My muse is somewhat, shall we say, opinionated. Derric, the young man with the dimpled smile, came up in conversation.
“I despise him at a level I cannot put into words,” she told me.
So I tracked him down and talked to him. He is at once grandiose and naive. So befitting such a figure, I give you:
Derric and the Forest Spirit
A Children’s Story.
Derric was a handsome young man who lived in the woods. He lived with his father and Bruno, his big shaggy dog. Derric was a woodsman like his father, and he was very quick with his axe.
One day, Derric was looking for trees he could chop down for firewood. He and Bruno walked a long way through the forest, looking for just the right tree. He walked so long he lost his way, and before he knew it it was getting dark.
“We should stop here and make camp, Bruno,” Derric said to his dog. Bruno wagged his tail happily, because he liked being outdoors.
So Derric gathered some little pieces of wood and made a fire, and settled down to relax looking up at the stars.
He was just about to fall asleep when he heard a funny noise.
“Ka-ka-too!” said the noise. “Ka-ka-too!”
“Who’s there?” Derric asked. He sat up and held his axe in both hands.
“We are the spirit of the Forest!” said the voice. “We want you to stop cutting down our trees.”
“But I am a woodsman,” Derric said to the voice, even though he couldn’t see anybody. “Cutting down trees is my job. I make wood so people can have fires.”
“You cut us down and then you burn us!” said the voice, angrily. "That makes you a murderer!"
Derric stood up and looked around. He didn’t know if he should be angry or scared.
“Trees make wood,” he said, “and people need wood.”
“For fires?” asked the voice.
“Yes, and to build furniture, and houses, and, and axe handles. Shields are made from wood, sometimes.”
“Put your fire out,” said the voice.
“Why?” asked Derric. He didn’t like talking to someone he couldn’t see.
“We are scared of fire. If you put the fire out, we will show ourselves.”
“But if I put the fire out, I won’t have light to see you by,” Derric said back.
“You will see us by spirit-light,” the voice said. Derric wondered why the voice kept saying ‘us’ when he only ever heard one voice.
“I will put the fire out,” he said. Derric did as he promised and covered the flames with dirt until there was nothing left but smoke.
He looked around and saw a green, glowing shape before him. It looked like a very tall man made of leaves and vines and roots, and he was bathed in green light.
“Are you the spirit of the Forest?” Derric asked.
“That’s right. My name is Horghall. We want you to stop cutting the trees down.”
“But then I won’t have a job,” Derric said, “and I won’t be able to buy food for Bruno.” Bruno looked very worried.
“We have a different job for you,” said the tree-man. “Use your axe to defend the trees.”
“How will I do that?” Derric asked.
"When you see people attacking the trees or trying to hurt the forest, scare them away with your axe."
Derric thought about this for a while.
“But without wood to sell, how can I make money to feed Bruno?”
“The forest will take care of you in other ways, woodsman.”
When it was light again, Derric and Bruno went home and Derric told his father about what the forest spirit had said.
“But we’ve always been woodsmen,” his father said, “and we’ve always worked this forest. It’s been good to us.”
“Well maybe, it’s time for us to be good to the forest. The big spirit said the forest would take care of us.”
“Talking to trees, that’s crazy people,” Derric’s father said, “it’s not normal.”
The next day, Derric and Bruno went back out to the forest. This time he didn’t have his axe, he brought a watering can and a spade.
He didn’t see the big tree monster, but he felt like all the forest was watching him.
“Hello? I want to help. Tell me what to do,” he said, and stood there waiting for a few minutes.
“Is that a scary watering can?” asked the voice. Derric didn’t see the big tree spirit but the voice was back.
“Um, what?” Derric said. He began to feel silly for bringing a little watering can when the forest was so big.
“You need to scare people away who are trying to hurt the forest. How will you do that with a watering can?”
“Um, I don’t know,” Derric said. “I thought I was going to help the forest and so I thought I could use it?”
“Look there,” said the forest spirit, "there are some people who want to hurt the trees. Make them go away."
Derric looked around and saw three people walking through the forest. Two were carrying axes, and had a bow and some arrows.
He didn’t know what else to do so he ran toward them banging his watering can against his shovel.
“Go back!” he said, "go away! Don’t hurt the forest!"
The three men looked at him like he was crazy.
“Ka-ka-too!” Derric shouted at them. "Ka-ka-too!"
Now they were sure of it.
“Why are you shouting at us?” one of the men asked.
“I am defending the forest,” Derric said, “It is my job.”
“We only want to hunt one deer so we can eat, and make a fire to cook it,” said the man, “the forest has many deer and so many trees.”
“If you hurt one part of the Forest, you hurt all of it,” Derric said back, "all the trees feel what one tree feels."
He didn’t know if that was right but it sounded like something Horghall might say.
“We don’t want to hurt the forest at all,” said the man with the bow and arrows, “but we need to eat.”
“Do this,” said Derric, “If you chop one tree, plant seeds so another one can grow. If you hunt one deer, leave food out for others to grow strong.” He was beginning to enjoy being a defender of the Forest.
“That makes sense,” said the other man. “We will come back and do that.” They turned around and left the forest.
“That was very good,” said the spirit-voice, "you are a good defender. Now, wood-man, look up over your head."
Derric looked up and saw a cloth bag hanging from a tree branch. He cut it down, and inside were some seeds and six pieces of gold.
“How did that get there,” he said, “I would have never thought to look up.”
“It was waiting for you to see it, wood-man,” said the spirit-voice.
“Thank you!” said Derric happily.
For the next four days, Derric spent all his time chasing people from the forest or telling them not to hurt it. Finally one night, the big tree creature stood before him again.
“There is more than just one forest,” he said, “and they all need defending.”
“That sounds like a big job, I’m only one man,” Derric said.
“Come with me, there is a place where we can see all the world and see which forests are being hurt. You can help us defend them.”
So the very next night, Derric and his father and Bruno packed up their things and followed Horghall to a castle, where they could see all the forests in the world.
And if you are walking through the woods and you hear a voice going “Ka-ka-too!” it might be a crazy man with a not-very-scary watering can. Or it might be the spirit of the Forest, asking you to be careful.