Walking into Trees
The tree was proving harder to walk into. I'd walked into flowers first, their petals and their stems, and they were filled with colour and vibrancy. They had spoken to me in timid voices, so quiet that I had to stop and strain my ears whenever they opened their mouths. Then I'd walked into blades of grass, but I found they made me claustrophobic with their endless corridors and eerie silence. Even after spending hours scrambling for the exits, they had not spoken a single word and instead gazed at me with enduring scorn. Now I had found a tree, adorned with fruit of every shape and size, sprouting apples the size of watermelons and watermelons the size of apples. But this tree wouldn't let me in, its bark proving impenetrable and its branches frowning upon my attempts to walk.
I was alone in these woods, save for a badger who had been following me. The badger spoke at first, much to my surprise, but since I'd asked for its name it had not uttered a single word. It clearly had a mouth and yet would not speak.
The badger sidled up to me now, so I turned to face it. It looked majestic, its white and black fur shining resplendently in the night-time sun. Opening its tiny mouth, it told me with an unexpectedly deep voice that it had many names, but it did not tell me what they were. All I needed to know, it said, was that I wanted to walk into the tree too much. I just had to relax, had to let it happen.
"How do I control what I want?" I asked the badger. "That does not sound possible."
The badger patted me gently with one of its furry legs and consoled me with a smile that was sympathetic yet distant, as if floating in from far away. Its eyes glinted.
"That's for you to discover," explained the badger, before turning and walking into the tree as if it was the easiest thing in the whole world.
Immediately after the night with the badger came another night. I'd been hoping for a day. I pleaded with the night to be a short one and not one of those extremely strange nights. There'd been a lot of those lately.
Undeterred, I set off in search of the badger. I hadn't even reached the woods when it stepped down from a cloud and greeted me.
"What was it like inside the tree?" I asked the badger, hoping for it to spill the tree's secrets. For some reason, I hadn't been able to get the tree out of my head; it floated in my mind like a feather, close enough that it seemed within reach but far enough that it never quite was.
"So, what was it like?" I asked again when the badger stayed silent. The badger shook its head and smiled sympathetically at me, before making its mouth disappear beneath its fur. Evidently, I would receive no reply.
This time the badger led the way. After what felt a short amount of time but could have been much longer, we came to a misshapen, bulging rock. It had lumps that shone as we stood opposite it, shimmering like a faraway oasis does to a parched traveller. The badger turned to look at me, moving its mouthless face inches from mine. Without further hesitation, the badger walked into the rock and was swallowed soundlessly.
I walked into the rock shortly after the badger. It was cavernous inside, a great open space through which I felt myself falling downwards and upwards and sideways at terrifying speeds. A great voice boomed out and all became still. Looking around me, I could see no exits. This place had neither rooms nor walls, it had neither structure nor form. Around me there was nothing, and yet I suspected there was everything. All I could see clearly was the badger. Its mouth had returned and we floated together. I told the badger what I knew and who I was. I told the badger what I didn't know and who I was not. The badger, in return, told me its names. Some were great and some were small, others made me laugh and several made me weep. We floated away together, beginning what I hoped was a momentary interlude but suspected could be the rest of our lives.
Elliot Pawley grew up in Leeds, England before studying History at the University of Oxford. He now lives in Bristol with his partner. In addition to writing, Elliot enjoys tabletop gaming, running, and dancing badly.