The Forest Beyond the Earth
Matthew S. Cox
Publication date: February 6th 2018
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Under the watchful eye of the Mother Shrine, twelve-year-old Wisp ekes out a simple, but challenging life with Dad, foraging for food and losing herself in old books from the world that came before. She loves the Endless Forest ― except when the Tree Walkers come for her.
In ages past, the great rain of fire and ash destroyed the Earth, wiping out the ancients and everything they had made. Nature has reclaimed much since then, spreading out in a vast forest full of wonder and dread. Ever in fear of being taken away, she follows Dad’s rules without question while learning to survive off the land.
No longer a small child, she accompanies Dad on one of his treks, her first time more than a few steps away from the cabin. A day exploring with him is the happiest time of her life, but joy is short-lived.
A monster follows them home.
Safe in her Haven, she hides while Dad goes outside to confront the beast. She wakes alone the next morning, and waits. Alas, her hope of his return fades with the daylight. Desperate, she breaks his strictest rule and goes outside alone. Not far from the cabin, she discovers his rifle abandoned next to the monster’s strange footprints.
Afraid but determined, Wisp sets off on her own into the Endless Forest to find Dad ― before the Tree Walkers catch her.
“Well… it’s dangerous out there, Wisp.”
“It’s so dangerous. How are there still people?” She pushed food around the pan with the knife, barely containing her drool at the nicely browned beetles. Almost done.
He swiveled on his chair to face her, hands on his knees. The leather armor he wore over his shirt resembled her skirt’s heavier pieces, suggesting he’d likely made it from leftovers. Unlike her skirt, years of fangs, thorns, and knives had left his vest scuffed and scratched. “Things weren’t always like this. When my grandparents were children, the world had been different.”
She grasped the pan’s stubby wooden handle, thrusting it forward in sharp jabs to make the contents jump up the edge and fall back inward, stirring it about without needing to use the knife. “Big places with lots and lots of people all together.”
“You’re right. But, one day, there got to be too many people for the planet to tolerate. The people could not be nice to each other and fought over everything. This made the great Fire Dragons angry; so angry they burned the people to ashes.”
She’d heard this story already, but she liked listening to Dad’s voice. Whenever she read a book, she’d hear him speaking it in her head. Wisp said the same thing she usually did around this point, though no longer with the quivering voice of a terrified six-year-old. “I’m scared of the Fire Dragons. What if they come back?”
Dad smiled, sensing she played along rather than needed to hear it. “The Fire Dragons were foolish. People made them, so by destroying most of the people and all of the ancient magic, they destroyed themselves. Now, there are no more Fire Dragons.”
“Angry is bad.” She pulled the pan off the fire and used the knife to section the greenish-brown result onto a pair of plastic plates in two equal portions.
“Yes.” Dad took his plate, plus a spoon from the shelf. “Especially in the world we’ve made for ourselves. I mean people, not you and me. Getting angry will make you do dumb things, and can kill you. Think.” He tapped the spoon to his head. “Plan.” He stuck the spoon into the food. “Act.” He ate.
Wisp giggled, almost spitting her half-chewed mouthful of beetle-and-greens. She’d gotten it just about perfect. The bugs came out crunchy on the outside and tender within. Dad had once compared them to ‘shrimp,’ but she had no idea what he meant. At least one of her books had a character eating shrimp, but didn’t much describe what it tasted like. Of course, all of the stories came from before the Fire Dragons burned everything. She didn’t think the world still had anyone who made books. Some of them told tales of long, long ago, of made-up worlds that sounded quite a bit like the one she knew, only with different magic. At least, she’d never seen anyone throw fire out of their hand before.
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it.
He is also fond of cats.