The cough is human, polite without being urgent. I stir slowly, roots moving in a slow ponder. The ancient wards and protections are holding about my home, which means this is no ordinary child. He has not come with fire or blade, though he bears a smile that is weapon in itself. I open my eyes slowly, flexing my arms. I am old, though not yet petrified, and have no need of physical movement to defend myself. If any wished to burn my forest, they would know why humans used to fear the woods.
“This is not your place,” I say, a rumbling of the air.
The boy blinks unseeing eyes. “Well, of course not, cuz it’s yours but! I thought I could come visit and say hi,” he says cheerfully, hurling another smile at me.
You could destroy evil with such a smile; that he does not use is as a weapon is somehow worse. “What are you?”
“Oh! I’m Jay. Which is also a what, and I’m really good at hiding as human but I’m from way Outside the universe and travelling with friends but they’re busy and leaves are starting to fall off of trees and I got to wondering about how autumn is more than seasons changing and I thought I could ask you about it?”
I feel myself stirring some more. This is my home, and deep protections activate as the boy’s presence more than anything else. He avoids every poisoned barbed and branch, half the time not being where the are, the rest – the rest an altering of the world, Forcing my power away from him in the core of my kingdom. Not even magicians could do such a thing, and he does it without effort. Without even trying.
“What are you?”
“I just said,” he says crossly. “Are you still sleepy? I bet I could wake you up with coffee! Did you know that I’m not allowed to have coffee yet even though I’m eleven?”
I pause, forcing the ancient defences to relax. “Why would I know that?”
“Because you’re a forest spirit and this is your wood so you know stuff?” he asks. “I mean, you must know a lot even when sleeping or you wouldn’t sleep because waking up to find the forest was gone would be pretty sad!”
“Yup! And make you angry, I bet, but I’m not good at it because I don’t like being angry. Anyways, I wanted to ask you about the difference between fall and autumn? Like autumn and harvest are good, but fall is a really meany word and makes it seem like the trees are dying in bad ways and that it’s not seasons changing but stuff that is lots more wrong.”
“Lots more wrong.”
“Has the English language devolved so in recent years?” I ask and the boy steps back at that. “I imagine not. I am spirit of the wood, boy, of the sun and darkness, of life and of death. You do me a great disservice in attempting to be cute.”
Jay blinks a few times at that. “Oh! I didn’t even – I talk like that a lot, and that is why I guess, but I don’t much talk about why I talk like me and Honcho puts up with it because he understands I don’t want to be scary because sometimes I’m a Jaysaurus but I could be a Jayzilla and that would be really scary!”
“Those words mean nothing to me.”
“You’re not on tumblr at all?”
“... is this another term for fall?”
“I don’t think so, but yahoo bought tumblr and that’s probably more fall than autumn I think? Uhm, it’s like how you went to sleep because humans were using the woods and if you declared war on them, they’d win? Like you’d have to be a monster, and you’d be really good at it, but even if you won than other woods would be burned down and suffer? Me being a Jaysaurus is kinda like being a monster,” he says.
I consider that. “And a Jayzilla?”
“That’s worse,” he says firmly, and there is a wall behind the answer, and a door I have no desire to open.
“Autumn and harvest are the old terms, linked to the land and the solstice. As humans moved away into cities, their understanding of the forest and the land diminished. So, too, did their power over the world increase. The changing of the seasons became fall, became a sad thing after the glory of summer, for winter is no longer a time for rest after a harvest for them. They changed words, and the world changed with them. Autumn has replaced harvest in many places by itself: fall is just the next step, or more open about what it is. What they have gained, what they have lost.”
“Oh.” Jay is quiet for a few seconds. “That’s pretty sad.”
“Many things are. I have no desire to waken in this world as it stands now. Few forest spirits remain that are not mad. I will sleep, if my forest remains, and in time it will be over. The era of cities will end, and my forest shall grow again.” And I am old, and I did not get old by being a fool, so I add: “If you could help this and bind my forest against destruction, I would consider that payment for this conversation.”
Jay brightens at that. “Okay,” he says, and I feel the entire forest change, the world about it shifting. Even time will not touch it as deeply as it does other places, not destroy it quite as quickly. That I did not expect, but I merely relax back into the roots of the oldest trees in the wood.
I close my eyes, and hear the boy depart. And I hope, in ways as deep as roots and in the shoots that touch the sun, but I never meet such a power again. Because there are many ways to fall, and I think envy could well be mine. I sleep again, to dream of unseeing eyes that know too much by far.