Aphelion Issue 266, Volume 25
October 2021
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The Remotest Recollection

by Honza Vojtíšek

Translated by Milan Žáček

Where does you memory reach farthermost? Try to search. Where can you go back in your mind, against the flow of time? How many years will it take for you to reach a white, unknown spot which you don't recognize, which won't talk to you with any voice whatsoever? The way I am speaking to you now?

Try to ask the people you know. So many possible stories. Forms and scenes. That one in the form of a sandball thrown at your own mother, another time the first toy, experience... I knew two people who claimed to remember their own delivery at the birth. I thought it bullshit. Now, I am not so sure anymore. And maybe you won't be so sure either.

My remotest recollection is not just so old as could be expected. I might dig out a recollection even older than that. This one, however, is the brightest, strongest. Nothing further away is quite so bright and distinct as this one. And perhaps won't be, ever. Because it is fading away.

A shy child's question, full of concerns and fear.

It has been following me all my life. It has influenced the whole of my life. It's ridiculous, but suddenly, all of it almost makes sense. Maybe. You can make it clear, you. That's why I addressed you.

I've feared the woods in general, but I've been scared of the forest near our home the most. Possibly for its proximity, its indisputable presence which I felt whenever I stepped out of the house. It stood there, to the right. Seemingly unmoving and quiet, relentlessly present. But I've always been convinced that it was beckoning to me, was whispering to me. In the embrace of the woods I became a typical city-boy. Pavements and the coldness of concrete were more appealing to me than grass and wood. Industrial sounds of the human life more pleasant than the song of the wind in the branches of the trees.

My mother laughed at it. The older I was, the more she did. Not gleefully or mockingly, her motherly love wouldn't let her laugh like that. But still, at opportune moments she often teased me about it. I might have even forgotten myself that child's question in the course of time, but she always kept it in her mind, and when she was in a good mood and disposition she refreshed it in my memory. The way she reminded me of the fact that, even if I, as her son, trusted her in all kind of things, I was not able to accept her then answer as real and definite.

Possibly, it has influenced my life more that I was able to acknowledge. When my mother died a half year ago, suddenly I was all alone. I did not have anybody. Just the suddenly empty and quiet flat. The last time my mother talked, it was the day of her funeral. In accordance with her cheerful disposition, I could not get her reply from my head until her coffin was swallowed by the earth. Everybody had left, only I remained till they covered her and the soil silenced her voice, suddenly not so sweet at all.

When I got back to the quiet of the flat, it was obvious to me what had to be done. Not that she had required it, but I knew that it would have pleased her. It would be a sign that I was going forward. Alone now, but independent, on my own. It's not such a big deal. Thousands of people do it. Every day. At this very moment. I stepped outside and entered the woods. Without stopping, I walked further in, deeper and deeper. I didn't feel any abrupt awakening, enlightenment or understanding. Damn, it was just ordinary woods. A cluster of trees, encircled by shrubs, standing on cushions of moss, that natural floating floor.

It was nothing special, but also nothing which would make me break down. I simply walked. Followed the footpath visible amongst the fallen needles. I looked around, uncovered the patulousness of the treetops, caressed their skin with my fingertips, snagged on their pores. I breathed and perceived the pleasant smell.

It was woods. I had an idea how it looked like. Now I knew it for certain. Just the woods. Nothing unusual, nothing atypical.

And perhaps on that day I was not the only one there, because suddenly, in the distance, I glimpsed the unmistakable countours of a body disappearing behind a tree.

I swiftly turned in that direction, paused and waited. She came out in a second. Scuffed jeans, chequered shirt, brown wavy hair, and a smile upon her lips. Was it for me? Or was it just a typical male conceit?

She froze just for a while. Then she turned and started to walk away from me. But that movement of her hand. So odd for this situation.

I don't say that I have never had a woman. Don't you think so. But it's not been anything much to write home about. Maybe that is the reason. Maybe because of that I could have interpreted certain things in a certain manner just out of ignorance or inexperience.

But that gesture of her hand was unmistakable. And she looked so normal. Womanly. Real. Human. Perhaps not even now could I recall when or if ever I felt like this, like at that moment, in those woods. But perhaps it was only due to that setting, so atypical for me.

She was pretty.

I started to follow her.

She must have known it. Heard it. I was not able to avoid stepping on brittle twigs.

She ran forward a bit, and when she was passing a tree, she embraced it like an old friend of hers, and tossed her hair like a fan.

She peeked from behind the tree and smiled again. This time she exposed her teeth.

I raised the palm of my hand and waved to her.

She did the same, waved to me, and then she quickly ran downhill to the bottom a small valley. She skipped a thin stream of restless water and hid behind a tree. She disappeared behind it like Otík the Priest in that old film comedy.

I started and accelerated my steps. That feeling that she wouldn't appear again, that she had simply vanished, was impossibly intense. I didn't even know what was happening, but I didn't want it to come to an end.

There was a laughter. And from the left side of the bole her face popped out. Literally slashed by her toothy smile. A bright ray of sunlight drove through her hair and caressed it so softly that no human hand would be able to do so. Her teeth shone, she has sparks in her eyes. It was like a flash of lighting. Then the face disappeared again, only to emerge on the right.

As I said I have not scored with women greatly, but I am not stupid either. It dawned on me pretty fast that the woman was toying with me. Which was a pleasant discovery. Nowadays, you would have expected her rather to be afraid. But not her. She was provoking me to play along. I didn't suspect how far she was willing to go, but at that instant I found it entertaining, if only because I was in the woods, but I didn't think about it at all. An interesting way to knock your fears to the ground.

So I smiled and started to follow her. Not in an aggressive sort of pursuit, just in accordance with the rules of the game.

As if she expected me to do it. She stuck out her tongue, turned on her heel and loped along the stream down the valley. Her hair waved behind her like a cloak, small buttocks enclosed by the denim pumping like valves of a well-oiled engine.

I accelerated a bit. I didn't want to catch up with her, not yet, I felt that it would be too soon, but at the same time I didn't want her to disappear. It might end. Too quickly.

You must understand me. I didn't have any hopes. It was so unexpected and unbelievable -- I don't know, maybe all of this happens in the woods all the time, and I was such an idiot to avoid them -- that I didn't even thought about it. It was simply happening, and it was pleasant. Entertaining. Unusual. If anything, that's the only way I thought about it.

I fell once or twice. Dry leaves were more treacherous than they appeared to be. But I didn't care. I fled as a doe. I didn't look under my feet, but rather on her back. So much movement and life in such a small space. The squares of her shirt shifted as if in some mechanical mosaic. They seemed to move from one place to another. She skipped down the slope almost as if she didn't touched the ground.

It may have hypnotised me, I may have gone into a trance. I may have only let myself be absorbed by the situation. I only paused when I felt a sudden chill spreading upwards from my feet.

Due to the immovable coating of fallen leaves I didn't register the water surface. Only when I stood there almost up to my knees. A small lake embraced by swamps. A beautiful sight, treacherous to touch. I stopped and shouted after her: "Hey, if you want to play some more, let's go somewhere else, it's dangerous here.“

She just slowed down, turned her head, sensuously -- really, not to experience this regularly doesn't mean I didn't know it -- she looked into my eyes and provocatively nodded her head in the direction where she was running. Then again I only saw her symmetrically moving back and buttocks.

"Damn,“ I muttered, stepped out of water and sought a direction to run the swamp around.

I ran a bit further than necessary but she herself didn't want me to lose her from sight. Whenever we were in danger of losing each other, she slowed down or slightly changed her direction.

When I became aware that the distance between us was getting shorter, I heard music. Really. Nothing muffled or vague. It was a sharp and unmistakable thrumming of strings.

I turned to her, but I shouldn't have done that. I hit a tree in full run.

Or rather… I should have hit it.

In fact, I ran through the tree.

Do you understand?

Not though the branches, but though the trunk. As if it were a hologram. But it was not.

Immediately I paused. From the corner of my eye I saw that she stopped as well.

Only then did I noticed that in spite of that she was still moving. That in reality, she didn't have firm contours and her edges shifted. Like a picture in hot air.

My senses were roused by excitement. They had their reason. I was seized by cold. Not imaginary, but real. All of my clothes were soaked wet. Not only up to my knees but up to my neck. I drove my hand though my wet hair and to my surprise, I picked a wet, half-rotten oak leaf out of it. The subtle scent of the woods was immediately replaced by a moist, dank stench of putrefaction and decay.

I swiftly shot a glance behind me, over there, to that water surface.

You know, I knew what was happening. All of a sudden everything stopped and all of my senses caught up with the actual reality. It took a while, as if I ran a bit in front of it and now was letting them catch up with me. To discover and learn the truth. The reality of what had really happened.

As if in confirmation, a drop of water found its way into my ear and muffled it. The murmuring gained in strength. I knew that if I put my finger in my ear, I would probably touch needles.

Resigned and reconciled, I looked up at the woman. She was blending with the air there, smiling. Then she subtly shrugged.

At that moment not only my mother spoke, but me too.

“And, mummy,” my childish scared little voice said, “do fairies live in the woods behind our our house?”

“Don't be afraid,” she answered at that time and since then several times not only in my memories, “fairies exist only in fairy-tales.”

When my mother's voice faded out, the women was nowhere to be seen. I have never seen her since. I'd come to terms with my current state pretty quickly. Well, what else can you do, you know, in this stage? But this is what I regret, this uncertainty. This was the only thing which I didn't believe my mother saying. Or to be more accurate, which I doubted. And then I was standing practically within reach of the truth, and again ended up in uncertainty. I don't have the least bit of certainty that I saw her in the woods. Do you understand? I'd like to have proof. A witness.

Therefore I am telling you all of this. And I know that you can hear me. That you can hear the subtle chill on your ear and the stream of my words which are flowing into it. I am here. Believe it. Close to you.

You don't want to go to the woods? Don't be afraid, it's here, just round the corner, a short way... Look.

To that water.

To have a look... Just to have a look.

You may see her too.

And I will know that it was not just a dream. That it was not a pre-mortal hallucination.

Come on…

Don't make a fuss about it.

I can't be more convincing than that.


© 2018 Honza Vojtíšek

Bio: Honza Vojtíšek is a Czech horror writer. Publisher of the electronic horror magazine Howard. He published three collections of short stories, his work can be found in more than ten anthologies in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. He edits horror anthologies, writes comic scripts. Organizes the HorrorCon. Three of his short stories were adapted for film.

Website: Honza Vojtíšek

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