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.”