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The Clearing

The Magic Stag

The Clearing

Well there it was. Everything that had seemed fuzzy now had a preternatural clarity, as though it had a black line drawn round it. Sarah had been walking along the beach at low tide: the sky, the sand, the seabirds, her own fretful self. A heavy fog had rolled in unannounced and obscured everything. She had been unable to see where she was going, could barely make out her own hand in front of her face. And then a strong wind had whipped up and blown the mist away. And now what?

Without her willing it to be so (or wanting it, indeed), everything had changed utterly. There had been a headland here before, sandhills, distant traffic sounds. But now, in the new clear light, the long vista had been erased. In front of her now was a huge forest. Now this was odd, since woodland does not usually reach right down to the water’s edge. And here every twig, every leaf, every muddy pool, was as bright as if it had been freshly painted. Sarah had to regard everything in close-up, since the abundant vegetation had obscured all perspective. 

There was nothing else for it. She would have to plunge in. There was a small path, a twitchen almost, and though she was unsuitably dressed (sandals, skirt), she followed it.  The brambles  scratched her  legs, the ivy twined round her arms and made them itch, the roots of the trees seem to rear up to make her stumble. And the insects! As she walked further into the forest, they became more and more huge. The ants, marching along their own sugary path, were an inch from antennae to back. That bee, buzzing back to its hive, was at least six inches across. That spider with the hairy legs was nearly a foot long, and its giant web was festooned right over the path. And the animals in the forest were like none she had ever seen before. The badgers and foxes were colossal, and with her new clarity of vision, she could see every eyelash, every claw. They looked back at her, with a mixture of fear and disdain. What did they see, what did they want from her?

She soon found out.  Her eyes, now seeing so well, felt different. She reached for her little pocket-mirror, and saw that her eyes were much bigger and rounder, and had changed colour from blue to brown. Her legs were lengthening, her shoes fell off, and a set of shiny hooves slid out with a “pop”.  She reached up to the top of her head, and felt tiny stumps starting to grow, They pushed their way through her hair and became huge antlers, covered with something soft (or was it real fur?). No. She was in velvet. And she was now a he. A giant stag. She was King of the Forest. 

Why or how this had happened, she never knew. But it was the supreme irony. The forest had a sense of humour, it seemed. For she, fiercely protective of her feminine identity, had now become a male, seeking his hinds, clashing antlers with his competitors. She, for whom parenthood had been a problem, was now intent on creating as many progeny as possible. And she, who had always valued logic and intellect above all, now became a creature whose senses were paramount: the nose snuffling the morning air, the pricked ears expecting the broken twig, the moist tongue distinguishing the pure from the impure. 

The forest had shown its wisdom. Lights seemed to hang from the bony diadem on his head, illuminating the darkness. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he recalled the salty waters, the sand, the person he had been. But she had gone: the forest had claimed her. And he was content.

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