Chapter 3

He hesitated for a moment as he raised his hand to press the doorbell. A sense of unease filled him. But there was something more to that feeling than pure unease. It was a sense of ‘deja vu’. That sense, which had taken roots the moment Riko had put eyes on the Light Forest, but which made its presence felt only now. He remembered the ku-koo clock on his wall and suddenly it hit him. It was here, in this Light Forest, that the story of the Dark Forest Hunt had taken place.

Sigh!! Riko took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

A second later, the door opened and Ashish Gupta stood before him. Nodding curtly, he ushered Riko in. It had always been like that. Even though Ashish and Riko were knowing each other for quite a some time now, Ashish was still the same. As he was in their first meeting. Indifferent, lying closely on the border coldness. “What does a smile cost?” Riko shook his head. There was no point deciphering Ashish’s behavior and he knew it.

He followed Ashish to Mrs. Chandler’s office. “Come Riko, sit.” she said, without looking up from the document she was reading. This, by no means was an inappropriate gesture, exhibited by a professional towards her client. Riko had been a regular at Chandlers’, when he was a kid. Ending up in Mrs. Chandler’s kitchen when he got too thirsty. Playing in the woody windy lane. Riko eased into one of the chairs in front of her desk and took in his surroundings. It was a compact room, not too big, not too small. Everything was properly in place. Books aligned neatly in the shelf. Files stacked properly. Not a single paper here and there. He noticed that even the items such staplers and erasers and paperclips had their own, small compartments. Everything was arranged in a fashion so as to give an easy access to the user. Riko appreciated Mrs. Chandler’s attention to details. A door opened into the balcony, behind Mrs. Chandler’s desk. And a square piece of blue sky was visible, dotted with the tree tops of The Light Forest. “Riko,” called Mrs. Chandler, pulling Riko back from his musings. She stood up, gestured towards the scene he had been looking to and said, “this forest belongs to you.”

“Sorry..?”, Riko was sure that he misheard Mrs. Chandler. “This forest, The Light Forest , and all it’s contents and inhabitants belong to you now. You are solely responsible for all the happenings in the forest from here on, until you pass the ownership to a worthy candidate, or your death, whichever happens first.” Seeing the bewildered look in Riko’s face, Mrs. Chandler continued in a more serious tone, “You are aware of what that means, aren’t you?”

“Err, I’m not sure. What am I supposed to do? It is a forest. And why do I own it? People don’t own forests!” Riko’s head was teeming with questions.

“But.. Oh, your grandfather never told you. Oh my! And today they must make a new story! That will complicate things”, she turned to Ashish, “Please send a word to Emma, tell her that Riko and I are to be expected in some time. I’m not sure if it is wise to let her know that Riko doesn’t know anything. ANYTHING! Oh my! How are we gonna do it!?” Mrs. Chandler was rarely agitated, but she was close to it now. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a few seconds and then turned to Riko. “Riko, this is going to be a lot to take in, but please be calm and listen to the details carefully. We do not have much time.  I am going to tell you the story of what the forest is, and how you came to be it’s owner.”

“Thousands of years ago, in the early days of mankind, there was little communication between people. There was no language then, and societies did not exist the way we  know them now. Men and women formed groups and stayed together because it was safer together than alone in the wilderness. People communicated through actions, and some sounds, but even two different groups living a few kilometers apart could’t really understand each other. And then one day a girl – a brilliant mind, way ahead of her time – had an urge to tell a story to her clan. Nobody in her clan understood what was happening, nobody knew what a story was. But she got them to gather together and slowly, and through gestures and actions and sounds, she weaved a tale of man and a woman who fell in love. That, Riko, was the beginning of stories, and the beginning of humanity. That particular story is famous, told and retold across the ages in many forms, by many authors and poets. But let me not lose our focus now.”

“When she told her story, there was something else that happened. Something opened up in our world. I still don’t understand it well Riko, but soon you will meet someone who can tell you a lot more about that. Anyway, that something gave her a mission, and all the powers that she would need to pursue her mission. The mission was simple – make stories. Make stories of men and women,  plants and animals, river and ocean, earth and sky, galaxies and the universe itself, and it is told that every single event that happens was once told as a story by her and her companions. Even this one, what is happening right here between us!”

“Soon after that the girl started travelling the world telling her stories, and people listened to tales which they never imagined before. They did not know that they could imagine. But they were inspired, they weaved their own stories, and the tales they told shaped our world. And now the last bit, the forest. The girl who brought stories to our world is still alive – immortality was one of the gifts that she received –  and she resides in The Light Forest.”

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Chapter 2

It was time to meet them. It was a meeting he had been putting off. And putting it off for too long. They were his aunt Rita’s lawyers. Two of them. One old, another young. One male, another female. They were an unusual pair. Those two. Mrs. Chandler was in her early 50s, with cat like whiskers growing on the space above her upper lip. Riko always thought of that as the ‘space above the upper lip’, and never as ‘under her nose’. Maybe the reason lay in the unusually long stretch of skin between her nose and her lips. Mrs. Chandler lived with her husband who was also a lawyer, working in the legal affairs advisory committee of the state. Considering that, it was an out of ordinary choice that she had made, starting her own firm when she could have easily gotten herself a rather straight government job. She had the aura of a self sufficient woman around her, self sufficient and efficient. Riko had taken to liking her, she seemed like a beacon of light to him. Pure and bright. Ashish Gupta, her assistant was about Riko’s age too. Slight and nonchalant, with rimless glasses on his oval face, he came across as a person who minded his own business. A contrast to his boss’ willingness to take more risks and responsibilities. Riko had guessed that it was his expertise in what he was doing that had made Mrs. Chandler give an employment to this man.
They were to meet him regarding his aunt Rita’s will. Riko had no intention of finding out what she could have left him, and if she had left him anything. But Mrs. Chandler seemed to regard the will as a remarkable one.

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Riko loved the winding stretch of path that led to the Chandlers’. It was flanked on both the sides by huge trees, keeping it shady and cool even in the harsh summer. It was often deserted as well, being at the very end of the town and leading to the place most people would never want to visit. Countless hours were spent by Riko and his friends playing along this way – hide and seek being their favorite, not for their love of the game, but because there were always fantastic new places to discover in the woody windy lane, as they used to call it. Now, it was simply one of those very very special roads that one tends to inherit once grown up. You don’t need to work for such very very special things, you just have to be a child. And as you grow too old to forget how to be a child, you find them. Sometimes you know where and when, sometimes they completely surprise you. This path was quite a bit of both for Riko, and he thoroughly enjoyed it despite the grave nature of his journey.

It was close to half past five when Riko finally reached the banyan tree at the edge of Light Forest. CHANDLER & ASSOCIATES, announced the singular mahogany board on a hanging root. This enormous banyan tree looked darker and more mysterious than the forest that spread for miles behind, probably how the forest got its name, mused Riko. He walked up to the door and knocked twice. He was utterly unprepared for the wonder that was about to unfold.

Chapter 1

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“It is still an empty sheet”, Riko thought to himself. He sheepishly looked at the royal blue pen with its cap intact rested neatly in line with the white paper. For some reason he thought of it as a steam liner and imagined how the pen would start its slow movement away from the paper and a rather reluctant writer with a shrill whistle. Pens don’t like writers who don’t write. Riko was sure of that, just the way he was sure that no paper liked to be scribbled on mindlessly. The table was empty except for these, and the black pearl, of course. He was never far from that – his secret talisman. He looked at it once, maybe hoping that it would give him some cosmic spark of an idea, before he turned towards to the window.
Riko Tamanadu was at his parent’s place for a small vacation. He liked to take such breaks from the busy life in the city where he worked. Even if it meant having a good haircut so that his mother would let him be in peace.
He loved being home like anyone else. Like he did so many other things like anyone else. There was hardly anything remarkable about him. Riko Tamanadu was an extraordinarily ordinary man, entering his late 20s. Slightly thin, with a non athletic body. An aura of sloppiness constantly lingered around him.
He kept staring out of the window for another ten minutes. Still, nothing came to his mind and he decided to give up on the idea of writing. Once again his attention was picked up by the black pearl. He took it in his hand and rolled it over. Once again, that last meeting with his grandfather flashed through his mind. It had been years but he could remember every bit of it. What could he have meant by that, Riko wondered once again as he had done so many times before.
It was not long before he was brought back into the present by the shrill call of his cuckoo clock.
Ku-koo. Ku-koo. Ku-koo. Ku-koo. Ku-koo.

Five. It took a moment for him to realize that it had crossed four. The change of being back into his familiar home seemed to have slowed down things. Rather, his cogwheels seemed to have slowed down, unlike the ones that ran the cuckoo clock.
This drab looking cuckoo clock was a curious piece of art, with a proud history for itself. Though it looked ancient, the golden red cuckoo that came out to herald its calls of time always brought a breath of freshness. It had once belonged to his grand father who later gifted it to his eldest daughter, Riko’s late Aunt Rita. That was a month before he vanished. It came into Riko’s possession after Aunt Rita’s untimely death. Riko was always her favorite, she did not have any children. Riko also remembered well about the “Dark Forest hunt”, his grandfather’s story on how he acquired the cuckoo clock.
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“Five”, Riko said to himself, trying to bring his cogwheels into sync with the world. Five. It was time to meet them.