The Forest and the Cove
                                                                                               
                                                                            Sarah McMahon
 
 
 
The electric tram came to a shuddering halt forcing all the passengers within to slide forward on the polished wooden seats. It appeared I was the only person disembarking at this stop and I hurried toward the end of the carriage, slid back the door and clattered down the steps and onto the 'platform'. In truth there was no such platform as the line simply ran through an area of hardened earth which lay before my destination. The tram, lurching back into life, disappeared from my view as it continued on its journey.
 
 
Gathering my senses, I breathed in, tasting the green tones of the dense wood that lay to either side of the tram track. Such a deep quiet had taken hold since the vehicle had trundled out of sight. I stepped into the cover of trees.
 
 
The path was old and well-worn but clearly had not seen human passage for some time. Foliage brushed my legs as I set forth and small paw prints and trails were evident winding their way across and along the path at intervals. The air was heavy, the heat of the day even penetrating beyond the crown of leaves as the sun pushed its rays down like thin sinuous fingers. Insects swirled a ballet around me in the heated moist air, sensing my presence and coming to examine this new visitor. I sighed deeply, contentedly, as the slow pace of the forest crept within me, taking me to be one of its own. I ventured on.
 
 
                                                                                                                                               The path dropped before me; old steps cut into the                                                                                                                                                        earth and set with random pieces of stone and gnarled                                                                                                                                                tree roots meant I had to tread more carefully, be more                                                                                                                                                focused. I feared not. The forest has accepted me I                                                                                                                                                        thought, it wishes me safe and happy passage. Any                                                                                                                                                       quickening of my pulse, prickle of perspiration down my                                                                                                                                               back, and sharp intake of breath forced from me was                                                                                                                                                     surely not from fear but exhilaration at the sheer beauty                                                                                                                                               I was held within? I felt almost dizzied by the feeling of                                                                                                                                                   connection to this ancient place, felt its wish for me to                                                                                                                                                   linger. 
 
 
                                                                                                                                                The first day was spent thus and I felt that I was an                                                                                                                                                         adventurer, an explorer of a lost place. Such was my                                                                                                                                                     flight of fancy that I did not notice the fall of dusk until                                                                                                                                                 the chill of the night curled around me. In the dusk I could still see the outline of trees as I wandered near the edge of the woods, and beyond them an open space, a field I presumed. A way out and back to the tram stop, I pondered. 
 
 
Heading through the undergrowth towards the trees I found that what had been a gentle breeze in the hazy daytime was becoming a driving wind at twilight. As I drew near to the final tree line the wind seemed to pull more intensely on their branches, intertwining tree with tree such that the forest edge was aligned against me, dense, unyielding in conspiratorial barricade. I could not pass.
 
 
"I will not fight this" I declared and the wind sighed in acceptance of my statement. I told myself to be brave, I'd been in tougher spots than this, but inside my heart hammered at being alone in the darkened wilds. 
 
 
I found a dry hollow in a large rock pile and huddle in to make my bed. A fitful first night claimed me as every creak, groan and snuffle caused a quaking within me. Through sleep-deprived eyes I watched the dawn rise through the upturned boughs around me – it seemed as if the trees were stretching up their arms to praise the sun god.
 
 
In the clear light of day I could now see the open land beyond the wooded boundary. I walked a little along the inner edge of the trees, which seemed bedded in dense brambles. What was that? Voices? Across the field I saw a couple walking the furthest perimeter. ""Hey! Hey!" I shouted and waved wildly. "Help!"
 
 
They waved back. 
 
 
They carried on their way. 
 
 
I collapsed onto my knees and beat my fists on the earth. Why could they not see that I needed to be rescued? I stood again to try once more but they were gone. 
 
 
I trudged back into the embrace of the forest.
 
 
In the following days life was blurred, with only the passing of the sun across the sky to give me focus. I foraged for my food eating whatever I could find. My clothes became ragged and thinned as they caught on branches and thorns. I discarded most of my layers to create a bed in my hollow, such that I quite indecently wandered my green prison in naught but my petticoat. My hair, which I had released from its pins and coils, was now wild as it fell in long waves down my back. 
 
 
I returned repeatedly by evening to my hollow, feeling it the safest place in the wild darkness. The nights brought their own soldiers with the dark-dwelling insects drawn to me by the warmth of my flesh. At each dawn I would discover a fresh set of round reddened lumps patterning my bare skin. Tiny bites causing thin rivers of blood to crisscross my body. I would bathe in the stream to wash away each fresh occurrence of these lesions but like fresh tattoos, new assaults would show their evidence each morning.
 
 
The incremental blood loss was weakening me such that my days were spent largely dozing, with only short bursts of energy as I attempted to orient my way around the glen I was caught within. 
 
 
One night I awoke to hear a growling, sniffling at my feet, then the pull of sharp teeth on my boots. The warm, moist, rotting leather must have smelt like a meat delicacy to those ravenous creatures as they ripped the decaying boots from my feet and disappeared into the undergrowth with an aural explosion of breaking branches, frantic clawing and scattered leaves.
 
 
Now barefoot, I discarded even my slip, sinking further into moral
decay; I became a wild thing of the woods. I left my hollow and
ventured deeper into the undergrowth. Following the stream, the
land began to fall. I could see through the trees distant glimpses of
a large expanse of water. The stream gushed through a series of
small waterfalls as the landform turned from glen to cove. 
 
 
Through the thinning trees the cove opened out before me, and
as I stepped forward warm sand cossetted my feet. I laughed and
skipped like a child past rock pools and banks of pebbles till I
reached the water's edge. I lay awhile allowing the briny waves to
wash around me. 
 
 
Wandering back up the beach I found a piece of driftwood, sturdy
enough to dig with. As my father had done for me as a child, I began
shaping a rowing boat into the soft sand. I dug out the bow,
fashioned a seat and the prow of the small craft. The hot sun and
my excursions sapped my energy and took my breath such that I
collapsed onto the sand and lay panting next to my boat for a few
minutes.
 
 
Regaining my breath a little I crawled into my boat, first sitting on the bench I had created, then hunkering down into the bow. I rested my head on the seat and raised my feet to the prow of my vessel. The intense sun beat down and I closed my eyes to better view it through a veil of red. Arching my tired feet, I spread my toes, taking in the sun's rays as the heat encapsulated me. Sweat crystallised on my bare skin.
 
 
I know not how long I lay there dreamily drifting in my father's boat of sand. I vaguely recalled the waves repeatedly blanketing me and the change from light to darkness as night crept into the cove. With each tidal cycle the sea took the crystallised grains of sweat and skin cells from me and carried them to places afar. Grain by grain I became lost to the sea, leaving no footprint, no sign of my journey through the woods, nor my exploits in the cove, as my boat and I were carried out into the oceans wide.
 
 
 

 

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