There was once a woodcutter who had a burning sense of injustice. He dwelt in a cottage deep in the forest, where there was plenty of wood for him to cut. A day’s walk to the west was the cottage of a charcoal burner, and a day’s walk to the east was the hovel of a drink-soaked ex-Trotskyist popinjay. These were the woodcutter’s neighbours, and they worried about his burning sense of injustice and sought what they could do to alleviate it, but the woodcutter was a very taciturn woodcutter and he never answered either the charcoal burner or the popinjay when they asked him to explain, as they did on Thursdays when their separate foresty routines took them both past the woodcutter’s cottage where they dropped in in the hope of being offered a mug of piping hot cocoa. Sometimes they dropped in at the same time, so it could be a cosy threesome huddled in the unrelenting gloom of the woodcutter’s cottage.

On one such Thursday, the woodcutter was as reluctant to speak as ever, but he happily poured out cocoa for his neighbours. The charcoal burner had brought some charcoal to burn to keep him occupied, and the popinjay was reminiscing about his Trotskyist days when he spent much of his time standing at the entrances to railway stations handing out pamphlets to passers-by. The woodcutter neither watched the charcoal being burned nor listened to the slurred anecdotage of the popinjay. He sat in his chair glowering at the embers in the fireplace, nurturing his burning sense of injustice.

Now, the charcoal burner and the popinjay had hatched what they thought was a very clever plan to get the woodcutter to spill the beans. They reasoned that if they each claimed to have a burning sense of something, and babbled on about it in confessional mode to the woodcutter, he might well tell them of the injustice gnawing at his soul. So the charcoal burner pretended to have a burning sense of righteousness, and the popinjay assumed a burning sense of indigestion. They were waiting in the gloom for an opportune moment to launch into an account of their counterfeit burning woes.

This clever plan was not the only thing that was hatched on that Thursday. In the cellar of the woodcutter’s cottage, in a crate packed with straw, there nestled a clutch of eggs that, as the charcoal burner burned charcoal and the popinjay wittered, began to crack. The beings inside the eggs were grown too large to be confined any longer. They were ready to be born. And what beings they were! Startling forest creatures, crinkly and crumpled and covered in hoar-frost. Tiny now, when full grown they would be as tall as the trees and as broad as a barn. Their fur was matted, and the feathers that sprouted from their foreheads were of colours beyond the known spectrum. Their many bulbous eyes, unlidded, stared from quivering stalks with a look of tragic reproach, the tears that dripped from them sulphurous and boiling hot. They had collapsible lungs and sharp fangs and great thumping hooves and a milky pallor and beaks and ears and elbows and pot bellies. When they crawled upon the earth, they turned the soil to muck teeming with maggots, and when they reared up on their hind legs and roared, they blotted out the sun. They had enormous brains, and enormous shovel-like paws, and enormous ill-will. They fed on everything, living and dead, and vomited most of it up again, making disgusting, deafening noises. Their antennae picked up signals from outer space, their inability to understand which caused them such fury that they ripped and tore and savaged whatever was in front of them with their long pointy claws. When they were not roaring they made a tremendous buzzing sound, and when neither roaring nor buzzing they howled and whimpered. A continuous stream of steam and smoke poured out of each of their numberless orifices, poisoning the air around them. They were hunchbacked. They moved with inhuman speed. They left a trail of filth and pus in their wake. They stank of beer and gin and sweat and death. Nobody, not even the weird mad people who dwelt in the weirdest, deepest parts of the forest, kept them as pets, or wove pretty wicker baskets for them to doze in, or cosseted them, or loved them.

In his pamphlet on the forest beings, which is out of print, Dobson described them differently. But he had never seen one, and he was working from unreliable sources. Indeed, he did not know they were hatched from eggs, believing instead the mediaeval superstition that they were formed from the breath of seagulls blown upon the excrement of ladybirds. Where such a fancy originated is unknown.

The sound of the eggs cracking open was loud enough to be heard in the room above the cellar, and both the charcoal burner and the drink-soaked ex-Trotskyist popinjay cocked their ears and gave quizzical looks, first at each other and then at the woodcutter. The woodcutter remained as taciturn as ever, slumped in his chair, taking great gulps from his mug of cocoa. He had sprayed himself, that morning, with half a canister’s worth of Hengist, “the scent for men of the forest”, and there was an aura of indestructibility about him, as well as a burning sense of injustice.

It was that sense of injustice which had led the woodcutter to steal the eggs from the nest of a forest being matriarch. His mind had gone loopy long ago, and he thought that he would be able to train newborn forest beings, put them on leashes, and have them do his bidding. First he would whet their appetites by letting them rend and slash and gobble up the charcoal burner and the popinjay, and then he would set out with them on a long, long journey, tracking down Benny and Bjorn and Agnetha and Anna-Frid, one by one, and wreak vengeance upon them for having, so many years ago, sacked him from their pop group on the day they signed their first recording contract.

He had reckoned without the matriarch, of course. She, too, heard the cracking of her eggs, and now she loomed huge and hideous over the woodcutter’s cottage, deep in the forest, where no one with any sense would ever dwell, for it is a weird and eerie place and it is teeming with monsters.

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