“Behind every tree, there’s a new monster.”
— Todd Rundgren
There was once a man walking through the woods.
He was a strong man and liked to carry his ax over his shoulder. It made him feel brave.
But today, the ax was at the blacksmith’s. Its blade had been blunt and needed sharpening.
So he walked into the woods alone and unarmed.
And as such things often happen, he met a monster.
Under the tree where the man came to gather acorns, the monster was sitting.
It was big and impossibly black. If not for its round head, it would’ve looked like a flat painting, seemingly having no depth or breadth. Its arms were long and dangly, and its body was nothing more than a cylinder of darkness. Its eyes were spaced in its head like that of a frog, and they were completely white, though the man knew the monster was looking straight at him.
The man dropped his acorn bucket. He was a strong man, but this was a monster. He was afraid.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the monster. “I need your help.”
The man knew the old stories, and to refuse a monster’s help was to risk immediate death.
So the man said, “H-how can I help?”
The monster tilted its strangely flat yet bulbous head up. “I cannot reach the acorns.”
This wasn’t at all the request the man had been expecting, and it was a moment before he could reply.
“Yes. I am hungry.”
The man was still curious, but as he did not want to offer himself as an alternative meal, he slowly approached the tree, keeping his distance from the monster. He looked up.
The man had visited this tree many times in his life, from when he was a young boy to now a grown man, and he had never seen the acorns so high and so deep in the branches. If not for the monster, he would have left the acorns for another day, when they were riper and fell to the ground.
That was not an option today, so after moving a bit farther away from the monster, the man began to climb. The acorns seemed to shrink away from him, and so he climbed higher and higher until he was fairly sure he was nearing the top of the tree, but still the acorns remained out of his reach.
He looked down, and the monster was a mere black splotch on the ground below, but the man did not dare give up. He kept climbing and finally the acorns seemed to tire of the chase, and they banged against his head and his hands as he stuffed them into his shirt and his pockets and his hat.
The climb down was easier, but longer.
At last, his foot touched grass, and he shook out the acorns into his dropped bucket. The man took the bucket over to the monster, no longer quite so afraid, even though he knew he ought to be.
“Thank you,” said the monster, taking the bucket with a long, thin, black hand.
Then the monster said, “Follow me.”
And the man had no choice but to obey.
The monster led the man through the woods to a cave, a cave that no human had dared to go near, even as children. The monster went inside, and the man followed after a moment’s hesitation.
To his immense surprise, the cave was warm and inviting, lit by a gentle fire in the middle of a great stone room. There were axes on the wall that glinted in the firelight, but they looked cared for, polished and shining. There was a bed, a table, and a single chair. There was even a bunch of flowers.
“Sit,” said the monster. “I will stand.”
So the man sat.
The monster took the bucket of acorns and rinsed them with another bucket full of water. It placed the wet acorns in an iron basket and put it on the flames of the fire, adding pieces of cut wood to build it up.
After awhile, the acorns began to smoke and then steam, and a glorious scent filled the cave, and the man’s stomach rumbled.
And so they had roasted acorns for lunch.
The monster was quiet, but the man felt very at peace. He also felt confused. He ate his acorns and thought about everything and nothing.
“It is getting late,” the monster said after awhile.
“Thank you,” said the man, only half certain what he was thankful for.
The monster gazed at him with its white, white eyes. “Thank you.”
The man was led out of the cave by the monster, who then took him back to the edge of the woods.
“Will you tell others about me?” said the monster.
The man hadn’t really thought about this. “I suppose I might,” said the man.
Something like a smirk (though it was really impossible to tell) came across the monster’s face. “No one will believe you.”
“I suppose they won’t,” agreed the man.
The monster then bent its strange body and kissed the man on the head.
The kiss felt warm and cold at the same time, like eating mint leaves.
Then the monster disappeared back into the woods.
* * * * *
A few days later, the monster went out of its cave with its new bucket to gather more acorns at a different, less judgmental tree.
Even though it was a monster and surprised by nothing, it wasn’t expecting to see the man standing there.
The man had his ax this time, but it was slung over his shoulder because his hands were full: each was holding a bucket full of acorns.
The monster blinked. And blinked again.
Then it said, “You have returned.”
The man shrugged. “The others didn’t believe me.”
Then he walked past the monster and into the cave.
Like he had always belonged there.
So I read Through the Woods today, which is a delightfully creepy and terribly unsettling graphic novel. You all should read it. But yeah, I have monsters on the brain. (Also, I apologize for any acorn inaccuracies, I’ve never picked or cooked any. xP)