I’m in a patch of forest where winter is always present. The leaves here have long since leapt off their branches and now they only crackle beneath my boots. The trees are skeletons and the sky is a grim, grey, gloomy, overcast veil. A river only as wide as a door runs through this forest. The air smells cold. It smells like the night. I think to myself that if angels did fall, this is where they would land. I am the only thing alive here. The birds fled long ago. Not even the bugs dared to stay. The grass and plants and flowers were killed by the permafrost some time before I discovered the place. I am alone here.
This is my favorite place. There’s beauty hiding behind the skeleton trees and the biting wind. There’s a stillness here like a photo on a postcard. It’s a moment in time from years past. A little patch of forest that time forgot. And my favorite part is the shadows.
They dart around from place to place, stone to stone, branch to branch, out of their own will. They aren’t like normal shadows. Instead of mirroring the movements of some living thing, they move as if to retrace the steps of one once here. They fly through the trees chasing each other as incorporeal ghosts. Sometimes they appear as large and elongated shadows of an ancient creature passing by a tree, or perhaps one will alight on my shoulder and whisper wind into my ear. These are the things they will do. What they never do is venture into the springtime forest. They never fly near the border.
If I linger here too long, the snow will fall. Lightly at first. At first it will be pleasant, like a child’s first snowfall. But soon, the wind will rise to a roar and the snow will fall not down, but up and sideways and around like tiny white cyclones. This entire patch of forest will become entombed in the brightest snow you could imagine and I’ll wonder if it could ever stop, or if the mountains of white would instead climb on and on until it reached the very clouds they fell from.
I feel that first snowflake tap my nose, and know it’s time to go. I never feel the first snowflake of a storm–that’s something the forest has taught me. When you start to feel flakes, it means that the storm probably began five minutes ago. Even as I turn to leave, the forest senses it. The shadows cease their game of tag and the wind dies down and even the river slows to a crawl. It becomes several degrees colder, so that the air is no longer a brisk and invigorating chill but a chill much like death. When all is still, I hear a voice. A voice that doesn’t come from somewhere but everywhere. A voice saying:
“Don’t go. I love you.”
“Ha!” I laugh. “You love me for my bones. You want me to die here.”
“I fail to see the difference.” Says the forest.
“Of course you don’t.” I take timid, tentative steps out of the winter forest and into the springtime one. When one foot crosses the threshold, the forest whispers to me once again:
“You will be back, won’t you?”
“I always come back, don’t I?”
I venture into the warm, green, cheery, blithe, boring spring.