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When he saw the leaf fall, he felt terribly sad. The tree is broken, he said.
Using his sadness as a nail, he scrambled up the side of the tree and stuck the leaf back on to its branch.
That's better, he told the tree, content to have found a use for all this sadness.
When the next leaf fell, he discovered he had not used up his sadness after all. And when, as he tried to snatch the leaf from the wind's lips, another leaf tumbled over and down, he found he had more sadness than he had realised.
Leaves fell on all sides. They spiralled about him. Rolling, drifting as they fell.
The forest is broken! he cried, running first to this tree, then to that. There were so many more leaves than he had fingers to catch them between. He rushed from branch to bough, trunk to tree. Hammering a sadness-nail into each sepia-tinted leaf. On and on, and on and on. More frantic with each passing moment.
If only I can fix the forest, if only, if only ...
He worked on and on. And on and on. Fresh nails always to hand, darting from tree to tree, tree to tree as leaves fell about him on every side.
So many leaves, so many. More leaves than nails, and there were so many nails.CHAPTER 2
we never go upstairs. only people who think they're above themselves go upstairs. beds, bathrooms, wardrobes: these aren't for ordinary people. it's true. other people say it's true. we hear them talking and so never go upstairs.
we don't want to be thought of as different.CHAPTER 3
A Man who Faced Both Ways
There was once a man who faced both ways at once. The wind would tug at his big ears (a hole on each side so the two faces could listen simultaneously to what they wanted to hear), spinning him this way, twirling him that. What opinions you heard all depended on which face happened to be pointing at you and how the wind was blowing just then.
So, where he might be right behind the idea of, say, gravity one minute, the next he could be vehemently against its influence and all in favour of fitting everyone with buoyancy aids. It all depended. In very high winds, the man contradicted himself so frequently people not only lost count, they lost interest, too. Which was a shame, because the man did like to be the centre of attention.
"I like to be able to see all sides," he told his wife. "No, I don't," he said later, when the wind changed direction. "I think its useful to understand the other person's point of view," he added, only to change his mind seconds later as a hefty southerly from the direction of the dog spun him round to present his other face to the world.
Now and then, someone tried to pin the man down. Literally, sometimes. It made no difference. He twisted and twirled so much, it was impossible to get him to stick to a point of view.
Then came the afternoon of the Truly Terrible Storm. The wind thrashed hugely. The man rotated so very quickly, neither face was still long enough for him to say more than "Uh?". He twirled so much, he finally ripped in two.
Actually, there was quite a lot of him to begin with. More than enough for two people. When the wind dropped, the two people that once had been the same man looked at each other for the first time.
"Well, you're a handsome chap."
"So are you. Strange we've never met before."
"Isn't it. Tell me, what do you think of inflatable microwave dinners?"
"I'm all in favour."
"Really? I'm against. Tell me why you like them."
After that, there was no stopping them. Nor any interrupting them, either. The two men, who had previously been one man able to face both ways at once, could hear only themselves talking, recognised only the other's existence. Which was really how it had been all along, come to think of it.CHAPTER 4
The Inmates of the Beehive
The beehive stood in the centre of the lawn beside a tree. Apart from the tree, the bees were quite alone. A border of flowers surrounded the lawn. A hedge surrounded the border of flowers. The bees were quite enclosed.
From time to time, they paused by the hive door and stared out across the garden. Perhaps someone would come, they thought. There were welfare organisations, charities making sure prisoners were looked after. Or given aid parcels, at least. So, the bees paused, and looked, and hoped.
No one came.
The lawn seemed to grow wider, the border denser, the hedge higher. The bees were quite trapped. They could only stare out of the hive and wonder what they had done to be imprisoned like this.
Meanwhile, the tree stood beside the hive and had its own dreams of escape. It dreamed of ladders. Climbing ladders, becoming a ladder and climbing its own rungs out of the garden. And, slowly, it grew into a ladder: mossy rungs, bark along the sides and buttressed with roots to keep it from falling over.
The bees watched suspiciously. It might be a trick, something cruel and psychological. They expected the tree-ladder to become a tree again. Or, worse, another border.
Hoping for escape, the tree stayed a ladder.
At last, the bees made a break for it. Up the tree-ladder. Over the lawn, the border, the hedge. Then down into the lane. Free! The bees turned to run, then paused and carefully tugged at the ladder until its roots came loose.
Then they all ran, bees and ladder-tree turned tree-fugitive. Far away they ran, escaping to Bolivia or someplace further still.
Behind them, the garden sat about the empty hive and the hole where the tree had been and wondered where it had gone wrong.CHAPTER 5
The family talk it over, and over. Then under, just in case. Tin-can days rattle by as they discuss, followed by grease-stained nights which are hard to ignore and harder to stomach. There seems no better way, they all agree.
A ladder helps them up to the roof, rungs groaning under the weight of uncles, aunts, fathers and second-cousins' mothers. Fumbling the knots, then pulling them tight at last, the family go back inside and look out of the windows. Waiting and hopeful.
Where, then, is the wind? It should be here — Better late than never and just when it seemed that good intentions, and the ideas they crease and fold out of waste paper, were not what they might be, the wind comes.
It picks up the kite the family has tied to the top of their house. Such a pretty kite, of azure and celadon, with a long, long tail that looks like the spiralling songs of meadowlarks as the wind trails its long, long fingers down it. Beguiled, the wind hugs the azure and celadon kite. Then darts away. Up and away into the air. Up into the grimy sky.
Knots tighten and hold, then the house and the family inside it follow the kite following the wind. Up and away and off to somewhere better, so much better. Wind pulling kite, kite pulling house, house bringing along the whole family. From generosity or simple absent-mindedness, who can say?
But, away they fly. To somewhere better. At least, that's what they dream.CHAPTER 6
The old woman put a hand to her ear, her ear to the radio: What's he say?
He said it's Wednesday today, mother! bellowed the old man.
Can't be, said his wife, it's Wednesday today!
That's what —
Stupid radio's got it wrong again! and his wife, the old woman, belted the radio with her stick.
The radio, looking hurt, hid in the corner.
Later, her husband, the old man, put on his CD of Highland Pipers piping in the Highlands.
It's quiet in here, i'n't it? cried his wife.
Apart from me CD, you mean? replied her husband, loudly, over the skirling of piped Highlands.
Not hearing him, the old woman peered at the CD player. This is on the blink, she yelled, turning the Highland Pipers up full.
The house shook. Dogs barked. The old man, her husband, clapped his hands over his ears. The CD player rattled and bounced.
Yes, bawled the old woman, his wife, this must be bust, can't hear a thing.
So saying, she belted the CD player with her stick.
Looking hurt, the CD player took away the CD of the Highland Pipers piping in the Highlands and found a corner to sulk in.
Here, howled the old man, my CD!
What? squawked his wife. You say something?
I sez — You speak up if you've got something to say, I'm busy, me.
I sez —
But the old woman had already left the room.
Later still, the old man, her husband, risked putting on the telly. Wisely, he turned on the subtitles, too.
What's that say? hollered his wife, the old woman, as she came into the room.
Put your reading glasses on!
You seen me reading glasses? The old woman patted her head, pockets, the sideboard, the space between the cushions. I can't find me glasses. The gold fish must've had them. What's that say?
It says —
What's she saying?
She said — Eh?!
She said —
Eh?!! What say?!!!
Finally, the old man, her husband, turned off the sound and the subtitles. His wife, the old woman, hypnotised by the colours and movement on the screen, sat passively in the chair next to his. After a while, he opened his mouth, only to close it again. Words unspoken and, in time, quite forgotten as he sat there alone with the flickering lights and the silence.CHAPTER 7
A Young Boy's Enquiry
Why, the young boy asked his mother one day as they were walking along the street, do we get earthquakes?
Because, replied his mother, the Earth is learning to belly dance —
Like Auntie Lol, put in the boy.
— like Auntie-Lol-don't-interrupt, so, you see, bits shake and that's why we have earthquakes, finished his mother.
'Scuse me, said a man, but I couldn't help overhearing. You can't tell the boy that about earthquakes. It isn't true. Young people should always be told the truth so that they can grow up all properly adjusted and able to think clearly for themselves and know what's what and which is which, not to mention who's how and why's what for and where's whichever or who, nor forgetting why is what and which and who and all that.
The man took a deep breath and fanned himself a little.
Mother and son exchanged a puzzled look. Well then, they said, why do we get earthquakes?
Because, the man explained very seriously and carefully, underneath all this soil and rock, the Earth's made of trifle. The jelly wobbles, the cream slips and the hundreds and thousands grate against the underside of the soil and the rock. Making earthquakes.
And, from then on, the boy went everywhere with a spoon. Just in case come custard should erupt.CHAPTER 8
She came up to him in the street and belted him one across the head. Now we're married! she told him.
He rubbed his sore head: Why d'you shout so loud?
To make sure I'm heard, she replied, belting him one across the head again.
He rubbed his developing bruises: And why do you keep hitting me?
To make sure I'm noticed, she replied, belting him again. And because you're mine.CHAPTER 9
Casper and the Empress
The Empress arrived, pausing so that everyone could see her as the chauffer sidled away with the car. If there were no cheers, the Empress seemed not to notice. At last, the chauffer returned and led her in stately procession into the house. Casper, kneeling, bowed his head. The Empress was pleased to see this subservience. It was well that people recognised her status.
Once inside, she bestowed blessings and benedictions on all those lucky enough to be there. Distant relatives they might all be, but it was their good fortune she had deigned to visit. An uncle was unceremoniously tipped from the best chair in the room by the chauffer. The Empress sat, explaining to stunned aunts and cousins (stunned, of course, by being in the Imperial Presence) that people ought to stand more.
Quickly, she handed out further pearls of wisdom and acute observation: isn't the weather very weathery today? isn't it a shame people no longer bow as much as they did? always remember to display flowers stem up so that they last longer, and eat a hundred-weight of prunes each morning to ward off flies.
Finally, because she hated to see a wrong and not exert herself to the utmost to fix it, the Empress had the chauffer turn the kitchen into a tea room and the dinette into a rock garden. It was, she informed her bewildered relatives, the best way of using the space in their house.
Although she knew they wanted her to stay for much longer, the Empress left after twenty-two minutes. There was so much to do, so many nicer places to visit. The announcement was met with silence. Secretly, she preferred it if people pleaded with her to stay, although she understood the silence. They were so very obviously sad that she was leaving. Pausing on the doorstep, she informed them all how much she valued their adoration.
"Although, and I know you will take this in the proper spirit, you must do something about those hairstyles. They don't suit you at all!"
With that, she swept off towards the car, bestowing regal waves. Casper still had his head bowed. The Empress was most impressed by this display of fealty and determined to remember him always. Alas, busy as she was bringing beauty and order to the world, she quite forgot Casper the moment the car rounded the corner.
Only then did Casper look up. A mere neighbour and not a member of the family at all, he hardly knew the Empress. Not that that would have stopped him being polite had he noticed her. He had been so absorbed in his work, he had quite missed her. An accident but one that gave him a twinge of guilt just the same.
However, the job was done. A fairly simple repair, but one requiring plenty of concentration. With a sigh of contentment, Casper cast about for the next task. Happiest when he was busy, being busy doing things for someone else made him happier still.
"Oh," he said as he noticed the changes wrought by the Empress, "what happened here?"
He listened with a mystified smile, then gave a shrug.
"I'll have it back to normal in a jiffy," he said and turned red under the waves of thanks. "Oh, it's nothing. It's nice to be useful, isn't it?"CHAPTER 10
An Unfortunate Accident
I was sitting quietly, when the idea that I'd had an unfortunate accident in my brand new shorts crept over me. Horrified, I shuffled off to check. I undid the shorts and gingerly looked inside.
No accident. Just a small crab, a bit ruffled from being sat on. It gave me a sour look and scuttled off.
The crab left a packet of peanuts behind. Shakily, I ate one of the nuts.
Prawn cocktail flavour.
Disgusted, I spat out the half-chewed nut. Where the fragments landed, out-of-town shopping malls, car parks and cafés sprang up. Some of the shoppers were prawns, but most were people. The people had brought shopping bags from home. They wore them on their heads. The bags looked like hessian, but smelled of damp plastic.
All of the prawn shoppers whistled in spring sunshine. All the people shoppers waited in drab rain. They formed a long, long queue for the bus and said nothing. Just dripped and looked glum.
I'm not wearing shorts again.CHAPTER 11
I Want to Go Out
Did you see my feet? asked the man.
I don't think so, his wife replied, have they flown away again?
They've gone, sighed the man, I imagine I won't be able to go out today.
That's nice, replied his wife.
The following day, the man discovered that his hands were also missing.
Perhaps, suggested his wife, they've run away to sea. That happens more than people like to admit, you know.
But, the man said unhappily, I was going out today. How will I open the door now?
His wife simply smiled at having him home so unexpectedly.
Next day, the door itself disappeared. A pale rectangle in the wallpaper showed where it once stood.
The man looked at the rectangle. He really wanted to go out. Despite no feet and no hands, he really wanted to go out. Now this. Perhaps, he thought, I can leave by the window.
When he tried, he discovered his wife stealing the windows.
Why? he asked. And, then again, why also? You stole the door, didn't you?
Without pausing in her work, his wife nodded.
And my feet and my hands? — another nod — Why?
Because, said his wife stuffing another window into a black sack. Because I don't want you going out. When you're out and I'm in, I'm all alone and I don't want to be alone. You're always going out and leaving me alone. I don't want that. Don't, don't. So there.
With that, she took away both his legs and hid them well out of sight.
The man stayed in with his wife. All day, every day from then on. Oddly, the window-less, door-less house still seemed empty. Emptier, perhaps, for the wife felt lonelier than ever before.CHAPTER 12
How Still the Long, Full Days
There was once a pot of primordial soup from which all life was due to spring. It sat on the hob, simmering steadily as it brewed amino acids and proteins out of raw creation: carrots, lentils, an onion, some celery, a dash of pepper. There was also a good helping of rough-chopped parsley, so any newly created microbes would get to know about photosynthesis and the nitrogen cycle.
The pot bubbled for ages, its contents beginning to cook nicely. Then there was a power cut. The hob cooled and the soup went off the boil. After four or five days, an automated message from the electricity company phoned to say they were really sorry but their engineers were having trouble finding the fault. The synthetic voice assured the soup the electricity company really valued its custom and hoped it would be patient for just a little longer.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Wild Animal Ate a Person in the Woods"
Copyright © 2018 Adam Craig.
Excerpted by permission of Cinnamon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Man who Faced Both Ways,
The Inmates of the Beehive,
A Young Boy's Enquiry,
Casper and the Empress,
An unfortunate accident,
I Want to Go Out,
How Still the Long, Full Days,
I'd like to live in a treehouse,
A wild animal ate a person in the woods,