Sharon was lost in the forest, and the forest was lost in the city.
It had been such a nice surprise that there was a place like this in Bangkok. During her first visit to this terrible city the quietest, greenest place she had been able to find was a sorry excuse for a park barely 500 feet across. Moving around the city during those three days she’d been able to stand being there Sharon felt like she couldn’t breathe. There was not a tree to be seen anywhere. The city had seemed like a monster to her, unceasingly grinding out filth, noise, and chaos.
She had no clue why she’d come back to Bangkok. But here she was, and she hated it just as much. Her preference for nature and rural areas was clear, but usually she didn’t mind being in a big city all that much. Bangkok though… So, when she arrived at her hostel yesterday, and learned about Bang Krachao from her newfound friends, she’d jumped at the chance to join them on their excursion to the forest inside Bangkok. She was amazed and excited that such a place hadn’t been crushed into oblivion by the surrounding metropolis.
Sharon wasn’t excited anymore. Her friends were gone, the sun was gone, the city seemed to be gone. She was in an endless forest that she couldn’t find her way out of. She was scared, she was alone. And, impossibly for this part of the world, she was feeling cold.
The day had started out so well. The three of them had left the hostel at 10 am, right after breakfast. They took a taxi to Klong Doei pier. A short ride across the river on a long-tail boat brought them to the edge of the forest. A bicycle rental agency was conveniently located at their point of arrival. They sifted through the hundred-plus ramshackle bikes, picked four halfway decent ones, and went on their way into the forest. They cycled around for several hours, going left or right on a whim, confident they’d find their way back to the pier at some point. Because how big could a forest inside Bangkok really be? They came across some food stalls where they stopped for lunch, washed down with sickly sweet Thai tea.
More biking amongst the trees during the afternoon. Sharon was having a lovely time. This was such a great place, compared to the horrible city surrounding it. Peter and Georgia were discussing their return to the hostel though, it was getting late and they were feeling sore. The time had come to leave the wonderful, beautiful forest behind. Wouldn’t it be nice if she could just stay here a little while longer?
Sharon couldn’t remember if it was at this moment of wishful thinking that she lost her friends, but it seemed that from one instant to the next she was alone. It didn’t make any sense. She had been riding in the back, true, but she hadn’t stopped or fallen behind. Suddenly, they were just gone. She’d called out, she’d cycled back and forth, left and right, and finally, she’d shouted. Shouted herself hoarse.
No one answered. No one was in sight. During the day, they’d encountered quite a few other bikers, but now, no one. Sharon was alone among the trees. After she’d accepted the fact that she was lost and on her own, she tried to be smart about it and cycled in one direction, as straight as the paths allowed, to reach the edge of the forest. She cycled and cycled but did not escape the trees.
The forest could not possibly be this big.
But it was.
Night had fallen what seemed hours ago. Later the cold had come. Sharon was even starting to shiver. She kept cycling, trying to keep her mind focused on the pedals. Keep her thoughts away from her rising panic.
So bloody cold. So bloody ridiculous. She was in Bangkok, Thailand, it was 90 degrees here every day and every night of the year. A strange thought came to her: this was no regular cold caused by the earth cooling in absence of the sun, it was – she didn’t know how else to describe it – a focused cold, coming from outside the forest. It was an unnatural cold, a cold of death.
As this peculiar realization hit her, she saw the girl. At least, she thought it was a girl, until the petite Asian-looking girl waved at her, the girl’s skin started to shimmer, and she stepped into a tree. The girl disappeared, as if swallowed by the tree trunk. A few seconds later the girl reappeared, stepping out of a tree further down the path. She waved at Sharon again, and made a ‘follow me’ gesture.
Sharon, thinking that she should be really scared right now, but in fact not feeling scared for the first time since night fell, followed.
The girl stepped into and out of trees all down the long, twisting path, waiting patiently with a lopsided smile on her face for Sharon whenever she fell a little behind. After half an hour or so, Sharon finally reached the place she’d been desperate to find. She’d come to the edge of the forest. And wished she hadn’t.
The city before her looked nothing like the place she’d left behind that morning. All the buildings had lost their definition, their color, their separate identity. The city had morphed into one giant entity, black and gloomy. Malevolent. The city looked like the huge, soulless monster she’d instinctively felt it to be.
Sharon felt its actual presence now. It was the source of the cold, of the feeling of death. And it was pressing inward, toward the forest.
Sharon noticed something else now. Beneath the monster that was the city, thousands upon thousands of fading, translucent trees dotted the land. Ghosts of trees. In all directions, as far as the eye could see. Once magnificent trees, that are, forever no more. She felt a piercing, violent pain course through her body. The pain kept building up, and Sharon let out a loud, anguished sob.
Sharon felt a gentle, comforting touch surround her. The tree girl had come near and embraced her. Sharon looked into the girl’s eyes and saw reflected the sadness she felt all over. The girl nodded at her and swept her arm out, pointing along the edge of the forest. Sharon looked at where the girl pointed and saw that the girl was not alone. All along the forest’s edge similar shimmering girls were standing beside the trees. Some stood inside the trees. Sharon could see them all, they stood united against the malevolent crushing intent of the soulless cold, protecting what remained of the forest. She could also see that they were too few.
Sharon heard a voice inside her head. It was the girl, speaking in a language she couldn’t understand. Yet, the meaning of the words was perfectly clear: ‘help us.’
Without a second thought, Sharon said yes.
The girl embraced her again, and in her embrace, Sharon changed completely. She left her human form behind, and soon after she left the person that was Sharon behind. She stepped into a tree and linked with her sisters to shield the forest from the monster.
Every night since then the spirit that had been Sharon fought to protect the forest. She didn’t know how many nights she came to the forest edge, and she didn’t care. A tree spirit was all she was now. Linked to the trees, she would continue to protect the forest for as long as the forest lived.
She usually only came out of her tree under starlight, but on one day she was drawn out during the day. Drawn out by the presence of a different creature. She let herself be led toward this creature, and she felt this creature was also, unknowingly, drawn to her. A thought came to her mind: ‘Deborah.’ It had no meaning to her, but she associated it with the creature. She followed this Deborah creature. Followed, watched, and waited.
For Deborah was lost in the forest, and the forest was lost in the city.
My own story of Bangkok
I’ve been to Bangkok many times. Before my first visit there I’d heard a lot of complaints about the city. It was chaotic, overcrowded, noisy, filthy, polluted…. Upon arrival I barely noticed these things and wasn’t bothered by them at all. I really like Bangkok. I find the chaos and vibrancy part of the city’s charm.
One thing that can’t be denied though is that Bangkok is one huge concrete jungle. There are parks here and there, but no one could ever call Bangkok a green city. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I learned about Bang Krachao, also called the Green Lung of Bangkok.
We took a longtail across the river, rented rickety, uncomfortable bikes, and spent the day cycling among the trees. The forest is not as deserted as I made it out to be in the story – there are homes scattered along the paths – but it still feels like you’ve completely left the city behind.
The opening line popped into my mind and the rest of the story quickly followed from there.