Anna of the Wood

boulder-cascade-creek-219932.jpgHer eyes gazed out of the window of the airplane at the geometric shapes framing the farm plots below. Miriam internally grinned at the improbability of it all. She remembered to thank her mother in heaven for naming her. The story was the most incredible human survival anomaly known to modern day science. It began almost a year ago, when a Washington state logging company discovered, and captured, a feral woman in the remote old growth forest. The early photographs showed an extremely fit naked woman, who appeared to be early thirties, caked in a mud mixture that covered her entire body, leaving only her wild blue-eyes exposed.

The images were shocking and captivated a worldwide audience. This was only the tip of the iceberg. The woman was taken to a local hospital to be medically assessed. She could barely speak, and when she did, it was in some form of a broken ancient Germanic dialect. Once authorities had established a crude way to translate some of her words, the woman indicated that she was of Danish decent, and born in 1012 A.D. Of course medical professionals and custodians thought that it must be a mistranslation. However, over the next couple of days and weeks, they observed her rapidly aging and deteriorating. As of this day, all of the medical efforts to stop the onset of increased aging have failed.

The mysterious woman now lay confined to a hospital bed nearing the end of her unbelievably long life, which science could not disprove to be true. Every newspaper, magazine, tabloid, media outlet, medical or science publication, all wanted to interview the old woman before she expired. The woman was highly protected, but her handlers agreed to grant one interview to tell her story. A narrowed list of applicants was presented to the old woman, and Miriam had been selected, simply because the old woman liked the sound of her name. That was how a young D.C. reporter, whom nobody has ever even heard of, landed the interview of the century.

A few hours later, and Miriam was straining to see out of the tinted windows of her transport vehicle. They approached a section of the forest that had been fenced off and restricted. Few were granted access, limited only to those who cared for the woman. Guards at the entry gate checked the identification badge that Miriam was given when she arrived at the airport. The stone faced man nodded approval, and the blacked out SUV rolled down a long narrow dirt path which led to a tiny one room hunting cabin. A sweaty legal representative greeted her and briefed her on the time restrictions and recording limitations that she must obey. After signing a contract, agreeing to the one hour perimeter and no electronic devices whatsoever, Miriam was patted down and taken into the shed-like building.

The woman was petite and frail in the hospital bed, with beeps and monitors crowning her in a halo of apparatus. A solitary chair had been provided for Miriam, with a small side table to put her writing materials on. The stout legal man introduced Miriam, gently waking the woman, who then raised the head of her bed to greet her guest. The old woman smiled at her with those clear blue-eyes. If it were not for them, Miriam would not have recognized the woman based on her earlier photographs.

A stiff, polished, middle-aged nurse positioned a translator box around the old woman’s shoulders. The mechanism resembled a harmonica player’s gear. It identified phonetic patterns as the woman spoke, deciphering the warped accents from her years of isolation. Next it computed through thousands of known languages, and seamlessly converted the broken Germanic tongue into modern day English. The box matches the pitch and tone of a person’s voice, mimicking the sound, to produce a natural vocal and speech replica. The more the woman had used it, the faster it learned to decipher her pronunciations. This device enabled Miriam to communicate easily with the old woman.

“Hello Miriam, I’m pleased to meet you.” The woman said once her translator was switched on.

Her husky voice caused Miriam to smile a warm smile back. “I am very pleased to meet you too. What name shall I use for you?” she teasingly asked.

“I used to have a name, but I forgot it long ago. You can call me Anna, if you like? I enjoy the sound of that name very much.” The woman answered.

“Very well, Anna it is then.” Miriam smiled again and gently clasped the woman’s hand to softly complete the introduction. The team of caretakers left with shuffling noises on the wooden floor boards, closing the door behind them.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” Miriam grinned with a child-like gleam.

The reporter emptied her satchel and put her writing materials on the table, and then took her seat beside the bed. She carefully opened her tablet and lay her pen down on it, before looking Anna in the eyes again.

“I want to begin by thanking you personally for allowing me the opportunity to tell your story. I must say again that I am so delighted to have the opportunity to meet you in person.”

Anna laughed faintly. “I am nobody important, dear. But don’t tell them,” she motioned towards the door. “They think I am something special.” She let out a shallow giggle. Miriam couldn’t help but feel endearment for this sweet old lady.

“Your secret is safe with me.” Miriam winked. She picked up and rolled the pen between her fingers.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you tell me what you can remember, how does that sound?”

“That sounds perfectly logical to me.” Anna replied through her translator box.

“Okay, let’s start with the big one. It has been reported that you were born in the year 1012, which would make you one thousand and six years old at minimum today. Everyone’s first question is- how could this be? Can you help us understand what enabled such a fascinating longevity?” Miriam studied the woman’s micro-expressions, something she picked up in her short time as a journalist.

“I can’t remember the exact date I was born. My father was an avid record keeper.” She recalled.

“1012 was a year many died, and few were born. He made a mark for each death and each birth. When I was a child, he taught me how to read the markings on the staff. He showed me ‘in this year I was born, and I was the only surviving birth that year’. Illness struck the camp that winter; most of our people did not survive. The few who did scattered into the wilderness come spring. ” Her long thin fingers waved in a shooing motion.

“You are talking about the Rune stick you were discovered with, which is a calendar of sorts? You continued to record events, which historians have been able to accurately trace, helping to confirm your tale.” Miriam flipped through her notes.

“The records begin in 992 A.D., twenty years before your birth, so these would have been your fathers’ markings, tell me about him.” The young reporter coaxed.

“My father was broken-hearted at the loss of my mother and sister that winter of death, the year I came into the world.” She confided to the young woman.

“He began record keeping as a young man, full of adventure. He sailed across great water on a long ship, with a handful of explorers seeking infamy and treasure. They came to the new world and began to settle the lands. Rivalries and allegiances were formed with the aboriginal tribes. Trade began and the future seemed secured, until the sickness came. Our camp and many neighboring Native settlements were virtually wiped out. Tribe’s turned against the cursed white-men.”

Her words were breathy and labored, still she continued.

“My father lost my mother, then my sister to the disease. He left the camp after a raid had burned it down. He was in good standing with a Micmac Settlement, where he found a wet nurse to care for me. After four years he returned to the Tribe, as a wild man of the forest, to reclaim me.”

“Micmac Territory,” Miriam sifted through her brain catalog. “Isn’t that the Quebec area? That’s on the opposite side of the continent. How did you get all of the way to the Olympic National Park area?”

“I walked.” Anna stated simply. Miriam half laughed.

“Why did you migrate westwards, did you have a specific destination?” She asked the sweet old woman.

“My father had chosen that direction, so I continued to travel the same star path we had always followed. I sometimes stayed in an area for long periods of time, but when it was not a safe place to be, I would head west. As I knew east was no longer suitable since I had already been there.”

“Tell me more about your father.” Miriam prodded.

“He was a fine woodsman, a skilled hunter and tracker, but knew little about being a mother. He taught me about plants, animals, and seasons. We foraged together and departed deeper into the forest each day. He went into the ground as a man in his sixties, defeated from a toe infection that refused to heal.”

“Do you remember his name?” Miriam looked at Anna as she asked, and then back at the tablet to write as Anna spoke.

“His name was Papa.”

Miriam smiled and then she squinted her eyes in a concentrated manner. “Why do you believe you have lived for over a thousand years, without any medicine or contact with the outside world?” She was briefly distracted by the limited time allotment, and glanced up at the plain white clock on the wall.

“I have always had access to medicine, perhaps it is not the type you would recognize. It has become clear to me that modern man is unknowingly diminishing his own life.” Anna commented.

“What makes you say that?” Miriam asked.

“Everything here is toxic to the human body. Filtered air, filtered water, artificial light, everything must be sterilized and chemically treated. Here you eat for the sake of eating, with preset times to determine when one should eat a meal. In the natural world, this behavior does not exist. Humans have cut off communication with their own bodies. When they feel discomfort, the answer is to chemically silence it, instead of interpreting the bodily requirements and satisfying them.”

“For example, say I am walking along and my body tells me that I am deficient in magnesium, I will know by the way I feel. I will know what source is high in magnesium by the way the material smells, or tastes. I bite a leaf and listen to my body. It will tell me, yes this is the nutritional source I crave, or no, this is not the correct nutrient, please continue to look for another. Streams are another important way to get nutrients. I can tell by the taste and smell of the water if a particular bend has a dense saturation of minerals or photo nutrients, which I will crave if my body needs them.”

“How do you know what a magnesium deficiency would feel like, did your father teach you about these things too?” Miriam inquired.

“The name of the mineral is unimportant, this is a modern identification. I know that when my body feels a certain way, there is a perfect satisfying nutrient nearby. I use my nose and stomach to find it. A smell will come across my nostrils, and my stomach will rumble in agreement with the scent. Or a smell will come to me, and my stomach will become queasy, as if to say, this is not a good nutrient for my body at this time, or this is unsafe to consume.” Anna informed her.

“Do you also hunt and eat meat, as your father once did?” Miriam continued.

“Sometimes I may eat a birds egg, or a fish, but only if it is required.” She answered.

Miriam scribbled at her notepad. “What do you think of modern cuisine?”

“I don’t like it.” Anna admitted.

Miriam chuckled at the juvenile tone of her answer. “Not even these beautiful vegetables and fruits, over here?” She pointed her pen at a picturesque basket of fresh produce that had been provided by the nurses earlier that day.

Anna spit out her tongue and shook her head. ”At the hospital, they brought me small lumps of unrecognizable substances that steamed and burned my nostrils. After I refused to eat it, they brought me those monstrous oddities. When I smelled them, I was very confused. The nutritional components are depleted or missing.”

“Can you explain that in more detail? You believe these foods are not nutritious, in what ways does it differ, what is ‘missing’?”

“Did you know that mycelium is the Neural and Nervous System of the natural world? Modern man grows food in sterilized soil, and then pours chemical fertilizers and insecticides all over them. A plant without mycelium is a body without a brain, a zombie.” Anna informed.

“Then man chemically programs the zombie tomato, you must be ten times bigger than your root ancestor. You must be ten times redder, and we will artificially sweeten you to make you more gratifying to the taste. You must produce ten times more perfect looking fruit than your root ancestor. Yet no attention to what has happened to the poor tomato nutritionally? It is a big, beautiful, sugary, poisonous version of a tomato, and I can smell only synthetic compounds in its cells.” She shook her balding head.

“Nature provides only that which is necessary. A tender sprout has different nutritional properties than a fully fruited adult. Plants have specific nutritional functions from root, to stem, to leaf, to flower, to fruit, and even the seeds are all nutritional sources. Here, even the water is bleached and burns the throat, yet humans today do not even notice these things.”

Anna paused to catch her breath. She continued on.

“Modern man sterilizes his property from insects, but the natural world has much need for them, nutritionally and medicinally. Aphids are undesirable in these decontaminated crops, but all of nature knows they secrete a powerful serum that heals any muscle damage or heart strain. From the grass-hopper to the bear, all know that heart strain can be remedied with aphid secretion. That is why they are welcomed to exist in the forest. Entire sections are devoted for their use.”

“The forest mycelium knows that the seeds of consumed vegetation will travel far, and that the plant will live on genetically. So the sacrifice is worth the necessity. Mycelium makes all of the decisions. Who goes where and who gets what, like a cellular Maestro directing the symphony of living organisms. Living within nature the human body becomes hyper sensitive to sounds, smells, colors, taste, even the position of the sun and stars become inherent subconscious familiarity.” Anna finished.

Miriam was alarmed by the implication that our amenities are lethal to us.

“Is our absence of knowledge of the natural world the reason you believe our life span is limited to, say 100 years? And why do you believe that your body has begun to age rapidly ever since leaving the forest?”

“I believe that through incremental exposure human bodies have acclimated to this environment over decades and centuries, mine has had no affiliation until now. The filtered air smells like…plastic, the nourishment and water are like venom to my body. Yet they must have some nutritional value to modern man, who has transformed alongside of these resources. The low humming of the lights and machines gives me frequent headaches and mood swings. The most difficult part of this past year has been feeling my body succumb, and not being able to do anything to help myself.” She responded thoughtfully.

“Why haven’t you left this place?” Miriam asked. “Why not go back into the woods and heal your body?”

“I would have never left, if I had my choice. Instead I was given this designated area here in the forest. They assumed it would slow my aging, but they do not permit me to go beyond the fence line. I am caged, and a caged being is a broken creature.”

Fighting the urge to scoop up the frail old woman and run off with her into the forest, Miriam looked at the wall clock, enough time for one more question. “Before I leave, I would like to ask you about the mud mixture used to cover your skin. The body paint was a combination of minerals, organic matter, and menstrual blood? Forgive me, but as a woman I have to ask, does a thousand year old woman…still menstruate?”

“Before capture, my body was strong and youthful. In the wilderness I experienced two ovulation cycles each year, spring and autumn. Today women’s bodies are very differently evolved. My blood is an important resource that was sacredly utilized. It identifies me to the hairy men of the forest, bears or other predators, and establishes my territory. It is my marker, my fragrance. It is part of my camouflage, my indicator to alert others of my presence, and it is vastly nutritious for my skin. ”

Miriam’s brain stuck on something Anna said.

“I’m sorry but, the ‘hairy men of the forest’? “

“They have huge, hairy, heavy physiques. They detect my seasonal time and make their presence known. They keep their distance though, and don’t ever try to mate with me.”

“You can’t …don’t mean…a Bigfoot?” Miriam was astonished at the implication.

With a confused look Anna replied. “No, no, I don’t believe so. They have appropriately sized feet, and when my season ends, they bugger off back into the woods.”

The old woman looked exhausted, and Miriam was about to get escorted out due to the time constraint.

“Have you ever had a child?” She asked next.

“No, I never mated. My father had imparted on me to remain undetectable to men. Territories are fiercely protected and I could not communicate with the many differing Tribes. I knew women were often property, so I obeyed and never made contact. Until the day I was cornered where the forest had been cut down, where the trees get smaller and smaller.” She trailed off.

“Do you believe that humans could learn from your story, and expand life for themselves? Is the longevity you have experienced something we could all achieve?” Miriam snuck in the quick questions, though she could hear footsteps approaching.

“People are so fond of asking and answering questions. Perhaps the question you ask is not correctly formed. The real question is, if the soul is eternal, why then is the body so temporary? Possibly the answer is that the body is not so temporary, and you just haven’t been using it correctly, my dear.”

Miriam glared at the wall clock, as if willing it to reverse. “Let me take you out of here.” She whispered to the woman, not believing the words as she spoke them. “Let me take you back into the forest where you can heal and be youthful again.”

“Far too late for that to work, sweet child,” she took Miriam’s hand into her cold boney clasp. “I can feel my bones turning into powder. There is nothing out there that can remedy this deterioration. But I am pleased that you came to visit me, Miriam. I like the way it sounds to say your name.” The smiling old woman patted her hand, and the lawyer knocked at the door before opening it.

Miriam wiped the tears from her eyes, straightened her skirt, collected her belongings, and kissed Anna on the cheek.

“It’s been such a pleasure to meet you, Anna of the woods. Thank you for gracing my life with your presence.” She sniffed.

Anna nodded her goodbye and Miriam followed the authoritative cues to exit. As she walked to the doorway of the cabin, she heard behind her the alarms from the halo of monitoring machines, signaling the tragic end of the longest human life ever recorded.

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The Flea

adorable-animal-animal-world-209037.jpg

“Oh my, oh yes…this will do nicely!” The flea gleamed as he inspected his new form. A hooked claw slowly traced down the hard sclerites that covered his body like a suit of armor, finishing with a knock-knock on the lowest plate. Next, he cautiously caressed the long length of his freshly formed proboscis with both front claws.

“Oh yes, very nicely.” The flea whispered, quite pleased with himself. Having just emerged from the casing of his larval stage, he now displayed the full form of a brand new adult flea.

Previously, the flea had gorged on the organic matter that clumped up in deposits on his hosts’ supple hide. But now with his proboscis, he was going to get to taste true, warm, blood for the very first time. Indeed a milestone achievement for a young flea such as himself, he reasoned. Emergence as an ambulatory adult is cause to celebrate, and he was not going to rush to satisfaction for his one and only ‘first’ drop of blood.

He pointed his nostrils upward to get a big whiff of the landscape. As he did so, he felt the power winding-up in his jumping legs. Whoa now, best to remain close to the ground at first. Slowly he unwound the pressure in his hind legs and directed his gaze back toward the pink flesh below. One foot and then another, he weaved easily through the thick fur.  The membrane thinned as he came to an ideal feasting place.

The armpit of the squirrel, where veins throbbed as the heart pumped blood close to the surface. The aroma was irresistibly decadent. It was also a very warm and cozy spot. Saliva dribbled down his needled appendage in anticipation. Instinctively he teased his hooks into the squirrels’ fur. Once satisfied that he was tightly anchored, the flea pulled in a strong inhalation, followed by effortlessly plunging his proboscis deep into the dermal layers. He sipped the thick heavy syrup into his belly, and his eyes crossed in sheer ecstasy.

Now, had he been a wiser flea, he would have known the dangers of over indulging in one spot for too long. He would have been aware of the eat-move, eat-move pattern that older fleas adopt in order to stick to their host. But he was not an older, more experienced flea. He was a young flea, with much to learn. Not only had he over consumed to the point that his fat round belly made it difficult for his tiny hooked arms to grab onto the fur, but he ate himself to sleep.

He was unconscious due to gross consumption, when like a scythe splitting wheat; the hind toenail of the squirrel dislodged his feeding apparatus, sending him sailing through the sky. From high up the oak tree he plummeted towards the earth, tightly grasping small clumps of loose fur. The falling seemed to be in slow motion at first. He saw the whole neighborhood, then the yard below him. Two boys hunched over something close to where he would eventually land. He saw grass and was relieved he would not be landing in water or on concrete, though he would survive a fall onto either likely.

Just then, he remembered his jumping legs, and promptly wound them up. Now with excitement, he aimed for a blade of grass. As he neared it he readied himself, and on impact he jumped straight up, as high as he could go. It was exhilarating. As he descended he prepared for another jump. This one sent him torpedoing straight towards the two children. The flea saw what he was about to confront and he twisted his body, desperately trying to change trajectory. The boys had a large handheld magnifying glass and were using it as a weapon to execute some ants.

His claws grasped out at passing blades of grass as he neared the laser beam of death. Finally his momentum halted and he clung to the stem of whatever had stopped him. Mere millimeters from absolute doom, the death ray began to move around above him. The flea jumped this way and that to avoid direct contact with the concentrated sunlight. As he dived from blade to blade of grass, the flea saw something truly terrifying. Smoke began to raise from the dry grass, and following right behind in short order, leaped a single flame.

The grass quickly went ablaze and the flea could find nowhere to jump to. Smoke polluted his vision, and the curled hairs that covered his sclerites were singed and smoking. His hooks and jumping legs were being scalded as he frantically tried to find his way out of the inferno. Without warning, the giant human offspring began to stomp at the fire. The flea was stamped into the ground and nearly crushed to death.

Shaken but still alive, he jumped blindly into smoke as the children easily extinguished the ring of flame. In one leap he found himself landing into the soft fibers of a human sock. He scurried into a fold and hid. He hid for hours. He stayed frozen in the same spot while the child ate his dinner. Innocently swinging his legs back and forth as he ate, the swaying made the flea nauseous. Later the child piled his clothing on his bedroom floor. The sound of the boy bathing in another room and the stillness of the fabrics coaxed the flea from his hiding place.

His eyes burned and vision blurred. His hooks were severely melted and damaged. All of the jumping had depleted his blood filled belly, and the flea was now feeling the pains hunger taking hold of his awareness. His stomach growled and gurgled. How would he find a squirrel inside of a human dwelling? After all he had survived, would he simply perish from starvation? He needed to locate a food source, and quickly.

The flea rubbed his eyes with grotesquely deformed claws. He wound his sore tired jumping legs and weakly bounced into the air. While airborne the flea spotted something on the child’s bed. He jumped again, with more vigor, to confirm his suspicion. A great orange cat lay at the foot of the bed, its tail hanging just over the edge. The cat is not too far away. Perhaps the flea will even find a new community once he gets there, he thought to himself.

He began to make his way towards the cat, yet the chemicals leaching out of the carpet fibers were confusing and disorienting him. Unlike grass or fur, the carpet smelled of impurities and was difficult to navigate. The synthetic fibers stuck to his melted hairs and hooks, ensnaring him with each step. Half jumping and half clawing his way, the flea inched towards the bed covers that draped to the carpet. With so much effort, the flea grew hungrier and hungrier.

At last he reached the edge of the bed. He looked up and saw the flicking curl of the orange-striped tail. Almost there. His hunger began to burn inside of him. The promise of blood only intensified the pain. Soon he can feed and rest, and put this terrible nightmare behind him. With all of the energy he could muster, the flea jumped up and grabbed ahold of the blanket. His arms shook and trembled as he pulled himself up the vertical climb.

His muscles and tendons burned and ached, he almost fell as one hook gave up its fight and snapped off. The flea closed his eyes and focused on dragging one claw in front of the other, one step at a time. As long as he did not stop climbing, he had a chance to live. The smell of fur and flesh opened his eyes again, and the tail was finally within reach.

He hooked the tail hairs and climbed toward the soft pink terrain hidden below the dense tangerine pelt. He was so hungry he nearly poked his proboscis immediately, but the skin at the tip of the tail was calloused, and the capillaries much deeper than on softer parts of the body. So the flea continued his journey, with much more ease now that silky hairs enveloped him.

There was something which was increasingly starting to alarm the flea. The flesh on this cat was immaculate. No thin crust of dirt from living outdoors, and even more disquieting, not one speck of flea waste. In fact, there was no evidence any flea had ever seen the soft sweet surface of this pampered house cat. Such a predicament would put procreation completely out of the question. No matter, thought the flea, I will eat, rest, and heal before I become concerned with the labors of egg lying.

The flea had traveled to the belly of the cat, and the soft membrane rolled out before him like a pink meadow covered in downy orange fuzz. He teased his deformed hooks into the belly hairs and planted himself firmly. He probed his pointy proboscis into the warm inviting canvas, and took a long deep suckle. It was not delicious. In fact it burned. His proboscis promptly ejected as the poisonous coating caused him to vomit relentlessly. His brain raced and he could not focus. He went blind and began to stagger about. His legs twisted and curled toward his stomach. Finally his heart and lungs seized, and the flea lay there a crumpled corpse.