Editor’s Note

The editor of Tales From The Forest (one Rose Fortune) couldn’t resist this particular theme. This is a story titled Where Monsters Live, and it should really live with the rest of the creatures.

*

Monsters predate humans. This is our first problem – the monsters were here first. By our own laws, they should have the right to the territory which they inhabit. They have marked it as theirs, they have built homes for their children and they have set up doctrines to live by. They are almost as civilised as we are. They are not savages.

Admittedly, some humans have in the past shown no issue with taking territory that was not theirs to begin with. The conquistadors did it, and were richly rewarded for it. Lands were named after discoverers who only succeeded in discovering a land which their flag had not yet lived in.

The second problem with monsters is, we do not understand them. Or, to put it another way, the problem with monsters is that we do not know how to fight them. They lived peacefully around us for so long, simply staying out of humanity’s way and living in our cast-off lands and our dwindling forests and our holes. Caves uninhabitable for humans produced entire neighbourhoods of monsters, of creatures with scales where they should not have scales and claws where there should not be claws. This was all well and good for quite a long time. But in recent years and recent decades, mankind has become more and more adventurous. Every hole we find is excavated or scuba dived into, or has torches shone into it, or gets turned into a tourist attraction in some exceptionally uninteresting towns.

Every section of the sea that was previously undiscovered has been set upon with ships and nets and harpoons. The air was colonised. The Grand Canyon was filled in to accommodate seven new motorways. The ground is mined and the wind is captured. The old green open spaces are built upon, and forests finally became extinct some time ago. We are left with a world where humans have taken the land, and the air, and the sea, and the earth. And once the last flag was planted and the last tree was felled, the monsters came out from the shadows.

If they attacked, we might begin to understand the situation. We have guns in 4,294 shapes and sizes and can harness the power of a tsunami if the weather conditions are right. We have bear-traps that might be effective on some of the smaller beasts. We have nets that are made from the end of the Amazon. Should we fight, there might be a chance.

But instead the monsters are suing. The most humanoid of the creatures was nominated to wear a person’s suit and draw up an official complaint against the human race. Tensions were heightened when the thing turned up in court wearing a person as a suit, but it was called a “faux pas” by a very forgiving or very frightened judge.

The complaint was accepted as valid by the same slightly shaking judge. Many are against the colonisation of the elements and the destruction of nature on the whole, so the monsters have plenty of support for their case. A new difficulty has been presented in trying to find a single person who will defend humankind and take the blame for the state the world now exists in. It’s essentially thought that the person who puts up their hands to say “I will be the defendant in the case of the peacefully co-existing monsters whose lands are now taken without their agreement” will have to also come up with a compelling reason to keep the land from the creatures, and to explain why the Sahara is now a lagoon.

If the case is lost by men and women, we are not sure what will happen next. People do not want to fight the monsters because very few people believe we can win against the bogeyman. The monsters will not go back to the shadows, because we have left none for them. We could attempt restoration, but it would be an arduous job to reintroduce trees to the world and re-terraform the earth. We also don’t necessarily want to let the ozone layer out of its box again.

There are those groups of people who are expecting to be banished. It might be the best fate we can accomplish, given how significantly we are outnumbered by the monsters. Or rather, the ratio is approximately 1:1, but that hardly seems like a fair fight when one side has the added benefits of flight, talons and possible magic/mystical powers/ability to blend into the night. It’s possible that our best course of action would simply be to leave the planet to the creatures from the darkest parts of the world, and make our way to another planet where we would, maybe, hopefully, be truly alone. The first edict of the new world will surely be to light up every shadow.

Alun Robert: The Clandestine Visitor

Cirencester bells announce tomorrow

above the faintest of lingering murmurs

from children excited by new discovery

and stilettos striding over Roman mosaics

echoing through now darkened galleries

at frequencies inaudible to all mankind

yet heard by one headless whippet

of Coxwell Street and me

for vast doors are now bolted shut

the Corinium desolate for another night

apart from my desperate flitting

in search of release from yesterdays

after a torment of two millennia

spent striving desperately for my freedom

from shackles of a lingering death

when warring Britons I confronted

as a foot soldier in Claudius’ legions

that marched across their primitive land

participating in bloody conflicts

wielding axes and double-edged swords

now preserved for perpetuity

after battle-site excavations

together with my wounded soul

to torment descendents omnipotent

for I may be but an apparition

still tainted with a wretched stench

of formaldehyde and methanol

laced with a pungency of long decay

hence release me from that vacuous realm

extricate me from ethereal dimensions

deliver me from this Corinium

before church bells announce tomorrow.

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Biography

Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse and has achieved success in poetry competitions. Recently, he has featured in literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He is a performance poet with extensive experience. His influences extend from Burns to Shakespeare, Kipling to Betjeman, Dennis to Mazzoli.

Rebecca Smith: Devil’s Gallop

Twice a day, like a clock strike, she drives through the jaws of Devils Gallop. She doesn’t look within the bustle of tree trunks, the tumble of bramble. Not anymore. She stares straight ahead with dry, wide eyes, the road running underneath her tyres. The fine hair on her forearms stand to attention and she drives like the devil is on her tail. Maybe he is.

— —

‘Have you said you’d do it yet?’ he asked.

‘Not yet,’ she replied.

‘You have to say yes. Why wouldn’t you?’

— –

The forest they call ‘Devils Gallop’ grew unchecked between her home and the hotel where she works, balancing large plates of hearty food. For this is the north. They come here to drink the thick bitter taste of ale, relish the slow cooked food and delight in the tales of the woods. Fairy tales.

She knows all about the Northern Fairytales. Please beware, you young impressionable girls. Devils Gallop looms over of the road. The trees shadow the tarmac. She drives fast, pre-empting the bends, the curves, the dips of the road and she turns the radio up, drowning out the silence of the wood. A rally driver, in a black skirt and white blouse. This was the darkest stretch of road, the coldest. She shivers at the memory of what she saw. What she thought she saw. There, in the bulging trunks of the trees, a rush of walnut, fur, wood, skin or simply a blast of air, she couldn’t tell.

— –

‘You’re not scared, are you?’ he asked, stretching his seat belt out of shape.

‘Course not,’ she replied, ‘just don’t want to be late for work.’

‘That’s why they want you take over,’ he drummed his fingers on the dashboard.

‘Hmm.’

‘What else are you going to do in life?’

— —

As fast as she could through the wood each day. The branches thickening, lengthening, every year. She can’t help but remember the skin tingling feeling the night she stopped for a cigarette. Leaning on the car door, the cool forest air chasing away the smell of hotel rooms from her skin. Then, a slow strange scent of thick animal fur. Of burning hair.

— –

‘A headless horseman,’ he scoffed. ‘Not very original.’

She shrugged. ‘It was a farm girl. His lover. She stole her father’s rifle. And shot him.’

— –

Most evenings she is alone in the car. The wheels cling to the road as she curves round each corner. The tall sweet chestnut trees, nourished by the black soil block any northern sunshine. The road looks slick with a dearth of sunlight and gathered rain drops. She fears being alone here more than anywhere. In the hotel you are never alone. If you were to stand on the road and look within the bar, you will see how she moves with the small crowd like a wave, how she calculates and considers her role around the customers.

The hotel interior glows brightly from the road. All fear of the Galloping Devil vanishes. The glasses fill and then empty, the heart of the room flurries. The open fire burns the stacked pile of wood.

‘We’ll have to use horses,’ a man as broad as he was tall towers in the doorway. ‘It’s impossible to put a road through Devils Gallop.’

She looks at him.

‘Are you felling Devils Gallop?’

‘We’re coppicing it, love.’

Her eyes drift to the small window and the road outside.

‘Means the wood can grow again,’ he says. She nods. She knows what it means. The trees will be cut down, dragged out by flare footed shy horses. Devils Gallop laid bare.

— –

‘You have to do it,’ he insisted.

‘I’m not sure I want to. I think…’ she hesitated, ‘I want to go away. I want to travel.’

‘You’re not the travelling type, love. You’re better off sticking here. It’s what you know’

— –

On the way home, the car splutters to a slow crawl just before Devils Gallop. The petrol gauge droops comically. Two miles to walk home. She is out of the car and striding into the skirts of the wood before she can stop her silly, young self. Nothing here, she maintains. What has she got to fear but a headless man on a horse. A ribbon of mist swirls in the bowl of the field opposite the wood. A sliver of moon throws cursory light on the edges of everything, growing, breathing.

She walks in the middle of the road, picturing every curve, every corner on the path home. She senses something watching her. She breathes in the scent of wet earth and fresh growth. Fairytale, that’s all. She can’t say it enough.

The wood rises and amongst the mesh of beech, willow and oak , a shape darkens. A shadow. She stands stock still, ready for the rush of fur, the scent of sulphur. She smells leather. Her white blouse shines bright in the darkness. Every muscle twists, tuned tightly, ready to snap.

— –

‘I’m leaving,’ she told him.

‘You can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because. What else are you going to do.’

— –

A strong black silence gathers round her and the small breaths caught in her throat rasp.

‘You don’t have long left,’ she says, ever so bravely, to the spaces between the trees. ‘They’re coppicing Devils Gallop.’

Then she laughs. ‘They’ll see you clearly.’

She laughs again and twirls around on the road, scanning the heart of the wood, searching. The moon seems brighter, and, in seconds, warmth returns. She looks like a story book, lightly skipping up the road. A tale to read to children. A shadow follows her step, keeping its distance. If she were to look behind, she’d see it cower behind the trees. Never far away.

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Biography

Rebecca Smith is a writer who grew up in the middle of nowhere in Cumbria. After a degree in English, Film and Media, she produced live radio for 10 years, almost purely living off adrenaline. She now works in Radio drama. She has stories published in a number of magazines and is currently being mentored by Kirsty Logan. She has one son, a silver-grey cat and penchant for biscuits. At present, the tower of books on her bedside table consists of novels and short stories by Jenni Fagan, Helen Simpson, Danielle McLaughlin, Lorrie Moore, Carys Bray, Kirsty Logan and John Green.

Laura-Blaise McDowell: Changeling

He wasn’t a superstitious man. He wasn’t afraid of what might be. It was the God’s honest truth. It was all his grandmother ever talked about- how when she was small, the town was overrun with them; green-eyed children with something amiss. Careless mothers who left their babies beside open windows would find them replaced in the blink of an eye. Changelings. He knew that people didn’t believe in fairies anymore, and he didn’t believe in ghosts or any of that carry on, not at all. But he knew, when his daughter was born she’d had blue eyes, like him.

‘And how would you know? You were blind drunk,’ his wife had snapped when he voiced his suspicions. She wouldn’t have been so defensive, holding the baby away from him, if he wasn’t right, he thought. She’d left that fucking window open in the kitchen; anything could’ve come in without her noticing, as inclined as she was then to fall asleep whenever the creature stopped squawking for five minutes. He knew it wasn’t his. He spent the child’s early years in a drunken stupor. ‘That open window,’ he would mutter. ‘She had blue eyes.’

Her mother made Siofra three little toys, a wolf, a bear and a swan, and told her that they would protect her if anything bad happened. The girl’s green eyes sparkled. She took the little creatures everywhere with her and held them close when her father would bring the thunder down. Her mother hoped that what she told her daughter was true. When Siofra was ten, she came home from school one day to find her father slumped at the kitchen table. The floor was terribly clean and her mother was nowhere to be found.

‘She’s fucked off,’ her father slurred. ‘Cleaned the place…spotless, the bitch! …Fucked off…’

Siofra ran upstairs and heard his glass smash on the kitchen floor. The shards lay there for weeks. As she got older, Siofra began to look more and more like her mother; black, curly hair, the shape of her face like a knot in wood. The sparkle in her green eyes faded though, and she walked with her head down. Meeting her father’s red eye only brought the devil out in him. Still, in the darkness of her school bag, lived her little wolf, little bear and little swan. Still she clutched them to her at night.

In the summers she often sought refuge in libraries, shopping centres, foyers of cinemas, where she’d pretend to wait for someone. As she got older, she smoked in parks, and as it got later, she drank in bars. There was always someone willing buy a drink for a girl with the ocean in her eyes. One night, she was drinking with a group of young men and women, all of whom were wrapped in glistening, luscious tattoos. She felt at home with them and the more she drank, the more she revealed about her mother leaving and her father’s fury. The weight of their arms around her was the first affection she’d felt since her mother left. She told them all about little wolf, little bear and little swan. In her memory, her words floated in front of her in little golden clouds and the others caught them on their tongues and the tips of their fingers. In her memory, they all had green eyes like her.

And then she woke up, and her memory stopped there. She was lying on a bench in the park near her house, coated in leaves, dew soaking her clothes. The dawn was dancing through the tree branches and her arms and chest felt raw. Sitting up, she looked down to find, inked onto her skin, little wolf on her right arm, little bear on her left arm and little swan on her chest. She stumbled home, head pounding, to find her father waiting for her at the kitchen table. A glass narrowly missed her head as she appeared in the doorway.

‘Think you can just run off? Just like your fucking mother, do ya?’ he yelled, getting up from his chair, steadying himself on the table and walking towards her.

‘Think you can just…just stay out? All night? And what’s…what’s this? Are those tattoos?’ he spat, grabbing her arm right around little wolf. The pain seared through her and she yelped, but it came out as a howl. Her father jumped back, aghast, as Siofra began to morph before his eyes. Grey fur burst from her, her teeth grew long and fierce, her shoulders burst forth until a wolf stood growling in front of him.

She felt her body change but it didn’t hurt, it felt natural, like reaching towards the sky. She leapt forwards, knocking over the table, sending her father flat on his back, and stood with both paws on his chest. His was a child’s face then. She stepped back, releasing him but he didn’t get up. Still growling, she turned and ran upstairs, her paws thundering on the wood, and into her bedroom. In front of her mirror, she saw herself become human again, her back legs stretching, her shoulders jutting back into place, her face shrinking. She looked at her arm. Little wolf’s mouth was open in a howl.

She crept downstairs to check on her father. Still he lay, spread eagled beside the toppled table. He did not stir as she approached. She laid a hand on his throat to check his pulse and all of a sudden his hand sprang up, grabbing the little bear on her left arm. She shrieked but it became a roar. ‘Get off me, you stupid little-’ but he was struck dumb as again, as Siofra began to rise up and transform, this time into a huge bear. She stood over him on her back legs, growling. He scrambled backwards and slipped on spilled drink, cracking his head off the sink. Siofra raised one enormous paw and her silver claws caught the light. Her father lost consciousness. Again she turned and clambered up the stairs, knocking down the frames from the walls as she thundered to her room. Again she watched herself transform back to human form in the mirror. She looked down at her arm. Little bear had a paw raised.

Worried that this time her father might be seriously hurt, she crept down stairs once more. She got a damp cloth from the sink and pressed it to his forehead. This time, he hand flew up right to her throat, catching the head of the little swan in his meaty grip. But he soon let go as he felt feathers in his fingers and Siofra beat her mighty wings against him, becoming a glorious swan. Her father sat, dumbfounded as she rose up, away from his reach, and out the kitchen window.

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Biography

Laura-Blaise McDowell is a 23 year old MA student of Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Her work has appeared in The Runt, The Bohemyth, Silver Apples and Bare Hands. 

 

Siofra O’Donovan: Amnye and the Yeti

The Yeti came in the moonlight, after the monks had blown their horns for evening prayers and Amnye had taken the Yak to the pastures below the temple. Momo, his wife, gave him his dinner when he came back.

“If the Abbot asks for more tax, I’ll throw my dinner at him.” she said, as the children slurped soup around the stove. The dogs were silent.

“Don’t desecrate the clergy.” said Amnye, but inside he agreed with her.

That night, the stars gleamed like the jewels of the Gods but a terrible thing happened. A howling whistle like a ghost’s lament came up from the pastures.  Amnye sat up with his gun and stood at the door and he saw every yak in the pasture dead. Still, black shadows under the moon.

“The Yeti!” he cried, as Momo came to his side, and the dogs growled like thunder. Amnye saw the black figure facing him, wheeling his arm with a yak pat on his head. Amnye knew who he was, pretending to be a man, calling him into the pasture so he could choke him to death.

“Demon! Murderer!” said Momo, spitting on the ground. The children woke up and huddled around them, staring at the dead yak and at the huge mi drong tearing up the hill, his whistles howling in the the wind. Amnye packed a bag of tsampa flour, slung it on his back with his rifle.

“Don’t go.” begged Momo, “He will take you as well!”

The little ones tugged at their Pala’s thick chuba coat, but Amnye would stop at nothing, after this third attack the yeti had made on the village. In the morning, the monks prayed for Amnye and the Abbot did not ask for tax. They said they understood if he had to kill. They had seen such things since the Han soldiers had marched into their land. Amnye’s boots crunched over the crumbling rocks on the pass, and the white peak of the Goddess mountain gleamed like a knife under the moon . Amnye knew the crack in the mountain where the yeti lived, and where he had taken his cousin’s daughters three years before.

Amnye stopped at the creak for his tsampa, and lit a small fire in the crevice, A yeti knew fire. He would smell the smoke but Amnye was ready. He clutched his rifle, the one he’d had since the sky fell down and the wolves howled on the Goddess Mountain. Since the Han came. The sky had never risen again, and all Amnye had known was misfortune. Now, twenty yak were dead and his family would starve in the winter. With all his thoughts of war and enemies, a shadow fell over him.

“The mi-drong is a sentient being. do not take your gun to the cave. He will lead you to the right path.”

Amnye bowed to the lama, who stood before him. But inside, he was angry. The lama had grey hair in a knot and a grey beard draped to his waist and his chest was shiny and strong.

“How am I to avenge the murder of my herd? And the two women robbed?”
“Take your prayer wheel.” said the lama, and vanished into the shadows. Amnye did not have his prayer wheel.  He had his rifle.  In the morning, he saw the eagle in the sky and it swooped down and scratched his bushy hair.

“Ah, ah! Why do you threaten me when I am right!? The Goddess would not afflict me like this!”

The eagle turned and stared in to his eyes, hovering right in front of him on the path.

“You should listen to the lama! Retreat! Bring only your prayer beads, old man…” he swooped away, high in the sky, and danced around the Goddess’s peak.

Amnye reached the peak, and icy winds bit his cheeks, and his tsampa was empty. He saw the Yeti, mocking him, with a yak pat on his head, wheeling his arm around and whistling terribly. Amnye pulled his rifle up, and aimed at the heart, as the Yeti thundered towards him, his sharp white teeth gleaming in the sun, his hairy body dull and thick, his shoulders no man had the back to carry.  He slung Amnye over the hairy shoulder, like a piece of meat. Like every other victim, he was carried into the cave of the Goddess mountain.

Amnye woke in the dark. His cousin’s two sisters were making yak soup on the fire.

“This is where you have been? Why don’t you escape?”
“Our life is good here, Amnye.”

Their minds have been made simple by that monster, Amnye thought. One of them, the salt trader’s girl, was pregnant. It was unimaginable. Amnye searched for his rifle. It was gone. Instead, in his sack, he found his prayer wheel and his prayer beads. He had not packed them, but  there they were . He swung his prayer wheel, around and prayed for peace. He prayed for his life, and for the lives of his cousins’ sisters, and the lives of the people in his family, and for the people in the village, and the yak to be reborn in De Wa Chen, the Western Paradise. He prayed for the end of the wrath of the Yeti.

But a gleaming white figure sailed in through the crack of the cave, tall and shimmering, with silken black hair and eyes as deep as the Turquoise lakes. Her body was slender and wispy…the Goddess of the Mountain.

“Welcome,” she said, “to the mountain. We knew you would come.” she swirled around, as the Yeti came in. “Here you will stay with us, and pray with us.”

Amnye’s mother had always said he should never have been a yak herder. He had the mark of a lama on his ears, long and soft for listening to the sorrows of lost souls. His eyes filled with tears as the Goddess showed him his family climbing up the pathway to give him alms, a year after his capture.  Amnye had always known, but he had forgotten.  Pilgrims from far, far away came to the Goddess Mountain to seek advice from the wise sage Amnye, whose wisdom was as sharp as an eagle, whose strength was as mighty as the Yeti. His family was blessed with a new herd of yak, and the Abbot suspended taxes.  The Yeti served him, cooked for him and cleaned his cave and was even seen sitting with Amnye, spinning his prayer wheel under the snows of the Goddess mountain…

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Biography

Síofra O’Donovan is a published author and an experienced writing workshop facilitator. She was writer in residence in Louth County Libraries and the G.A.A. club in Collon Co. Louth under the  Arts Council and Louth County Council from 2004-6. She is on the Writers in Schools Poetry Ireland panel and the Writers in Prisons panel. She  published Malinski,  a novel, (Lilliput Press, Dublin 2000),  and Pema and the Yak, a travelogue (Pilgrims Books, Varanasi and L.A., 2006). ‘She understands those strange and beautiful moments when the metaphors of poetry become literal in our lives, as children face the challenges of the adult world.’ Pr. Declan Kiberd, UCD.

Sheena Power: On the Matter of Dublin’s Gargoyle Population

Dublin is not quite as infested with gargoyles as some other European cities. This is a result of gargoyle-hunting, which was in vogue about a century ago. Being slow (one might say even motionless) creatures, hunting gargoyles required no speed and little skill. Sharp eyes and an axe did the trick.

It was a perfect after-dinner sport, when a gentle amble through winding alleys was enlivened with the hope of bagging a few specimens. As this pastime gained popularity, interest grew in the creatures themselves.

Their independence and love of window ledges suggested a kinship to cats, and so there was a brief movement to domesticate them. Gargoyle-fanciers vaunted them as uncomplaining and placid, but most people found them to be unaffectionate. In the end the venture failed due to their complete failure to breed in captivity.

Questions were eventually raised as to the ethics of gargoyle hunting. Claims that the gargoyles fed on roof-slates, and were to blame for the shoddy state of many church spires, were, frankly, taradiddles1. And not even Preston Blumenthal (a travelling chef and wizard of the time) served them for dinner more than once. Gargoyles, as we now know, contain little or nothing of nutritional value, and their flesh is exceedingly tough.

As a result of petitioning, gargoyles were eventually granted status as a protected species. Gargoyle hunting, as a sport requiring no perceptible movement, was superseded by golf. The remnants of what was once a healthy and thriving colony still cling to old buildings around the town. One would think, gazing about at the erstwhile nesting places of their former friends, the stony faces would look sad, but by and large they all look as though they are grinning to themselves. There is just no understanding gargoyles.

1 cobblers 2

2 balderdash 3

3 tommyrot 4

4 piffle 5

5 hogswash 6

6 codswallop 7

7 bilge 8

8 flim-flam 9

9 somewhat lacking in veracity

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Biography

Sheena Power is an illustrator from Dublin. Her work ranges from dragons on the cover of J.R.R. Tolkien: the Forest & the City, to Christmas cards for scientists. Although she draws for a living, her real love is writing. Her story Aurelia Aurita was published in Tales From The Forest; Ink Blot won the Bath Adhoc Competition, and her as-yet- unpublished novel was one of those selected for this year’s International Literary Festival’s Date With An Agent event.

Liam Campbell

imageimage (1)image (2)

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Biography

Liam Campbell studied photography at IADT between 2001 – 05 before going on to complete his Masters in Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD in 2006 – 07. He is interested in alternative ways of living that revolve around food and the environment. Working abroad he has worked with homeless in Littlerock, Arkansas, USA, also on Cultural Exchange Programmes in Norway with Atlantis working in fishing and agriculture. Before going on to work with Project 67 in Israel on Kibbutz in Ein GeV where he worked in the fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee. He has also taught a number of photographic workshops Based on A sense of place. He lives and works in N. Ireland.