Tom Dowding’s New Short Story – In The Pines

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Tom Dowding

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Why did you come to this place?  You always end up running.  That place where you spent those joyous adolescent summers.  Your uncle’s cabin nestled in that arboreal labyrinth where you met so many firsts: your first fight, that asphyxiating first cigarette and, of course, that first clumsy caress of the warm inner thigh of a girl who broke your heart and on whom you’ve wished a lifetime of derision and perpetual misery.  All these experiences you’ve rendered delicious through your yearning of the forbidden; all now teetering on the edge of memory, lying dormant in that cloistered recess of your waking mind, coaxed into reality through your nightly slumber.  Why come back here?  It only brings you pain.

You are dreaming now: your corporeal form ensconced in swaddling sheets of cotton, secluded from the worries of the world, except those that tread the vestibule of your soul.  You are there, in the wood.  Travelling down a familiar beaten track, you walk toward the rising sun.  Fresh-faced and buoyant, your spirits soar to the morning-melody of the birdsong.  This place is at once so mesmerising and peaceful and yet foreboding.  No amount of cherished memories can ever fully shake away the misgivings you have for the trees and their odd malevolence.   You go looking for her, clad in the bareness of your first morning in the world; a vision of innocence.  You yearn for the merest sight of her, even a surreptitious glimpse through the trees.  You crave this as you cling to a love unrequited.

In a clearing you find her: that beguiling woodland nymph who shattered your heart into a thousand besotted pieces.  Resplendent in a dress of virginal white, she beckons you to make an approach.  Slowly, you walk up to her as rays of glorious sunshine prevail through the dense green crest of the towering pines, suffusing the clearing with brilliant light.  You stand before her, head bowed in contrition, unworthy as you are of being in her presence.  She wraps her arms around you, cradling your bowed head to her chest.  Emboldened, you summon the temerity to embrace her; arms folded around her svelte frame, your hands lost in her long, golden hair.  You’ve never been shown this kindness.

You stir and writhe in your bed as you verge on the brink of waking.  A pillow is pressed between the wall and your stomach.  You will never let her go.  Murmuring softly into the pillow, you tell her that you’re sorry.  You sink deeper into your slumber as she clasps you tighter.  You would hold onto this moment forever.

You look into her emerald eyes, losing yourself in their abundant charm.  Leave now.  Wake up.  It will never get better than this.  It will never be like the first time.  Yes, you remember that first time and all its flawed perfection.  That cigarette she placed between your lips; your first ever one.  You remember how it made your lungs turn to hot coals and how you coughed and wheezed and spluttered.  Remember how she laughed.  Then there was that first kiss.  You remember that – of course – as you recreate it on the pillow.  That was when your life changed forever.  At that moment, you had wrought your own destruction.  She would kill you.  You loved her, she pitied you.  You hated her.

She takes you by the hand and leads you back into the vast darkness and tranquillity of the wood.  This is a departure from the first time, when garbed in the same self-effacing innocence; you made her recoil in feigned horror by pressing your burgeoning tumescence inadvertently against her as she guided your trembling hand toward her thigh.  She ran alone into the wood; like a deer, she sped artfully through the trees as you tarried in pursuit to the echo of her mocking laughter.  It would always be this way: she would reel you in with her kindness, charm and elegant persuasions before stoning you dead with her callous evasions.  When you found her you were ready to drop.  She was waiting for you.  The rest you don’t remember save for a vague reminiscence of the ecstasy your memory chases in vain.

Let it go now.  Follow her no more.  Chasing the finest vintage of your remembrance leads only to where the sourest grapes are stored.  You aren’t listening.  Fine.  Walk on then.  Delve further into the darkness where, as always, you confront him.  You’re so predictable.  Always you deliberate over how you would smash his cocky, nauseating face into the trunk of a beech tree, just as you didn’t in real life.  Not that you didn’t try.  When you happened upon his cruel, hulking frame on top of her and heard how much she enjoyed him, you knew you had to act.  After he broke your arm, you knew you had to take vengeance on him…and on her.  She was so oblivious to the turmoil she put you through and you could only apologise at never being enough for her.  What could you do to her?  Nothing.

You meander through the wood, all alone, clothed only in the bitterness of experience.  It’s dark.  Night has fallen and you are afraid.  The wood seems to close in around you, suffocating you.  It’s so cold and quiet; the hoots and screeches of nocturnal creatures only seem to accentuate the silence of everything else.  This place will kill you.  You must act.  You stumble upon something unexpected; a packet of cigarettes and a matchbox.  They are not empty.  You light a cig.  Unlike love, you find that this tastes better with experience.  What else have you found: an axe?  Could this be the instrument of your revenge?  No.  You’re not that person.

You need to find a way home now.  Forget her.  You hear the wood creaking, preparing to consume you.  Use the axe.  Hack yourself home.  Don’t wake up now; kill the forest.  That’s right, kill the forest before it kills you.  There’s then a blur; you find yourself running for all your worth through a gauntlet of falling trees.  You stir once more.  Feel your toes, they’re sore and sticky.  You bring your fingers to your lips.  Blood.  You’ve been kicking the wall in your sleep.  You should never have come back here.  You always end up running.  Wake up now!  She could never love you.  The forest will take care of her, only then will she realise the depth of her folly; that nobody would have adored her, protected her and cherished her like you.  The bitch.  Let her perish.  You can see the cabin now; through the door and into bed, but do not dream, do not come back.

Finally, you wake up.  Day has broken once more.  Thank God.  The pillow is on the floor.  You need to purge these dreams.  How will you do that?  You smell burning.  Where is it coming from?  Outside.  You walk over to the window and open the curtains.  You see the wood engulfed in flames.  That hasn’t happened before.  You must still be dreaming.  Your toes aren’t bloodied.  What have you done?  Your fist is clenched.  Open it and you will see a crumpled matchbox, empty.  Now, run.

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Photo by Tomek Dzido

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