London glimmered outside Jake's window as he woke up, thinking about the dark forest.
Wayne had told him a dozen times that London never glimmered, that London was nothing but a trap for tourists and civil servants and scum. London, according to
Wayne, was hardly fit for humans to live in. But for Jake, the city glimmered like a palace of
dreams, like a promise of the future.
Thus, Wayne was long gone back to whatever dark satanic mill he had
come from, and Jake was still there, making the big money in the glimmering city.
So why was he thinking about the forest? He hadn't dreamt of it in ages. This morning he had
been dreaming of a coffee shop. He was sure of it, because he always remembered the gist of his
dreams. Not every little detail, of course. But at least the broad strokes.
After so many years, even the forest was reduced to broad strokes. All he could really
remember was that it had been wet and dim. The light filtered green and damp through layers of
leaves, like the light inside a huge aquarium. The aura of its antiquity had
enveloped him, ancient and grand and more real than any city on Earth. That was what he
remembered. But he knew there was much more to it than that.
Something monstrous had happened in the forest, something so terrible it could not be
remembered. It was this impression of fear which made him remember the dream after so long,
not the damp touch of the branches or the hushed aura of doom. There was something so immensely
frightful he could not afford to remember it, or ever completely
And there was a woman.
Suddenly Jake realized why he had woken up thinking of the forest. Stricken, he stopped
brushing his teeth and stood still, unfocused eyes staring at his image in the mirror. In his dream this
morning, he had been in a coffee shop in Camden Town. But the woman from the forest had been
there. He hadn't seen her, but her voice had been floating in the hubbub of the coffee shop. He
could almost hear it now, although he couldn't remember what it had been saying.
He wondered if she was somebody real or a shadow of his own invention. He wondered what
she looked like. He spent the next few hours looking for her everywhere he went, but she wasn't on
the tube, or in his office. The echo of her voice began to fade away, like all dreams, as the hours
passed. By the time he returned home, where something of her might have lingered, he had
forgotten the morning's dream.
Another dream. He was in a pub. It was one of those misty dream pubs where the bartender
never sees you, and all of your mates expect you to get every round. He had a huge order to place,
and the mnemonics he usually employed to remember such orders were not helping him. The
drinks kept slipping away. And Wayne kept changing his order. Wayne shouldn't have been there
at all. It wasn't fair.
Some old geezer was standing next to Jake, telling someone else, "you must go back. The
kingdom needs you." While he spoke, he reached out to snag an ashtray, and jabbed an elbow into
Jake's ribs. Jake gritted his teeth and fought to keep his place, because, by some miracle, the
bartender was finally turning towards him.
Then the old man's companion spoke, and Jake forgot all about his order. "What good would
it do for me to return without him?" she asked.
It was the woman from the forest.
"It's not just me the forest needs. You know that. Anima and animus, two parts of the whole.
Neither one of us is enough without the other."
Jake's mouth froze painfully, as if he had bitten into a chocolate after fasting for days. He felt
paralyzed. With a violent effort, he tried to turn to look at her, but now the bartender was shouting
"Ey! Get out the fucking pub if you don't want to order something!"
He could move now, could look at her, but she was hidden behind the old man. And suddenly
Jake's arms were caught by a bouncer about seven feet tall and strong as a bear. Hurling
Jake out of the pub. The cobblestones flew up at Jake's face and dissolved into a pale, floral
pillowcase wet with saliva. With a flinch, he rolled over and looked at the clock.
He was nearly trampled on the platform, for just as he was stepping off the train he realized that
the bouncer also came from the forest. The memory, like so many others, was shrouded in fog. But
those unreasonably strong arms were part of the dark, frightening events that could not be
This time the dream refused to go away. It haunted him all morning long. He sat staring at
his computer, not seeing it at all until Harry snapped his fingers in front of him. Harry was worried,
and Jake reassured him half-heartedly that nothing was wrong, but half an hour later he gave up on
trying to work. A voice in his head, enraged at his irrational behaviour, told him to focus, but he
ignored the voice, made his excuses and found himself wandering the streets.
Somehow he got to Regent's Park and sat on a bench, listening to an American family
debating where it was that they were supposed to be meeting Mommy. There was music playing,
some annoying trip-hop mutation of an old disco tune. Anita somebody. The sun limned the trees -
bright, flat leaves, nothing like the dark, swaying leaves of the forest. He tried to remember the
music of the forest, ignoring the voice that insisted it wasn't Anita at all, it was a
Regina something. In the forest, there had been faint flutes or pipes, ethereally sweet choirs singing.
He could almost remember it, but the trip-hop kept distracting him. His eyes brightened.
Through the tears, he could see her blurred shape. Her face was dappled in the shadows of the forest. She was breathing hard,
as Jake was. They were running from something terrible, something so deeply wrong they could not
stop running until they were safe back in Jake's bedroom.
That was all he could remember, but he knew there was more to it. He sat on the bench and
waited for the rest of it to come. Waited for her voice. Eventually he found himself somewhere else.
Back in his bedroom, the old flowery one in the family home, waking up so many
years ago. Waking from that terrible forest dream. Drawing great, shuddering breaths as the terror
slowly faded away like flames dwindling and dying into embers that would glow forever.
"Don't leave me," he had begged the dream girl, hearing his father's heavy footsteps in the
hallway, an echo of fire sweeping through the forest. She had whispered, in that voice that sounded
so much like the barely remembered voice of his mother, that she would never leave.
He had been talking to her ever since. All through his teen years her voice had been there. It
led him to fairy circles and visions of a world beyond the visible. It took him to sylvan glades
when his heart was broken.
He never went back to the great forest, and he never thought about the fire, never once thought
about the dark monster that had set the trees burning.
When he left home at eighteen, she whispered of new growth and flowering trees, and legends
of the phoenix and of kings who would be reborn. He headed for the college furthest away from
home, and he never went back. She stayed with him all the way. She laughed gently at his relief
when he read an article explaining that hearing voices in your head wasn't necessarily a sign that you were going mad.
But in the end she had stopped talking to him, or he had stopped listening. He wasn't sure
exactly which, but he knew it had happened when he finished school and moved down to London.
He had ideas, dreams and ideals, all in part inspired by her, but London wanted no part of them. She didn't fit in there. He began to hear a new voice, a
tougher voice, with a trace of a familiar accent that he couldn't quite place. This voice was all
efficiency, practicality, success, nose to the grindstone. It was better for him. She vanished away,
and almost as soon as she was gone, London began to glimmer.
He shook his head and thought hard, trying to remember the last time he had heard her gentle
laugh. It was years ago. No wonder he had forgotten her voice.
When he went to bed, he was still shaken up. But almost as soon as he closed his eyes, he went
to the forest. It was almost unrecognizable, blackened and bare, the trees reduced to skeletons and
the streams trickling through riverbeds that had thundered with raging waters. The air was deathly
still. He sat for hours, willing her to appear, before he heard a faint echo of reedy pipes.
Choking, he called out to her, and at last heard a reply come from behind him. He turned, and
saw her at last, clad now in black leather. Her hair, once flowing long and free, was now short and
spiky. But still green, verdant and bright like nothing in the city.
This is your place, he told her. It needs you. Look at it. Please stay here.
And you? She asked. Don't you need me? Don't you need this?
He thought for a while, watching a tiny pale green leaf twist out of the charcoal ruin at her
feet, slowly beginning to understand. Finally he answered, I'll be back. I promise.
She smiled, her face glowing, and her clothes seemed to shimmer and blur before they turned
green once more.
London loomed outside his window, a crumbling, ivy-covered castle that countless armies had
fought for and nobody wanted, as Jake woke up. He wondered if he still had Wayne's phone