A part of Christmas in July.
Before the footprints of man scarred the soil and sand of old Canaan’s face, on a continent between the sun’s pyre band and fields of ice and snow, there laid a black forest whose trees rose high into the air and whose jagged borders ended only just before the rocky shore. In these days, all mobile creatures from the littlest mite to the mightiest bear feared that which did not move, the God spirits of the sea and land. By day the sun light made the canopy glow golden and bright, illuminating the afternoon hunts. As evening fell, all which moved became still and silent. Nocturnal creatures made their homes away in other countries where moonlight dared to cross through branches into peaceful glades. Nothing was heard in the forest after the setting of the sun save for the rhythm of the waves on the stone beach.
This is why when man did come to the forest, they came by sea, their hubris cushioned by the whispers of the surf. The moonless dark held no fear for them, as there were no predators which hunted by night, and their torches and lanterns quickly rent petty shadows asunder. So the black forest of Canaan did become man’s domain all at once. They cut apart swaths of trees and dispelled their roots to make fields for crops. From the lumber they fashioned boats with which they used to reap the bounty of the sea. From the strength of the flesh of fish they tore stone from the ground itself, building great houses and walls, and carving monuments to their dead.
The creature man was unfamiliar to the spirits of the forest, and they had no knowledge with which to wage war. When the spirits made the ground infertile, so that their crops would be diminished, man simply made more fields. When the spirits sent great serpents to devour the fish of the sea, man hunted the serpents instead. And when the spirits commanded their animal thralls to hunt their children, man slew them easily, and made great feasts of the meat.
The spirits choose to wait, to bide their time and watch for the weakness of man to reveal itself to them. Man was tenacious, but the darkness was patient, and so many years passed before the old gods of the forest decided to act.
On a cold morning in the harvest season, three wealthy brothers with the means to never work, each decided to go for a walk, and bask in the bounty of the land they controlled. These were the first men to which the forest ever spoke.
The first brother walked past fields of vegetables and grain, which workers reaped in the cold sun. Warmed by his furs, he walked farther and farther until he found himself in an old and infertile field, long since abandoned, vast and filled with weeds. In the center of the field stood a mighty oak tree blowing in the autumnal wind. The man was entranced by the single tree growing alone, and approached it. The tree greeted him in the voice of the wind, keening:
“You are surprised to see me standing alone. My brothers and sisters have long since been killed by your ancestors, and only I had the strength to cling to life. See how I rise not into the air, but outward, attempting fruitlessly to cross this field. I reach out with my branches and call, but I shall never know the comfort of my brethren again.”
“Oh mighty Oak,” The man cried out, “What may I do to ease your suffering?”
“You can do nothing, child of man, for all that lives bears the same curse.” The tree responded. “Just as I reach out with my branches so to do you reach with your limbs and words to touch your brothers. Know now that they to do not know you, as my brothers and sisters do not know me. Just as the form my life takes traps me in isolation, so too does yours, your mind forever unknowable, my soul forever unreachable.”
And so the Tragedy of Life was revealed to the man. He fell prone before the Oak and sobbed endlessly, his cries ringing out through the field.
While this occurred, the second brother made his way to the cemetery to visit the tomb of a lost cousin, and make offerings at his grave. At the far end of the graveyard sat an enormous boulder, which the townspeople had attempted to move many a time before, but proved immobile even under the greatest force. While the second brother walked through the lengths of headstones, he came upon this boulder and stopped to marvel at its size in wonder. The stone greeted him in the voice of the earth, cackling:
“Look upon me, fool, and rejoice. See your own substance. I am the ash of your body, the dust of your very being. You are made of me, and you are cursed to return to me, just as your brothers and sisters were cursed to return to me. See how I have stayed here longer than anything else. My power is unbendable.”
“O mighty Stone,” the man cried out, “What shall I do to be rid of your curse?”
“You can do nothing, child of man, for all the lives shall die. The ash from which you were fashioned is the dividing point between the earth and Aether. I am your imperfection, I am your mortality. Know now humility, that you are a fool, a practical joke of powers beyond your comprehension. Just as I devour these bodies beneath me, so to shall I devour you.”
And so the Humor of Death was revealed to the man. He fell before the stone and laughed continuously, his chortles comforting the dead.
At the same time, the third brother walked to the shoreline to observe the fishing boats calmly coasting across the horizon. As he walked west across the beach he came to the mouth of the Great River which flowed into the ocean, collecting all the water from every stream and brook of the forest. He stopped to gaze upon the roiling waters and churning foam. The Water spoke to him in the voice of the deepest void, shrieking:
“Terror before me, child of man. Gaze upon the abysmal embryo. I am the flow of creation. I am eternal. Although I appear contained, the earth below and to my sides holds no power over me. As the days pass I wear away at this rock relentlessly, I flow without sleep or rest. Eventually I will carry away all of the earth into the ocean. Life will have no place, and so death will no longer be.”
“Oh mighty River and Sea,” The man cried out, “Is this truly the fate of all that is?”
“Indeed. Everything shall turn to nothing. Know now the nature of the void, the darkness that all shall return to. Just as I carve away the earth, so does the Great Abyss carve away existence. Light and sound, life and death; All shall be forsaken by God.”
And so the Horror of Time was revealed to the man. He fell before the Mouth of the River and screamed unceasingly.
When night fell and the three brothers had not returned home, their servants grew concerned. They gathered searches and spread out across the forest. Within the night, three separate parties had found each of the brothers. The townspeople gathered not soon after word had spread to see the madmen of the forest. The people at first found the ceaseless cries of the men to be entertaining and amusing. But by dawn the men, who had before taken several hours to find, could now be heard faintly by the townspeople. By sundown the next day, the cries of each man were heard distinctly, and rang in the ears of the people. Quite disturbed, the town appealed to their Baron to send soldiers to execute the madmen. Wanting deeply to bring silence and comfort again to his people, the Baron dispatched his soldiers to secure and kill the three brothers.
The First Brother was found at the base of the tree. The soldiers lashed him tightly to the Oak and stoned him to death.
The Second Brother clung tightly to the boulder and would not let go, so a trench was dug around the boulder and kindling gathered, and they set him aflame under the Stone.
The Third Brother was found bathing naked and screaming in the surf. The soldiers took him out into the water and drowned him in the torrents of the Mouth of the River.
The spirits of the Oak, Stone, and Sea, each having their champions spill blood and die on their hallowed ground, claimed the soul of each man, and feasted on their vitae.
At once the water of the River and Sea rose in great waves, bursting forth to cut at the earth. The flood rushed through the town and swept away the soil of the graveyard. In the torrents of the water the ash which was once living became life once more. The wind came through the trees and with the voice of the Forest, the Oak put vigor in the fresh marrow of its thralls.
The Dead could neither be hurt nor slain, and soon defeated the soldiers and taking the town as their own. One by one the fallen selected a living man, woman, and child, and carried them in a procession past the beach and into the belly of the Ocean
And both living and dead became naught once more.