In the woods, identity gets watered down, till finally it dissolves: she is I, I am you, you are he…
The innocent who went walking in the woods on a late afternoon near All Hallows’ Eve and met the Erl-King in the heart of the forest, that innocent was me, that innocent was she, in the end the only real innocent is he. Only a true innocent could give so much and cause so much harm and see no difference between the two, nor care to see.
I know that I am different from he, only because I lie on his bed of old straw and dried ferns and feel the stalks prickle at my flesh and rustle under me. To my eyes, born and bred to the city, the forest is a blank, a green maw, an isotropic space where all directions look the same, and with every step deeper in, I am certain that soon I will not care to ever come out again. I know I am different from he because his eyes have that same all-consuming, all-erasing green sameness, and when he looks at me, I am swallowed up and feel no regret for my loss of self. My loss of self is how I know I ever had a self at all.
His fingers are smeared with dirt, his nails almost too long, too sharp. He washes his hands, hands like spades or other tools of a murderer’s trade, in a hollow tree stump filled with ice-cold water. He slips his fingers, long and wide and gnarled as tree roots, inside me, and coaxes me to sing for him.
I writhe and cry out, and his wall of trapped birds shrill and whistle and hoot in response, a cacophony of noise, all the birds complaining because perhaps they were once girls and knew what I was feeling, and wanted to feel that again their own selves.
He laughs above me, his teeth gleaming sharp and white as the sickle moon that peeks in through the window at this scene out of a connoisseur’s wank book, this not quite embrace, my agony of wanting. He coaxes me closer and closer, but then withdraws. Nothing merciful lives in the forest. I reach for him, wanting his skin to cover my own, his flesh to anchor me, but he shakes his head and dry leaves fall rustling from his hair, brushing my face as they fall, settling between my breasts. I am as fecund and slippery as the forest floor. I would sprout ferns and mushrooms if it meant he would give me what I want most in the world right now.
With all the braggadocio of the omnipotent king in his tiny realm, his sharp thumbnail teases at the glistening, swollen flesh at my entrance, and I flood like a river. I toss and turn on his bed, a storm on open water. He has the infinite patience of all wild things, and he loves more than anything to watch me dissolve, while I want only to please him, which is to please myself, which is to let him eat me alive, what big, green, forest-blank eyes you have.
He slips one finger inside me, only the one, and laughs as I clench around him desperately before he pulls away again. His hand covers my vulva completely, like it would obliterate me, and his teeth close around my nipple, teeth sharp as desire, too sharp for a game. The only games in the forest are the hunt, the pounce, the sudden fall of the owl, the dying cry. The cold, funereal wind he carries everywhere with him pebbles my flesh, my nipple hard as a dried berry between his merciless teeth. The wind of his presence covers me in gooseflesh and chills my fingers as I cling to his arm and beg without words. Only he speaks in his cottage, and only the caged birds sing.
That cold wind of the inevitable winter lets me know that, sooner or later, and more likely later, he will give me what I want, but not till I am stripped down to the bone and there’s no more of me left for him to feast on. His hand uncovers me, he thrusts his knobby fingers into me again, again and again, his sharp thumb plays my clit like a Jew’s harp, and I rise up like a wave to meet him, holding my breath, my heart inside me breaking like frozen wood. His tongue on my cold breast makes me shiver, his teeth graze my flesh still, I arch up, and his hand bucks me off again, leaves me twitching and unsated on the prickly straw, for the peak of my frustration is sweeter to him than the peak of my desire could ever be.
I am you and he is me, and the only way I can be certain I am different from he is because I know that one day he will be the death of me, and I will welcome him and envelop him like a rushing river as he swallows me.