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Why Mice Don’t Go Into the Forest

This is long overdue. The author and I spent a lot of time on it, passing it back and forth for revisions. Shortly after we finished, a member of my family died. I’m writing this preface only to let the author know that I meant well but I could not bring myself to sit down in front of the computer.

I have a poem I keep in front of me on my desk at work. It’s by Mervyn Peake. It goes like this:

The vastest things are those we may not learn.
We are not taught to die, nor to be born,
Nor how to burn
With love.
How pitiful is our enforced return
To those small things we are the masters of.

And so…

Why Mice Don’t Go Into the Forest, or, An Essay on the Virtues of Meaning

[Translator’s Note: The original can be found here: https://ararchive.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/چرا-موش‌ها-به-جنگل-نمی‌روند-یا-رساله/ . I didn’t know what to expect when I asked for submissions but I was quite happy with what showed up. Translating this piece was like putting together a puzzle which you thought was going to be a picture of an apple tree but turns out to be a depiction of the assassination of Rasputin. It is a great example of literary irony from the opening line onward. I’ll be honest; I don’t entirely get it. I feel a bit like the author is giggling behind my back. But I also feel like if I stare at it long enough it will invert, turn inside out like one of those stereogram 3D images.

All credit to the author, all errors are mine.]

This is a story about trees.

Trees are creatures shaped like columns that live in huge herds called forests. Green scales cover the uppermost portion of their bodies, protecting them where the sun burns strongest.  In northern lands, some of the trees shed their scales in the autumn and winter when the summer sun has gone. As spring arrives and the sun grows ever stronger, the scales grow back. Trees which are more sensitive to sunlight, as well as trees that dwell in tropical climes, never let go of their scales.  Typically, trees reproduce by laying eggs, though examples of child-bearing can be found among them.

The only natural enemy of the trees are the birds.  The reason for the enmity between these two groups is not clear, but one often sees flocks of birds engaged in fierce battle with the trees, claw to claw. It is common to hear the birds boasting of their exploits during these engagements. In most cases, the battles last such a long time that the birds are forced to build their nests in the very trees with which they wage war. Sometimes, the trees move with great speed (we say they move because it is not entirely clear whether they run, creep, or swim. The trees move using short arms beneath their bodies. In this process, the tree’s stomach, if we consider the region between the arms to be the stomach, rests on the ground, but the arms are sometimes on the ground and at other times are plunged into the earth. Therefore, it is the very manner of movement itself which makes it impossible to distinguish exactly how they move) in hopes that the birds’ nests will be blown out of their branches. In practice, however, such attempts are futile; the birds are experienced engineers.

A great variety of parasites make use of the trees. One of the best known of these parasites is the squirrel. These parasites, which typically live inside the body of the host tree, get their nutrition from the tree’s eggs and even hide the eggs away within the tree itself. In addition to this criminal activity, the squirrels have gained notoriety thanks to a theoretical debate. The squirrels deny that the trees move. They believe that the trees are fixed firmly to the ground. They call the movement of the air caused by the trees’ movement “wind” and they worship it. Squirrels are heretics and the most evil of all the parasites! Kill the squirrels!

How to Capture and Kill Squirrels

The squirrels are stupid creatures, no matter how clever they consider themselves to be. The easiest method to capture them is a cheese trap.  It’s very simple to construct one. Dig a pit two meters deep and twenty centimeters across. Cover it with a thin piece of cloth in such a way that it would not be able to support the weight of a squirrel. Camouflage the cloth with scales fallen from the trees so that they cannot be seen. Then place a piece of cheese upon the trap. Squirrels love cheese and, exhibiting their characteristic stupidity, will fall into the trap.  If the trap is equipped with an infrared sensor connected to a long range transmitter, you can rush to the trap as soon as a squirrel falls in and punish the stupid animal for its criminal ways with the application of molten lead. May all squirrels and criminals throughout history be annihilated!

This is a story about doors and staircases ending in doors.

The tree hunters (who, unlike the birds, feel no enmity toward the trees) usually take the old trees by surprise on the fringes of the herd. Because the trees are peace-loving creatures, they understand the urgent need of the hunters to hunt them and, in spite of their great size, offer no resistance. The hunters chop the bodies of the trees into pieces and use them to create a variety of things.  Sometimes more than one hundred different objects are fashioned from the body of one tree. There are experts who believe that the primary reason for the trees’ lack of resistance to the hunters is that the trees consider the act of hunting a type of religious activity by which a tree is killed and then born again in a new form. These same experts believe that the trees view burning logs as the final state of this rebirth.

Among the thousands of tools which are fashioned from the bodies of the trees are doors and the staircases leading to a door. The primary use of this tool is appearing before the exorcist who has been possessed by demons while carrying out the exorcism ritual. Under these conditions, the exorcist opens the door, tumbles to the bottom of the steps and dies.

This is a story about ghosts, demons and vampires.

Ghosts are creatures from a higher dimension that descend to lower dimensions in order to take part in role-playing games and take control of organic, living creatures. Usually, the rules of role playing require that the memory of the participants be erased in order to improve the quality of play. Should one of the people die during the game, the soul of that person will be given the choice of either selecting a new body or leaving the game.

“Demon” is a term used by participants in these games to refer to a ghost who wanders without a body to inhabit. In some instances, these wandering ghosts occupy a body which is already under the control of another soul. When this happens, the exorcists (which is the rank given to certain players) enter the fray and by following the appropriate rituals cast out the usurping spirit. A variety of explanations have been put forth to explain the existence of these wandering spirits on the field of play. For instance, when an exorcist falls downs the staircase behind the door and dies, the spirit of the exorcist haunts the playing field for a certain period of time.

The host bodies which the ghosts use as pawns in their games have invented a method of evicting the soul from the body, a method they call “killing and resurrecting.” Using this method, the host/character can continue to live without a soul. Participating in the game requires certain physiological alterations, and in the end, the side effects which result from “killing and resurrecting” are such that these creatures can easily be distinguished from the game players. On the playing field, those who have resorted to “killing and resurrection” are referred to as vampires. One of the chief duties of the exorcist is preventing the number of vampires on the playing field from increasing (because a surfeit of vampires can disrupt the progress of the game). Other groups, such as the vampire hunters, aid the exorcists in their endeavors.

What good is a story without a hero

The hero of this story is Nathaniel. Nathaniel is an exorcist who went mad in the middle of performing an exorcism. A door appeared in front of him. Nathaniel attacked the door in a fit of madness. He plunged headlong down the flight of stairs leading to the door and died. Nathaniel is the hero of a tragedy.

This is the story of the tragic death of an exorcist.

They tied the girl to a wooden beam in the middle of the room.  Her hands were bound together over the beam and she knelt facing it. Her dress is threadbare, filthy and short, coming only to the thigh. The back of the dress is torn, showing bloody welts left by a whip. The girl rests her head on the beam and mutters deliriously. Nathaniel sits on a wooden chair in the corner of the room and smokes a cigarette, watching the girl. He stands up and throws the cigarette on the ground and grinds it out beneath his heel. He’s nearing fifty years old, a little fat, and short. He’s wearing black slacks and suspenders over a white shirt. His sleeves are rolled up to the elbow.

Calmly he approaches the girl. The girl seems unaware of his presence and continues her incoherent mumbling. He pulls an iron bar from the burning coals of an iron furnace, holding it by the grip at one end. The tip of the bar is in the shape of a small cross. It is red hot. He presses the branding iron against the girl’s back. The girl shrieks and thrashes against her bonds. Her head whips around and she glares at Nathaniel. Nathaniel lifts one foot and places his shoe on the girl’s face, pressing it against the wooden beam. Again he thrusts the iron rod into the coals and watches it for several moments. The girl breathes in short, loud gasps. Nathaniel brings the branding iron within inches of the girl’s face. Her eyes open wide and her breathing becomes louder, more distraught. Nathaniel holds the red-hot cross next to her cheek, staring at her. Then, without warning, he lowers it, pressing it into the girl’s torso. She lets out another loud scream. Nathaniel lifts his foot from her face and, as the girl sobs in a terrified frenzy, he walks across the room and picks up his whip.


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