This story is one of the November Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
The clearing is not very deep into the forest, but deep enough that it is peaceful and isolated. Sunlight stretches through the leaves in dappled tendrils, flitting playfully across her journal pages.
He watches her pencil move quickly, barely allowing her time to flip the page. He doesn’t know why she insists on using a pencil when she writes so quickly that she crosses words out anyway, instead of erasing them.
Sometimes, he brings an easel and paintbrush, bringing to life whatever image he imagines her pouring into her little book. He never asks her what she writes. They simply let each other create their own stories, trusting they would show each other if they ever wanted to. Sometimes they bring a radio, taking turns choosing a song, and never exchanging a word for hours on end. Sometimes (almost always, frankly) they bring tea, and he delighted in trying new ones that she occasionally procured for him. She knew nothing about tea, simply guessing based on whatever caught her eye, but he appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.
But today, today he brings his camera.
He moves around their little clearing, hugging the thick tree trunks as he kneels and bends to find new angles. He captures the trees, the leaves, the various creatures that cross his path, her and her little notebook, their bags and other items scattered around.
Eventually, he gets bored with this. As much as he loves photography, there is only so much in this little spot when the camera cannot capture the internal worlds and universes that occupy both of their minds. Worlds and universes that only manifest themselves in her book or on his canvas.
Still, a camera allows him an element of exploration of reality that thrills him.
He speaks, for the first time since they arrived: “I’m going to look around.”
She looks up in hesitation, her pencil poised and quivering, as if it is squirming to free its words as she momentarily holds it still. She opens her mouth, then closes it as if pondering something, then says simply, “Don’t get lost.”
Despite the fact that they both know the woods like the backs of their hands, he holds up a compass, smiling, and replies, “I’ll be perfectly fine, grandma. I’ll be back shortly, don’t worry.”
She smiles briefly at the affectionate nickname born from her tendency to care for and worry about others, then turns back to her page, her pencil nearly jumping out of her hand at being allowed to move again.
He wanders, paying enough attention that he could understand where he was, but not so much that he feels he has an intended destination.
Soon, he comes across a bridge. He’s never seen it before, despite having explored the area countless times before. It is old and crumbling, the worn stones smooth and polished down the middle but nearly dust around the edges.
He carefully makes his way across the bridge, careful not to get too close to the sides. When he reaches the middle, he stands transfixed at what he sees. A powerful waterfall, so close he can feel the mist on his face, moves before him, feeding a river that flows beneath him and the bridge and deeper into the forest.
He quickly takes several pictures then rushes back to bring her. But when they make their way to the spot, the bridge is gone, along with the waterfall and the river.
As they had grown, the forest would change around them, but never in anything more than a tree or a clearing disappearing or appearing where there hadn’t been one before. They were thankful that their little clearing had never been affected by such shifts.
There is no evidence that waterfall ever existed, except… except his pictures. The pictures of it remain, his camera just as convinced of its existence as he is.
As they sit back in their clearing, she says, “Tell me a story,” as she tends to ask of him at times. She is probably curious of his theories of the waterfall. He wonders if she has ever written a story about a shifting forest.
“What else can we find here?” he asks simply, and she is satisfied with that, however far from a story it is.
“We can always try to find out. Forests are full of secrets. And when secrets are ready to be told, they will be, no matter who is around to hear them. We just need to be ready to find out.”
Ah, a mystery. He quite loves mysteries.