The White Forest
It honestly felt like I had been exploring this forest forever. But I could never remember when I started walking through it, nor why. That didn't matter in the end, as I always had a friend to talk to along the way. Little animal friends, sometimes as many as a dozen, all gathered around me. They would all try and grab my attention with all sorts of questions.
"Where were you born?" A question from a bunny rabbit. So I answered:
I was born in a small town by the sea. I was the younger of two siblings, my elder brother two years my senior. My earliest memories are of him, and all the fun times we had together. He was always very proud of his duty to protect me from any and everything. And of course I let him do his job; he'd be a much bigger hassle if I tried to stray from his watchful gaze.
"What was your hometown like?" A question from a squirrel. So I answered:
It was a beautiful little port town. There were many other towns like mine up and down the coast, but mine was special. A river emptied into the ocean, and it ran right through my town, so we were responsible for making sure all sorts of things got to the other towns inland. I'd often accompany my father on trips up the river, seeing all sorts of people along the way. The towns closest to ours were always the nicest; people there all dressed like us.
But the towns at the end of our route... those weren't as fun. People there dressed fancy, like the kind of clothes Mother would make us wear on Sundays. Only they wore them everyday, and would always cover their noses when we pulled up to deliver things. I once asked my father why they did that, cover their noses like that.
"They aren't used to the smell of the ocean," he answered.
I smiled, figuring it made sense. It'd be like when Mother made something to eat, and it smelled funny to me. But she wouldn't mind in the least, because she was already used to it. But it did hurt that the kids of those towns never wanted to play with me.
"Did you have many friends?" A question from a bird on my shoulder. So I answered:
Not as many as I would've liked. There weren't many kids in my town, aside from my brother. Mother always said it was because she and father asked the stork for us a little later than the rest of the families. They all had kids, too, but most of them were already grown up. And when they grew up, they had to help out with the fishing and the sailing. I remember asking Mother if my brother would have to help Father out as well.
"Of course," she answered. "But that won't be for many, many years."
I knew a year was a very long time, so I didn't have anything to worry about. If a year took forever to finish, many of them would never happen! That meant I'd be able to keep playing with my brother everyday. When the older kids weren't busy, I'd also play with them too. But it was usually just my brother and I on the docks, and down by the beach.
"What did you play all those days?" A question from a frog, down in the river below the log I was crossing. So I answered:
Hide and Seek was our favorite game to play. Between the pier and the beach, we had more places to hide than I think we've ever used. Sometimes, our hiding spot would be so good, we'd spend the whole day on the same game because we couldn't find each other! But when it was time for lunch or dinner, we'd stop and eat, of course. We'd just begin a whole new game after, or something else.
On rainy days, we'd stay out under the roof of our porch. We had an old deck of playing cards that my father got as a gift a long time ago. I think he said he got them when he was small as I was at the time; and I was tiny! So they were really, really old. And on days when there was a storm, we'd stay inside the house. My brother would read stories to me, since he was old enough to know how. He'd also read stories to my father, who always said there was sand in his eyes, so he couldn't read them.
What always surprised me is that even when he hadn't been outside, Father would still complain about sand in his eyes so my brother could read papers to him. I asked Mother about this, and she asked me to keep it a secret. So I can't say anything else!
"Did you ever leave your town?" A question from a fawn just ahead. So I answered:
Except for those days when I went upriver with my father, I only ever left town once. My brother had been asked to deliver a letter to someone who lived in a forest nearby, so I chased after him. Mother told me never to leave town without permission, so it was kind of scary at first. But I figured if I asked my brother for permission when I caught up to him, everything would be alright. I almost got lost following him, but he found me on his way back from delivering the letter.
"Mother would've been worried sick if you had gotten lost," he scolded.
I knew I'd be in big trouble once we got back home, so the entire trip back I was crying. I guess my brother didn't want me to get in trouble, so he took a stick and hit me on the knee with it. It only made me cry harder, but he explained why he did it after we got home. My brother did something Mother told me never to do: he lied. He told Mother that I had tripped along the way, and that's why I had been crying.
I don't know why she got angry at him, especially since he never said anything about hitting me with the stick. He told me it was because he allowed me to go with him. If it was his job to look after me, why would Mother get mad? Before this could be explained, my brother took my mind off of it with a sweet treat.
"What's the nicest thing you ever did?" A question from a white fox, sitting in the middle of a small grove. So I answered:
The very first time I got to go sailing with Father, it started raining. My brother had come along too, so we were both on deck. When it started raining, Father told us both to go into the cabin. Instead of listening to him, my brother stayed on the deck, and told me to go inside. I wanted to stay there with him, so I could get wet in the rain as well. But Father saw us, and yelled at us.
"I told you two to get inside the cabin!" He screamed, which scared me. So much so that I started crying.
It started raining harder, and now there was also some wind. A wave hit the ship, and it knocked everyone down. Father was holding onto the railing, and so was my brother. When the ship became steady again, I walked over to my brother, and grabbed his arm. I pulled him towards the cabin, and asked him to come with me. But my brother didn't budge; he wanted to help Father fix the sail.
"Get into the cabin! Both of you!" Father yelled again.
This time I knew he was being serious, so I ran behind my brother and pushed him. He fell down, but he was closer to the cabin at last. That's when another wave hit the ship, only this time my brother didn't have to worry about being knocked down, since he was already on the floor. He could've been hurt real bad that time, since he would've hit his head!
"What happened to you?" The white fox asked. I had to think about it for a moment. Then, I answered:
The ship was hit by the wave, and I was now standing where my brother was supposed to be. I was smaller than he was, so I didn't hit my head on the railing. I slipped under the railing, and fell into the water. I heard my brother call out to me, and I heard Father yell for the life preserve. I knew how to swim, but the waves were forcing my head under the water, so I couldn't breathe.
It started raining even more, and it got really hard to stay afloat. I heard my brother call out to me; over and over. And over...
That's when I looked at the white fox again. He wasn't really a fox anymore, but like a ghost of a fox. The bunny rabbit, the bird, the frog; all my animal friends all looked the same. And yet, I wasn't afraid of them. It was strange, but I understood what they were trying to tell me by asking me all those things.
"Do you remember now?" The ghost of the white fox asked me. So I answered:
"Yes. I drowned that day, didn't I?"
"Now that you remember, you can finally go home," said the ghostly white fox.
I turned around, and there was home. Just beyond the great white trees of the forest, I could see my old house. Mother and Father were there, now much older than when I last saw them. And my brother, too, but he was all grown up.
It didn't matter. I was finally back home, and my family was happy to see me again.