/ Fiction

Nature Preserve

She set her drink down with a resolute clink.

"Well, as long as you're being so persistent, yeah, there actually is a forest around these parts. People just don't like to talk about it much anymore."

"Why not? It's right in the center of town, isn't it? And isn't it a reasonably large forest?"

She looked at me for a moment, looked away, and picked up her drink again. "Yes, if you want to measure it that way. It takes up a lot of room--or, it should, on a map at least..." She trailed off.

I pulled out my notebook. "And it differs from how a map should look? Then isn't the map wrong?"

"You're really new around here, aren't you?"

I nodded.

"Technically, the forest is around three miles in diameter. I say 'technically' because that's the best we can get from an aerial measurement; nobody can get a good reading on the ground. The strange thing is, the forest might as well not exist. Anybody who tries to go in one side suddenly finds themselves on the exact opposite side of the forest, stepping back out onto the road that circles it. People say it's like passing out and coming to again, only much, much quicker. And the people who have tried to take a measuring tape, rope, what have you with them--well, when they 'come to' they're holding a cleanly-sheared off section of it, as if they only went a couple feet and something cut it off."

I really deserve a promotion at the paper for this, I thought. "Alright, so it's a pheromone that triggers and closes some sort of anterograde amnesia. You get within range of the trees, you start forgetting things, you get past them, you start remembering again."

She paused, the drink a few inches from her lips, and gave me a sidelong look. "That's all well and good, but as much as we take pride in our school athletic teams here, I'd like to see someone make a three-mile sprint in under ten seconds. Trust me; we've timed it."

"And nobody's ever thought to watch someone enter the forest?"

"Of course they have. We're all scientists here, after all. But as soon as a person moves out of view--behind a tree, or whatever--they're gone. And even before that, they'll appear on the other side. Damned if any of us could work out a theory to explain it."

"You're all scientists here? What do you mean?"

"Government-funded lab was put up in the early 2040s. Big fanfare, a few years of publicity--then the place basically dropped off the map. Never heard anything more about it. Biggest attraction was a particle accelerator; got installed underground right near the center of town. Almost three miles in diameter, if my memory serves me right."

She dropped a crumpled bill on the bar, waved to the bartender, and stood up as she donned her coat.

"But it's like I said. People just don't like to talk about it much anymore."