“The Woodsman” by Kristine Simelda
Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.
This week, Kristine Simelda tells a story of revenge and forgiveness.
by Kristine Simelda
Dominican Rainforest; Papa Bois
The Woodsman takes a nip of rum and stares out from under the brim of his battered ball cap. “Fucking Green Hell,” he mutters under his breath. He sets his jaw and jerks the rope on the chainsaw. It roars to life and growls like a vicious guard dog waiting for the signal to attack. Then he nods to his mighty opponent and steps from the sunlight into the dimly lit rainforest.
He used to hike in these woods with his family. They picnicked by the river while he told stories about the father of the forest, a folkloric character called Papa Bois. But that was before the accident—the senseless tragedy that killed his son and broke his heart. His boy was crushed by the limb of huge tree where he was playing on a swing. The Woodsman will never forget the feeling of helplessness, the heaviness of the branch, the small, limp body. Now he hates this place, blames it for his loss. For revenge, he plans to cut down the offending son of a bitch and every other tree in sight.
Papa Bois can sympathize. He can actually feel the man’s pain. Yet he’s duty bound to protect his own kind, orchestrate their survival. On his command, the trees dig their roots deeper into the soil and raise the barbs on their bark in self-defense. After surviving hundreds of years of floods and droughts and fires, they will be reduced to a pitiful pile of boards and sawdust unless they act fast—the exhaust and garbage left behind will cause irreparable damage to their seedlings.
But the Woodsman can appreciate none of that. As he moves deeper into the forest, he relives the disaster in his mind. “Watch me Daddy! See how high I can fly!” Those were the last words the boy spoke before he was struck down by the evil limb.
Lost in a fog of grief and remorse, the Woodsman trips over an exposed root. The saw blade sticks in the damp earth, and the machine sputters and dies. When he reaches for a nearby tree trunk to save himself, the protruding spikes filet his hands to bloody strips. Howling, he lets go and collapses onto the forest floor. His legs are instantly seized by hundreds of vines intent on using him to wind their way to the light. “Goddamn greedy jungle!” he shrieks belligerently.
Papa Bois sighs. He’s sorry for what’s bound to happen next. It would be easier if the man realized that death is the ultimate blessing of life, the organic grand finale where everything is reduced to food to nourish those that follow. But he is a human being, and humans are short-sighted and hard-headed.
Fire ants rain down from above as the Woodsman, hopelessly trapped and wallowing in his own blood, struggles to get back on his feet. The ants swarm over him and begin to feast on his eyes. He squirms and tries to bat them away, but there are too many. Hungry flies buzz around his ears, and a foul-smelling opossum drops down from an overhanging branch, hissing and drooling.
The Woodsman starts to cry. Tears run down his cheeks into the rotting leaves. “God help me!” he sobs. But the help he seeks is not forthcoming. Instead, hordes of crabs attach themselves to his toes and fingertips. He holds his breath while their sharp pincers pick their way to the tender flesh behind his nails.
Desperate to survive, he grits his teeth and tries a more holistic approach as a last resort. “Papa Bois, please forgive me,” he whispers. Aha. The magic words. It seems that pardon, when granted by Nature, is gentle and exquisite. Suddenly the Woodsman feels at peace, as if all his pain is being washed away by the soft rain that falls on his tortured body like a blessing.
As soon as he loses consciousness, the forest goes about its usual business. Frogs mate in the invigorating drizzle, the sun comes out, and birds begin to sing. When darkness falls, luminous fireflies blink steadily while stars peek through the leafy canopy that crowns Papa Bois as king. Yet even when the moon sends slivers of silver light slicing through the trees, the Woodsman doesn’t move a muscle. He’s lost in a wonderful dream: he and his family are picnicking by the river, holding hands and giving thanks for another beautiful day—in paradise.
KRISTINE SIMELDA was born in the US and has been a citizen of the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica for the past twenty-one years. During that time, she has written three novels, three novellas, and a novel and collection of stories for young adults. Her short fiction has appeared in St Somewhere Journal, ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics, and Consciousness, Jewels of the Caribbean, Poui: Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing, The Caribbean American Heritage Literary Magazine, and the premier issue of Interviewing the Caribbean. Her debut novel, A Face in the River, was recently published by River Ridge Press.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 7, 2016
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