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The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest

Below Mount Solitude lies a forest so dark and deep that even the animals refuse to venture inside. This is where the Little People live. The people who live in the small village built into the canyon walls above the river say the animals stay clear of the dark forest out of respect for the Little People. As long as there is peace among the Little People, the canyon people say, there will be peace among all.

Once a year, the canyon people travel to Mount Solitude to pray. On their way back down, at the edge of the dark forest, they sing a song of praise for the Little People. Inside the forest, the trees sing their response, and the forest quivers with magic.

Two years ago, while I was away hunting for meat to feed my family, I came back to find my village wiped out by an avalanche. Ever since I lost my family, I have wandered in deep sorrow, unable to find joy anywhere. In my travels, I came across the village built in the canyon walls, and eager to talk to a human being again, I stopped for several days. The villagers, friendly and accommodating, treated me as one of their own. Sensing my distress, the circle of elders told me about the dark forest where the Little People live. Their story seemed fantastic but stirred something deep in my heart. What I needed now was a bit of magic.

Half-Moon, their spiritual leader, took me into his confidence. “Your spirit is troubled,” he told me, pointing to the snow-covered peak. “You need to go there, to Mount Solitude. Listen to the winds and ask guidance from the God of the Mountain.”

“Half-Moon, I have lost much, and with these losses, I have lost my will to live and all hope for the future. What could the God of the Mountain have to say to me?”

“Malachi, the God of the Mountain will tell you nothing but the truth, but you must listen carefully. One never knows what lies ahead. This is the mystery of life, and by this mystery, one’s blood is stirred. You have lost your hunger for mystery, which has made you a shell of who you once were.”

I looked up at the snow-covered peak, vowing to journey there to discover for myself what the God of the Mountain would say to me. Half-Moon prepared a pack for me, and early the next morning I started for Mount Solitude. I had been hiking for hours, but I was determined to make it to the summit, even though I had to stop often to catch my breath since the climb was long and precipitous. By the time I reached the summit, the sun was low in the sky. I wanted to hurry off the mountain before darkness fell, but I couldn’t leave before I had a chance to talk with the God of the Mountain. So I remained, sitting quietly with my thoughts, while darkness fell around me.

In the darkness, I sat huddled against the cold. I listened but my convulsing body and chattering teeth wouldn’t allow my mind to remain quiet. Through the endless night, I sat shivering, willing my mind to stay quiet, but the God of the Mountain never spoke to me. What had I done wrong?

With the first warm touch of sunlight, I awoke from dreary sleep and looked around. I was huddled against a snowbank, but wildflowers grew at my feet. My body was stiff from the cold, so I stood and walked toward the sunrise, hoping to warm myself. My breath came out in bursts and with each breath, I felt a pang of disappointment. I had come so far only to taste defeat. Below I could see the dark forest, which brought to mind the Little People. Half-Moon had told me to come here, to Mount Solitude, to hear what the God of the Mountain would say to me. Although he had said nothing about the Little People, I was curious.

After eating a bit of bread and dried meat, I started off the mountain in the direction of the dark forest. The sun was warmer now and I walked with renewed vigor, but my mind was uneasy. I needed to find a way to ease my perplexity.

I had been walking for two hours when I came to the edge of the dark forest. Although the sun was high in the sky, a cold breath seeped from inside the dark forest. It was not an inviting place, but my curiosity compelled me to venture inside. The darkness inside the forest was oppressive, and I moved with great caution. I wanted to turn back but something pulled me onward. Before walking a hundred yards, I looked behind me, realizing how easy it would be to get lost, so I marked my trail by thrusting a jagged stick into the ground. Every hundred yards, I marked my trail by thrusting a stick into the ground. Each time, I looked behind me, satisfied that my trail was well marked.

By my count, I had thrust over twenty sticks into the ground when I stopped to rest. The deeper into the dark forest I ventured, the colder it became. As much as I tried to convince myself to go on, I couldn’t think of a good reason to continue. It was dark and cold and my stomach grumbled from hunger. After leaning against a tree for several minutes, I decided to head back.

The circle of elders had talked of the Little People only in general terms. I had no idea what to expect. When I got to the first marker, I reprimanded myself for my cowardice. Maybe I was being led into the dark forest for a reason and to discover the reason I needed to travel deeper inside the dark forest. But the cold and my persistent hunger motivated me to leave. I vowed to come back in a day or two when I was better prepared.

I looked in the direction of the second marker, but it wasn’t there. I was sure that I was heading in the right direction and the marker should be there. But it wasn’t. I looked back to where I had planted the last marker, but it too was gone. Think, I told myself. The cold and your grumbling stomach have confused you. 

Panic overtook me and I turned in a tight circle, unsure of my next step. I had taken every precaution but still had become lost. I thought, no, I am not lost, your mind is playing tricks on you. Think, I said out loud. Somehow I was comforted by my own voice. I had spent a long, cold night on Mount Solitude and had gone a day and a half without talking to anyone. Even though I would have welcomed a companion, I realized that if I wanted companionship, I would have to keep my own company.

I fell to my hands and knees to look for footprints. My footprints would lead me out of the dark forest. Bending low to the ground, I was able to follow my tracks for a hundred yards or so but soon lost them. For some reason, my footprints had been wiped clean. Looking around, even though everything in the dark forest looked eerily the same, I was sure this was one of the spots I’d marked. My panic grew since my instincts pointed me in one direction while my mind screamed for me to follow a different route.

Would I spend another cold night alone? I was cold and hungry. And afraid. I thought about Half-Moon and began to pray. Would he hear my prayers? And if he did, would he be able to guide me out of the dark forest? I slumped to the ground with my back braced against a tree, but the cold overcame me and I stood up, stamping my feet to get warm. Fear and confusion paralyzed me. I knew that I couldn’t stay put but had no idea in which direction to go.

I peered into the darkness hoping for a sign, while at the same time praying for guidance. When I wasn’t praying to Half-Moon, I was praying to a God I wasn’t sure existed. Then I began to talk out loud, asking my family for help, the family who had perished in the avalanche while I had survived. Since I had escaped their fate, maybe it was my fate to die here alone?

Half-Moon had directed me to Mount Solitude to talk to the God of the Mountain, he’d never said anything about the dark forest. It was the circle of elders who had told me about the Little People, the story that had inspired my imagination. But had I misinterpreted their story? The thought came to me, could it have been the Little People who had taken my markers because I had trespassed on their land?

Stamping my feet and blowing into my hands, I looked in all directions, knowing I needed to begin but couldn’t bring myself to move. Taking a step in any direction would be better than staying here. But would I become more lost? I was already lost, so how could I become more lost? Lost is lost, I reasoned.

Taking a deep breath, I began, following my instincts even though I no longer trusted them. As I walked, I repeated a prayer, to no one in particular, but to anyone who might be listening. I hadn’t gone very far when I caught sight of something moving in the forest. It seemed to parallel my movement. When I stopped it stopped. I peered into the dark forest, hoping to glimpse whatever was following me.

A black wolf, his eyes glowing with fire, stepped into view. The fear that gripped me was short-lived. The black wolf, standing about a hundred feet away, seemed to be waiting for me to take my next step.

In some strange way, the presence of the black wolf instilled a sense of strength and courage in me. And for some odd reason, it convinced me that it had to be the Little People who had removed my markers. Yet I was puzzled. If I posed a threat to them, why would they act to prevent my leaving instead of encouraging it? I had not ventured inside the dark forest to disturb or threaten the Little People, of this I was sure. But why had I come? This remained a mystery to me. It was as if something mysterious had pulled me inside against my will.

And now I was confronted with the presence of the black wolf. Had the Little People sent him to keep me here or to show me the way out? Or did he have anything whatsoever to do with the Little People? Suddenly I was struck with what Half-Moon had said to me: I had become a shell of who I once was. My life needed an infusion of mystery.

Disheartened and tired, I sat down, leaning back against a tree, keeping my eyes on the black wolf. Once I sat down, he sat on his haunches. My stomach growled with hunger and I shivered against the cold. I looked at the black wolf. His eyes still glowed but with a softer flame, and I could see bursts of vapor when he exhaled. Struggling to keep my eyes open, I slumped to the ground, but before closing my eyes, I looked at my companion, who was stretched out on the ground, his head turned toward me.

Deep in sleep, I dreamed of my family. All of us, my mother, my father, my wife, and my children sat around a campfire, sharing our stories. My children sat on my lap. The sweet smell of their hair was more than my heart could endure and I woke up, tears streaming down my face.

It was still dark when I awoke, and I looked across at the glow from the black wolf’s eyes. My dream came back to me and I wanted to go back, I wanted to once again hold my children in my lap and smell the sweet hair smell, but my teeth chattered with the cold. Sitting up, longing for my family, and the warmth of the campfire, I nodded off again.

When I opened my eyes, I wasn’t sure where I was, but upon seeing the black wolf, it all came back to me. Lost in the dark forest, I began to cry. Only the black wolf was there to share my sadness. To my astonishment, a piece of bread and a cup of tea had been set in front of me.

I looked around. The black wolf and I were alone. I picked up the steaming cup of tea, holding its warmth close to my face. After a sip of the sweet, hot tea, I reached for the bread, still warm. Who could have left it here? Perplexed, I tore into the bread with a ravenous appetite, looking over at the black wolf.

Setting my cup of tea on the ground, I tore the bread in half, stood up, and walked toward the black wolf, holding out the bread to him. Even though he was on his haunches and made no move to run away or to attack, I approached cautiously. As I got closer, he lay down, stretching out his front legs and tilting his head. Kneeling, I offered him the bread. Taking it gently from my outstretched hand, he looked at me through tear-filled eyes. We were friends.

I sat next to the black wolf while he chewed the bread, wishing I could share the tea with him as well. Why not? I walked back to fetch the tea and brought it back, looking around for something I could use as a vessel in which to pour some of the tea. Since I couldn’t find anything, I held out the cup to him. As we shared the tea, I scratched the nape of his neck.

Whereas no light penetrated the dark forest yesterday, this morning sunlight seeped in from outside. Feeling stronger, I was ready to begin my journey. The black wolf knew it was time to go and stood next to me. Still unsure of which direction to take, I felt confident that I could trust my instincts. And trust the black wolf as well. In his way, he would serve as my guide.

Within two hours, we were at the edge of the dark forest. Not once along our route did we come across any of the sticks that I had thrust into the ground the day before. How we found our way out remains a mystery to me. As we stood at the dark forest’s edge, I stroked the black wolf’s scruff. Knowing that the black wolf would not be able to come with me, leaving was hard. But this was not my home and I knew I had to leave. The black wolf knew it, too. I knelt and through tears, we looked deeply into each other’s eyes. After several minutes, I stood and walked away, resisting the urge to go back. Glancing over my shoulder before I had walked a hundred feet, the black wolf was gone. From deep inside the black forest came a solitary howl.

I hurried down the mountainside to the village far below, eager to relate my adventure to Half-Moon. I was curious to hear his interpretation of what I had seen. It was mid-afternoon by the time I reached the village and walked straight to Half-Moon’s hut. He sat out in front stirring his fire with his walking stick. He looked up as I approached.

“Ahhh, there you are, Malachi. I have been thinking about you,” Half-Moon said.

“Yes, I have had the most amazing adventure and am eager to tell you about it,” I said.

“Were you able to speak to the God of the Mountain?” he asked.

“No. I climbed to the top of Mount Solitude as you had instructed me to do, but I never spoke to the God of the Mountain. I spent a long, cold night on the mountain but heard only the wind. Disappointed, I started off the next morning, but when I got to the edge of the dark forest, something pulled me inside.”

“The dark forest?” Half-Moon asked. “Where is this dark forest you speak of?”

“The dark forest, below Mount Solitude. The circle of elders told me about it. The place where the Little People live,” I said.

“The Little People? Who are the Little People?” he asked. He stared up at me with a perplexed face. “You worry me, Malachi. Did you catch a fever on the mountain?”

“No, I feel fine. You must have heard of the Little People. The circle of elders told me about them, how they live deep inside the dark forest. And what they told me is true. The Little People are shy and aloof, and stay well hidden. But they are there. Although I never saw them, they made their presence known to me by leaving me tea and bread. And they sent the black wolf to rescue me.”

“You are talking nonsense, my friend,” Half-Moon said. “We have no circle of elders. Not for many years.”

“But I spoke to the circle of elders before I began,” I said. “And I was there, inside the dark forest. I spent the night there, and in the morning, the Little People had left tea and bread for me, which I shared with the black wolf.”

“You seem to be caught in some sort of delusion, my friend,” Half-Moon said. “I know of no such place, nor of any Little People.”

“But it does exist, I spent the night there,” I said.

“You have been gone only one night. How could you have spent a night in the dark forest, when you spent the night on the mountain?”

“It can’t be true. I have been gone for two nights, one night on the mountain and one night deep inside the dark forest.”

“Come here, my friend, you are not feeling well,” Half-Moon said. “Sit here by the fire. I will get you some tea. You need to rest.”

What was going on? I asked myself. This couldn’t be happening. I was sure I had spent last night in the dark forest. Yet, I couldn’t argue with Half-Moon. Why would he deny knowing anything about the circle of elders? Or the Little People and the dark forest? Could I be delusional? Could it have been a dream?

Half-Moon brought the tea. After thanking him, I held it to my face. The steam from the tea reminded me of this morning and the tea that had been left by the Little People. It all seemed so real, but could it have been my imagination? And what about my dream last night?

“Are you feeling better, my friend?” Half-Moon asked.

“Yes, thank you. But it all seemed so real. How could a fantasy seem no real?”

“I have heard of such things when one is overcome with grief. Grief becomes your friend, a haven of sorts. When nothing else seems real, grief offers us something to cling to. Maybe your grief is trying to provide you with hope. It is unfortunate that the God of the Mountain didn’t speak to you. I believe He would have lessened your sorrow.”

“But what about the black wolf?” I asked. “He was real, I am sure of it.”

“He is anyone you want him to be,” Half-Moon said. “Visions take many forms. Hold onto the memory of the black wolf for it will always be there for you.”

After I finished the tea, exhaustion overtook me and I thanked Half-Moon and left. Inside the small hut that the villagers had allowed me to use, I collapsed onto the sleeping mat and fell instantly into a deep sleep, in which once again I dreamed of my family. We were sitting around a blazing campfire, when, one at a time, they stood up to leave, each of them saying goodbye. As they stood, I reached out to them, begging them not to leave. Without turning around, they disappeared into the darkness. First my mother, then my father, followed by my children. They walked away from the campfire toward the darkness. My wife was the last to leave. She lingered for a moment at the edge of darkness, and I could see a smile steal across her face. Then she was gone, and I felt empty. Staring into the flames, I asked myself why I couldn’t go with them? Through tears, I looked up. Across the fire from me sat the black wolf.

 

8 Comments
  1. Beautiful story. So full of meaning, for me.
    Thankful for the Black Wolf’s gentle patience as we emerge from our dark forests. It isn’t a clinical, material journey. It is metaphysical, offering glimpses along the path until we find meaning. We never abandon or ignore — we become changed forever with the opportunity for growth.
    Reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s journey in, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” His losses, never forgotten or ignored, provided the basis for realized meaning.
    CS Lewis in, “A Grief Observed,” resonates with this same truth.
    Thank you for this addition to the genre of hope.

    • Thank you, Jill. This is so gracious and kind! And so thoughtful. I truly appreciate this and am grateful you took the time to read the story and then respond. Thank you again.

  2. Dear David, I am overwhelmed with joy that you have found the mystery of this life again. And not only have you found it, you have invited it into your heart, and elusive as it has been, it has come back to stay. It has accepted your invitation, shared the gifted Sacred bread of Life and the deeply warm Joy of the sweet tea you so generously offered! The darkness is lifting as the Light of the gods rises.
    And her beautiful smile lingers softly, blessing you with everlasting Love and gently sustaining peace! My heart and soul deeply rejoice for you! What a tremendous gift you have received! Life’s mystery will always sustain you now. Always be there for you. Calling you further and further into love for yourSelf. For life.
    Lost. And found! I am so so happy for you! Tears of Joy are flowing freely! What a treasured earthbirthday gift. Openly Invited. Fully Given. Graciously Received!
    ❤❤❤ Blessings, much joy and a very Happy Magical Birthday!
    Enjoy the mystery!!❤
    Virginia
    .

    • Virginia, thank you for this beautiful comment. I am deeply and forever touched by your kindness and love. I receive your blessings with much gratitude and send my love. ❤

  3. Oh Beloved Co-Traver,
    Bowing in Reverence not solely for this alchemical story you have so powerfully and delicately woven, but for Being the miraculous embodiment of this inner Pilgrimage
    Offerings of story like this are so deeply and desperately needed Now.
    As we grieve as One Heart feeling lost to illusion and re-covered in the Center Everywhere… again… walking one another( there is no other) home.
    Bowing, Muzzle to the Earth.
    Sabina

    • Thank you, Sabina, this is so, so beautiful and heartfelt and touches me deeply. I appreciate you taking the time to read the story and then taking the time to comment. One of the rewards of writing is knowing my stories touch my readers in special ways. I am so grateful for your beautiful comment.

  4. Dearest David, above all, above your astounding writing, your compelling storytelling, you deep wisdom and insight…above all…what moves me the most here and leaves me in tears, and feeling profoundly connected to you….is the breathtaking depth, the vastness, the utter rare beauty….and familiarity of your soul. This is your soul laid bare, so rich, so willingly deep…fathomless in its exquisite beauty. Much love to, dear soul friend. Thank you from my heart. Roby

    • Oh, dear Roby, what can I say? How can I reply? You have always touched my heart in a special way, but now with your beautiful words, you have touched it in a way that leaves me without words in which to respond. I can say, however, that I am grateful, that I am awed, and that I am humbled by your beautiful spirit. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I send my deepest love and respect, soul to soul, heart to heart. David

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