Jennifer Hor


Story Length: 2,260 words © Jennifer Hor 2002

Jennifer Hor I Forest Vision page 1

The captain of the firing squad faced the blindfolded student. "You are permitted one last request before I order my men to open fire," he told the young man, "just one last request. What shall it be?"

The student was silent for a moment before he spoke, slowly and carefully. "When you have killed me, don't let my relatives bury me in the family plot in the town cemetery. Bury me instead in an unmarked grave in the middle of the forest in Black Mountain district which is a five-day journey on horseback from here."

"Eh?" the captain exclaimed, "may I ask why you want to be buried in such a faraway


"I'll tell you why," the other said and began his story.

My grandparents owned a farm in Black Mountain district not far from the forest itself. I stayed at the farm as a child when summers in the lowlands were oppressively hot. My grandparents never had much time for me and there were few other people who lived in the area then as now so I had no play-mates and I spent the days wandering about the farm watching the servants and labourers, and sometimes walking about in the surrounding fields. My grandparents didn't mind me roaming about but there was one restriction they placed on


"You must never go near the forest at the foot of the mountain," they told me. "But why can't I go there?"

"Just don't go there. Terrible things can happen to a child there."

The servants and labourers agreed with my grandparents. "It's not a good place for a child to wander in," they all said.

"But why not? All the wolves and bears have gone, haven't they?"

"You're too young," was the answer. Or "You must do as you're told." Or "One day you'll understand why you shouldn't go there."

So I accepted my elders' advice for a long time. As I grew older, taller and bolder though, I believed my grandparents and their household less and less about many things. My teachers at school said that old people and peasants often held superstitious beliefs about

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things which had no basis in fact. I began to think that my grandparents and their servants also had superstitious beliefs about the forest. I knew from my history lessons that people had visited the forest many times with few mishaps and the wolves and bears that had once lived there had been exterminated many centuries ago. So it was that when I was fourteen or fifteen years old and once again staying with my grandparents during the summer holidays, I decided to explore the forest.

The day was sunny with clear skies when I walked from the farm to the forest. The trees were tall but not close together, allowing the sunlight through the boughs and foliage to light up the grass and fern patches and the carpets of fallen leaves and twigs. I could hear birds trilling their clear melodies. I sat under an old gnarled tree to rest my feet and to savour the sights, sounds and smells around me. The air was warm and a soft breeze wafted rich flower and leaf scents past my nose. Sitting under the large, old tree, watching the butterflies and feeling the sun's warmth, I felt very relaxed and closed my eyes.

When I opened them again a short time later, the forest was suddenly dark and silent.

The air was chill and a wind began to blow, sweeping the leaves and twigs in a whittering twirl. I got up quickly to leave but no matter where I turned, left or right, the leaves leapt and chattered in a circular frenzy, the twigs threw themselves at me, the wind blew into my face and I could not leave the tree. As the wind blew and the leaves and twigs rushed about, I detected a new sound: a low moan was emanating from the ground.

It was the most frightening sound I'd ever heard - its vibrations shuddered through the tree roots and I felt it in my legs, sending chills up my body and into my arms. The whole forest seemed to join in this low, groaning noise. Long, black shadows flickered in what little light could still penetrate through the tree-tops and the leaves and twigs continued to dance madly while the earth moaned.

Then the wind gave a loud, almost human sigh and the leaves and twigs quickly scattered, leaving the ground bare. The earth rippled as the drone grew louder and louder. Before I could move, a fissure opened in the soil and oozed a strange, dark fluid that smelt strong and stuffy.

It looked like blood.

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I tried to scream and the drone rose into a deafening roar of an inhuman chorus of moans, cries and screams all demanding to be heard, pouring into my ears, my throat, my lungs my head, filling my entire body until every cell was shuddering with noise. Waves of noise streamed through my nerves and blood, and steamed out of my skin, hair, fingers and toes. I couldn't move - it was as if the drone had dissolved the barrier between my body and the forest. But I could still see, hear and smell. I still had awareness. I saw the fissure pumping out thick red blood. The stench filled my nostrils and I wanted to vomit but my throat seemed paralysed.

There was pressure on top of my head. It was impossible, I knew, but it had to be the old tree behind me putting a branch on top of my head. Thin, wooden spider fingers crept down my face and the sides and back of my head. They crawled over my eyes and ears, cutting offmy vision of the fissure and blunting the sound of the drone.

But I saw and heard new things.

I saw the forest as I did when I first entered it - the sun shining through the branches, the butterflies fluttering about, the birds on the boughs singing.

I saw people - men, women, children, elderly folk - being marched into the forest by soldiers bearing rifles and bayonets. I heard the women weeping, the elderly people praying, a child screaming, the soldiers cursing. An elderly man fell. He lay on the ground as if dead.

I saw the people being ordered into lines. The soldiers pushed them, kicked them, beat them with their weapons. The soldiers then stood back, raised their rifles, steadied them. There were quick explosions and the smell of bullets. The people fell to the ground. There were groans and whimpers. The soldiers stabbed at the bodies with their bayonets. One soldier vomited over the bodies. Then they walked out of the forest. The smell of blood and vomit rose into the still air.

I saw more people coming into the forest. Again, they were men, women, children, old people, all dressed in ordinary clothes. They might have been people I knew in the town where my parents lived and where I went to school. The soldiers shouted at them and hit them with their rifles. Again, the people were lined up, shot, bayoneted and mutilated, and then left to bleed and die among the original corpses on the forest floor.

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Again and again and again, I saw more people marched into the forest like so many unwanted cattle, and again and again and again the soldiers, with their blank faces and glassy eyes, shot these people and hacked their bodies. The dreary actions repeated themselves constantly. Nothing made sense. The soldiers walking out of the forest to herd a new batch of people in to shoot them, stab them, mutilate them, then walking out again in a steady rhythm .... like killing machines. The people walking into the forest unquestioningly, staring ahead with dumb expressions, some people crying perhaps, letting themselves be beaten, shoved about, shot, mutilated, left to die, slowly and in agony. Why was this happening? What was going on between the soldiers and their victims? Why didn't the people try to resist?

The soldiers left the forest and did not come back. The stench of blood and gunfire was overpowering. The groans and whimpers died away. There was the steady buzz of flies. The trees stood unnaturally still around the death scene. Then the vision faded away into a red darkness.

The pressure on my head lifted. I could feel the fingers draw away from my eyes and ears. The droning grew quieter and died away. The feeling returned to my body and I could move my arms and legs again. I could see the leaves lying inert on the ground in front of me. I pushed them away with my foot but the fissure had closed up. I sniffed the air - the blood smell had gone and there was just that flower and leaf scent I had originally smelt when I first came into the forest.

I ran out of the forest as fast as I could. I never went there again. But I could never forget that vision. The forest had generated that vision somehow to communicate something to me. But what was the message? Was the forest really sending it or was it merely an instrument for sending the message? Who was sending it then? Why send it to me of all people? And most of all --what was I supposed to do?

I never told anyone of my experience in the forest. It had a subtle influence on my life. It was that vision that turned me away from a military career that my parents had hoped I would take up and which directed me instead to studying philosophy at university.

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I was nineteen and working in the university library one day on an assignment the professor had given my class. While browsing through various texts and pamphlets, I came across a book that had been misplaced on the shelves. I picked up the book and saw its title:

"A History of Black Mountain from Ancient Times to the Modem Period". I flipped through the pages. Yes, they told the usual history of how the area had originally been inhabited by Celtic and Germanic tribes who used the forest to worship their gods and build shrines for offerings and sacrifices before they came under the rule of the Roman Empire. Then the area was subjected to invasion, settlement and resettlement over the centuries, passing from one empire to another. One paragraph in particular caught my eye:

" .... in 1848, an ' estimated 1500 to 1700 people left their homes and fled to the Black Mountain district during the political riots that broke out in the major cities and towns. Most people took refuge in the forest where they died of disease and starvation and soldiers found no survivors when they searched the forest and surrounding areas. The army successfully quelled the discontent, arresting and imprisoning the perpetrators who were mostly revolutionaries in the universities and the newly formed workers' unions. Order was quickly restored .... "

1848 - the year I was born. The strange forest vision flashed through my mind at that moment. I suddenly understood the message of that vision. Those 1500 to 1700 people hadn't fled to the forest and starved or whatever - they had been marched there so the soldiers could butcher them and the killings be kept secret. Now I realised the souls of those dead had sent me the vision because they needed me to obtain justice for them. But how? I decided to join the student revolutionary group at the university to find out how. The friendships and connections I made through the group led me to the identity of the man who had secretly ordered the massacre of the previous generation of revolutionaries and their families in the heart of Black Mountain forest. I decided that the best way to avenge the dead was to kill him.

"So that's why you shot the Chief Minister in cold blood?" the captain said. "Yes," the student replied.

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"And you expect me to believe your story about your forest vision?"

"It's your choice if you want to believe me or not. I'm already condemned so what you do won't make any difference to me."

"Is there anything more you want to say?"


The captain spat in the dust. "Very well. The sentence for assassination will now be carried out by the order of the Emperor and the assent of Parliament and the Chief Judge." He went over to where the soldiers were waiting, their rifles by their sides. "Raise arms!" he cried. They did so in one swift movement. "Take aim!" The rifles all pointed at the student.


Several bursts of gunfire went off. The execution was quick and efficient. A doctor later examined the body, pronounced the student dead and signed the death certificate. The body was then taken to the town morgue. What became of it is unknown.

After the other student revolutionaries were arrested and executed for their part in the Chief Minister's assassination, the Emperor declared that peace and order had been restored. The Chief Minister was given a State funeral with full military honours. Biographers and historians praised him as a just and incorruptible politician who was killed in his prime by a group of crazed assassins working for the empire's enemies.


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