The Forest

by Aaron Burch

They’d been walking through the forest for weeks. Months. Or maybe it just felt that way. Nearly every tree looked like one they’d seen before—earlier that morning, the week before—but then the next would look wholly unfamiliar. This continued, repeated. Finally: a clearing, a row of stumps looking like seats. A stack of pamphlets. Inside, on the left:

Man ……………… Himself

and recto:

Other Man ………. Himself

The back looked blank at first and then both noticed, near enough to be simultaneous, centered at the bottom and in a small font almost the color of the pamphlet itself: thank you. Each took a seat. Time passed, neither having any idea how much. Neither could remember having to sleep in the forest, nor having to eat, though neither could they remember the last time they were anywhere else.

Two more men appear from nowhere, from behind a tree, from somewhere deep in the forest. Each of the two original men immediately recognizes one of the new men as himself, though there are no recognizable similarities. Man and Other man walk around, look lost, soundlessly talk to one another. More walking around. More time passes. They—they, the two original men; they, Man and Other Man—wonder after some kind of reveal. How long they’ve been wandering, the way out, any kind of purpose. What might happen next. It all grows a little confusing.

Two more men will wander into the clearing. The four original men will be seated, watching. More pamphlets appear. Sometimes one man will pull a knife, hidden in his book, and stab the other. Sometimes the reverse. Always, time will pass and both men—the killer and the resurrected—will find their way into seats. Other times, the two will wander their way out of the clearing. And always, too, more time will pass, two more men appear, the two escapees watch from the growing collection of viewers. More time will pass. More men will appear from nowhere. Time passes. They take their seats. More time passes.

Aaron Burch is the author of How to Predict the Weather and How to Take Yourself Apart, How to make Yourself Anew, which won PANK’s inaugural chapbook contest. He’s had stories in Unsaid, New York Tyrant, Barrelhouse, and Quick Fiction, and he edits HOBART: another literary journal.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, forest originates as such: “medieval Latin forest-em (silvam) the ‘outside’ wood (i.e. that lying outside the walls of the park, not fenced in).” What, if anything does it have to with “The Forest”? Hm. This is making me think about the story more explicitly and deeper than I did while writing it, and probably more than I’d ever intended to. What I had in mind while writing the piece was for it to hopefully work with a kind of dream logic. I guess what happened, in relation to that logic and the definition origin, is “The Forest” kind of reverses things, in that the stage of the story becomes fenced or locked in, as opposed to it being “not fenced in.” The conflict, if there is to be any, is the characters wanting to escape, to get “outside the walls of the park,” but I guess one (or, at least the OED) could argue they already are.

This entry was posted in Burch, Aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.