The Final Dream Of Clayton Kimble

In the fields of our dreams we play, frolicking with friends imagined or long gone in the tall grass; and lazily contemplating our perception of life through the surreal games created by these playmates born of a wandering imagination in its slumber. But on occasion events in life – or amongst the grotesquely contemplative, mere developments of thought – plant the seeds of nightmares in the secluded corners of this golden meadow. Under the greying shadow of a low bough sprouting from an apparently benign tree the weeds take root; and grow fat on the rich and fertile soil of the unconscious. The resilient amongst us have no difficulty in uprooting these unwelcome guests with minimal thought – after all in the lands of our minds can we not localise a fatal drought which will eradicate such trifling blemishes with but a glance at the overripe sun which beams in the azure sky? Dreams are not dwelt upon – seldom remembered and frequently ignored – for all that concerns the majority may be found in physical reality. Nightmares are especially trivial, to be scoffed at and reviled; for the healthy mind sleeps for its physical benefit alone, vacationing in pleasant dream but for fleeting and insignificant pleasure; and bad vacations are best glossed over lest the victim appear foolish in his brief misery; in case a confident laughs and places the blame upon his shoulders for choosing or breeding these experiences in his mind.

And yet there are those sensitive individuals who view the nature of that which is real from an opposing angle. Why should reality be limited to the physical? Why should the sprawling fantasy of dream with its rich colours and sensations be dwarfed by stale, grey conventional existence in wakefulness? And why, when one vacations into dream, should one remain restricted to the lazy pleasures of a single, finite, grassy expanse when the hedges of its border can be scaled – or better: uprooted and swept away with a single vulgar act of subconscious will – and the lands of the mind traversed, explored, created!

These are the minds of those who shall not be constrained by mundane thought. Proud minds, minds which explore themselves for hours at a time through nothing but thought; many of which have given up on the world outside them in its entirety. Strong minds, capable of so much; ensnared by the physical and forced to bloom so subtly, in mockery of convention and corporeal wisdom. Minds which strive to understand the true depths of all things; perceiving the universe through eyes which ever question, and flying in the face of arguments fought on the basis of such foolish and archaic concepts as faceless, illogical morality; or steadfast belief that the physical is somehow more worthy of our attention due to its predictability and so called ‘laws’; or that art and wonder should be suppressed in favour of toil without purpose.

And it is the bravest and most searching of these minds that nurture the weeds in their dreamscapes; that nourish them in order that they may tear away the mental landscape born of visions based around limited ideas of aesthetic worth wrung from the physical reality that encroaches upon the brain so insidiously in times of wakefulness; to be replaced with unbounded vistas of stark mysticism and grim, horrific, damnable sophistication. Sights which they may only hope to see through eyes rolled back, staring into the nameless whirlpools of screaming, incomprehensible thought that bubble and belch noxiously in the cauldron of their blasphemous mental organs, neurones firing in cataclysmic madness with allegiance to none but ultimate universal chaos.

My friend Clayton Kimble was possessed of such a mind, and it was that which drew us together as adolescent schoolboys.

I became aware of him after he transferred from another institute of learning in the south of England; for his father moved north with him after the death of his mother. His father was highly sensitive, and deeply affected by this bereavement; needing to start a new life in a new location away from familiar sights that sparked his grief. They would likely have left the country had the father’s health permitted it, but the loss had left him both emotionally dazed and physically weakened; in a state of great lethargy.

A professor of entomology renowned in the field, August Kimble had no trouble securing a position at a respectable Scottish university once sufficiently recovered; and waxed intellectual before enraptured students of biology whilst his son attended the local grammar school, in which I was also enrolled.

An unremarkable lad at first glance, Clayton Kimble was lean and gangly; possessed of a body and posture which is best described through a comparison of his overall form to that of a long-limbed spider of ghastly size. This repellency of form was not softened by a sharp, angular face too prominent of bone structure; which – far from providing a measure of distraction – served only to enhance this impression of arachnidity. His eyes, a distinctly earthen brown, displayed very little of those thoughts which constantly copulated and multiplied behind them; though they were the focus of expressions belyant of carefully masked loathing which often crept across his otherwise pallid visage – expressions I only noted through the awareness that I shared a similar shadow on occasion; and fancied the causes for our mutual unrest were not dissimilar.

Neither endowed with an ugliness which would incite ridicule, nor a strikingness to invoke notice; Kimble avoided contact with the other students, and – though his academic work was generally above average – he stayed well beneath the radar of the vast majority of his teachers. The loathing came with contact, especially contact with idiocy, and I sensed in him a genuine misanthrope. Small talk, shallow questions, trivia infuriated him when his senses detected them; and I could well imagine his blood boiling in his veins when the conventional and the foolish crossed him in the thoughtless, often rude way that those who boldly display those traits in their personalities are wont to do.

He wanted to be left alone, more through disgust and a powerful feeling of superiority combined with gnawing solipsistic inclination than a desire to be without companionship; and it was thus that we found ourselves in a conversation after sharing similar stances during an open debate – our individual arguments uniting in opposition of the entirety of our philosophy class including the professor: a bloated, ill-conceived man, whose flaws we delighted in picking from his character as we speculated upon the baffling injustice that must have secured him that position of command in his chosen subject.

We became firm friends over those final two years in the school system; yet upon leaving we went our separate ways. It was some five years later that Kimble contacted me again, after the death of his father; and it was at that time that I witnessed and participated in certain events, the results of which necessitate this account.

Kimble was always an anxious youth; and as he became familiar with me I gained his trust. There were certain thoughts that he had obviously wished to share with a like minded confidant for some time…certain ideas and concepts formed through vast amounts of intense delving into the nature of things physical and metaphysical.

He shared my love of dream and wonder, and like me wished his aesthetic could be transported from his vivid mind into the stubborn reality which we shared, thereby to act as a gleeful parasite: laying eggs in the cadaverous mundane and corrupting its bloated, sluggish form; triumphing as its offspring hatched and consumed industrial reality from within. Thus the Whole would be transformed into something beautiful born of matter and thought: a new world of omnivorous darkness and textured colour to be nurtured by our dreams.

Equally, we desired the ability to live in our dreaming minds and make homes there; escaping reality rather than changing it through this alternative means to the same end. As gods we would live amongst shining cities of impossible architecture sprawling nebulously across vistas whose shapes were never constant, but which undulated and grew mountainous beneath the civilisations which had sprung forth upon them; only to become flat and gelatinous after the green rain came – that sweet tasting nectar from the sky, soapy in consistency and dry to the touch despite its liquidity, which could light fires and burn holes through mountainsides when poured liberally from a lead container in which it had gestated for a period of hours – and necessitating vast amphibious craft if one wished to traverse the unpaved surface of the land.

Our creativity was boundless, and we both rued our lack of the artistic abilities necessary to sculpt or paint these creations; giving a necessarily imperfect – but worthwhile – form to our thoughts on this side of wakefulness.

And it was at this stage in our friendship that Kimble decided to broach the subject of his past. His mother, now unmentionable in his house since her departure from this world, had been Norwegian, and almost twice the age of the thirty year old insect hunter – the adventurous academic August Kimble – who encountered her solitary shack in the thick forests of that land as he attempted to track down a living example of an uncatalogued species of moth that was rumoured to inhabit the area.

The true story of their meeting must be a strange one; and since Kimble’s mother is of considerable interest concerning both the events in this account and the way in which his mind was obviously influenced in its developmental stages; I shall recount the things he told me of her here.

When the lad Clayton brought up the topic one supper time it caused what he described as a blizzard-stare which his mother was often observed to inflict upon his father’s eyes as they rose to meet her questioningly after an inquiry concerning her was cast his way; and in which Clayton took considerable interest, inducing them whenever the opportunity arose. The look was, he said, impossible to describe beyond that simple metaphor, but it was compelling and seemed to be deeply and explicitly communicative. It also appeared that she had never turned that icy gaze upon him during her life; though her eyes blazed cold and blue with it after the heart attack which killed her in front of both her spouse and son.

He was fobbed off with a simple story worthy of the cheapest pulp romance novel: an accident in a snow storm, lost survival equipment; and the discovery of an apparently deserted house in which occurred a meeting. There followed a whirlwind romance in spite of the staggering age difference, and a hasty marriage in her homeland before together they returned to his. Clayton knew he was born very soon after this union; and speculated his existence may have in fact been a catalyst for it rather than the result, for his father was old fashioned, and chivalrous, and his Christian duty would not have allowed him to do otherwise. And yet this supposition is refuted, since the marriage occurred but a week after the initial encounter (“love at first sight” was a term bandied around by August Kimble with sickening frequency) so it is unlikely that any conception resulting from premarital expressions of physical love would have been detected, much less confirmed by that date. The fact that Mrs. Kimble was fertile at such an age is miraculous in itself; for Clayton was born on her sixtieth birthday.

She lived until Clayton was seventeen, but was only vocal for his first twelve years, enduring her final years on a respirator; for all intents and purposes a mute vegetable.

Clayton was never close to her (nor in point of fact to his father) but she would often tell him strange tales and folklore from her native country – in fact the only time he recalled ever hearing her speak more than a few syllables at a time was when she was alone with him; storytelling before he slept. Sometimes he would fall asleep and wake hours later, finding her diatribe had not ceased and had often lapsed back into what he assumed was her native tongue, for he did not recognise the words.

She spoke, he told me, of the power of trees – simple wood and leaf – to breach the gaps between myth and the mundane. Such power was amplified by number; so she had chosen to live surrounded by the oldest trees in the most heavily saturated of forests since such a time as her means allowed. She never mentioned her past beyond the phrase “since I came to the woods,” and Kimble had never thought to ask. He was enraptured by her myths which she told with a compelling sincerity; the description and detail augmented by her own experience and philosophy. She said that untamed nature spoke to her, and showed her things, and took her into her head “where the dreams grow.” Apparently what we relish as dream is but a shadow of what we could experience if we “slept with the trees” and this did not just extend to slumbering under leafy canopies on warm summer afternoons; or under thick blankets in canvass tents on the more mild winter nights. Rather, the trees themselves peeled away the physical which ensnared the imagination so that the concepts and eruptions encased in the brain were no longer in its thrall; and her bodiless spirit could turn in upon itself and ride upon the waves of this sea of fantasy. She said it took many attempts to learn how to “grow into a body” in these adventures; but when she had mastered the ability she could become a participant in the life of her mental creation rather than a smoky, gaseous observer.

And what adventures she had – as a war-queen leading an attack on the hateful fungal half-men of the Terrible Old City beyond the sea; piloting the living aircraft into the purpley abysses of sensation to experience every scent and taste, every sound, sight and touch her mind was capable of synthesising without the need of external stimulation; burrowing into the earthen floor of the town-master’s house with her mole-like claws (which she could will upon her hands) and encountering the subterranean families of sightless, soft-fleshed cannibals who snatched the healthy from their beds in the city above on the darkest nights with their long, bony fingers and forcibly bred them in their mud pits in the eternal blackness of their caves to sup upon and sacrifice to their dancing gods, who they imagined played the eerie music which permeated their twilit neatherrealm…

So many stories she told her son, so many tales of adventures given her by the silent, ever shifting trees; to whom she would give her soul upon her death. And at the same time she instilled in him this loathing, this clawing hatred of humanity for separating us from our bark enshrouded cousins; for burning and polluting and silencing them as mankind expanded and bred and trampled thoughtless and indelible paths of destruction; tattooing its ignorance upon the very face of the earth which spawned our species.

Clayton had tried talking to the trees in his locality, but to no avail, even when he took powerful sleeping draughts stolen from his mother’s plentiful supply and passed into unconsciousness after climbing onto one of their copious fronds, securing his feet with twine lest he should fall.

Upon asking her one night why he could not communicate with the wood, she told him that most trees in the world were choked and blighted by their surroundings; and only the most ancient and powerful would suffice. They needed to be many, and they needed to be aged; and then they would speak with Clayton and they would let him into his creation, hitherto locked in the torturous, inhibiting grey matter which ensnared it.

Ever did he pester his father to take him to Norway, to the ‘Forest of the Moths’ (the namesake of which the entomologist had been unable to discover) but the request brought fear to the now middle-aged professor’s usually sober countenance; and he was given vague excuses about his mother’s poor health. Following her death he would explode into fits of rage when the idea was put forth, and Clayton fast learned not to strike a conversational match to the topic again.

Once he showed me a picture of this intriguing female; which he had taken surreptitiously as a young boy without her knowledge. She was a woman who would never have knowingly consented to such a thing, and as far as Kimble knew, he held the only photographic record of her existence.

I studied the candid snapshot at length, for something about it held my interest in a way that I could not easily resolve; or understand in a manner that would enable me to shake off the compulsion to visually search the scene depicted.

She sat facing the right, at a forty-five degree angle (were one to measure the direction of her line of sight from the straight line of the camera’s eye) on a three-legged stool, in the corner of what I took to be a parlour of some kind; for the floor was linoleum and the walls cold and white like the neat bun of hair peeking gingerly from behind her head.

Wearing a conservative, matronly, and rather shapeless dress; her eyes were unmistakably focused on something hidden by the doorway through which the photograph had been so clandestinely taken; and this object of interest had brought the most bizarre expression to her countenance. Doubtless the photograph would have baffled artistic circles in a way comparable to Da Vinci’s enigmatic Mona Lisa, for this expression conveyed an ambivalence in her emotional state that is almost impossible to describe, much less fathom.

Her face was stark and angular like that of her offspring; but the nose was unmistakably larger, and almost claw-like as it hooked in a manner that is rarely seen outside of caricature. Her eyes were slightly larger than Clayton’s – but of the same depth; and set in a face with skin so grey and a background so white they became the focus of the picture. Their shadowed blue appeared almost black to the observer, as the lighter greys of that puritanical dress emphasised each dilated pupil in its oceanic orbit. Piercing and hypnotic, I was thankful she was not staring directly at the lens as I drank in the scene; for that hook of a nose and those well-like eyes unsettled and disturbed me greatly in their three-quarter profile.

She seemed to be exerting an influence of some kind, and her expression withheld the same shadowy malevolence I had seen in her son on occasion. Suppressed from what I felt would reveal an almost demonic cast, the restraint in the features was even more terrifying; particularly because of the sense of ironic triumph that washed over her features; insidious like the frothing brine which crawls across a moonlit beach on a still evening. This triumph veiled her; seductively taunting the onlooker with creeping tendrils that hooked their sticky feelers about one’s curiosity and tugged…

Her cast was that of frustrated satisfaction, and from this apparent paradox the unresolved ambivalence which magnetically drew upon my sense of reason was induced.

I asked Kimble what held her attention so, and he told me there was only the window to that side of the room, out of which she habitually gazed most early evenings as the shadows lengthened and the sun shrank below the horizon. He had not seen that which captivated her interest on this occasion, but he believed he heard a party of rowdy adolescents traipsing past that side of the house as he withdrew surreptitiously with his photographic prize.

But for all her unsettling qualities, Kimble’s late mother was to be respected; and I observed that respect gladly as I was inaugurated into her Tree-Lore. Though sceptical, the rewards were too great for me to resist; and besides, it was exhilarating travelling out to the most remote forests we could find with packs and tents to set up camp for the weekend in our attempts to hear the trees speak; and to experience dreams in what we assumed – erroneously – was the natural and ancient way. But it was to no avail – we both concluded the trees were too modern: corrupted and silent; perhaps in sulking contempt for our species, regardless of anything else which inhibited their ability to interact with us. Discouraged, we vowed to travel to the old homestead of Clayton’s mother – apparently located in a gargantuan forest east of Trondheim – as soon as we could afford to make the trip and had secured his father’s permission; which of course he did not grant during his life. It occurs to me that I never once enquired as to Mrs. Kimble’s first or maiden names, though I am rather glad I cannot trace her lineage, as duty might now demand.

Thus it was on that Friday evening – when I picked up the telephone to hear the voice of my old friend – that the long-planned trip to Norway was again proposed. It appeared Clayton had made no new friends since we broke contact and was unwilling to go alone; it seemed his phobia of others had become almost incapacitating in my absence.

He had lived at home with August until his death, a recluse, learning all he could from the various rotting occult texts (procured at great expense from some very unsavoury sources) which related to the dreaming mind, floral spirituality, and cases of supposedly transitional disappearances in forests. The latter were described in the tomes as journeys undertaken by none but the most adept dreamers; experiences of enlightenment that led them far from this world and into the infinity of their thoughts. Armed with his stout inheritance, Clayton was ready to take the next step in joining the same elite band of secretive tree-dreamers as his mother; perhaps even surpassing her slumbering skills and flying from the face of conventional reality. Born away by the clutching twigs, he would ascend into his own dreaming soul, spreading wide his leafen wings as he abandoned his body to the woods.

The great forests of his mother’s ancestral land called to him, he said; claiming he could now hear their very voices rising unified to draw him home. His sincerity and zeal made me despondent, for I wondered why his mother would choose to leave behind so magnificent and magical a world which held such thrall over her were it truly everything her son seemed to feel and believe. I wondered if he had developed a cognitive disorder in his solitude, and this raised some doubts in my mind about reacquainting myself with him.

Nevertheless, I had been growing increasingly frustrated with my lot; and since this despondency had culminated in a failed suicide attempt but a week prior to the call, I was ready to surrender to madness in the cloaked Norwegian forests if it would only save me from the emotional webs of clinging greyness which poured down about my body every time I opened the door of my rooms and descended into the inescapable landscape of granite, brick and flesh…that flesh that made my stomach churn in its frustration at the blind, torturous stupidity which infects the senses with its commercial and plastic pestilence, yet constrains the body and soul; staying vengeful hands with its laws and promised punishments that prevent those sensitive to degradation from cleansing their world with the fire of audacious blood. Confounded by existence I felt starved of options, and reasoned the worst that could happen on this expedition was as much my goal as the best.

So taking with us August Kimble’s map of the relevant forested area, we travelled; hope our wings and need our guide, who’s spindly grip tugged at our hands were we to falter.

Having driven in a hired car to a point at the forest’s edge along a lonely road, and passing no vehicle since leaving the town; we simply pulled off the track and stepped into the trees. It was a three day journey by foot to the location of the legendary crumbling, derelict house, marked by the professor in pencil upon his old map; so we were weighed down with provisions and survival tools. I was not overly concerned for our well-being however, for Kimble showed me a communications device he had purchased that enabled contact with a rescue team should we need assistance; and we had handy, minute books in our packs detailing which indigenous plants were safe to eat, and which were poison. We were experienced hunters only in dream, and thus did not plan to consume the wild meat of the land.

We talked seldom as we walked, both captivated by the landscape around us. From the outset we were unable to follow any kind of path in this wild place ignored by the modest populous; and so we picked our way through the dense foliage as best we were able. Heading in the direction our compass verified as that which ought to lead to Mrs. Kimble’s long deserted residence; our progress was subtly complicated by the positioning of the living monoliths through which need insisted we negotiate our way.

After two minutes I could not see the road when I glanced over my shoulder; and after five I could not have told in which direction it lay without the compass.

The terrain was never easy; the ground beneath our feet never flat, nor the dense trees ever thin; but we were not discouraged. The smells and sights; but most of all the silence of this place was captivating. Never had either of us wandered in such a place of true nature; and I reckoned that it was highly unlikely many feet had picked their way over this improvised path through the looming wooden giants before our own.

I have said the vast tree-plagued expanse was captivating, but hypnotic may be a better word. For my part I felt overwhelmed almost to the point of nausea by the endless woods as the day dragged on, so insidious in their intent as they pondered my companion and I, their fluttering leaves titters of glee possessed of an irony that made me almost fearful; and in recollection bring to mind that hateful photographic portrait which Kimble carried in the pocket of his jacket.

My companion, however, revelled in their multitude and seemed at times to be as one with their claustrophobic tribe. His face was resolute, lips thin and tight, denoting the indomitable will pumping through the temples of a man nearing a long sought-after goal; and I could see that were some accident to befall me he would have no difficulty continuing alone – the possibility he might cease the expedition were one of us to come a cropper was ridiculous. By hook or by crook he would attain the domicile in which his mother spent most of her life in two nights, and if I was physically able I would be at his side. In fact I wondered at times if he was even aware of my presence, since he seemed to be almost unconscious of everything around him but the most basic idea of the forms which impeded his progress. His stride across the springy, leaf-strewn soil was so purposeful it almost indicated an impossible familiarity; which added to the sense of de-realisation that he exuded. I began to feel more as if he were part of this undiscovered land – a brother to its whispering denizens; spawned in their wooden civilisation rather than my equally foreign companion wandering amongst them.

But despite my mounting unease at our situation, the beauty and wonder which filled my senses to bursting never lessened. So tall and perfect were these mossy behemoths; so vibrant in their variant greens and rich, earthen browns. I could well imagine why so many of the folk tales of northern Europe were set in forests, for if I allowed myself I could see trolls behind every rock and nymphs in the grain of every trunk – the latter a memory that now makes me shudder, and speculate wildly on what truths I beheld if my imagination was not the sole artist painting faces on that knotted canvas.

We saw many animals too on that first day – wild rabbits, deer aplenty, and even the occasional fox – though they lessened in number on the second leg of our journey into those stygian woods.

That night at around seven in the evening, we chanced upon the first tent-sized clearing the forest had granted us since we left the road, and thought it best to take advantage of this useful pocket in the waistcoat of the sprawling coniferous giant upon whose person we were as creeping gnats.

Making camp, we ate and slept; exchanging individual perceptions of the day’s hiking in our scant conversation. I told Kimble I could well imagine being blessed with rich and heady dreams that night, for they almost encroached upon my wakeful mind as we wandered ever deeper into that wildest of woods. I speculated that this phenomenon was what his mother had referred to – purity of nature dwarfing our humanity simply through our own sensual awareness of it and its illimitable, omniscient power; rather than some actual occult exchange betwixt man and tree.

He laughed and said had he not read so much over the past half decade he might conceivably have concluded as I, but his researches had shown him otherwise; and besides that he heard them. He heard their voices, compelling and urging him onward – not these trees around us now, he said; but ‘the others from further back,’ by which I could only assume he meant more aged trees we would encounter up ahead. When pressed on this he merely smiled in a way that I did not altogether like and told me he wished to sleep. Evidently he was either bluffing and lost in an adventure of his own delusion; or he was indeed privy to some hidden knowledge that I was not. Were the latter the case, it was clear that I would not loosen his tongue through conventional persuasion – it seemed I would have to gain the knowledge through experience.

The next day was much like the first; though the forest noises seemed to have lessened. I have already mentioned the decrease in animal sightings, but during the last few hours of that second day I saw none at all. No birds, no beasts; the only sound in the stillness was that of my own breath in my ears, and the faint crackling of foliage beneath my feet. I noted at this point Kimble seemed to make not a sound as he walked, nary a twig snapped beneath his boot; which I found in him a rather singular and unsettling trait.

There was no wind, so not even the leaves rustled together, and the lack of noise felt almost tangible; like a pair of needles being slowly thrust into my ears, pervading my thoughts with an anticipation and a frustration that beat the compulsion upon me to break down into fits of screaming, clutching my head in my hands and rocking dismally and without reason in the lee of one of those great, silent, maddening knights in this kingdom of branch and leaf. But just as these impulses almost gave way to action, we chanced upon the unexpected.

Stopping in our tracks at a sight that rose before us so suddenly it might have appeared from the spectral ether, we realised that we had reached a dwelling. We had not even glimpsed it until we were upon it, so thick were the surrounding trees; but the backside of a small, rectangular shack constructed of wooden planks ostensibly decorated with peeling red paint; and topped with a leering, rather cartoonish, angular roof once coated in the same hue loomed over us – precisely in our way.

Kimble was vocal in his excitement, and sought a means to gain access to the construction; a task easier said than done due to the fact that the trees here were no less dense. It was bizarre – these ancient sentinels had not suddenly sprung up around the building; it was clear it had been constructed somehow in their very midst. And from wood carried here from the outside; for no stumps painfully testified to any localised harvesting of material, and logic suggested that one would cut down the nearest trees to work with if one were to use those in the immediate vicinity at all.

Working around its sides we observed that indeed, the entirety of the hut was tightly packed within the woods; and it was only with difficulty that we forced the only portal inward, stumbling through into the shady dimness.

Despite the thin walls and apparently cackhanded workmanship, the interior was tight and stuffy. No sunlight penetrated the walls save from the doorway; and in any case the natural fortifications outside kept much of the light above their photosynthetic canopy. It was, we observed in the electric glow of our flashlights, a single room; uncluttered save for an unmade bed and a rickety chair and table. The place had doubtless once been dwelt in, but it seemed impossible that it could be the culmination of our search, since we had come upon it fully a day early.

Regardless, we explored; noting a fireplace on the western wall, and finding a small bureau nestled behind the end of the bed in the corner farthest from the door. Upon opening its three protesting drawers we found emptiness; not a scrap of paper which might have indicated the identity of the former tenant. There was no other storage receptacle, nor any sign of food or cutlery – the shack’s erstwhile master had either left with much or lived in a very spartan manner.

As evening crept soundlessly around the cabin, we both decided it was best to sleep; for we each felt a strange and unprecedented daze descend upon us that made other action quite unthinkable. I was surprised Kimble was not moved to sleep outside in a first attempt to commune with the trees he must have assumed he had come to meet – we both reasoned that this had to be the hut for which we had quested, despite the protestations of the map – but he seemed disinclined to do any more than let unconsciousness take him where it would, and it was all I could do to make him unpack his sleeping bag in his lethargy. Preferring these clean and well-insulated pouches to the ancient camp bed as we did, we upended it against the wall to give us floor space, and as my eyes closed and dreams took hold I was at last at peace. For several hours I knew no more.

What follows are the events that sent me screaming from the wood; dashing blindly through the trees until some days later, half staved and raving, I was discovered by a fortuitous band of native hikers in a ditch beside the very road from Trondheim upon which we had originally set out. When they found me I was barely alive, cut and bloody about the face and hands; for I must have been galloping blind in that damnable forest without reason or direction for far too lengthy a period.

They said I screamed of ‘wooden eyes’, and demanded gasoline and matches with which to start a fire that the trees might be silenced; that I might cease their wailing entreaties to return to their brittle arms which I claimed echoed loud but distant in my head. I had half torn off one of my ears in my madness; and it was with difficulty that I was restrained and brought to the nearest hospital, where I was treated for the next thirty days before returning to England, and months of psychological tinkering.

They want to know what happened to Clayton Kimble; the man with whom I entered the field of trees, and subsequently left behind there. Search parties did not find his body, though I know they suspect me of manslaughter or worse; and so now I have finally been granted a clean bill of mental and physical health I write this account of the things I experienced as I perceived them. There are those who will dismiss it as sheer lunacy considering my mental states both preceding the expedition and at its end. Of course it remains their prerogative to judge for themselves; but they must know that this is what I believe occurred and cannot tell them more about the fate of my departed friend. I say ‘departed’ for I do not believe him dead, but neither do I now believe the individual Clayton Kimble necessarily even existed in his own right; at least during the time I knew him. Regardless, this is my mental interpretation of events; and the only truth – be it physically real or fantastic – that I can ever relate.

I awoke from my slumber in the darkness of the shack to find Kimble missing. Opening the cabin door I saw only blackness, for the moon and stars were not visible above through that suffocating canopy; and thus armed with my flashlight I set out to look for my companion; noting with a sense of foreboding that he had left his own behind. Outside I crept stealthily through the immediately surrounding trees – to call out seemed so wrong it was all but an impossibility, as in the sensitive atmosphere of a library, and I wished to do so only as a last resort.

Unwilling to stray far from the domicile, I only crept a short distance; but was startled when I detected a faint phosphorescent glimmering through the trees not far ahead. Surprised I could see it at all considering the density of those trees, I noted on my compass that it lay south-east of my current position; and determined to investigate I returned to the shack to activate Kimble’s flashlight as a homing beacon. With some rudimentary safeguards against becoming lost in this vast expanse of looming nightmares – as I was fast considering the once so soothing trees to be – I set off towards the bluish glow that shone so tantalisingly near; sure that the phenomenon was that which had drawn my friend from the little house.

Picking my way through the silent, windless forest by torchlight; I came to realise that the trees had changed. There were skeletal, unhealthy, twisted things; ashen and even charred in places – and as I gazed at them minutely I saw that all pulsed almost audibly in delicate rhythm with this strange blue-green luminosity, creating the unmistakable atmosphere of ceremony about me. My mind racing in confusion, I wandered deeper, encroaching curiously upon the ritual I felt sure was taking place; halting with a gasp as I reached the target of my questing: a vast and towering monstrosity that was not so much a tree as a feeble blasphemy of wood; paradoxically given an air of domination through sheer size.

It stood alone in what passed for a clearing in this place; its trunk perhaps six feet across – almost as wide as I stood tall. It was the colour of charcoal, and its roots knotted through the soil like vast, serpentine slugs that turned my stomach in their hateful searching; their ever-inquisitive stretching that permeated the lumpen soil. Twisted and hideous, the branches of this tree elongated above and beyond my vision; suggestive of that unpleasant questing in the same manner as the roots which were responsible for their nourishment.

And then he came, crawling from the thick tangle of strangely luminescent roots beneath the great black tree; that tree whose subtly phosphorescent branches glowed and shimmered dismally in a skeletal mockery of living things. For it was dead, this tree; its roots dry and twigs brittle in their necrotic stasis: the stasis that made the wooden blight so terrifying by its clearly inferable – yet surely impossible – resilience to the elements.

From inside the trunk of that malign and sickly ogre he scrambled, slowly and deliberately; and naked – his skin a brownish hue that seemed riddled with an unpleasant eczematous condition. And he saw me, and he stared, and his eyes were not his own. I saw knots of wood; dark blue knots which were the source of that ghastly baleful-yet-blinding frostlight that leeched into my brain and twisted violently; singing and trumpeting as that most terrible of stares induced a fear that reached through my bones to the very marrow and turned my blood to sap…

I awoke in the shack to the sunlight trickling through the open door. Warm and beautiful it was; and my flashlight was in my pack, bulging reassuringly through the sturdy, purple material. Such a nightmare…such a vision, though its grip upon the still pounding heart that beat beneath white skin sticky with three day’s grime and a cold sweat was loosening. Just a dream; a weed of fancy brought about by exposure and adventure.

I stood, and looked about the room. Kimble’s bag was packed; but the man was absent – I reasoned he was preparing to breakfast in the open.

Stepping outside, I decided I had had enough of trees, and planned to persuade Kimble that now he had seen the historic building, he might abandon the childish dreamquest and accompany me back to civilisation. Not seeing him immediately I was surprised, and as I called his name I felt a pang of fear. I cast my gaze about to peer through the healthy trees – now so pleasant after the fantastic terrors of the night, and listened intently in the silence for his tread.

As I have previously written, this wood was populated by vast trees; aged trees. Trees which had stood there for generations. Not one juvenile pine, not one oaken sapling had I encountered since entering this nordic forest. And yet my gaze fell upon a small, stumpy tree that I had not noticed the previous day.

Young and healthy, yet still stout about the trunk; its spindly, whippy branches reached entreatingly to the light that slithered between the leaves of the canopy above. I was rather taken with it, and approached to examine it; for it was unique in this ancient place, and I chastised my observational failing to note its presence before. I ran my hand across its bark – healthy bark that seemed to show no trace of peeling; and I noticed an irregular pattern to its surface. There were markings, no; contours upon it. Contours that seemed almost reminiscent of a human countenance. I stepped back and relaxed my gaze. Yes…definitely a face in the tree.

And then with a throat-rending screech of hideous realisation that mercifully severed every thread attaching my conscious thought to human reason I beheld in it familiarity, and I ran away to a warm, peaceful embrace in the soft and soothing arms of insanity; which caressed and fondled my mind lovingly until I awoke in that hospital bed a month later.

I knew this face, I had gazed upon it countless times and observed in its features that irritation and distrust, and carefully masked loathing of the humanity it had grown to despise. But it was not the face of my friend; the face of Clayton Kimble. It was the face of the photograph – his mother.

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