My dear forest friend,
How often have I thought of you in my ramblings upon these mountains for the last week! I am sure you have heard the awful stories about you. I must make it clear that I had no joy in it. And if you thought I did, you cannot be a friend of mine, for a true friend would not judge me so cruelly. I waited for you last night, by the canyon, but you did not come. As a token of my affection, I shall leave these here for you.
Margaret M. Taylor
Margaret folded the flower-embroidered paper, making sure the edges lined up just right, and squirted lavender scent on it. Just as she slipped it into a fancy lilac-colored envelope, the RV door opened. Margaret shoved the crinkled envelope between the pages of a book.
“Maggie.” An old man stuck his balding head inside. “Dinner’s almost done.”
Smiling, Margaret flipped her dark red hair. “Coming, Donny.”
His watery eyes ran over her young lithe body and he grinned, like a horny turkey staring at a hen through the fence. Margaret’s skin crawled, but she eased herself up and shot him a naughty smile.
“I think I hear Kara’s kids,” she said.
“I guess we have to wait.”
“Good thing we don’t have to share the RV.” Margaret minced before him and he planted his wrinkled lips on her smooth ones. His eyes shut, but she stared at his pallid visage. Fleshy canyons cut through his sagging cheeks, ripped across his purple-dotted forehead and bunched around his watery eyes.
In a few years, he would be lying in his grave with his tacky Hawaiian shirt wrapped around his bent and worn-out body. His millions, his houses and all his property would be in her skinny little hands. Never more would she endure his pruny appendages. No younger man need know what she had shared her bed with. Could this be called some form of higher prostitution? She shoved the thought away. It was business, like everything else. Other women did this all the time.
Hand in hand, they headed towards the campfire and grill beneath a giant blue tarp. Folding camp chairs had been arranged in a semi-circle. Kara’s young husband Howard flipped rib-eye and New York steaks; their three kids roasted bubbling marshmallows over the fire. Kara mixed a fruit salad together at the white camping table. Smiles beamed beneath dancing eyes.
Margaret frowned. How could they be cheerful with so much misery in the world? There were children who couldn’t roast marshmallows in peace. There were women who had lost their husbands and men who had to toil for a living! And there was Margaret, who had sold her body.
“Maggie,” said Kara, “Howard’s gonna tell us ghost stories.” She quivered with delight.
Margaret brushed a strand of hair from her freckled forehead. “Exciting.” She sat in the green folding chair across from Howard, the better to admire his V-shaped back and muscled shoulders. She rested her chin in her hand, eyes half closed. After Donny dies. She smiled. Yes, after Donny dies. It would be too bad for her sister, but that’s how life was. People’s affections were fickle, and Howard was young. Young people were the ficklest people on the planet.
Glancing at Margaret, Howard handed her a paper plate. “What do you want? Rib-eye or New York?”
You. “Rib-eye, please.”
He gave her a medium rare steak, handed out food to everyone else, and then took a seat on Donny’s other side, where she couldn’t stare at him. Frowning, Margaret picked at the meat that he had touched with those strong hands.
Kara approached with the salad bowl. “Salad, Mags?”
“Of course.” Margaret held her plate out. Salad slopped next to the meat from Kara’s salad tongs, and then the pretty blonde sunk into a chair beside Howard. Margaret’s lips pinched. Why didn’t I wait for a younger idiot? Her sister had Howard, and Margaret had a corrugated walking corpse. Life was so unfair!
“Okay,” said Howard, “everyone ready?”
Kara leaned close to him, eyes wide. “Oooo! Go ahead!”
“Bigfoot wanders around here at night. Over by the canyon, people can hear it howling. My cousin—”
“I’m sure he meant no harm,” said Margaret. She could forgive Howard for anything, but not when he attacked the innocent.
Donald turned to her in dismay. “Maggie, let him finish.”
Margaret’s pointed chin jutted out. “You mean listen to him deface one of nature’s special creatures? The Sasquatch is the most misunderstood creature in the whole world. Even his children are despised.” She waved her hand towards her niece and nephews. “They can’t enjoy life like they can.”
Kara’s mouth twisted up. “You are so weird.”
Eyes widening, Margaret threw up her freckled hands. “I don’t think I want to listen to this anymore.”
Howard snorted. “You gonna comfort it now?”
“He needs comfort.” Margaret leaped to her feet and pointed a thumb at her chest. “But I’m a dirty human, and he doesn’t trust us.”
A crooked smile cracked Howard’s lips. “Then why don’t you call it? Maybe if you kiss it, it’ll turn into a prince.”
Rage broiled in Margaret’s flat breast. “How dare you make fun of him!” She glared from one face to another. “Goodnight.” She stomped into the RV and flung herself on the small bed. How could they laugh? How could they make a mock of such a beautiful thing? Jamming her hand between the pages of the book, she ran her fingers over the crinkly surface of the lilac envelope. The letter would serve for two apologies.
“They always laugh,” she hissed. “They never understand.” She slipped the envelope out and gazed at it as if her forest friend were there. “They may never understand, dear. But I always will. And one day, they will see the error of their worthless ways. They call you a monster, but I know where you come from. You are a wanderer from the lost city of Atlantis.” She laid her head on the paper. “Mightn’t we go there someday? Yes, when I have all of Donny’s money and I no longer have to endure him—we no longer have to endure him. I married him for you, dear forest friend. I wish to bring you home.”
Later, Donald came in and Margaret pretended to sleep. Through half closed lids, she watched him set down a plate of steak and pull off his shirt. His little pot belly shone like a moon. What a soft man-whore he was! Ugh, the thought of his ancient touch curdled her flesh. He was nothing like the Sasquatch who was always out in the woods. He was probably one mass of muscle.
Donald gazed longingly at her, and then he lay down. In a few minutes, he snored like a bear. Thank goodness she had never borne his spawn! The doctor said he was impotent, but Margaret preferred to think of him as ‘dried out.’ But whatever. His descendants couldn’t poison this miserable planet with their ignorant wiles and sick delights.
Sitting up, Margaret took the lilac envelope from the book, slipped her feet into her night slippers and shrugged on her robe. She peeked out the door. It looked like her sister and Margaret’s future husband were asleep with their rabble. Taking one of the steaks, she hopped to the ground and closed the RV door.
Through the lacy blue shadows, she hurried towards the canyon. The trees gave way and she stood on the edge of the deep expanse. A nightly breeze chilled her bare legs and brushed through her thick red locks. Setting the steak down on a rock, she pressed the envelope to her breast.
“Animals, dear animals of this forest, if you can hear me, give my message to your lord, the Sasquatch. Give him my apologies. Tell him I understand. I wish I could give him my apologies in person, but I fear he will not trust me. I know he will trust you, my animal friends.” Margaret’s heart expanded with passion and her hands clenched the crinkled envelope. “Oh, Sasquatch, Sasquatch, wherever you are, hear my plea! Will you not come and be my friend?” She waited for a reply, but nothing happened. With a soft moan of defeat, she lay the envelope beside the meat and put a rock on it to keep it from flying away.
Dearest forest friend,
I cannot tell you how pleased I was when I discovered that you had indeed come and taken the meat with you. I hope that it did you well. As you don’t have a store to shop in, I can imagine that the food is scarce, especially for you who have such a powerful body. It is my experience that large men, yes, men, and especially Atlantean men, need large amounts of food. I myself am not a large man, but rather a petite woman, and I do not need as much as yourself. But there are some appetites that men and women both need in abundance, like love and intimacy. I know you need love, and I know you must crave it as do I. May you find happiness in my friendship.
Margaret M. Taylor
With a smile on her lips, Margaret folded the piece of paper so that the edges exactly matched. She sprayed lavender on it and slipped it into another lilac envelope. She put this one in her pocket.
Prancing from the RV, she breathed in the summer mountain air of pine and resin. A bright sun radiated in the azure sky. Children laughed and played among the trees, splashed in the lake water, and Howard pulled in a shining silver fish.
“Kara,” he called, “I got breakfast!”
“Breakfast,” said Margaret. “My forest lord probably eats this way. And so will I.”
“Your forest lord?” Donny said behind her.
Margaret jumped and spun around. “Um…uh…”
Donny laughed. “I don’t particularly like fish since that tapeworm last year, but I guess I’ll eat some for you this morning.” He kissed her. “Later today, I can show you what your forest lord can really do.” He slapped her butt and headed to the fire that Howard had built an hour ago.
Revulsion coursed through Margaret’s frame. Maybe she should have been caught. Donald would have left her and then she would be free to have Howard, or the forest lord. Which one? It was so hard to decide. A woman had so many choices to make!
“Donny,” she said, “I’m going for a walk. I’ll be back.” She hurried away before he could join her. Those rickety bug-bitten legs, covered in hair like a mangy carpet, couldn’t catch her. Why did he insist on wearing those khaki shorts? They accentuated his mauve varicose veins. Why couldn’t he have muscular tanned legs like Howard? Why couldn’t he be Howard? And to think that he had the audacity to believe that she called him her forest lord! Foolish old goat, when was he going to drop dead?
As she reached the canyon, she espied something purple under a rock with strange handwriting on it. Her heart went into her mouth. Could this be? She knelt, slipped the paper from under the rock. It was her envelope, but the handwriting, almost like type-face, was not hers! Her feverish eyes scanned the few lines:
Thank you for the meat. You have guessed right. I indeed am an Atlantean. I find it an honor that you sold yourself for me. Perhaps, one day, you will bear a different last name.
Margaret gasped. Perhaps, his last name? She had never mentioned his being an Atlantean in her letters. Had he…she pressed her hand to her mouth. Had he been listening at the window as she poured out her heart? A squeal escaped her lips—a muscular handsome forest lord had watched her sleep. Yes, had protected her as she had slept! Admired her. Even, desired her? A thrill rushed through her frame. She would resist Howard if this was the case. She bit the edge of the paper as her thoughts wandered to a romantic rendezvous ending in heated passion.
“My forest lord.” Kissing the lilac envelope, she placed it under the rock. The new letter she slipped into her bra. May her forest lord see her do it! How powerful he must be! Perhaps he would come and take her away? “I’ll give you the fish instead.” She smiled into the canyon. This was their special meeting place. She would dream well tonight.
My dear, dear forest friend,
Forgive me! As Donald’s wife, I have obligations towards him! Do not think that I have reached the fifth dimension when I am in his arms. I sink to the second! But with you, oh, with you I could reach the seventh! My forest friend, I am not free to be yours. But what would I give to be free! I dream of running through these woods with you. I would leave my desert home just to be with you. Alas, I must leave tomorrow. The camp master has given word that a bear is in the vicinity, especially in our special place. Please be careful! I don’t know what I would do if I lost you! My forest friend, do not forget me. I promise I shall be back next year. Perhaps I shall be free, and we can reach the seventh dimension together.
Yours forever, your love,
Margaret M. Taylor
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Margaret carefully folded the paper, sprayed it with lavender and slipped it into the envelope. She ran red lipstick over her mouth and kissed the crinkled surface. Climbing over Donald’s disgusting form, she dressed, and ran to the canyon. She weighed the envelope down with a rock.
She stared in the bowl of moonlight. “Dear Sasquatch, to live with you in your forest kingdom, I dream of! I yearn, I crave! Take me away now! Take me! Even to Atlantis, if you so choose! I don’t mind living under the sea!” She flung her arms out. A coyote yipped in the distance and a large owl glided through the bowels of the canyon. Among the trees, on the other side, a form crouched. Eyes glinted and then melted into the shadows. Margaret’s heart went into her mouth. What was that?
She ran back to the RV and huddled next to Donald.
“Up and at ‘em, Maggie,” Donny sang the next morning as he dressed his flat rump and covered his flap of a belly. “We have a long drive ahead of us and I don’t want to be too tired by tonight.” He chuckled meaningfully.
Margaret groaned and rubbed her eye. Paper crinkled against her face. It was her lilac envelope. Type-face writing was scrawled across the surface:
The disgusting creature has violated your sanctity, but it matters not. You shall be freed.
Gasping, Margaret stuffed the envelope under her pillow and glanced at Donny, but he didn’t notice anything. How had this letter gotten into her hand? She glanced at the window, but it was shut. Had she left the RV door unlocked? No, because Donny would have reprimanded her for it. Chills tickled her spine, but she shoved them away. Why should she be afraid of her forest lord?
After bidding good-bye to Kara and her family, Donny and Margaret headed home. Pine trees and aspens blended together outside the window as Margaret’s old husband sped at breakneck speed down the highway. It was the only thing he was fast at. May he be next to call in the sirens and helicopters for it! Then she would be free to return with impunity to her forest lord, that feral beast pulsing with manly virility! Margaret sighed in delight. What did he mean that she would be freed? She sighed in delight.
“Thinking about last night?” said Donald with a smirk.
Margaret struggled not to roll her eyes. “I’m thinking about something.”
“I can arrange for a repeat.”
She crossed her legs. When was this horny cretin going to die? What made him think there would be a repeat? After proclaiming her love, there was no way there would be anymore of…ugh…Donald. Suddenly, the thought hit her like an anvil. What if it was Donny who was sending her the messages? Horror drenched her down to her painted toes. She glanced sideways at him. What if…what if that was why he had laughed when she had mentioned her forest lord out loud? She yanked at her collar, made sure the buttons were all the way up.
Stopping at a gas station, Donald said, “Are you hungry?”
Jaw tightening, Margaret shook her head. “I’m not hungry.” Her stomach growled.
“It sounds like you are.”
Margaret stomped her foot. “I’m not hungry, you nosy cretin!”
Donny’s brows knit. “Why are you so angry all of a sudden?” He slammed the door and started gassing up.
Margaret squeezed her arms across her stomach and glared out the window. How dare Donny send her love letters! How dare he make fun of her! He was probably laughing at her right now! How could she have fallen for such a low trick? Donny knew how she felt about the Sasquatch and the lost Atlanteans. How could anyone be so base? It was all clear now. In his fluffy pink flannels, he had referred to himself as her forest lord last night—why hadn’t she seen it?
“You can’t notice anything when you’re about to throw up,” she growled under her breath.
Her silent tirade skidded to a halt. Something tall stared at her from behind the gas station. Ice poked her suddenly skipping heart. She blinked, and it vanished. Was that her imagination? But how? She didn’t consider herself an imaginative person. She jumped as the door opened and Donny got in.
He gazed at her, determined to be patient. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?”
“I’m sure,” Margaret snapped.
Donald held his spotted hands up. “All right, all right, no need to lose your temper.” He started up the RV and they jounced onto the highway.
Margaret slid low in her seat and closed her eyes. Hopefully, when she opened them, they would be back in their desert mansion. No, not their desert mansion. Her desert mansion. The goat was giving it to her once he kicked the bucket. His pruned kisses were numbered.
“Maggie,” said Don, “wake up. Let’s stretch our legs.”
Margaret jerked out of a doze. They weren’t home, but at a scenic lookout on the Salt River Canyon. The figure behind the gas station and the eyes across the canyon in the camp ground slipped her mind. Snatching up Donald’s five hundred dollar binoculars, she jumped out and gazed across the canyon towards the car that had crashed in the 1920s. It was amazing to know that people from the 1920s had actually been here. It was a monument that the human race had existed in the stone ages.
A black bush sprouted next to the pale car. She’d never seen such a strange bush in all her life. How odd that it had grown in a matter of seconds.
“Do you see that bush down there?” She looked at him, but he was staring at her bosom with that reprehensible look in his moldy eyes. Margaret grimaced. He was too old! She needed young meat like Howard. “Why don’t you make us some sandwiches, Don?” She peered through the binoculars again at the bush. It stood up and stared at her. Scarlet eyes gleamed in the sun as a grin spread across its wide face. It blew a kiss to her. Margaret jumped. The binoculars slipped from her cold fingers and shattered on the ground.
“Maggie!” Don snatched up the mangled thing. “What are you doing? You broke them!”
Margaret gazed at the old car. The bush was gone.
“You can’t panic when a bug lands on you,” said Don. “Let’s go.” He stomped back to the RV, crawled in and slammed the door shut. “I can’t believe what you did. I can’t believe it!”
Margaret slid into the passenger seat. “If you had looked, you would have understood.”
The RV burned rubber. “I’ll never understand you and your bugs.” He sped up.
Margaret rolled her eyes. “I’m not afraid of bugs. You blow five thousand dollars in casinos every week and you cry about five hundred dollars. Grow up, old man.”
“You have no respect for other people’s property.” He turned a corner a little too sharply.
Margaret’s mouth fell open. “My property is yours, but yours isn’t mine?” She folded her arms tight across her stomach. “You can forget your stupid repeat tonight. Who wants a repeat of clumsy and weak? Forest lord indeed! You are no forest lord! You’re more like a forest slug!”
Donald floored the RV, his fingers tightened on the steering wheel until his dotted knuckles turned bone white.
Cold silence lay between old man and young girl when the former pulled into the three mile long driveway that wound to their desert mansion in the hills. Sun-reddened dust kicked up and coated the glass and waxed exterior. The two-story mansion with its white columns flanking the wide porch rose up among the scrub brush and cacti. A yellow and orange sky reflected in the majestic windows.
As soon as they pulled up, Margaret jumped out into the shockingly hot air. A clay stairway outside the mansion wound up to the balcony outside her and Don’s room. A sliding window made the extravagant door. Unlocking the giant window with a silver key, she marched inside the cool room and secured it against Donald’s entry. He would have to go through the house to get to her. She glanced at the oak door on the other side of the pale room. He might try to come in, despite her anger. She locked it, too.
She made up a bath and sunk into the deep waters. Ahhh, a bath without that corrugated goat! This was how it would be when Donny was gone. The first thing she would do would be to throw out all his catheters, his frivolous books—except the ones with nice covers. Those would make for some elegant decoration. She would definitely tear out his man-cave and make herself a woman-cave.
The doorknob on the oak door jiggled. Margaret grinned. It was so good to be ten steps ahead of horny goats!
“Maggie,” said Don through the golden wood. “Maggie. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’m sorry. Open the door and let’s talk. Tell me what’s the matter.”
Margaret dunked her head under the water and held her breath for as long as she could. When her head came back up, Donny had gone. Hopefully, he was weeping over his lost ‘repeat.’ Climbing out of the bath tub, she jammed on her night shirt and went to bed. Blessed night! She didn’t have to share anything with that ancient mummy this time! She drifted to sleep in her silken sheets, dreaming of her forest lord. He would protect her. Love her. Free her.
Glass shattered and a blood-curdling shriek jerked Margaret awake. The giant windows leading onto the balcony were intact. The red letters on the clock by the bed read 3:03 A.M.
“Don?” Margaret slipped on her silk robe and hurried downstairs, feeling her way with hands and feet. The living room was just visible at the bottom of the stairway. The great picture window had been broken in. “Don?” She raced through the aperture and skidded to a stop. Don swung over the overturned coffee table from a ceiling rafter. Hot coffee steamed from the soiled carpet and dripped from his bare toes.
Margaret slapped her hands to her mouth and screamed. Low grunts filled with spittle echoed through the broken glass. Taller than her 5’9”, a hairy figure was crouched beside the shattered window. Glimmering eyes locked on her. Warm wind blew in the stench of feces and urine.
“No!” Margaret stumbled from the room and tripped up the dark stairs. The hairy shadow walked to the bottom of the steps and looked up at her. She barreled through her bedroom door and swung it shut. Where was her cell phone? Her purse. Where was her purse? It hung on the bedpost.
She lunged forward and emptied it. The phone tumbled to the floor, she snatched it up. Bee-beep! Bee-bee-bee-beep! Bee-beep! The phone vibrated and Don’s name popped up green and glowing on the brightened screen. Margaret froze. The door shook with a heavy rap-rap-rap! Thick grunts rumbled against the heavy wood and the knob jiggled.
“Go away!” Margaret flung the phone into the wall across the room. It hit the floor, still glowing, still beeping.
BAM! The door slammed open and the hairy shadow stooped inside.
“No, no, no!” Margaret’s legs turned to jelly and she crumpled to the floor.
The still stooping shadow dropped Don’s phone on the floor. The tinny ringtone whined in the receiver. It took a step towards her, one hand outstretched. Margaret’s head spun, panic shocking her throat save four little words that seemed to conjure off her quivering tongue on their own.
“What do you want?”
The shadow tossed something on her stomach. Crinkly envelopes and small pieces of paper slid out of their binding of woven pine needles. Lavender curled to her nose.
In a low guttural voice, the shadow said, “You called me.” It chuckled. The thunderous din reverberated through Margaret’s slender bones, bounced down the stairway and shook the sliding glass door. Margaret screamed! She scrambled towards the balcony, but in a single stride, the hairy man seized her by the nape of the neck and dragged her to the window. It punched through it with a massive fist. Pieces of glass showered in silvery shards to the pale carpet. Flower embroidered paper fluttered beneath Margaret’s kicking feet, to lie like feathers on a bed of glimmering thorns.
BIO: Born to the Bear Clan of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Julia enjoys writing stories about her area. She has been published in a number of print and online publications, including Mantid Magazine, Sanitarium, The Wicked Library Podcast and more. She has upcoming works in The Wicked Library, Grey Wolfe Publishing and The Wagon Magazine.
When not writing, she enjoys nature walks, cross-stitching, playing the piano, and killing zombies. You can follow her @SparrowCove.