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Saturday, March 5, 2011

The brooding forest

    The old castle sits on the edge of a hill overlooking a forest that seems to stretch from one horizon to the other. The hill itself is in the midst of trees and it is the only thing besides the path which leads to the distant town on the edge of a cove which breaks the monotony of the dense green forest. A stream which emerges from the forest runs across its edge and finally into the distant horizon. A long forgotten farm field runs parallel to the stream facing the forest.

    The castle itself is many centuries old yet others say that it’s old as time itself. It was passed from one generation to the next without fail even through the hard times and no one really knew who actually built it. It’s been whispered in hushed tones that the original owners fled the northern puritanical states to escape the witchcraft trials and settled here to start afresh.

    The castle always had a dark forbidding look and no one ever came to these parts. The people who were brave enough went back blabbering strange tales of creatures that should not have existed and the odd footprints found near the edge of the forest, the stream and around the hill. These people slowly retreated to the edge of the town forever banished and labeled as madmen. This old crumbling building always magnified my fears and made the stories I heard about them in the taverns more vivid. The dark pools of shadows appearing in the oddest of places seemed to slither and move. I always used to hurriedly run past them before something crawled out and dragged me back inside.

    On dark moonless nights, sometimes I used to hear the all too familiar growl of a wild cat on a hunt. At other times, something used to come all the way to the door, bang on it hard before letting out a howl and retreating once more into the darkness. Sometimes I used to hear a scratching at the window even though there was no tree nearby nor any way for a person to reach so high. Time moved on and I slowly got used to these disturbances. Yet, there was one incident which I have not yet forgotten even though many long years have passed by.

    I had gone to some event which I simply cannot remember now. Time flew by and the day soon turned into night. I was so caught up in having fun that I was one of the last few to leave. As I left the building, I looked up and saw that the wind was picking up, and the sky clouding up. It seemed like rain was imminent and I wanted to reach the safety of my home instead of being stranded on some lonesome highway in the dead of night.

    During my journey back home, the sky cleared up a bit and looking up I saw a full moon emerge from behind the clouds. The pale dirty yellow moon hanging from the sky seemed to glare at me like it wanted vengeance for some crime I had committed. It started to make me feel uneasy whenever I saw it emerge from behind the clouds as it seemed to follow me around and started to glare at me as if giving me some dark curse. Rounding a bend, the car suddenly sputtered and died on me. Turning the ignition key didn’t help and the unexpected car problem in some back road surrounded by a farm field added to my woes.

    Looking down the stretch of road, all I see is a lonely stretch of land where nothing could be seen for miles upon miles. I’ve been through this area many a times yet something was different. I could feel it in my bones, but I could not put my finger on it. I felt like a leaf caught in the gently flowing river called time which gets swept along vainly struggling to find it own path as it gets swept along at ever increasing rate until all control is lost.

    A breeze rustles the tree branches and gently ruffles through my hair as if it wants to say something. Off in the distance, I hear the sound of a man barking orders to someone. Looking towards the source of the sounds, the trees slowly disappears and a lush farm field appears in its place. I see a horseman in middle of a farm field where numerous people are working. I stand there hypnotized as one scene after another unfolded before me. The field was plowed and the plants sowed. The field was flooded with water and weeding was carried out. The plants grew bigger and soon it was harvest time.

    A great crowd led by a man on a horseback gathered in the field for the harvest. The harvest had started, yet the horseman with the help of hired army was having difficulty in controlling the human herd. Off in the corner, I could see a few people who huddled in the corner whispering amongst themselves. There were occasional shouts, a few angry words and the worked up men were seated down once more when told to hush up. Heading closer to the field, I glanced ahead wondering what was in store for me and the events that led me to this place were indeed a dream or was it real.

    A few drums were heard and the sound reverberated back and forth. My eyes scanned the deep dark forest, ran through the barren plains and back to the road from where I had come from yet the disembodied drum sound seemed to have no source. My eyes wandered back to the image ahead wondering what it all meant and what kind of danger it implied. The drums which seemed to pound continuously for some time suddenly went quite. Every one froze in their feet’s and looked up and realized that the pounding of the drums had stopped.

    An arrow flew out from the dense forest cover and thumped on the horseman’s head. I whirled around to face the forest yet nothing could be seen except the dense leave cover and my eyes wandered back to the arrow. Everyone froze in their tracks as a one of the guards pulled the feathered arrow out and a few of them ran into the forest to chase the one which sent the group a warning. A few leaves rustled as the figure which seemed to have been watching them melted back into the forest from where it had emerged. A loon cry was heard and the leaves rustled on their own it seemed. The sound of a broken twig and the stray foot print left on moist river bed were the only signs of someone running away from them. A few moments later, the sounds of yelling men could be heard from the forest and it soon turned into shrieks.

    The forest became silent once more. Something came over the men in the field as they started to overpower the guards whom went down one by one. The clothes that the bonded labors wore now seemed alien and peeled off in the same manner a snake sheds it skin. They merged back with the past once more and drove away the demons that had haunted them all their lives. They gathered whatever they could lay their hands on and merged back into the forest as silently as the whispering winds. A river of blood flowed through the lands for many days. The town as well as the castle burned till nothing was left except for ashes and the few remaining survivors fled to other safe harbors.

    Many moons passed by and in the dimly lit taverns, the customers many of whom huddled in the corners and nursed their beers furtively whispered amongst themselves the tale of the town that used to border the edge of the hill and extended many miles into the forest. It was an ever losing battle with the forest as many people simply disappeared when clearing the area of trees around the hill or the forest simply reclaimed the town over a period of time until the hill remained as the only open space. Seeing the dying town, it was finally decided to shift it to the outskirts and start afresh. Time moved on and a new one slowly came up. Things seemed too quieted down a bit for many years until one stormy night many long years back, the hard taskmaster was dragged off his horse, ruthlessly dismembered by the unseen forest dwellers who disappeared into the forest yet the body was never found