It is snowing outside. There are children playing with sleds and skis. Mommy fastens the chrome buttons on little Johnny’s fur coat and pats him on the head.
“Johnny, it’s snowing today,” she says, “that means we can’t go to play in the park, because the swings will be slippery. Shall we go and have a little walk through the forest?”
Forest? Johnny had never been to a real forest before. He nods, and they put on their Wellingtons. Mommy takes an umbrella and they leave the house. Then they walk past Johnny’s school, a hospital, a post office and a bus station, where Johnny sees a smiley lollipop lady waving her sign at him jubilantly. He waves back and laughs. Mommy points at a tabby cat, licking its paws underneath the bus stop screen.
“That’s a kitten, Johnny. Say ‘hello’ to the kitten.” Mommy smiles.
“Hello kitten,” repeats little Johnny, waving.
They reach the outskirts of the forest, and mommy holds Johnny’s hand. A warm glow radiates from her smile.
“This forest is magical, Johnny. It’s not like other forests.”
“It’s a forest which shows you what you want to happen, Johnny. Everything you see in here is what you want.”
Johnny paused, and raised his eyebrows.
“Of course, honey.”
Was this forest really… magical? Now, he really was beginning to anticipate the advance. He’d never encountered anything magical before, and he found it slightly difficult to believe. But he would believe. Because adults never lied.
“Mommy, I already know what I’m gonna see inside!”
“Then tell Mommy what you think you’ll see.”
“I’ll see a lollipop, no, a thousand lollipops! I’ll see a million-billion-million Mars Bars and candy-floss. Everywhere! I also want marshmallows, and toffees of all different kinds!”
“Wow, Johnny. You’re a greedy little boy.” She ruffled his hair.
“It’s not just that, Mommy. Not just candies; I’ll see a huge, gigantic house! Oh, and I’ll see a new bike, and a football, and lots and lots of money.”
“Let’s go in, shall we?”
They strolled hand in hand into the parting between two magnificent oak trees. Mommy retracts the umbrella and puts its reduced form back into her handbag, as the bare branches above them are enough to shelter them.
As they descend down the path between the rows of trees, the snow on the ground starts to thin. The trees begin to gain colour and life, and their leaves start to grow back. Soon, the snow once crunching beneath their feet disappears, revealing a layer of lush, green grass. Beautiful pink, yellow and red flowers spring up in the field all around them. The number of trees decreases as they advance further, and soon there are no trees left.
Johnny marvels at the sight, looking all around in bewilderment. Was he dreaming? Of course Mommy hadn’t lied; adults never lie. This place is truly magical, like a dream. The forest is right – he really wishes he could live in this place forever. They walk, and the scenery around them changes once again.
This time, the field turns into a beautiful beach. The golden sand rustles lightly underneath their feet as they walk, and seagulls fly all around them, surrounding them. It is no longer cold; the sun glows above them, and Johnny sees a funfair, with all different types of rides. There is also an ice-cream van. And a funny clown. Johnny liked the field just now, but he likes this place even better. Again, the forest is correct – he definitely wants this place, in fact, he has an urge to live in this golden utopia for the rest of his life.
Thunder booms, and instead of the usual grey, gloomy scene which accompanied it, multi-coloured clouds made of candyfloss cover the sky. Orange, blue, pink, red – Johnny even sees a rainbow-coloured cloud. Rainbow-coloured banknotes fall from the sky, landing in Johnny’s hair.
“Mommy, quick, get out the umbrella!” yells Johnny.
Mommy takes it from her purse and laughs with Johnny, as she opens it up and turns it upside down, collecting the multi-coloured banknotes.
The sky clears, and the sun is shining again. The banknotes disappear, but Johnny doesn’t mind, because as they approach the ice-cream van, it turns into a giant blue mansion in front of his eyes. A huge house, the exact one he saw in his dreams, which he had dreamed of having since he was very little. Mommy encourages him to approach it, so he walks up the steps and knocks on the door. The door opens, and a million-billion-million Mars Bars and Gummy Bears spill out like a landslide, knocking him over. He slides back down to mommy in the avalanche of candies, and then lies down. He spreads his arms and legs and moves them back and forth like windscreen wipers, making a candy angel in the ground. Mommy laughs, and points at the rockery.
A shiny bike with a red frame leans proudly against the wall. A yellow and green football gleams alongside it. Johnny gasps, rising from the angel-shaped void inside the candy and runs towards them, but Mommy stops him.
“Johnny, we don’t have much time. Let’s go through all the goodies in the forest first, then you can come back and pick your favorite thing, all right?”
Johnny resists the temptation to try out the bike and kick the football. He holds Mommy’s hand again, and they leave the mansion.
As they descend further, the sky darkens and the sun is covered by grey clouds, and this time, they are not made of candyfloss. Johnny wonders if this is just a transition phase between this scene and the next, but the sky continues to become blacker. The trees return, leafless and ominously twisted. Johnny is afraid and confused. Are they walking out of the forest? He knows that he doesn’t want this; it makes him upset. He grips Mommy’s hand tighter.
“Mommy, I’m cold… I don’t want to walk in anymore. I want to go home.”
Mommy’s hand feels icy and solid. Johnny looks down, and is shocked to see that Mommy’s hand is no longer there, and the hand he holds is made of glass. Like an ornament, a glass model of a human hand. It is completely transparent, and he can see his own fingers through its palm. The shape of Mommy’s ring is still clearly visible around her finger.
He inhales sharply, then looks to the left of him. Mommy isn’t there, but her glass hand still holds his. He screams, and immediately releases it, dropping the glass hand.
The hand falls to the floor where it smashes into a thousand pieces. Now, broken glass is strewn around the floor in front of him. Mommy is still nowhere to be seen. He stands dumbfounded for a few seconds, then starts crying, looking around the forest which is now completely shadowed and grey.
“Mommy… M-mommy… I’m scared… what’s going on?”
Suddenly, Mommy appears in front of him. Before he runs to her and hugs her, something makes him shudder in terror. He whimpers and stops a few feet before her, cowering. The new Mommy has a dull, threatening expression.
“Mommy… what happened to your hand?”
Mommy’s left hand was missing.
“Johnny, you broke Mommy’s hand,” she half-says-half-whispers, pointing at the glittering mess on the ground behind Johnny. The thin, willowy branches cast ominous, almost diabolical shadows over her face. “It’s your fault Mommy doesn’t have a hand now, Johnny. You did that. You wanted that to happen, didn’t you?”
“What?” Confusion, bewilderment, terror. What is going on? The once ecstatic child now struggles to control his runny nose; he is entrapped in a fierce nightmare. Johnny looks around felinely, like a startled cat. “Mommy, I didn’t want that to happen, I swear! I never ever wanted to break your hand! I’m sorry!”
“Johnny, the forest always tells the truth. You wanted the candy bars and the football, didn’t you?”
“But I don’t want this! Mommy, I’m sorry! I want to hold your hand!”
“Johnny, I’m afraid that’s not possible now. Mommy doesn’t want you to break her other hand as well, does she?”
Mommy glares at him ominously, silent for a long while. He is too scared to move. He doesn’t like the new Mommy. Johnny cries with false guilt, accused of false intentions.
He stops when he sees a bright light shining in the darkness from a distance.
He walks cautiously to it, stopping once in a while as he draws nearer. A familiar figure sits below the light, coughing and wheezing from pain. A bald man with tiny nails of stubble on his chin. Wisps of thinning brown hair line his otherwise smooth scalp.
“Daddy? Daddy, what’s wrong?”
Daddy doesn’t reply. He just continues to splutter. Then, a red glow appears, coming from the left side of his chest area. Daddy tries to get up and away from the red light, but it sticks him there like glue. Johnny jumps when Mommy puts her remaining hand on his shoulder heavily.
“Daddy’s hurting. Why don’t you try and help him?”
“But…” he gulps, looking down at her missing left hand, remembering what had happened earlier. “How do I do that?”
“Something in his chest is hurting him, Johnny. Cut it out, and you can save him. Save your dear daddy.”
Johnny’s eyes widen, as Mommy takes out a huge kitchen knife. Its edge gleams, exposed to the tiny wisps of light from the gaps in the sky.
“Mommy… I’m so scared. I never wanted to do this.”
“Oh, yes you did. The forest always tells the truth. So, you were the one that wanted this. You wanted your daddy to suffer, didn’t you?”
Johnny shakes his head as hard as he can. He wants to cry again.
“Now, are you a man or a mouse, little Johnny? You must redeem yourself of your mistake, and stop your daddy's suffering.”
He takes the knife, his hand shaking. He walks over to his daddy, kneeling beside him. Daddy suddenly looks terrified, tears flowing from his eyes, large and pleading.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I shouldn’t have wanted this to happen to you. But the forest says I do. So Mommy says I have to help you take something out that’s hurting you. Don’t worry, it’ll be quick. I promise, Daddy.”
Daddy shakes his head, but Johnny still takes the knife and begins to make an incision. Daddy screams and howls, while Johnny cries. Surprisingly, Daddy’s flesh cuts like butter; no blood comes gushing out. The inside of Daddy’s body is filled with millions of tiny white maggots, all writhing around underneath his skin. Some of them have tiny pincers and crawl onto Johnny’s hand. Johnny screams and recoils in disgust and fear, looking over at Mommy. Mommy seems to disapprove of his actions, but her face holds a strange, almost grinning expression.
“Man or mouse,” he whispers to himself. “Man or mouse?”
He cuts further into Daddy. Something large and round is moving inside him. Something hard and quivering. Johnny screams and cries, his hands submerged in the mass of maggots, pulling out the thing which is making Daddy hurt.
It is something red, attached with two long cords to the inside of Daddy’s body. It still beats in Johnny’s hands. Johnny stops crying and looks upon it in horror.
“Hold it still Johnny,” whispers Mommy, “if you drop Daddy’s heart like you dropped mommy’s hand, Daddy will DIE.”
“But, Mommy, you told me to do it! YOU TOLD ME TO DO IT MOMMY!” Johnny cries, gingerly cradling Daddy’s heart in his hands. He shakes, unable to decide what to do next. He begins to place it back into Daddy’s chest, while Daddy screams and writhes, but the red light pins him to the ground.
Johnny screams. Daddy’s skin is closing up rapidly around his hands. Soon, his hands are enclosed in Daddy’s skin, and blood now begins gushing out, as if he had really stuck his hand into Daddy’s chest.
“STOP! JOHNNY! YOU’RE HURTING HIM!” Mommy screams.
“Mommy, WHAT DO I DO?”
Daddy is flailing wildly. Suddenly, he drops to the ground, his body limp. Johnny pulls his hands out of Daddy with all his might and collapses on the ground. The bright lights go out, and Daddy’s corpse lies on the ground. Mommy cries.
“Johnny! Look at what you’ve done! Why would you want such a terrible thing to happen?”
“I don’t Mommy, I said I don’t! I don’t know why it’s happening, I really don’t want this to-“
“You killed your own father! You want your own father to die, and you want to kill him! I am so ashamed, you are such a disgrace, Johnny!”
“Mommy, I really didn’t!” The tears flow like rivers from his eyes onto the black ground. “I really don’t want this to happen! I’m confused! I’m scared!”
“You LIAR!” screams Mommy. It echoes through the forest.
Her body suddenly freezes mid-scream. Her eyebrows are frowned in fury, her face scrunched up, her mouth wide open. Johnny shivers and stares as her head turns completely to glass, then snaps off her body. He jumps back and screams. It falls off her shoulders to the ground, and shatters into many pieces.
Mommy’s headless form unfreezes, then staggers for a while. Her voice still echoes from the broken pieces on the ground.
“Johnny, the forest of things you want to happen never lies. You wanted these things to happen, didn’t you, Johnny? You’re a bad, bad boy.”
Johnny abruptly lapses into a sullen silence, his face emotionless. He stands still. He doesn't want to descend further into the forest and see more of these atrocities.
“Mommy,” he begins, “you lying, heartless monster.”
He had remembered that not just one, but two people had entered the forest.
Written by Tiololo