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Sunday, May 15, 2011

People of the woods

Category: Short Story

This is a story I started a long time a go, but never got far.  This is chapter 1.  I’d like not to say much more about it and leave it open to interpretation.  Please comment on the feel and where you think it may all be heading.

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The winter mornings in the forest were cold, wet and misty.  It was still mostly dark when a slight drizzle turned the soil into muddy, black peat.  The birds were hiding from the rain and it was generally quiet and lifeless.  A few young children with baskets were scavenging among the trees for a delicacy – butter mushrooms.  Their animal skin coats were reasonably effective against the rain, but their bare feet were dirty with black soil. 
A girl threw off her hood and put her finger to her mouth.  “Shhh, keep quiet, you’ll wake the others.  Pick them by the stems so that the top doesn’t break off.  And don’t pick the small ones.”  Her dark hair was wet and in a mess.  She pulled her hood back over her head.  The boy answered with a nod and a whisper.  “Okay…  Thanks for taking us with, Koda.”  Koda threw off her hood again, this time preventing the boy’s younger sister from putting a mushroom in her basket.  “Careful with that, you can’t eat that one, it’s got yellow spots.  You should wash your hands, otherwise you might get sick.”  The girl answered with a nod and held out her hands in the rain.  The boy looked at Koda pulling her hood back over her head and spoke in more than a whisper.  “Why do you throw off your hood all the time?”  Koda again threw off her hood, with her finger to her mouth.  “Shhh, don’t make so much noise.”  She regained herself.  “This coat is too big for me, every time I look up, the hood falls over my eyes.”  She demonstrated by pulling the hood way over her head so that only a sarcastic smile was visible.  The boy released a short chuckle, more at the silly smile than the concealing hood.  Koda was always the first to pick mushrooms when the rainy season started and did not mind the cold and wet weather.  “My father said we may only go if we go with you.  Because you are older and because you know the forest,” explained the boy.  “What is it like not to have parents?” interrupted the boy’s sister.  Koda, who was sitting hunched with a handful of mushrooms, looked up and tilted her head in thought.  “I do have parents,” she said just before her hood fell over her eyes.  She lifted it with her one hand.  “I just don’t live with them.  I’ll let you meet them sometime if you want.”  “What is it like not to live with your parents?” interrupted the little girl again.  Koda tilted her head even more with thought.  “I’m not sure.  It’s nice, I suppose.  I would die if someone kept me from picking mushrooms in the morning.  It is just the way we live in the forest.  I think it is weird to have parents looking after you.”  Koda suddenly realized that her own tone has become too loud and continued in a whisper.  “Why don’t you move out from your father?”  The boy and his sister both looked at Koda with shock in their eyes.  “We can’t move out.  Father will never allow it!” objected the boy.  “Besides, we don’t know how to live on our own in the forest.”  “I think you’re scared,” teased Koda and pushed him backward so that he fell into the dirt.  The boy jumped up and tried to shake the mud off his coat.  “Oh no, father is going to be cross if I return with dirty clothes.”  Koda broke a chuckle and then reassured the boy.  “Don’t worry, nothing stays dirty in this weather.  Anyway, your father doesn’t own you; you are free to make your own choices.”  The boy was not comfortable with the idea, but his sister had a sparkle in her eyes.
The rain retreated to a drip and the children started to walk back.  Koda was telling the other children tales from her past, as close to the truth as she could remember them.  When they came to a slight clearing, she grew silent and stopped.  In the clearing was a chopped down tree, lying on its side.  Two men were sitting on it.  One had different kinds of plants scattered around his feet and was mashing some in a clay pot.  The other was explaining something to him about his new invention.  Koda’s face became serious.  She put her hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Wait here,” she said in a flat voice and walked toward the two men.  When Theo, who was waving his hands and indicating some proportion, saw Koda, he cut his sentence short and lowered his hands to his lap.  The man with the pot looked up and greeted her with an almost formal voice.  “Koda.”  She looked back with respectful eyes, but ignored the now silent companion.  “Good morning Quon.  I have brought butter mushrooms from my first harvest this season.”  From her basket she pulled a bag hand-woven from a kind of thin bamboo.  Quon put down the pot and Koda handed him the bag.  “Thank you, I appreciate it.”  As he put down the bag next to him, Koda turned around and walked back toward the boy and his sister.
“Who is that man you just spoke with?” the boy wanted to know.  “Is he your father?” guessed the girl.  After a few moments of thought, Koda answered.  “He is my teacher.”  The boy was puzzled.  “Teacher?  Here in the woods?”  Koda recollected her usual self.  “Sure!  Everyone has a valuable lesson to teach.”  The children disappeared into the forest.
“She has matured a lot, little Koda,” remarked Theo.  “Yes,” replied Quon, in an almost sad voice.  “And you have taught her much?” continued Theo.  “She has learned more than I have taught her,” said Quon.  “I see.”  A few moments went past.  “I will send her out soon,” said Quon.  Theo pondered the thought.  “Do you think she will understand what she will see?” asked Theo.  “I hope so,” said Quon.  “And what if her understanding is different from ours?” Theo wanted to know.  “Then hers might be right and she might become our teacher.  She is still young and her mind free,” said Quon.  Quon broke off a few leaves from a branch by his feet and added them to his pot.  “Don’t joke.  You have knowledge of ages.  Even a clever, free mind cannot gain perfect understanding without such knowledge.”  “Yes.  It seems so,” said Quon.  Another few moments went past.  “Did you go to see them yesterday?  The little ones?” asked Theo.  “I have,” replied Quon.  “You are disturbed because of their news?” asked Theo.  Quon paused for a moment before answering.  “There is a new power in the woods that needs to be calmed.”  “A disturbing power?” asked Theo.  “Yes.  A wild, disturbing power.”

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