand a single damn thing, and my eyes are swollen and red. Lastly, I am not wearing perfume – I smell, very faintly, of oranges and cinnamon – I hope that doesn’t count as some sort of primitive beauty scent. Oh, and, I’m not stopping to rest anywhere, just moving, moving – even if it’s aimless and thoughtless, and sans direction, at least I am moving.
I don’t know what I’m doing here. I have no idea. I have no desire to stick to one coherent train of thought while narrating, or to develop just one story line. I don’t want to develop anything fully right now. I’m restless and distracted, I usually have zero ability to focus, and right now, it’s minus zero. Nobody knows how it comes and goes in my head, but I do, and I’m just going to let it come and go, as it pleases. Probably because I have no control over it. My mind does what it wants.
The trail through the forest is hard to follow, but not impossible. Is there a wolf behind a tree, waiting to gobble me up? Is there a house made of gingerbread somewhere around here?
I am young and naive, please, I beg only a place where I may spend the night, and be safe. You want to me sleep in this cauldron over your fireplace? Very well, I accept. No, I don’t know what I’m doing here, my parents brought me here, and disappeared. I don’t know, I don’t know. I just need some sleep. And a sip of water.
The trail is winding deeper and deeper into the forest. I don’t know what I’ll find. I wish something would break this silence. Buzzing, chirping, barking, howling, anything. But nothing does. Something is glimmering in the distance. I start running towards it. It’s a pond, with faint ripples of moonlight playing on its glassy surface.
I kneel down, at its edge, and try to look beneath the surface – the water is black, impenetrable. I dip my hand in, and it begins to prickle and burn, unpleasantly. There is something in this water that kills. It’s evil, it’s sin. I try to ignore it and probe deeper, with my fingers – the tips brush against something. Nearly falling into the water, I lean down further and further, until I can grasp it, and then I pull it out.
It’s an angelfish. A large, fleshy angelfish. Tender, limp, dead. I hold it in one hand, and with the other hand I stroke it gently. The fish isn’t scaly – it’s covered with something like velvet. Brilliant blue and green striped, wet velvet to the touch. I drop it back into the water, and somewhere on the outskirts of the forest, jackals begin to howl. I’m trapped in.
* [I do not own any of the pictures used in this post]