[first appeared in Unlikely Stories]
The next logical step huddles just beyond an arcing lamppost as crows devour the bread crumbs at its heel. Oncoming darkness marks the only plausible return. No one, not even God, can return the story to its sealed container. This makes him king of the looming forest only.
Once upon a time, or so it went, a grim tempo of events governed the day. Some memorabilist has the handshakes tucked away, the battlefield accounts, fitful surrenders, evocative scars. But a definitive retrospective resists all roped-off inquiries, leaving us to marvel at our grandfathers’ infinite capacity for belief.
As all parties have an interest in being purposefully recounted, historians help them to their alibis so a proper mosaic can trace the blackboard. Just as, out of a network of moonlit branches, man assembled the outline of gathering monsters. Fear is the foundation of belief, the wishful deliverance from darkness. Safe passage, another night survived, becomes the halting destination.
After a series of sharp, early disappointments, God never regained His footing. A few stubborn travelers still grope for Him, seeking the risen mount of the measured temple, the naturally-parted opening, the forest cleared of itself. This forest is a foil for the well-lighted tale. Like Silenus, its branches curl in laughter around the just-so upright pew.
Storytellers, our children-in-reverse, are the last to awaken to the treachery of their trade: fated lovers, ineradicable trends, all the requisite twists of a bedtime tale. Leave me to this shambles, and I will weave a cogent thread of sure-footed heroes. Homer knew a good tale held more air than water. That godforsaken clatter from the back-kitchen owes to a careless dish washer, not some intelligible bush managing a smokescreen or the din of noisy angels.
The best that can be said is the keenest minds offer glimpses of a method carved from a universe hellbent on shuttling out to where nothing previously sought comfort in a name. The greatest leaps forward once tipped like an even-matched prize fight on the banks of an ancient river. All defining moments consist of a sideways glance and a laming gone momentous. The forest must suffice for certainty with its horror of starless expanse. Small comfort indeed to the children whose woodsman father has no inkling of the peril he left them in each day. As the mighty slayer of trees kneels weeping on the handle of his evasions, the evil step-mother beguiles in the apparition of lost mother. She is a forest-spirit charged with usurping all clear-cut trails. He cannot clear the forest fast enough as each fallen tree reveals denser foliage.
No one living today can assemble the hero’s personal effects strewn about the page: an heir-loomed timepiece, the journeyed hull of a ship, a half-pried awards envelope, the tepid applause from a rigged machine. Who will anoint this sequence, rescue the toppled cymbal of events?
Father, what next?