Red Man’s Wood
It was not the top hat – that has been confirmed. He left it behind and it’s perfectly ordinary, a costume piece that has seen better days, or better decades. Nor did he go through the wardrobe. That, too, has been examined carefully by experts, myself among them. There was some hope when a scattering of golden stars were found right at the back, but these were identified as sequins, and it’s been agreed that the magic did not come from there. The Speculative Escapist Society will continue its investigation, of course. We all want to know how it happened. Whether it could maybe happen to us too.
But I don’t think it will. You see, I think I know already.
I met him. I put an elderly Christmas tree outside my house one year for kerbside collection and that morning he showed up in his red truck like he’d heard it calling for his help. He was a big broad-shouldered man, I remember, though he must have been in his early seventies. Beautifully dressed, too, in a crimson waistcoat and black silk top hat. He picked that balding tree up off the rest of the rubbish like it was a crying child and carried it carefully around to the bed of the truck. When I leaned closer to my window, curious, I saw there were two others like it already there. I watched him drive out of sight, and wondered. I am an Escapist. We cannot resist strange things.
In further evidence of the interconnectivity of the universe, I heard a friend talking less than a week later about ‘the Christmas man’. I had a slight frisson and took down the address. It was out of the suburbs, where the road was rough and the houses were all big properties backing onto long tracts of bushland. I did have some concerns about the second-hand directions, but as it turned out, it wasn’t hard to find what I was looking for. When I reached the house, I just stopped the car and stared. I was outside an acreage that had been completely overgrown by a forest of Christmas trees.
Slowly, I climbed out of the car. It was August then, evening sunlight a thick golden haze, gum trees filling the air with their lemony scent, but on the other side of the fence it was all artificial pines. Some were tall, six-footers or larger; others were tiny, baby trees I could have cupped between my hands. There were all colours, too – white, black, pink, every shade of green. I walked closer and that was when I saw him, the old man, pottering quietly through his forest with a basket on his arm. He saw me at the fence and waved like we were friends. He let me in. Later on I found out he did the same for everyone. I wandered through narrow paths between the trees, where ornaments shone and spun in the sunlight and the old man’s footsteps crisscrossed over each other in a thousand trails. I found him, too, eventually, and he took me inside to make me tea.
He wouldn’t answer my questions, only smiled. I heard his story from other people. How he found the forgotten trees and brought them home to the forest. How he collected broken ornaments and mended them, rescued left-behind toys, gave them all a place. I think that one day he rescued something that understood. Something alive.
He disappeared on the day before Christmas. He’s been gone for months now. But sometimes there is a scatter of inexplicable snow on the ground among the trees, or a trail of sequin stars that disappears where it can no longer be followed. I saw a little brown bird once, with a red breast, perched at the top of the tallest tree.
I think he found the Forest. Or rather, it found him, and it took him home.
© Faith Mudge 2012