The Forest Beyond the Earth
Matthew S. Cox
Publication date: February 6th 2018
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Under the watchful eye of the Mother Shrine, twelve-year-old Wisp ekes out a simple, but challenging life with Dad, foraging for food and losing herself in old books from the world that came before. She loves the Endless Forest ― except when the Tree Walkers come for her.
In ages past, the great rain of fire and ash destroyed the Earth, wiping out the ancients and everything they had made. Nature has reclaimed much since then, spreading out in a vast forest full of wonder and dread. Ever in fear of being taken away, she follows Dad’s rules without question while learning to survive off the land.
No longer a small child, she accompanies Dad on one of his treks, her first time more than a few steps away from the cabin. A day exploring with him is the happiest time of her life, but joy is short-lived.
A monster follows them home.
Safe in her Haven, she hides while Dad goes outside to confront the beast. She wakes alone the next morning, and waits. Alas, her hope of his return fades with the daylight. Desperate, she breaks his strictest rule and goes outside alone. Not far from the cabin, she discovers his rifle abandoned next to the monster’s strange footprints.
Afraid but determined, Wisp sets off on her own into the Endless Forest to find Dad ― before the Tree Walkers catch her.
An hour of foraging the next morning yielded a lovely breakfast of grubs, some of which had been bigger than Dad’s fingers. Wisp impaled them on thin sharpened sticks she’d made long ago for grub roasting, and toasted them over the fire.
She stretched and roamed around the cabin for a little while after, debating another walk into the woods to find some mushrooms. It would be better if Dad could find a boar or something, even if she had to wait home while he did so. However, between them being gone all day yesterday plus the morning grub hunt, Dad appeared quite intent on putting time on the bullet machine.
Rather than disturb him, Wisp decided to visit Mother.
The cabin’s main room had three doors. One led outside, the metal door went to Dad’s room, and the door opposite Dad’s room led to Mother’s shrine. It had been a few days since she spoke with her, so it sounded like a perfect idea.
She padded over and knocked twice on the thin door made of planks nailed together. “Hello, Mother. May I enter?”
No sound of protest came from within, so she pushed the door open and got a breath of air so heavy with the scent of pinesap the taste settled on her tongue. An undertone of another fragrance, musty and unpleasant, simmered at the edge of notice beneath it. The small chamber, barely a quarter the size of the other room, contained two small tables each with a single drawer, standing on either side of a large wooden chair. White plastic panels covered both windows, dimming the light, but still allowing enough to reveal a slender figure in the chair.
Mother sat as still as ever, her hands clutching the ends of the armrests, talon-like nails yellow and cracked. Long, dusty dark brown hair framed a face as grey as the dress she wore, lips peeled open enough to bare her teeth, giving her an expression like she’d stepped in something cold and slimy. Her right eye opened more than her left, both black, empty sockets. Stain trails ran down her cheeks from long-ago shed tears of darkness.
Coffee cans littered the ground by the chair, containing pinesap, and other magical substances Dad said allowed her to see out from the Other Place. Years of dead flowers formed a ring around the chair, tokens of love she’d placed there on special days going back as far as she could remember.
“Hello, Mother,” said Wisp.
She clasped her hands in front of herself, bowed her head, and shuffled forward, moving her feet an inch at a time until she stood by Mother’s withered right hand. After a reverent moment of silence, she knelt and rested her head on Mother’s arm, the coarse fabric scratchy against her ear.
“Dad taught me about how to make a fishing spear yesterday. He caught fish with it for supper, and we went on a walk. He let me go with him!” She reached up and placed her hand upon Mother’s, careful not to damage the dry, crusty skin. “I’m twelve now, but you knew that since I visited you on my birthday last month. I like the summer. It’s warm. I’m glad my birthday’s right before the summer starts.”
Mother didn’t reply.
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it.
He is also fond of cats.
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