A Forest Green
After my girlfriend left
a better prospect I was shattered. A week of drinking came and went and in my
hangover I decided I needed to make a change. Get away from it all. Stop seeing
reminders everywhere I went and come back swinging. Everyone has a different
way of doing this but for me It would be a trip.
I had more than enough vacation
days. Since we started fighting, I buried myself in my work, racking up a
savings and benefit hours. I took tech support calls while chained to a
cubicle. One among an anthill of us, a hairs breadth away from killing
ourselves in the parking lot outside. “Living the dream,” was the acceptable
answer to “How are you?” A phrase parroted by us all. It was codeword for
“Please take me outside and shoot me, we can make it look like an accident, I
swear.” Anyone who’s worked beneath those bleak fluorescent lights knows
exactly what I mean. In lieu of my circumstances and even the break up,
I was almost giddy filling
the forms. “Two weeks in a row? Are you sure you want to cash all that out at
once?” The general manager eyed my papers, looking for any excuse to reject it.
With a cacophony of voices
ringing phones behind me like the screams of the damned I plead my case.
“Cashing it out now means I’ll be here for the product launch and holidays.” My
mind was racing for something, anything else to say. “Besides , the break
should help me get my numbers back up.”
My boss with a solemn nod
continued over my papers. He knew as well as I did my numbers had tanked since
the breakup and the rumor mill was abuzz with why.
Everything from catching
cheating to shooting heroin in the bathroom.
Finally, he gave a shrug
me farewell. “Finish the week strong. When you come back I expect you at peak
I thanked him for the approval
and went back to my desk floating. The next week I spent planning and packing
for a week in the Humboldt Forest.
Finally, with a hopeful
made the trip. The drive from Boise to Arcata, California was a full day within
itself. A trip full of Lye pits and sand in the wasteland of Oregon desert.
Thirteen hours of Beef jerky and chips till I crossed the California border
with another 8 after. It wasn’t until sunup the next day that I reached my
destination. It was then, as the sun rose on the ocean front, I knew it was
worth every second. A sea of orange and yellow crested the Lost coast. Sands
lined with tall grass and every shade of green. A fog primordial covered
everything like a veil on something holy. It was as though the rainforest of
Arcata was conquering the very waters it had bordered. The deepest green I’d ever
seen lay in that constant fog in an air that felt ancient and wondrous to venture.
Redwoods larger than buildings. Many were older than mankind, there on the
horizon in rolling hills. It made you believe in magic, if only for a day.
Regaining my composure,
into town. The town in that fog felt eerie to step inside. It’s funny, you
would have expected Arcata to be a haunted cove. A dreary place with a
Lovecraftian cult of Dagon its population, and yet it was quite the opposite.
Dozens of houses with walls of every color lined the streets.
Bars, boutiques and bodegas
surrounded a town center full of every walk of life. Travelers, hobos, street
performers and more. All of them sat in the cool air with laughter and song in
a world where time stood still, for no one had anywhere to be. It was a decade
since I sat among them last, yet even now I felt at home.
I went into a dive bar and
dropped a ten on drinks. I cashed out my vacation hours to be here and I
intended to make the best of it. After a couple pints of Great White I wandered
around town. The beer helped me relax and soon I was making conversation with
the locals. An Old Traveler by the name of Trashcan and I became fast friends.
He had stories and a reputation in town and I had cigarettes with an ear to
listen. He smoked off an old glass pipe in a swirl of colors. I politely
declined to which he shrugged, cross-legged on the park bench.
“So, what brings you
to town if
you don’t smoke?”
Humboldt County was the
of the marijuana export known as the emerald triangle. Arcata was the center of
that. Me not smoking must have raised an eye.
I knew good and well however
Idaho labor would be testing me the second I stepped back home. I pulled out a
Pall Mall and smoked that instead.
parroted with a
look of suspicion. “You crashing on the beach for a spell, finding a hippie
chick or two?”
I breathed the smoke into
nonchalant. “Actually I'm going to Neverland.”
The hobos face went cold
eyes narrowed. “How do you know about that?”
His response surprised me.
was a secret spot for sure yet by no means was it considered hostile. I tried to
bring back the jovial air we had before with a laugh. “I was a street kid
before I found work in Idaho. It’s not like the place is haunted.”
Trashcan did not find me
Not at all. “You don’t want to go there.” He put away his pipe, stuffing the
smokes I gave him into his beanie. “Not anymore.”
“No disrespect, but
is a long ways to drive, any reason why?”
He ignored the question,
up and grabbed his bag. “Town’s a great place to be. You got money. Get a
hotel. Hit the bars. Get yourself a girl and stay here.
But stay out of the Forest,
especially there. He don’t want no one there at all.”
I was about to ask who but
turned his back and left, wandering into the crowd alone. A face like someone
walked across his grave.
Despite his misgivings,
not about to be sent home by a stranger. Probably wanted the spot for himself
for all I knew. I might not be the traveling type anymore, but provided I
respected the place I had as much right to be there as any. The rest of the day
I walked around and hit the bars until finally I did get a cheap motel. It was
a long drive and I needed the rest before the hike.
The next morning was coffee
muffins. Soon after I hit the Safeway and got some food for my pack. Cliff
bars, jerky, Gatorade and the like. Walking through the aisles sent me back. It
was just a few years ago a kid with blonde dreads was filling a drug rug hoodie
with whatever he could steal. I didn’t miss my hair rotting in the rain, yet I
certainly missed the freedom.
It was by noon I began the
Behind the College there were hiking trails mixed with the campus grounds.
Vacationers would wander the woods taking in the sights, yet the further you
went in the less company you’d find. After a mile the forest even ate the trail.
The Arcata Redwoods is one
the few rainforests in America. A world primordial with ferns and leaves
glowing crimson in the sun. Husks of giant trees you could climb like an ant
over branches. Birds calling and everywhere teeming with life. It had a way of
making you feel so small with troubles far away.
Living in these woods before
knew the way well enough. Any time I got lost I’d find a landmark and regain my
footing. A rope bridge over a ravine. A dead hollowed-out tree with a seat
carved in the bark. Even there, man had left their mark, if you only knew where
Sitting in a patch of moss
caught my breath. I grabbed some food, chewing thoughtfully, considering my
progress. If I remembered right, it was only a couple more miles. My boots were
muddy and my back was sore. The office life had taken its toll, and I was by no
means used to all this hiking. Still, I kept in high spirits, realizing in the
midst of fog and trees I was actually happy.
It was then I looked around
something caught my eye. One of the trees I thought had carvings in it. On
further inspection I learned that I was right. A series of hieroglyphs carved
into the bark of a lone redwood. Defacing one of these ancient trees while
alive is considered an act akin to sacrilege. However, this graffiti was
different. No Heart with a lover’s name, obscenity or “was here.” Instead, it
was a series of hieroglyphs. Three diagonal lines slashed in a quick succession.
It was followed by a circle. Finally, there was another circle with two arrows
carved pointing back where I came. If memory served the message was clear. This
is not a safe place. There is nothing to be gained. Hit the road.
I would have turned around
then and there if not for my memories before. As I said, I was not a stranger
to these woods. Once there was a gang of us. Lost boys high and drunk, swinging
from the trees like we were born for it. Now it was only me. What friends left
who didn’t overdose or die in violence were screwing each other over for another
hit of meth. Even still. I would not be turned away. For years I wandered and
earned the right to be here.
I would be lying if I said
was no fear in my heart. The smallest voice that said to listen. I stuffed it
down, of course. Far too stubborn to pay it any mind. I strapped my bag to my
back and soldiered on.
It was only another hour.
found the ravine cutting through and broke from the tiny path I’d tracked. The
water shimmered in the setting sun but anyone from around here would tell you
it wasn’t safe to drink. It was something about the flora. Its roots bled deep
in the water and while it tasted sweet, they said it drove you mad. Still the
little dribble marked the way just as it did before. The author of that message
was, of course aware of this, having put his sign so close. A mile up that
ravine and I’d arrived.
Through a clearing in the
deep was a weave of rope and wood. Ladders tied from branches high. Lines for
tent and hammock alike wrapped around the tree trunks. There was even the
remains of the swing we made from a skateboard. That board had shattered,
splintered throughout the camp. Even then it was just as I remembered. Never-never
I lay down my pack, reminiscing
on days when I had not a care in the world. Dancing around a fire, my brothers
and I. In that moment we thought we’d live forever. Or maybe we didn’t think on
life at all. Perhaps it was all the better.
Sitting there with a bottle
rum, I thought of my old friends. One died from an overdose, hiding from an angry
father. Another wandered on his own to where his family stayed. Another still
was raising a son he knew wasn’t his. Infidelity swept under the rug like so
many times before. The last now walked the world alone, having burned every
bridge from everyone he ever loved. Lampwick blind to anything except his
immediate gain and the shatter in his pipe. And then there was me. The loser
kid with a big mouth and bigger dreams. Threw them down the drain for a desk
job whittling away my years in quiet desperation. Still madly in love with a
woman who even then had one eye and foot always out the door. Sitting there
alone and drinking, I felt the biggest fool of all.
And that was when it hit
wood, especially this one was always abuzz with life. A cacophony of birds, the
creak of giant branches in the wind, stories above. The ravine abuzz with the
path it travelled. Now there wasn't a sound.
Not hardly a sound
noise at all. No birds, no rustle of wind through the leaves. Nothing.
My own breath resounded
chest as I could hear my heart beat inside my ears amidst the silence. The
worms of fight or flight slithering in my guts as I listened for something,
anything proving I was sane.
While my ears gave cause
alarm my eyes had followed suit. The shanty town my friends and I built years
ago formed a circle with a flat within its center. Lighting fires was an
invitation for getting robbed. Men from all walks of life roamed these woods
and not all were friendly. Even so we’d sit around the center, share our food
with stories of what fun we’d have tomorrow. Even if we did light a fire, it
would have been years ago. No reason for the center of a rainforest to have a
patch of nothing in its core. Dirt as dead as coffin nails, surrounded by a
ring of fungal spores. A faerie circle. Every nerve in my body screamed to
leave, yet looking up at the sky I found that the sun had one finger left on
the horizon. If these woods were dangerous before, then nightfall would be all
the worse. With a heavy heart and trembling hands I opened my bag and began
At midnight there was rustling
among the leaves. The silence broke. The wind wailed in the night air with the
hoot and howl of all manner of wildlife, calling for blood and judgement. It
was then past in the tree-line a silhouette took shape in the dark. A form of
man yet twisted with branch and leaves splintered and creaked with every
footstep. It glided among the trees, surrounding the camp in swooping circles,
a cat toying with its prey. A pair of glittering orange eyes glared down at a
yellow tent. The creature hung above this affront, eyes blaring all the
brighter. Its very presence screamed without a word. “How dare you enter these
hallowed grounds. How dare you defile it with your presence.”
Finally, it made its move.
dove into the tent with its claws slashing, again and again. The animals roared
in approval as the Man of the green slashed, slaughtering my campsite, tent and
It was with every ounce
and answered prayer that I had lived to witness this. Curled in a ball cowering
beneath the roots. Laying my decoy, I escaped beneath the ancient trees to
hide. A rat inside its little burrow. Through the smallest hole I left for air
I watched the attempt on my life. Thankful it was only my belongings it
destroyed. The Green man thrashed and tore. Breaking every piece of plastic.
Scattering any metal, leaving only the fiber cords which trees claimed as their
own. Devoured by the undergrowth and vines like grasping hands, rotted to a mulch
thought I had escaped it.
Trembling there afraid, my hope against hope that I outsmarted nature’s avatar.
And yet as dawn broke, and I crawled forth from my hole, I learned I could not
have been farther from the truth. Looking there upon the tree in which I hid
were the words written in moss-GET OUT