Pitter-patter-pit. Patter-pitter-pat-pit-pit. Pit-a-pat. And so on.

Forest dreamed, as gods do. Three moons of every ring Forest spent in darkness. Then there was light falling, and water warming, and new buds to be made, some for flowers, some for leaves, some for branches stretching towards the light, a dance with millions of participants - and every one of them had to be told what to do. There was no time for noticing things then.

But when the dancers began to slow, having learned what they were doing and come to recognise their partners’ rhythms and peculiarities, Forest could ease back and watch things, and drift slowly, inevitably into dream. For every ring of growth, Forest spent five or six moons in dream. And this was Forest’s dream:

There was a man who walked endlessly. He had been walking for years before he crossed through Forest, but once he had come he never quite left. Even when his path took him away from Forest, part of him lingered there while his feet moved on. He first came to Forest in the final moments of one ring’s dreaming, when the leaves were fire on the branches. There were great drifts of them on the ground already, and in another second every remaining leaf would drift down to join them, and Forest would ease into darkness again. But in that last second, the man was there, and he stood looking out over a valley, a storm-blown sea of dark flame, and he trembled. Not with his body, which fluttered and pittered and pattered too quickly for Forest to see anyway, but with his soul.

A part of him leapt out into Forest, breathing words of beauty and grandeur and Nature’s infinite capacity and how it made his walking seem cheap and extravagant and useless all at once. But the words were like the buzzing of insects to Forest, and a second later Forest’s dream faded, while the sliver of the walking man’s spirit fluttered hither and to in the corridors of bare branches, over the roots turned hard as stones, under the drifts of leaves turning soft and wet - waiting for the awakening.

And all this was in Forest’s dream. And there was more:

Six rings later, the man returned, this time walking out of the dawn in the moment of ecstasy, when the dance was at its most frenzied. And the sliver of his soul went back to him, and spoke to him of rings and cycles, of pollens and mycorrhizas, of roots and water, all excitement in its voice. But the walking man could not hear the words, but only a faint chorus like the soughing of leaves. For the spirit-sliver had gone native, joined Forest, and forgotten what picking up your feet was like, and the man had been walking for so long he could hardly remember a time when he had lived under a roof with an old elm tree growing in the backyard, its roots long merged with the foundations of the house. He was the walking man, and could not stop even though he knew that part of him was in Forest and would never leave.

Seven times the man returned to Forest, each time coming from a different place, on a different vector, with different shoes and different stories that he would tell Forest. Seven times Forest waited for him to stay, to settle down and take root like a sensible being. Seven times the forest-man-spirit leapt between the two with its joyous, insistent, useless interpretations that neither one could hear.

And a pattern emerged out of the random crossings of the walking man, and Forest began to realise that there was more to the man’s journeys than mere wanderlust, or broken hearts, or root troubles. Forest knew patterns (as gods do), and Forest knew that this was a pattern vaster than any the world had seen since the disintegration of the First Forest, just as it knew that it would never see the completion of this pattern.

For there was another pattern forming, akin to Forest’s patterns and the man’s. It was the pattern of a new god emerging, spreading like a new forest but shaped differently. It started with men with saws and trucks, with paths that turned to dirt roads that turned to highways, bringing houses, bringing factories, bringing City. Forest did not care for City much, but knew that City’s houses and cars would outlast its trees and animals. Forest took little comfort in the knowledge that one day it would be City’s turn to fall, uprooted by another foreign god, perhaps even one of Forest’s descendants. Perhaps, Forest dreamed, that was the god the walking man was making.

But City came faster than the man could walk, eating away at Forest from every extremity, until the moment came when the man returned to where Forest had been and saw City covering the valley of fire-leaves with its cold glittering splendour. He stood there disbelieving, eyes darting between the solitary immaculate cloned trees that dotted the landscape (standing quite still, lest the houses notice them). The forest-man-spirit was there amongst the buildings, calling out for the ghost of Forest, hating City quietly, feeling the walking man’s footsteps weaving their geometric magic, waiting for the pattern to emerge, for its power to grow, for its time to come at last. But of the man himself, it could feel nothing, any more than he could see it wandering through City’s maze.

And the man’s hand moved to a pocket where, many years ago, there had been cigarettes. And, finding none, he spoke.

“Ain’t that a bitch,” said the man. Then, spotting a place where he could buy water and food, and new shoes if he had enough money left, he walked on, unwilling to stand there and let his heart be broken.

And Forest’s dream faded into blackness with the sound of the man’s footsteps, quick and soft like the echo of bees' wings:

Pitter-patter-pit. Patter-pitter-pat-pit-pit. Pit-a-pat. And so on.

Walking Man 26 -- Walking Man -- Walking Man 28

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