A surreal tale of an isolated village, the spirits of the forest, betrayal and revenge.
Melancholy of the Forest now available as a free ebook!
Translated by Hamish Smith
Far, far away from the hustle and the bustle of the city, in a valley deep in the mountains, where it becomes difficult to tell the road from the wilderness, there lies a small village. It’s so far removed from civilization that the people of the village would sometimes go years at a time without speaking to an outsider. I was abandoned by that village.
Who was the fool? My mother? My father?
Some outsiders had arrived in the village for the first time in many a year. They sold works of art unlike anything even the oldest members of the village had ever seen. But they hadn’t purposely travelled to the village. A long period of rain had caused a cliff to collapse and block the road, which in turn forced them off the trail more and more until eventually they found themselves at the village with no where else to go. They brought things from far away lands, merry stories rousing torrents of laughter, gorgeous dancing girls and a man who played the harp. That man was my father.
He stole a young woman’s heart with a single glance. That young woman was my mother, a woman who knew nothing more than working the fields and knitting hemp. The travellers only stayed for a few days while the weather cleared up, but that was enough time to create me. My mother couldn’t keep me a secret. Everyone in the village knew each other and everything that was said at home, even within your own family, would be overheard by someone.
They knew right away that my father wasn’t in the village any more. They thought that you could leave a single child to raise itself. Everyone in the village, even the one who gave birth, was afraid of the blood of an outsider being mixed with that of their own. They wouldn’t stand for the bloodline of drifter living on in the village. They pretended like I had never happened.
It all started one clear summer’s night when they threw their baby, me, from the crumbled cliff. The glimmering stars high above looked like the spirit of the baby, as if I had already risen to the heavens. How could a baby, who couldn’t yet see, understand what was happening? I, the one they threw from the cliff, was embraced by the forest. The spirits of the forest showed little compassion, despised boredom and were had grown tired of the village, so they had been very interested in the boisterous visitors who had shown up little over a year ago.
The spirits of the forest expected me to be like those travellers. To give them the beauty and the wonder and the laughter that they had brought with them. That’s why the spirits of the forest, whom couldn’t be seen, saved me and raised me. However they raised me much differently than a human would have. They fed me strange fruits, put me down on a bed of moss and first taught me the words of the wind. Eventually I had grown, was smiling brightly and dancing to music. They had raised me into a wonderful looking young lady.
Though just because I looked wonderful didn’t mean that I was, in the depths of my soul, a wonderful person. A part of me had been twisted, having been raised without human sensitivity. I was missing emotion and my soul had turned black. The spirits of the forest were very pleased with the way I had turned out. They loved me, especially my twisted soul. What the spirits of the forest wanted was something to ease the boredom, and a girl who no longer had the heart of a human filled that role perfectly.
Nineteen years. Just short of twenty. I was older than my mother was when she met my father, but not as old as my father when he had met my mother. Nothing changed in the village over the months and years, and all had forgotten about the abandoned baby.
The village hadn’t changed, but the those who made up the village had. The village elders, the ones who had taken in the travelling entertainers, had died and new babies had been born. A woman of child-bearing age had become the wife of a man in the village and had soon given birth. As a matter of course this young woman had married a man from the village, but it was as if she was nothing. Or perhaps more to the point, for people of the village, she was never there.
The pair had seven children, and of those, four died. Only the first born, the third born and the sixth born lived on. Truth be told, the first born would laugh every time the number of his brethren grew less. His eyes sparkled amber, which the spirits of the forest so loved. The only thing that those brothers and sisters in that closed and tiresome village had in common was their smiling faces.
The daughters looked like their father. The sons looked like their mother. That was the thinking of the human world. I guess that would mean I look a lot like my father. I wonder if I inherited my laugh from him as well. My little brother’s laugh would sound like my mother’s.
The spirits of the forest never really forgave me for going back to the world of the humans. The spirits of the forest tempted me. They tried to lead me astray from the path leading away.
“…show us a performance even more amazing than the last”, is what they said.
“Hey, remember who you’re talking to. It will be simple.”
Because I was only human when I was born. I haven’t been since.
There was heavy rain just before the start of spring. It poured down for a long while and formed a body of water in the valley. The water eventually crumbled the rock, sent a river of mud downhill and destroyed the cliff. The people who couldn’t wait for the road to be passable forged their own path through the surrounding wilderness and eventually stumbled upon the old village. There were pilgrims and merchants and messengers and soldiers and a young woman who played the harp.
They brought with them exotic foods, fabrics and news which the villagers had never seen, and over the course of a few days the people of the village began to soften. Among the travellers was one who shone brighter than all the rest. She was a young lady who sang songs so sweet that you would think her dreamy voice was one with her harp and not human at all. Her voice would go high and low with the strangest timing, and would snap the listener back to reality just as they were about to doze off. A wall of people would form around her whenever she sang and even those little creatures of the forest, like the birds and the deer, would come to listen.
There was one young man who adored not the young woman’s songs, but the young woman herself. He was too old to be called a boy, and smiled too innocently to be called a man. Though you could say the same about the light that that shone from the young lady’s eyes, as she too was once a young girl.
She held out her hand.
The young man, lost in the music, took her hand.
Before they knew it, the sun, not the rain, came down on the village. The travellers all started to disappear, back to their journeys, one by one, until the last one had left. The young lady with the dreamy voice was also gone. She disappeared, as if carried away by the wind, and no one seemed to notice. The village returned to predictable tranquillity once all the outsiders had gone.
She was beautiful. You knew that in the instant you met her. There weren’t all that many people in the village you would call young. One’s beauty or ugliness was not something that people cared much about. And even if there was a single person beautiful enough to be worth mentioning, or someone ugly enough, it wouldn’t fill your belly. There wasn’t much point to it. The only things of beauty existed in legends and had no meaning in reality, that was just a matter of course. They were probably people from legends based in reality. A poet, a bard, call her what you will.
Till the fields, raise cattle, catch fish. There was no other work to be done in the village. Travelling, let alone as a woman, would be anything but normal. Not to mention that she was just a woman who was trapped while the rain poured down for a short while. Even if the people of the village hated outsiders, it wasn’t the thieves, or the cannibals either. Indeed, it was the guests who gained permission to stay in the village for a few days.
All the same, the young, or the childish, would praise the young woman’s beauty, one after the other, and then disappear. All they had were a few simple words. The young man looked upon that beauty and couldn’t tear his eyes away. He was unable to say anything. He should have just told her what he was thinking.
If you praised her shimmering black hair, her voice so clear that it almost felt cold or her smile like the shimmering sun in the middle of winter, she would, well, who knows. The things about her that were worthy of compliments are so many that you couldn’t say anything at all. This much was true. There is no way that a woman would search for a man who could do nothing but look at her. Even if she looked his way suggestively, it had no real meaning, and even if it did, she was different to those listening and watching… She was one of the other travellers.
There was no way that he could refuse her hand when she held it out to him. She was just far enough that she might, or might not, touch him. There was no one else. She was motioning to him. He was so happy. He was just a simple man. She might just be mocking him. If it were someone from the outside, they wouldn’t refuse her hand, they would plainly take it. They would tease each other and enjoy themselves. She should just laugh and call him a happy villager. It would be impossible to trade the honour of being chosen for anything else, it was too wonderful a thing.
Three days passed. That was as long as the rains kept that beautiful woman in the village. The young woman then disappeared without a word. It was like she had never been there at all. She left not a single foot print. That was the hard truth. The young man didn’t know how to express himself after that happened. In all his emptiness, there was a prickling pain in his heart. He buried himself in other things to try and forget the pain, but it wasn’t enough. But that woman flowed into his heart whenever he tried to think of something else. She was there for a few days at the most, but it was worth more than the sum of his entire life.
However, he couldn’t let anyone know how he was feeling. He had to pretend that he had forgotten. No outsiders could exist. He couldn’t let something exist in a place that would remain forever. His third youngest daughter looked at him with suspicion. Girls he had known since he was little stared at him. His mother looked at him with uncertainty. He had to pretend that he had forgotten about that woman and her harp.
Till the fields. Shepard the sheep. Sleep. Catch fish. Sleep. Slaughter pigs. Water crops. Chop down trees. Sleep. Harvest fruit. Feed animals. Sleep. Sleep. Heaven forbid the village should ever change. He couldn’t do even the littlest out of the ordinary. He had to repeat the same single day that his parents and their parents and their parents before them had done for hundreds of years.
…She wasn’t allowed to be a part of the village.
That’s what he thought. There was no sign of her in the village. She was not a part of the proper daily routine that they had to repeat everyday. They couldn’t have anything that so much as smelt like it was from outside of the village. The village was a harsh place. Your food would soon disappear if you stopped working for a while. The children would die. The elderly too. It really was hard and they had to all work together without breaking for a moment.
The man and his sisters and his fiends, they were all just living by chance. Just some closely-aged comrades slowly going extinct. You must not look. You must not look. That forest is giggling at you. That’s just the sound of the wind passing through the trees. All he could hear was voices of people. More so than a fearful feeling towards that noise was a feeling of curiosity, and so he left his home. That’s the past that he remembers.
Before long that man, whose feelings of emptiness had wormed their way into his life, who loved his village, became a part of the past and gradually turned to a doll with a lingering look on its face.
Softly beckon the hand. The action was subtle. It was light, right on the brink of being seen and not being seen. It only went to the person it was supposed to.
And so, one young man disappeared from the village.
And the dolls of the forest were laughing happily.
Looking over the village, making sure it doesn’t crumble.
Somewhere those laughing voices can be heard.
English translation © 2015 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved.