Published on 2013/05/12
The origami man unfolded his arms and said hello to the young boy.
"Hello," said the young boy, whose name was Ted. "Who are you?"
"My name is Satoshi von Strudeldocker but my friends call me Ori."
"My name is Ted."
Ori nodded. "I know."
Ted's eyes crinkled. "How do you know?"
"Oh," said Ori, "don't worry. I know all about you, look."
Ori pulled opened his jacket at page seventeen and reached into his inside pocket. He retrieved a tiny violin folded from a single piece of purple paper. He looked at it for a moment, then frowned and transferred it to the pocket on the right hand side of his jacket, just beneath a headline that said DOG CATCHES RUBBER BALL.
Ori dug around in the pocket for several minutes. In the process he retrieved a blue orchid, a crane created using silver paper that flashed in the summer sunlight and a miniature paper piano that sounded out of tune. He stashed all three items in the pockets secreted around his person and then dipped into the pocket one more time.
"Ah ha!" he cried. "Here it is. Hold out your hand."
Ted slowly offered his right hand, palm turned nervously towards the cloudless blue sky above them.
Slowly, very slowly, Ori placed his latest creation on Ted's hand.
It was a small boy. It was about three inches high and had been created using paper so white it stung Ted's eyes to look at it. The paper had been folded and creased and folded again to create shoes and jeans and a jacket to clothe the boy. It had eyes, a nose and a mouth and ragged hair that stuck up at uncomfortable angles.
Even at this size, Ted recognised himself. He self-consciously ran his fingers through his hair.
Ori tutted and fiddled with the hair on the origami boy for a moment, his eyes flicking from the figure to Ted and back to the figure until he'd made the required corrections.
Ted opened his mouth to ask Ori how he'd made the little paper boy but Ori shushed him and pointed impatiently at Ted's hand. Ted stared at the figure. It really did look just like him. Ori had even recreated the bag packed with newspapers Ted was carrying with him on his paper round.
Then the boy moved.
Ted didn't quite believe his eyes the first time. Surely it was just a trick of the light, a bird passing across the sun. Then the boy turned its head slowly towards Ted and smiled. Ted's eyes grew wide as a grin rolled across his face. He raised his hand to get a better look but Ori snatched the little boy back.
"Hey!" said Ted as Ori slipped the struggling figure back into his jacket. One of the boy's feet got stuck on the edge of the pocket and it flapped about awkwardly for a second before Ori poked it free and the boy dropped out of sight.
"That's it," said Ori. "That's as much of the magic as you get to see."
"You can't do that," said Ted.
"Yes I can, he's mine."
"But that's not fair!"
"Fair schmair! He's mine and I can do whatever I want with him."
Ted glared at Ori and turned back to his bicycle but as he swung his leg over the saddle, Ori spoke. "Okay. Look, I can show him to you again. But not here."
Ted hesitated, his leg hovering unsteadily in mid air. Eventually he turned back to Ori, his eyes narrow. "Where?"
"At my house."
Ted shook his head decisively. He knew he wasn't allowed to go anywhere with strangers, even for magic. Two years ago, his sister had ignored that advice and she'd vanished into thin air. Ted could still hear his mum crying sometimes and his dad spent almost every evening in front of the television instead of playing with him and his sister, like he used to.
"Of course," said Ori, "we'll have to get through the Forest of Nightmares to get there and you'll probably be too scared."
Ted pulled himself upright a little and puffed out his chest. "I'm not scared, but my mum and dad don't want me to go anywhere with strangers. I shouldn't even be talking to you."
Ori looked down at his shoulder and flicked some stray newsprint off his jacket. "Okay," he said and he shrugged and turned away.
Ted lunged instinctively towards Ori, "Hold on."
Ted had never heard of the Forest of Nightmares, he lived in the suburbs. The only trees anywhere near here were the bedraggled saplings dotted along the sliver of grass running down the middle of the street. And if the Forest of Nightmares wasn't real, then Ori wasn't real either which meant this was a dream which meant it was okay for Ted to go with him.
"Okay," said Ted, "I'll come with you."
Ori turned, smiled and winked at Ted. "Let's go then, it's just over here."
They hurried across the road and slipped down the alley that ran between number 24 and number 26. If Ted had any lingering doubts that this was a dream, they were dispelled when Ori flung himself over the fence and into the garden of number 24. Ted knew the woman who lived there, Mrs Eccles, and she was very nice although she was old and more than a little deaf. But, she knew his mum and he was pretty sure that if there was a Forest of Nightmares in her garden, she'd have mentioned it.
Mrs Eccles' husband had died three years ago and Mrs Eccles barely went into the garden. As a result, it had blossomed into a bit of a jungle (although the brambles were still not rampant enough to be considered part of a Forest of Nightmares). The flowerbeds, once lovingly tended, were now covered with weeds and Mr Eccles' prize winning roses had long since been choked out of existence.
At the bottom of the garden was a shed. Untouched since Mr Eccles' death, nature had begun to reclaim it. The roof was sagging under the vigorous onslaught of a blackberry bush while the eager tendrils of a very healthy looking bindweed had snaked their way through the cracks in the weatherworn wood and were beginning to pry the planks loose.
As they passed the shed, Ted peered in through the grey, cobwebbed covered windows. The contents had mostly been reduced to indistinct shadows but he could just about make out the shape of a lawnmower propped up against one wall. The sight made Ted unexpectedly sad and he hurried after Ori as he disappeared around the corner.
Ted wasn't sure exactly when he passed from Mrs Eccles' garden into the forest, but at some point the verdant green foliage and the warm July sun was replaced with a wall of thick black tree trunks and a dismal grey light that seemed intent on sapping Ted's strength rather than nourishing the plants and trees around him.
Ted looked back, expecting to see a window back to the garden, or at the very least a lamppost but the forest continued behind him for a few feet before fading into blackness.
"Here we are," said Ori. "Forest of Nightmares."
"Oh," said Ted, still hoping this was a dream despite the chill seeping into his feet through the soles of his trainers.
"Gloomy huh?" said Ori, more cheerfully than might be expected.
Ted nodded as he peered into the depths of the forest. He almost leapt up a nearby tree when Ori tapped him on the shoulder.
"We should go," said Ori. "It's really not safe."
Ted nodded again, more forcefully this time, then followed Ori as he began pushing his way through the undergrowth. He could see the pale shape of Ori's jacket ahead of him, dipping and bobbing as they made their way deeper into the forest. The writing on the back of the jacket was just about visible although at some point it changed from LOST KITTEN RETURNS HOME to CLOCK STRIKE WORSENS.
Ori pushed past a particularly stubborn branch and it flicked back, hurtling towards Ted's face. He dodged sideways but it caught him on the cheek. He flinched and hesitantly touched his face. The wound stung and when he looked at his startlingly pale fingertips, they were tinged with blood. As he looked at his hand, Ted realised his green canvas jacket was gone. Or at least, the canvas-ness of it had gone. The jacket he was wearing now still looked the same, but it was made from crisp green paper folded into shape.
"Come on," said Ori and Ted hurried after his guide before he lost sight of him.
They pushed on through the forest for what felt like hours until they came to the bank of a river. Ori stood on the bank, staring into the dark water as it rushed past. Ted sat down next to him, breathing heavily and glad to get the chance to rest.
"Stand up," said Ori.
Ted groaned. "I'm tired and I'm hungry."
Ori grabbed Ted's arm and hauled him upright. "Come on, stand up. It's not safe."
"It's not safe to sit down?"
Ori shook his head impatiently.
Ted stared at Ori. In the gloom his pale skin stood out, the grey type scattered across its surface washed to a barely visible smear. He looked worried.
Ori pointed at the river. Ted peered into the swirling black water. He could just about make out four dark grey rocks poking out, a path across the river.
"We have to get across," he said.
"What about the water? I can't swim very well."
"I know, but it can't be helped. It's much higher than it was this morning," said Ori, "I've been away too long."
There was a rustling from behind them and Ori glanced back into the forest. "We need to go now."
"I can't make..."
"You have to," interrupted Ori. "It's too late to go back."
Ted nodded and stepped back to give Ori some room. "You first."
Ori made it to the fourth and final rock before he slipped. His foot had landed right on the edge of the slick granite and as he shifted his weight to make the final leap to safety, it slipped sideways. Ted watched in horror as Ori stumbled towards the water. As he fell, Ori kicked out, lunging towards a thick brown root that was poking through the ground. His fingers found the root and he clutched at it in desperation. His legs flailed uselessly against the mud of the riverside, just inches away from the black torrent. Ted held his breath as Ori tried again and again to find enough purchase to drag himself to safety.
Then suddenly it was over.
Either the root gave way or Ori slipped or maybe he just gave up. Whatever happened, Ted watched in horror as Ori slid down the bank and into the water. The water flooded his crisp white shoes and his trousers and his jacket. Within seconds he was gone, dragged down into the darkness of the river.
Ted didn't have time to think about Ori's fate, the noises from the forest had returned and they were louder this time.
Without giving himself time to think, Ted stepped towards the small rock. It was closer and bigger than he'd expected. The second rock was a little further away and the river was lapping over it making the surface dangerously slippery. Ted hurriedly jumped onto the third rock. Luckily it was the biggest because he slipped and fell. He landed awkwardly and for a moment he lay there, just clinging to the rock. Then the river crashed against the rock, sending a plume of brackish water into his face. He spat the bitter tasting liquid out of his mouth and climbed unsteadily to his feet.
There was only one rock left. It nestled in the water, tantalisingly close to the riverbank, but it was the smallest of the four rocks and it was the one that had claimed Ori's life. Ted glanced back the way he'd come. Dark shapes were shifting through the forest, the trees shuddering as they forced their way towards him. He swallowed, grimacing at the tang of the water that still coated his mouth.
Taking a deep breath, Ted jumped towards the final rock. He wavered unsteadily as he landed but he stayed upright. The river splashed against his legs, instantly soaking through his trousers to chill his bones. The root Ori had tried to hold on to still stuck from the ground and as something crashed through the forest behind him, Ted threw himself towards it as hard as he could.
The better footing made all the difference and Ted caught hold of the root much higher up where it was thicker and drier. His feet found firm ground on the riverbank and he kicked himself forward to safety.
Ted lay on his back panting as something screamed from the other side of the river; something large and angry. Ted hoped whatever it was couldn't swim. He stayed there on the cold, damp leaves that littered this part of the forest until his heart managed to slow itself down enough to prove he wasn't having a heart attack and then pushed himself upright.
The river had swallowed the rocks completely now and was starting to lap against the top of the riverbank. Whatever monstrosity had been following them (and in Ted's head it could only be a monstrosity) was still trapped on the other side of the river. He couldn't see it, but he could hear it growling and muttering as it paced back and forth, the beat of its footsteps reverberating across the darkness.
Unsure what to do next, but certain he wanted to put some distance between him and the creature, Ted turned away from the treacherous river and headed into the trees.
The forest was clearer on his side of the river and although it was still gloomy, it did seem a little brighter. It was certainly easier to push through the undergrowth and Ted was able to relax a little; until a branch flicked into his face, catching him just above the eye. He barely felt the impact but he ran his fingers along the scratch, just in case. It felt fairly deep but it didn't sting and when he checked his fingers were free from blood; there were just grey smudges of ink on the tips.
Ted continued on and the forest continued to thin until he found himself on a narrow track, winding its way through the forest. Once or twice, Ted thought he heard something rustle in the undergrowth but it was the sound of woodland creatures scattering for cover, not malignant beings intent on eating his bones. The undergrowth pulled back from the path and if he tried, Ted could almost forget that his only guide had been swallowed by a murderous river and he now didn't know where he was going.
The sun climbed higher in the sky and the trees and bushes that lined the edge of the path grew ever more colourful. Pinks and blues and reds nestled amongst luscious emerald leaves. Here and there, bushes filled with clusters of bright red berries burst from the undergrowth and Ted wondered if they were edible although he didn't actually feel hungry any more.
The path climbed slowly upwards and Ted pushed on, eager to see what was over the crest of the hill. When he did finally reach the top he gasped. The path continued for a couple of hundred feet, dropping back down the other side of the hill before ending at a house. It was small, more of a cottage he supposed, and it was bright white; all of it.
At first Ted thought the walls of the cottage had been made from a single piece of paper but as he walked closer he could see that in actual fact it was made from hundreds of rectangular pieces of paper, folded into irregular shaped 'blocks'. Similarly, the roof was made from paper tiles and the door from paper planks fastened with grey paper nails.
There was a garden outside the cottage, home to real plants, not paper ones but the white picket fence that skirted the rose beds and vegetable patch was made of paper too. As Ted reached the gate (paper of course) the door to the cottage opened and a young girl walked out.
She looked just as he remembered her although her dress was made of red paper now and her blonde curls were strips of golden yellow paper that bobbed as she ran towards him. The scattering of letters across her cheeks reminded him of her freckles.
Ted looked down at the gate, searching for the latch. His jeans and trainers were gone now, replaced by blue origami trousers and crisp white shoes. Smiling, the origami boy pushed open the gate and walked towards his sister.
Philip Harris was born in England but now lives in Vancouver, Canada where he works for a large video game developer. Not content with creating imaginary worlds for a living, he spends his spare time indulging his love of writing. His non-fiction articles have appeared in such enigmatic magazines as EXE, WTJ and CGI. His fiction credits include Garbled Transmissions, So Long, and Thanks for All the Brains, Peeping Tom, New Horizons and Flurb. He has also worked as security for Darth Vader. You can find his blog at http://www.solitarymindset.com