Like all things, it started off as something else entirely.
In the beginning – perhaps even before it knew what it was for itself – it was only a forest. Heavy with low-hanging fog and thick with the primal, animal memories of those things that escape the tight grip of words. It was ancient before anything in the world knew what ancient meant. It had lived, undisturbed, for so many years that even the steady river-flow of time began to seem like nothing more than the slight pull of a vaguely-remembered dream.
And the thought of it – the very memory of it – sank into the dirt like spilled blood, staining it until they pulled it up thirstily into the hard barks of the trees that rose like sentinels. It was certain of its own identity without the need for a mirror, self-assured by the writhing bodies that were born and lived and died and then faded into the bones that turned to dust beneath the dirt. Words and mirrors were not necessary under the rippling green shadows that cast figures against the light. The only words that mattered were the springtime birdsong and the cries of deer and the slow groan of trees in the wind.
It was only when the jagged teeth of saws and the hungry bite of axes came and tore that the forest shook itself awake. It did not know, at first, what had happened. Drowsily with the sleep of a hundred thousand lifetimes over a hundred thousand years. So, it fought like a beast roused from a dream, throwing itself blindly at the invaders with teeth and claws of its own. But its teeth broke against the things that swarmed like beetles, digging deep scars into the earth that scabbed over and turned hard. And so, it twisted and turned back into itself – hiding as it died, dying as it hid – and looking for the thing it was no longer, but could still be. There, deep in its own ruined roots, it found itself anew, mourning the knowledge that whatever peace it had known before would not return.
The relentless bull-charge of modernity had hollowed it into an empty graveyard. Progress paved its crypts with the dead, blackened tongue of burnt asphalt, and raised mile markers from the dirt like headstones. The only prayers it knew anymore were the hot screams of shrill horns already fading into nothing. The only mourners that remained were the bodiless eyes that watched warily from the fading shadows of the thinning trees. Death was sudden now, and violent, borne down on the backs of blurs of steel that rushed like bright-eyed nightmares through the darkness. Memories were all that remained now, held fast only in the rent and torn bodies of the forest that lined the road.
But even memories can be hard to kill.
And they so rarely remain in the minds in which they were born. Soon, they followed the black, winding ribbons home like a blind man led to water, likes wolves led to blood. A man, drunk and only vaguely remembering the hard thud of the mountain lion he had struck the night before, awoke just before dawn to the hot breath of something vengeful over him. The next morning, when the screaming and the blood had brought the police, they could not explain how the mountain lion had gotten inside without leaving a trace. All the doors and windows were locked, after all, and there were no tracks. No sign that anything had been inside except the rent, torn body of the man on the bed.
Two days later, a man spent the afternoon cleaning off what remained of the deer he had struck. One hour later, he was found by his wife. She could not explain what had gored him in their own home. gored him and thrust him against the wall. Though she recognized the holes left in his chest. She knew they belonged to the horns that crowned the solemn head that hung above the mantlepiece. But she did not say a word. Not when the head’s unblinking eyes gazed down at her like the eyes of the forest itself.
It took many years, but soon, a part of the peace that the forest had known returned. Clawed back with nails that were red and broken at the ends. It was slow at first, and the occasional nightmare would still tear through the quiet, careful not to strike anything. But soon, even they stopped, and the forest ran its green fingers cautiously over the dead black tongue that lolled lazily in the mouth with broken trees for teeth. It was only when ambitious new spring flowers had cracked the asphalt and poked their heads through in search of the sun that the memory of forest returned. She knew loose from the dirt that had buried it. But even when it did, it had changed.
Itself, but not itself – nor ever again.