Seven forests to get lost in
1. There was not a castle on the knoll at the forest’s centre, and no fairy had walked there for a thousand or more years, and there was certainly no enchantment left about the place. But there are few things so infrequently-updated as adventuring manuals. And so knights on horseback (and third brothers, and cloaked wanderers with their linings full of fake magic watches, and maidens running away to sea with a garland of red flowers and a cruel hooked knife) would turn up on the regular. The forest’s inhabitants had long since given up trying to get them to go away. Instead they planted thorny thickets and twisting pathways and kept the wild roses well-watered. There was an inn in the village that made a good profit, if only the travellers should happen to need more than a day or two to find the magic lacking.
2. There was also a swampy forest of old willows that had been woven together by the tricky winds of the valley. In autumn the paths between them clogged up with wet yellow leaves and sometimes the things that lived under the mud would come out and play in them. But that was only because the valley was deserted in autumn other than for them. Excepting, of course, those years when the wind knitted together a new wall whilst a visitor was still inside. The mud creatures liked those years. They did so miss news of the world outside, and there was always room for new people under the mud, which was spacious and almost warm.
3. It started out as a skyscraper-fabrication method. Everything was automated; the system was delivered in a small pod and it would mine any minerals that it needed itself, if the soil was compatible. The buildings put out solar panels as they grew to power the construction process. When it was complete the pod would be re-packed and could if necessary start a second building a set distance from the first, and so on. If supplies were limited it would reduce the size of the building, either in height or width. In time someone left them alone with the right, or the wrong, instructions, and it made a forest of three thousand narrow skyscrapers, each with its own internal stairwell, a functional lift, one room per floor not quite large enough for a bed, and a vast shivering canopy of solar panels.
4. There was also a forest that did not quite connect to the mortal world, a little extra balloon dimension of strangeness. You could get there by finding a tree with a crack all the way through it. If you went through the tree you could sometimes find yourself part of that overgrown labyrinth; it had no forest floor but continued in all directions, up down sideways back and forth, as a tangle of interconnecting branches. There was only light if you brought it. Who knows what that forest lived on. Perhaps it digested the people who went in and wandered too far.
5. There was a library that had a metal crank behind the front desk and with it you could wind time backwards for the books. Each was only a little bit of tree, and most were little bits of many trees all smooshed together, of course. But when the crank turned they had to grow back into something; and so the books usually coalesced, by and by, into a recognisably patched-together forest. Sometimes there were spruce trees that grew apples, and sometimes they had eight trunks like a wooden spider and a woven crown of someone else’s leaves. That forest was very silent. If you stood still long enough you could sometimes hear sap dripping through the cavities in the trees’ lost hearts, washing away the last ink vestiges, until nobody had any words left at all.
6. There was a field that had drunk from a cursed raincloud and, ever after that day, if you planted something lost there it would grow. A lost key would grow into a great twisted metal tree, jangling its seeds in the wind; a lot wallet would put out papery leaves which could never quite be spent in a shop. Over time it became a small forest and the trees tangled together in all sorts of inventive ways, making it very easy to get lost in. And once you were lost, of course, you started to grow. There were a few people who called for help loudly enough that they made it out only part-tree, but still. It is a very dense forest indeed these days. Nevery cut a branch from it. And do not listen when it talks.
7. It was a ghost forest. It had burned down entirely in a wildfire some fifty years ago, and a housing development built in its place. As the trees were only ghosts, there was no need to walk around them or even notice that they were there after all. But if by some chance you did manage to walk the old paths you could sometimes get to where the dryad ghosts hung out behind the community centre, and hear them singing, and not have them drift away as they did when people came to them by the straightest road.