"The Statues of Pine Glen Forest "

A Short Story by Pierre C. Arseneault

The rising sun shone through the trees casting dancing shadows everywhere. The breeze stirred about the tall canopy of multiple shades of green that was ever-present overhead. If one stood still at this very spot and made no noise nothing could be heard but the swaying of branches, full of new leaves freshly grown in the early spring. They flowed gently in the wind with a hypnotic sound that was very soothing. Being quiet long enough, you could also hear the occasional chirping of birds. This was the entire reason that Gary Chapman found himself out here wandering in Pine Glen Forest. The doctor’s advice finally sinking in after all these years, a lesson he had learned the hard way when hed been advised to slow down. He had to learn to relax before he found himself having a real heart attack instead of angina.

A week ago he had found himself lying in a hospital bed struggling to breathe making the same promises to himself that countless others had done before him. “If I get through this, I am going to start exercising and eating better. I will take better care of myself”. He vowed this out loud as if trying to convince himself more than anyone else. This was just the scare he needed to make what doctor McCormick had been telling him for years to finally make sense. He was not indestructible as he had previously thought especially not at his age of fifty-two.

He had wanted to take more time to himself and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Sadly golf had always been more stressful than relaxing to him. The constant competition between the members of the Bear Lake Golf Club had gotten out of hand many a time before. That would not likely change anytime soon, so better to find another hobby that could help him relax instead of adding to his anxiety.

A few days after his ordeal while sitting in Doctor McCormick’s waiting room, he came across a book on the perfect subject. He had heard a bit on the subject in the past but today in this very waiting room Chapman decided he would take up bird watching. He could jump into his soft-coloured beige Lexus at any time and just drive out to the beautifully serene countryside to find the tranquility he found himself craving. After all these years of owning his own company in the fast paced and deadline-oriented shipping business, he needed to find time for himself. “Find ways to relax or die...” the good doctor had so bluntly said to him not so long ago. It would be hard for him to do but it was time to ease up and leave the company worries to Dwight whom he had been preparing for this very reason. He knew someday he would pass the torch to his only son and now would be as good a time as any.

“Why yes sir, we have some great books on bird watching.” said the nice young lady at the local book store. She leaned in, softly touching his arm with her hand and whispered “The fanatics call it birding, just so you know”. Smiling, the clerk stepped on a stool reaching up on a shelf to grab a copy of the best bird book in the store. His thinning and greying hair that was often covered by his beige wool packer hat and the worry lines often got him this kind of respect. The kind of treatment elders got from the younger people. This was something he had never gotten used to since he started going grey in his early forties. He had accepted that he looked a bit older than he really was a little bit at a time every time he was offered a seniors discount.

Chapman soon realized that he had much to learn about relaxing as he snapped out of his daydream and found himself lost in thought about the last week’s events. While standing under a tall oak tree with his mini encyclopedia of bird breeds almost falling out of his back pocket of his tan cargo pants, he had all but forgotten his binoculars hanging almost at his waist by the band that looped around the back of his neck. He could barely feel them through his light jacket that he found himself wearing all week. The new blood-thinners hed been prescribed left him constantly feeling chilled without it. He had his hands in his pockets while unconsciously fingering the pocket lint as he often did when he was deep in thought. He was so focused on his thoughts that he never realized that right above him was a sight that would have many a bird watcher frozen in their tracks. It wasn’t often one would see a Blue Warbler in this area and he was standing under not one, but a pair of them. That was a fact that would go completely unnoticed to this novice bird watcher on his first venture out.

“I wonder if the shipment of sheet metal coils made it to Quebec.” he thought to himself. Frustrated at his failed attempt to leave work behind, he aimlessly wandered off again, blissfully unaware that he had no idea where he was heading as his shoes sunk slightly in the softness of the forest floor.

He had told everyone at the office he was going golfing to save himself the ridicule he thought he would get if he told them he was going to take up bird watching. Instead of going to the Bear Lake Golf Course like he had told his secretary, he ended up in Pine Glen forest which stretched out for many unfamiliar miles. The entire area was filled with a healthy mix of coniferous and deciduous trees broken up only by streams and rivers and was full of many types of bird species. Chapman wandered without a care in the world. He hadn’t even removed the lens cap from his binoculars yet and had not seen a single bird. Even though they were all around him, his mind was clearly not focused on this task on his very first outing. He was more enthralled by the wondrous amount of nature and the contrast to the city life that he was so accustomed to.

Something would eventually catch his eye though. In a small clearing in the tall grass there stood an animal near a tree. From what he could see of the shape of its body and head it looked to be a deer. Crouching down in a small patch of tall grass he watched it for a while, waiting for it to hear him and bolt.

After a good few minutes Chapman stood up abruptly, his old stiff knees making loud popping noises that almost echoed as he straightened up, but the deer still never moved. Perplexed at this he began to slowly walk, trying hard not to make sounds that might scare it away. Finally as he felt them sway like a pendulum, he remembered he had binoculars hanging around his neck. He quickly put them to his eyes only to see complete darkness. Cursing under his breath, he fumbled to removed the lens cap and for a second time he put them to his contact lens enhanced eyes.

Without realizing that it was out loud he muttered “What the hell?” as he looked through the binoculars at what he thought to have been a deer. To any on lookers if there had been any, it would have looked as if suddenly without a care he began to walk towards the animal. No longer worried about making noise he crunched through the debris on the forest floor without trying to avoid it like before.

The first thing the perplexed man did when he was a mere few feet from the deer was to reach out and touch it out of disbelief. He had never seen a statue of a deer before and one of such amazing quality at that. The detailing was simply amazing that it was no wonder that from a distance he thought it to be a living deer. It looked to be made of some sort of grey plastic at first, but up close it became apparent it was granite or something. Really he couldn’t tell what it was as he knew nothing of such materials. Giving it a nudge he realized that this was not hollowed out either and would not be easy to move or ship. The thought of how they got this out here crossed his mind because of too many years in the shipping business. Why would such an amazing statue be here in the middle of the woods he wondered? He ran his hand over its head which was turned a bit, looking away and he felt the small stubs of antlers. “Female.” he thought to himself as he marvelled at the attention to detail.

While examining it he noticed that he was not the only one to ever mistake it for a living deer. There were two marks on its hindquarter on the opposite side that he had come from which could only be where a hunter had mistaken it for his next kill. The deep gouges were the only imperfections on this otherwise flawless work of art. For the first time he regretted not having brought his digital camera. The same one he had gotten as a Christmas gift from his son three years ago but had never used it for anything other than business. He remembered now that it sat in the drawer of his office desk with dead batteries inside of it. Something he had never even thought about until this very moment since he realized that nobody would believe any of this without seeing pictures and even then would they believe him?

For the first time since he carelessly wandered off, he took a moment to notice the area and looked for landmarks of any kind that would help him find this location again. Having always had this natural ability to walk around in circles without ever trying, he figured he would make his way back to whence he came but finding this exact location again would be hard. He would use the tall pine tree that seemed to tower over the rest by a good twenty feet. That would serve as his landmark as it was only about fifty feet away, more or less.

Looking back at the statue as he walked off, he couldn’t help but wonder why it was out here in the middle of the forest. He wouldn’t have the time to ponder this question for very long as a short walk away revealed another masterpiece. This one even more amazing and stunning than the first as on a branch that was out of reach there was a grey statue of a squirrel, impeccably wrapped around the bark, coiled as if ready to pounce.

Chapman lost track of how long he spent looking at this marvellous creation and how it almost perfectly fit on the perch it was on. Truly amazing he thought to himself as he looked back to note the location of the tall pine tree and the deer. He simply had to come back and bring his son to see this. The only thing he couldn’t decide on was if he would tell him first or just bring him out here and show him.

Still reeling from the amazing craftsmanship he was certainly not ready for his next find. Walking past a small cluster of young pine trees he froze in his tracks as he saw another one made from the same concrete-like grey granite. This statue was of a hunter who had his riffle aimed in the direction he had come from. His head cocked to the side a bit as if he was looking towards his prey with his riffle still pointing the way. The details of the buttons and zippers to the lifelike stone fingers were simply incredible.

Standing next to the statue he looked down the barrel of the gun and sure enough it pointed straight to a small clearing amidst the bushes and trees where he could see the deer. That’s when he realized that the markings on the deer were most likely done on purpose. Through his binoculars he could see the deer in the distance. His only thought now was getting his son to show him this and to remember to bring a camera too.

Shortly after, he also came across a small granite statue of a rabbit which he thought about taking with him as proof but he remembered how far he would have to carry it. After recent events he felt that carrying a heavy granite statue on the long hike back might not be a good idea. Not far away, emerging through a thick ridge of trees he came upon a clearing. Gary stopped suddenly transfixed by the sight that would take his breath away. He had heard that expression many a time but had now experienced it for the first time in his life. In the clearing there stood about a dozen or so statues, all made from this grey granite stone. All were scattered with no discernible pattern all over the small clearing amidst the knee high yellow grass. Some looked to have been there for a while as they were more tarnished and had discolouration and moss on them in some spots.

There was one of a bear standing on three legs as it was carved as in mid stride. Another statue of a modestly dressed middle aged woman with a small boy next to her. Both statues positioned near each other and their hands mere inches from each others as if about to grasp them together. “Each statue more marvellous than the last”, he thought to himself. Close by stood a statue of a cowboy wearing a cowboy hat, a vest with a pocket watch tucked away and barely showing and he even had a pistol on his hip. Next to the cowboy was a smaller statue of a dog with his head cocked to the side and an ear lifted as if listening intently. What made Chapman laugh was the fact that the statue had one leg lifted as it was about to pee on the cowboy. The one that stood out the most of them all was the one of the shirtless native Indian warrior poised in a slight crouch. He was holding a tomahawk in one hand and the intricate details on the fringes on the sides of his pants were simply incredible and must have taken months to make. Near him stood a statue of a coyote with his mouth in a snarl and another statue of a deer in a very upright position as if looking into the distance. He found himself wondering if there were any more and if the owner would be willing to part with a few.

Until now this part of the forest had almost an eerie quiet to it that at first he hadn’t noticed. Only when he entered this clearing did that eerie silence break. But being completely absorbed by the amazing workmanship in each piece of art, he had failed to hear the unmistakable sounds that could only be a river flowing very close by. It took a good while before the sound caught his attention and he tore himself away from marvelling at the statues. It was coming from the opposite end of the clearing which is the same direction he had been heading. That’s when he heard something else that sounded like a melodic voice as if someone was humming nearby.

Without hesitation he walked into a small patch of forest at the edge of the clearing, quickly entering it. He did this so carelessly that he got tangled in branches that hooked and snagged at his clothing. Chapman’s hat was tore off his head twice and both times he quickly picked it up and roughly placed it back on his head. His curious nature was getting the best of him now and his thoughts were that this person could shed some light on this curious array of masterpieces in the middle of a forest. It took but a few moments for him to cross this thick patch of trees and brush. When emerging on the other side of this thicket the first thing he saw was the back of an old granite statue of a young man. He barely took notice of the statues details as behind it a short distance away was a small log cabin with what looked like smoke billowing out of a stone chimney.

Had he not noticed the smoke coming out of the top of the rough multicoloured stone work he might have thought the cabin was an abandoned shack. The wood looked dark as it had greyed with time and the roof looked like it had been patched many times before. He could see no windows or doors from this angle so the door would have to be on the side facing the river that was in front of the cabin.

This was a lot to take in as the cabin lay to his left and in front of it was the river he had heard shortly before. It wasn’t very wide or deep but looked like it could be this cabin’s only source of water. There were three more statues in front of him plus the one of the man behind him. One was a deer at the rivers edge, the second a giant moose on the opposite side of the river facing in his direction. The third granite masterpiece was a person, but from this angle he couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. The hair was long and the shoulders not too broad and so he couldn’t be certain at first. What caught his eye the most was the contrast of colours of the clothing that was draped over both shoulders. It was as if someone had carelessly draped wet clothing to dry on this marvellous work of art. “I suppose living amidst so many masterpieces, in time one might lose appreciation for them.” That’s the first thought that went through Gary’s mind as he walked past the cabin towards the river side.

That’s when he heard the splashing of water and what again sounded like a voice humming. At the rivers edge sat a figure hunched over near a few rocks that also had a few pieces of dripping wet unidentifiable clothing on them. At a glance the figure had a narrow waist and wider feminine hips. Her feminine voice confirmed this as she hummed her melodic song which he didn’t recognize. She was bent forward, one hand bracing herself on the rock next to her and her other hand he assumed was in the water perhaps washing something he couldn’t see from this angle.

Walking towards her he blurted with excitement:“Excuse me miss, but are you the one who carved these amazing statues?”

“Leave now, we don’t want any visitors!” the soft voice said in a firm tone as she froze in place holding her garment in the cold river water. “We're perfectly fine living here by ourselves.” she added.

“I want to buy a few of your statues,” Chapman blurted out in haste as he walked towards her “name your price!” he added as he extended a hand towards her. “My name is Chapman, Gary Chapman.” He continued ignoring her comments as he was so used to getting what he wanted.

“Martha?” he heard a man’s voice coming from what he had thought to be an empty cabin. “Who are you talking to sweetheart?” the voice asked.

Gary froze in his tracks and looked towards the cabin for any sign of life that he might have missed in his haste. After a brief moment from this new perspective he saw stirring inside what looked to be the doorway of the cabin.

“Its nothing Henry, I was just talking to myself again.” The woman’s voice exclaimed loudly.

Gary turned and took another step, still intent on introducing himself to the woman. When she turned to face him he gasped for she was stunningly beautiful with piercing green eyes. Her high cheek bones and perfect face was simply breathtaking. In that brief moment he also noticed her thick, long dark hair writhed about as if it had a life of its own. Some strands reared up as if coming to attention with what looked to be small tiny eyes looking directly at him. By then he felt himself frozen in his tracks and in his last few brief moment of consciousness, he came to realize that she was the one who made all these incredible statues but not with any chisel or with tools of any kind. He realized this too late to save himself as he felt his consciousness slip away.

“I’m almost done washing the clothes Henry and then I’m coming to make dinner.” she said while she and hundreds of beady eyes on the ends of what resembled snake-like creatures on her head instead of hair looked directly into the face of this new granite statue. After a moment, she reached over and picked up the wet clothes sitting in a heap on the rock behind her and she draped what looked to be a man’s shirt over Gary’s extended arm, now made of solid grey granite. “I’m sorry you had to find us.” she whispered softly.

A shirtless Henry emerged out of the cabin holding an empty basket in his hands in front of him. “You want me to get some carrots from the garden?” he asked. Martha took a moment to look at her handsome companion before turning to fetch the garment she had dropped by the river side when Gary showed up. She held it up looking at the fresh dirt in dismay and dunking it back in the river to wash this new filth off the otherwise clean grey shirt.

“Ouf!” she heard Henry exclaim sharply. She turned to see him holding his chest while standing next to the newest granite statue of an ageing bird watcher. “When did you have time to make this one?” He asked. “You haven’t carved anything in years”. “Come, lets’ go get some carrots.” she said as she took the basket from Henry’s grasp.

“Wait now, hold up.” he replied. “What is it?” he asked as he ran his hand over its arm up to the face. “It’s a man isn’t it? And he is wearing a hat...” he said as he continued running his hands over the granite masterpiece. “Binoculars?” he added in an inquisitive tone.

Oh Henry, I haven’t been this happy in a long time. I’m so happy you came into my life when you did. I thought I would be lonely forever.” said Martha smiling as she watched her lover feeling the granite with both hands.

“You make me happy too” replied Henry as he ran his hands over the statue adding“I just wish I could see more than just shadows so that I could appreciate these amazing statues you carved.”

With tears welling up in her beautiful green eyes she spoke softly “You will never understand this Henry. I feel that I am so ugly that you couldn’t stand the sight of me if your eyes could see me. I know that doesn’t make much sense to you, but just know that it would be impossible for you to love me like you do now if you saw me.”

Henry took his focus away from the statue and walked towards the sound of her voice where he could but see a shadow where the woman stood in the contrast of bright daylight. He touched her face with his hand. “You’re right about that not making sense, but if my not being able to see means that I get to know your love, then I don’t want to see.” He affectionately ran his hands in her now limp and thick hair and she touched his arm as she smiled. She knew she would only know his love while he lived out his mortal life.

The End