All Of It
You should have listened.
If you had, you – that is to say, you and your father – you would have kept out of the forest.
He tried. Your father did, I mean.
He used to go there when he was a child – to the forest – on the first of every year, with his own father. And together they would walk to the outermost tree, stopping just before their toes touched its shadow. And your grandfather would bend down next to his son, and he would whisper, For just this one year, swear to me you won’t go on. You can promise me a single year, can’t you? A year is not so much time, is it? And your father would listen to his father’s voice with goose bumps on his skin, and he would look up into the black leaves and watch as they leapt like flames on wicks of wood, and he would say, No, a year is not so long. I will not go into the forest. I promise you.
Time went on, pooling into years, fermenting into decades, until your grandfather grew old and the black bled out of his hair, and his son had a son of his own. You. And you grew, too. You grew and you waited and you watched as your father and his father walked away to the edge of the forest on the first of every year, leaving you behind. And he – that is to say, your father – he promised his own father that he would not go on.
But you did not promise, did you? You, the son of the son. You did not go to the edge of the forest on the first of the year. You did not stare up at the black leaves as they danced, and taunted, and laughed with the sound of the wind. You did not do any of it. You wanted to, didn’t you? Every year you hoped, but every year there was no place for you.
That is how long you waited – one year, I mean – to kill your grandfather. One year to the day after the thirteenth unpromised promise planted the seed in the darkness behind your eyes. You rose early, and you stole a fallen branch from the forest, and you plunged that branch into his heart, because you had to, didn’t you? And when he toppled, he toppled backward so that the black branch grew up from his chest like a tree, so that its leaves swayed with the echo of his final fall like waving goodbye or maybe waving hello.
And when your father saw his father fading out of this life, saw his blood pooling and fermenting like time, he dropped down next to him and whispered, For just this one year, swear you won’t leave me. You can promise me a single year, can’t you? A year is not so long, is it? But your grandfather did not answer. Because he had already gone.
And so your father did the only thing he could. He walked to the edge of the forest and placed his toes just before the shadow of the outermost tree, and you went with him, didn’t you – a father and his son – and you smiled, because you had made a place for yourself.
You looked up at the black leaves and you leaned toward your father and you said, You’ve kept your promises. And your father said, Yes. And you said, There are no more promises to keep and so you – that is to say, you and he – you went on, into the cool shadows; into the heart of the forest.
And you walked and walked and time went on, dripping down the black trunks of the black trees, sticking to them, distorting the wood until they weren’t trees anymore. They were books, weren’t they? Huge stacks of books, with cracked black leather spines that creaked like things breaking in the wind. And still you walked. And your father was frightened and you were frightened and you were both together but you were both alone.
You walked to the very end of the forest of books, your father and his son, until there were no books left to walk through. Until there was nothing at all. Just white. And you watched as stray book pages fluttered around black books and white nothing, back and forth, and you felt goose bumps on your skin, and your hands shook. Didn’t they? They shook like the leaves in the wind and the leaves in your grandfather, stained with his blood and with your blood and with your father’s blood, too. You gripped them tight – your hands – and you stood very still, and you promised, finally, not to go on. But your father shook his head like your shaking hands, because it was too late to promise. He turned away from you, turned to the books and the paper and the whiteness at the end of everything, and he watched the seam where the world fell into place, or maybe where it fell apart.
And it blew again, one final time – the wind, I mean. It stirred the leaves and the pages and the wood and the leather and the nothing and your hair and your clothes and the promises that you didn’t promise. And it was my laugh. The sound of it, I mean.
All of it, I mean.
All of it. Mine.
Because I am the forest. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
Jake Rosati lives and works in New York City. He is a content strategist and audience development manager for a rapidly growing publisher and is currently at work on his first novel. Jake is inspired by the writing of authors such as Jonas Karlsson, Sjón and Daniel O’Malley to create speculative fiction that examines our world through the lens of another.