A Walk In The Woods
A Walk In The Woods
A Short Story By Mark Cantrell
Copyright(C) January 1996
ONCE, there lived a simple woodsman called Grimble. He made his living
from the Great Forest, cutting timber to serve his own meagre needs.
Life was hard, but he was his own master and the Forest did not unduly
suffer from the tender pruning it received.
Yet all things must change and such a time came to Grimble. Great
cities arose throughout the land, spreading southwards until a city was
founded on the very borders of Grimble's forest. This city needed wood.
For craft, for fuel and for art, Grimble and his kind supplied the wood
Soon there came to this city a man of great wealth. This fortune he had
made in one of the lesser cities, and hearing of the Great Forest he
became enamoured of its promise. Together with the City's rulers he
conspired to possess the Forest, even though it had been in the
possession of all.
So it was that this man became known as the WoodMaster and built
himself a great palace in the City. An edict was issued that none may
touch the Master's wood: the woodsmen were ruined and
The cities cried out for wood, as the Master knew they must. And so he
made an offer to the Woodsmen he knew they could not refuse; they would
cut timber for the Master and he would sell it.
The Master's wealth increased and he grew fat from the proceeds of the
timber. While the woodsmen and their families survived from day to day
on the little the Master paid them. And so it went on year after
Now the Great Forest was not the only forest in the land. Soon new
masters appeared. The WoodMaster struggled to sell his timber.
His anger was great. More timber was felled and the Master sold it for
less than his rivals did. The woodsmen had to toil all the harder to
calm the Master's wrath.
"My timber sells for less," he raged. "And so you must work for
The woodsmen suffered terribly, yet still the Master grew in wealth and
girth until he could no longer walk, but lay on his couch while
servants stuffed his mouth with grapes and other succulent
And still the years passed with no end to the toil. Until the Great
Forest began to dwindle, its majestic trees as sparse as the hair on a
bald man's head. The Master was loth to spend his wealth on
replenishing his forest. His rivals did no such thing. So he did not,
but conquered fresh forests instead.
So it was, that one day Grimble ventured into the thinning Forest, axe
in hand. With a heavy heart he approached a young tree and prepared to
strike the first blow.
At that moment a woman appeared before him, so close he had to strain
to turn his blow and avoid hitting her. Instead the axe struck a stone
with such force that the pain of it caused Grimble to drop the
The woman said nothing as he massaged his jarred hands, just looked at
him sorrowfully. Her skin was as brown as autumn leaves. Her hair was
brilliant gold and cascaded over naked shoulders. She was clad only in
"Who are you?" he asked, more gruffly than he intended.
The woman walked closer, stumbled and fell against him. Instinctively
Grimble supported the woman as her hands weakly pawed his chest. She
looked up at him, those green eyes burning bright from a face and body
emaciated from sickness. Grimble shuddered but he did not let go.
"Why do you persecute me, Grimble?" the woman whispered.
"I'm not," he stammered in confusion. "I don't even know you."
The woman smiled feebly and closed her eyes for a moment as though
gathering strength. At last she said: "Has it been so long? Once you
would have known me."
"But I do not, Lady. Who are you?"
"I'm part of you, Grimble. I'm in every living thing - the birds and
the beasts, the flowers and the trees. I am the spirit of the Forest.
You may call me Gaia if you wish."
"Gaia?" Grimble replied in disbelief. "And what would you want with
"To ask you this: why do you persecute me?"
"Lady, I do not persecute you. I simply cut wood for the Master."
The woman smiled and closed her eyes. For a moment she rested her head
against Grimble's chest and then whispered: "You do not persecute me.
Yet still the Forest dies."
"That is not my doing," Grimble said sadly, remembering for a moment
the Forest as it once had been. Before the Master arrived.
"But you can stop it," she said, looking up sharply. "Help me Grimble.
Let the Forest live."
Grimble looked away sadly, ashamed of his role under the scrutiny of
those penetrating eyes. "I cannot help you," he said, shrugging. "Talk
to the Master. Only he can save what he owns."
The Master will not see me," Gaia said sadly. "But how can he own what
was here before him and what could still be long after he has
"I don't know. I only cut wood."
The woman released Grimble and took a staggering step away. She pointed
at a patch of bare soil between the thinning trees. "Look," she said
hoarsely, moving her arms in a circular motion.
Grimble gasped as a mist swirled around him. It surrounded him with
cold, cloying fingers. The Forest faded from view. A disk appeared,
suspended in the mist, a brilliant orb of blue and green and white.
Then slowly it faded to putrid brown and grey.
The image changed. The festering orb faded and was replaced by a
windswept landscape. Dead trees littered the wasted ground. In the
distance a ruined city towered over the horizon. The ground was
scattered with bones.
The woman gripped Grimble's hand and squeezed. The sensation shocked
him and he turned to face her. "Such is my future, Grimble," she
whispered imploringly. "Save me!"
Trembling, Grimble looked back at the apparition of death. It
evaporated with the mist, revealing the still-living forest. He turned
back to the woman, but she had gone.
THE following morning found the timberyard in turmoil. The woodsmen had
gathered round the GuildMaster. Angry words were being exchanged.
"What is going on here?" Grimble asked.
"The Master is bringing in machines to do our work," the man snarled
his reply. "Most of the men are to go. Those who are left will man his
machines. Our GuildMaster has agreed for his own good."
Grimble looked up at the GuildMaster standing on the old tree stump,
dressed in a silk waistcoat and tailored suit. His thoughts returned to
the apparition in the woods: the sick, frail woman imploring him, those
intense sorrowful eyes burning into his conscience.
With a call for silence Grimble dragged the GuildMaster down from the
stump and threw him into the dirt. Grimble spoke to the Woodsmen. He
spoke of their dispossession. Of the destruction of the Forest and the
Master's growing wealth. These words touched the woodsmen, caused the
anger, the frustration, the bitterness of years to boil up from the
depths of their souls. Only the GuildMaster's whining voice of protest
could be heard, but soon he was drowned out in the uproar.
"Down with the Master!" they cried as one and marched to the
Through the gates they stomped, still calling for the Master. Many
joined the march and swelled its numbers until thousands of angry
voices shook the city to its foundations. Everywhere cries and cheers
greeted them from windows and hovels and still their numbers
Until at last they halted before the Palace gates. The Captain of the
Watch stood before them. A contingent of his men already manned the
"What do you want? Get back to work!" he shouted. The crowd fell
silent. "This is a public disturbance. If you do not disperse you will
"Out of the way lackey!" Grimble shouted in reply. A volley of rotten
fruit pelted the Captain's men standing before the gates.
"You are under arrest!" the Captain blustered. "Take him!"
Men of the Watch hesitantly came forward to drag Grimble away, but the
crowd surged forward and cut them down. Grimble lashed out at the
Captain and saw the man fall. He waited no longer, raised his axe in
the air and signalled the people to the attack. Together they rushed
through the gates, scattering the panic-stricken Watchmen who vainly
tried to stem the flow.
Fighting spread to every corner of the Palace. The cries of the people,
harsh in anger, pitiable in pain, echoed from the walls as the Watchmen
were steadily swallowed up in a tide of rage.
At last the fighting began to ebb as the last few Watchmen were
defeated. Grimble and several of his fellow woodsmen hastened to the
Master's public chambers. They burst in, but the City's rulers had
already fled, taking what they could of the Master's gold. He they had
left to the mercy of the woodsmen.
The WoodMaster rolled onto the floor and tried vainly to crawl away,
only to be defeated by his great size. There he lay, panting with fear
and exertion, groveling in his remaining gold like a grotesque,
"Take my money!" he whined. "But please don't hurt me!"
"We don't want your gold," Grimble said quietly. "Your gold has been a
chain around our necks and death to the Forest. We have come to break
those chains and unleash life."
The Master screamed in a terrible gurgle as Grimble stepped forward.
With a look of sorrow and pity Grimble raised his axe. The others also
raised theirs. And struck.
The deed done, Grimble wiped the spattered blood from his face. Wearily
he turned towards the bronze doors and the great gathering that had
assembled to crush the Master's reign. The people looked at Grimble in
astonished uncertainty. Then they turned their gaze onto the Master's
Only one pair of eyes still watched Grimble. They were green, intense,
and alive. The Lady smiled. Grimble returned her smile and held her
gaze until the spell between them was broken and she turned to walk
"The Master is dead!" a man suddenly cried, joyously throwing his arms
in the air. "We can all live again."
That cry swept through the people, crashing through the Palace to echo
over the City. The sound of the people's triumph was heard even in the
Forest where birds began to sing and the trees sprang into bloom.
Bradford, 23 January 1996