The Puppet’s Forest and the forest’s ‘puppets’
There were no puppets in the Puppet’s Forest, only trees which seemed to touch the Heaven’s clouds. On the ground he stood vines crawled like thousands vicious vipers, ready to strike their victims at their most unexpected moment. Sun beams weakly crept through thick canopies, putting the landscape in a gloomy shade. And if there were any living beings other than the young man himself, they didn’t make a single sound. The space was mute as a tomb.
Whose tomb he was entering, the young man wondered.
Whosever tomb it was, he didn’t find any traces of those unfortunate’s remains. Either time had grounded the bones to dust or the chilling myth of the cruel, merciless queen’s ‘puppets’ was merely a figment of imagination coming from poor-spirited minds.
The sense of direction was lost on him since anywhere he looked, he only saw old trees and vines staring back at him with ancient mocking eyes. Quietly he sent a prayer to God and set his mind on following His guidance: the sun in daytime and the moon and the stars at night. He had only brief rests in between his walks, in which he stopped to change the bloodied bandage on his neck. Each time his fingers found warm blood dripping from the ring, he was coldly reminded that his days were numbered. He had to reach the castle in the myth before it was too late.
Fatigue did little to slow him; what weighted down his steps were doubts. What would he do if the castle he was looking for never existed outside people’s minds? Would he just accept his fate and die a quiet death? Would he curse his damned fate and die the same?
Still, his feet kept moving forward. If he abandoned his search and returned to his hut, his death was certain. But it he carried on, there could still be a chance of life for him, however slim.
The third night he sat down under a tall tree and drifted in fatigue and the helplessness of being lost. His hope was small to begin with; now each day passing had thinned it worse. Whenever he walked, trees and vines were the only things he saw, trees and vines that looked the same in every directions. Trees blocked his way and vines tripped him up while jeering him with their dead silence. Even when he marked them, it seemed there was an invisible hand reached out and immediately blotted out his marks. “You shall never escape this maze”, they seemed to whisper into his ears, laughing deviously.
The savage winds’ howls disturbed his thin sleep. When he opened his eyes, there were pale shadows circling around his spot. He blinked and rubbed his eyes a few times to make sure drowsiness was not playing tricks on his vision. It wasn’t. The young man accepted those shadows as real as the bleeding ring on his neck.
They emitted no enmity he could tell, only a profound sense of weariness and despair. Some of them were old, some of them young. Some of them dressed in silk, some of them in rags. Nevertheless, no matter how they looked or dressed, dreariness filled their sunken eyes, their hollow cheeks; dreariness threatened to spill out from their tightly sewn mouths. They might have been seething with hatred before, yet time had killed their flame and at the moment, they yearned only for salvation, not revenge.
Red strings were attached to their limbs and the shadows were linked together like and endless human chain. While they were pale and obscure, the red strings struck a vividly bright color.
As bright as his ring, the young man observed and concluded.
A little girl reached out to him with her remaining arm. He did not flinch from her rigid touch; he knew she meant him no harm. He shown no disgust or disdain to her disfigured face either, for he also knew her face used to be very lovable.
In a blink, his vision changed and the young man was looking at her former face.
“She was violently thrashing about with all the strength her petit body could muster as she was pinned against the tree by steel arms. With red strings freshly attached to her limbs to support her weight, she was suspended above the ground. A wind passed and her light body swayed like a puppet danced to its master’s pulls.
Her struggles were loudest on the first day.
On the second, they were barely heard.
On the third, she joined her predecessors in eternal silence.
In that manner, her body became treats to the ever-hungry vultures lurking in the forest. They gouged out her lovely eyes; they chewed on her tender breasts and thighs. When they were done, the once little girl was merely white bones hung together by bits of flesh.”
He opened his eyes when her ice-cold hand left, leaving a ghostly damp sensation. The shadows surrounding him all turned to him, half sorrowful, half hopeful. Voices spoke in his ears, loud and low, hoarse and clear. What were they trying to tell him? Why was he nodding to them?
As if signaled by a mysterious force, they simultaneously pointed at the trees under which they were standing. His gaze followed their fingers and gradually understood.
They vanished at the first streak of twilight, like mist exposed to intense sunlight. He rose up and eyed the tall trees. Time might have turned their remains to decays but their marks was forever imprinted on the trunks; they were the last evidence to prove these people, these humans, had once walked this earth. Following their cues, he would definitely reached the castle.
“The beautiful queen sat on her throne of gold and jewels, a wicked light in her eyes and a devious smile on her lips as she watched with cruel amusement the sight of her artworks. Heart-wrenching cries which became lower and lower and finally muted when their owners’ mouths were sealed were music to her ears. Dangling bodies which rotted and fell prey to vultures were dolls to her eyes. Watching them, she was generously reminded of how close she was to God.”
The trees no longer confused him and the vines no longer hindered his steps. By the time the sun reached his peak, the young man had set on the castle’s ruins.
(To be continued)