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A Trader on the Border of the Mutant Rain Forest

Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks, including the dystopian sf novel The Guardener's Tale and the psychedelic coming-of-age-novel Stained Glass Rain. His poems and/or fiction have appeared in Asimov's SF, Analog, Weird Tales, Amazing, Daily Science Fiction, the Nebula Awards Anthology and Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. His poetry has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov's Readers Award, the Balticon Poetry Award, and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the SFPA. His fiction has received a Pushcart Prize, and twice been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (novel, short story). www.bruceboston.com

From my mobile station on the shifting border of the Mutant Rain Forest, I watch them come from the Northern Domes, from the slums and ghettos and the failed farms of the Wastelands, the lost ones eager to surrender to the Forest's compulsions and the ones who tremble as if they are harboring a fear they must conquer. Then there are the religious ones, fanatics who come in groups. They think they are going to convert the creatures once-human who survive beyond the border, most of them already animal or vegetable in inclination and form. They think they are going to convince them to worship Jesus or Allah or Joseph Smith. Or the latest holovangelist.
I sell them satellite links that offer up-to-the-minute maps and weather forecasts for their implants and devices. How do I know if such maps and forecasts are accurate? I suspect the most accurate are far from reality. How can topographical maps on a holographic screen, shapes and lines and dots of color, even in three dimensions, portray the reality of crossing that same terrain? The searing climbs of steep hills with muscles aching in calves and thighs, or the descent into valleys so deep and thick with growth you are plunged into a shadow world where you are enveloped in a chill dark that your lanterns can't penetrate. And you have to guard your life every step of the way.
Yet the visitors buy them, and contribute to my subsistence on this lip of coastal land the Mutant Rain Forest has yet to claim. All such voyagers into the chaotic green of the Forest are fools by my count.
There is still trade from the interior even in this savage land. I peddle native charms and potions as protection from the dangers one may encounter in the Mutant Rain Forest. I sell sachets from native plants, some of them extinct by now, for that happens swiftly in the world east of my station. Such talismans claim many things - to repel predatory animals and plants, to deconstruct the illusions of the shape shifters that mimic your friends and loved ones, who inhabit your mind with shadow images from the unconscious, or perhaps they are billed as an antidote to counter the deadly bite of red jacket wasps that can infest the spinal column with their larvae and make their victims dance to ghastly rhythms as if they were marionettes before they are devoured from the inside out. The larvae gradually emerge as adult wasps from the human husk that remains, taking flight from ears, mouth, nose, and empty eye sockets as they mature.
Do the jujus I sell work? I don't promise anything. You would have to ask those who have tried them. I have never believed in such nonsense myself. Nor have I ever chosen to visit the perverted terrain that lies beyond my trailer to test their efficacy. All that I know is secondhand and that is enough for now. Sometimes more than enough. I have heard tales of horrible deaths and transformations within that world I will not repeat and that I don't even like to think about.
I do not sell weapons. Archer was the one to go to for that. That faded blue trailer just opposite, five hundred yards on the other side of the clearing, the one aslant on two flat tires with the door canted open, that was Archer's. Last I saw of him was one night at the cantina. We used to get together some nights to talk philosophy and women and just about anything. Archer was a good friend. Not that many in a lifetime.
That last night he was drunk and talking crazy, about how we must surrender to the Forest, how the Forest held the true destiny of the human species. Next morning he was gone. It didn't take long for his trailer to be gutted by looters. There are no laws here to prevent such things.
From my station on the shifting borders of the Mutant Rain Forest I watch the fools return from their adventure, the ones who do. I sell them trinkets and souvenirs of their time here. Bizarre animal hides and skins, both fake and real, holographs and videos of Forest scenes they never experienced. The trade is always better when they first arrive. Most are too stunned in one way or another when they return, too self-absorbed to take any interest in souvenirs.
Some look shattered, as if the bedrock of their soul has been sledged by a hammer of the gods. Others seem to glow with religious fervor, many of the same ones who came to preach and convert now burn with the fever of a new faith. They have suffered and embraced revelations they must assimilate to continue with their lives.
There are others who have shut down all emotions. They wear a coat of body armor and their faces are expressionless. They are denying the changes that have been wrought upon them. Changes that wait in their brain's recesses and the marrow of their bones. Some will deny them forever, always in conflict. Others will come back to the Forest and make it their home.
And what of those who do not return from their adventure? Dead or changelings, so I have been told.
As the Forest grows closer, as this lip of coastal land grows thinner and smaller, I know that my time will eventually come. Though I have never entered the Forest, I have lived too close to it for too long. Just like Archer.
Now I discover my thoughts returning more and more often to the Forest, and I am increasingly aware of the changes it has wrought upon me. The veins in my wrists, once blue, are now a greenish shade. There is a new surety and grace in my movements, a sense of balance that was lacking before. My vision and sense of smell seem more acute, as if the Forest is preparing me to survive within its borders. And I know that once the Forest claims the little land left to us, I too will become a fool like the others who have vanished into its depths.
So I wait until the time is ripe before I embark into those opaque walls of green entanglement, of death and transformation.
Though I have heard rumors of human tribes that still survive there, who have somehow made peace with the Forest and live in harmony with it. Perhaps I will find one of those to join. Who knows? Perhaps I'll even find Archer.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 21st, 2015

Author Comments

The Mutant Rain Forest is a shared sf world that Robert Frazier and I began creating in the late 1980s. Since that time, we have continued to explore the MRF with both collaborative and solo works. Poems and/or stories have appeared over the years in Asimov's SF, Omni, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Year's Best Horror (DAW), Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's), and many other publications. A collection of the early poems, Chronicles of the Mutant Forest, appeared from Horror's Head Press in 1992, and a more comprehensive collection including fiction and poetry, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, is in the works. For my previous Mutant Rain Forest story in Daily Science Fiction, do a search on my name in the archives.

- Bruce Boston
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