Woodcutting

Jack and Jill lived at the edge of a forest, in a great city. The city was the centre of trade for the region, a veritable hub for all life, and its forest was nature’s last bastion. Every morning, Jack would traverse the edge of the forest to get to work. He was a lumberjack. His Majesty’s carpenters were clearing a chunk from the forest for a new throne; it would not be sorely missed, the forest covered close to a thousand square miles. Jill stayed home every day, save for a trip just into the forest, to pick apples for her pies.

Jack worked hard, because he had to. Though he had a job for now, many in the area were very poor. Work was scarce, and those who had jobs clung to them, for their family’s sake. Occasionally, on his breaks, Jack would hear the local children telling ghost stories about the monsters that lived in the forest, saying that they stole little girls to make them their brides. Jack knew that this was just a fairy tale, but he did not know that deep in his subconscious, he was just as fearful as the children were. No one had ever crossed the length of the forest; even His Majesty refused to go more than 200 yards into the woods.

When Jack returned home one evening, he found his home empty. An apple pie sat on the windowsill, still warm, so he knew that Jill hadn’t been gone long. It was getting dark, and Jack was beginning to worry. He left for town, to see if she might be there. He searched the market, looking for his beloved, but the crowds were beginning to dwindle. As the sun finally set, Jack went off in search of the Guard Captain. When Jack informed him of his fiancee’s disappearance, the Guard Captain said that he would commit every available man to Jill’s search, and then told Jack to try and go home to sleep.

Morning came, but Jill did not. Jack was petrified at the thought of losing his fiancee, and decided that he must look for her himself; his work could wait. He knew that it would likely mean he would lose his job, but why would he need to work without a warm heart in his home? As he exited the house, a guardsman jogged over to him, saying that he had seen marks leading into the forest, as if someone had been dragged. Jack’s heart sank. He found the tracks himself, but following them into the forest was futile. He knew what he had to do.

A few hours later, he returned, ax in hand. He would cut down the entire forest if he had to, but he would find his fiancee. Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, and weeks into a months. Jack was making progress, but with every tree he felled, his heart drooped lower. He began to console himself, turning the effort into recovering the body, instead of finding his love.

Fall was ending, and the air was crisp with winter. Jack had cut a thirty mile long path into the forest. He originally had carried the felled wood back to his home, but all four walls of the house were lined, now. He stopped only to eat and sleep, though he had not slept in his own bed in months. And then one day, he found her.

She looked tired, but still as beautiful as she ever was. Her hair had matted in places, and her clothing had torn. She looked thin. Jack dropped his ax and ran to his love, calling her name aloud. She turned and had a confused disposition. Then her eyes lit up, but not in the way Jack had expected. She did not remember him. She was excited to see another human, but she did not return his touch, she repelled it.

Jack explained to her who he was, and what he had done to find her. Jill looked behind him, seeing a clear path cut through the trees. It took a few repetitious moments, but she began to remember. Though she was still not happy to see him.

Jack carried his fiancee home, and she slept. He was weak, tired, and broken. He had cut down every tree in his path for the past eight months, and yet still had to convince his fiancee to leave the forest with him. He laid her in bed, and she slept for days.

Jack did end up finding another job, and Jill eventually treated her return to domestication with civility. Though one morning, Jill rose to wash, only to find her now-husband dead, still in bed. She stood over him, watching his pale face, and for the first time since her departure from the forest, longed for the warmth of her lover.

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