The Woodcuts 

Long ago, a man who raked leaves for a living bought a book of woodcuts. That night, he fell asleep gazing at the beautiful wood nymphs depicted in the prints. Throughout a strange, restless night, he dreamt of other lands, woke up to the sound of creaking and the scent of smoke, and drifted back into disturbing, somnolent visions. In the morning, he felt wet, and began to scream in silence at the sight of the blood splatter on his body and sheets. And yet, he was unharmed and there was no sign or clue as to where the blood came from. Whenever he read the book of woodcuts, the same thing happened again and again, dreams of smoke, scraping, sawdust and a heady fragrance of ink and warm bodies. And in the mornings, he felt the mysterious damp of a stranger’s blood. One night, after raking golden leaves and sweeping dust, he went for a long walk into the countryside, carrying his book in his coat pocket. It was snowing in the woods, every snowflake a cold, falling star. In the mallow twilight, he sat under a tree, lit a smoke and a candle and read his book. Moments later, a different smoke drifted by as he read, and he heard a soft gasp or cry. The sounds returned, and now he recognized the gentle noise of sawing, cutting, carving, sanding, and burning. Driven by unknown passions, he followed the other smoke that curled among the trees. At times the smoke seemed almost tantalizingly corporeal, brushing up against him, caressing him, holding him close before dissipating again into shadow. Are you the spirit of a wood nymphs, trapped in the woodcuts that have captivated my heart? The smoke returned, swirling about him with a moan that expressed pleasure and pain. The sky had darkened, and he wandered further, striking matches from time to time, only to see trails of blood splatter following the smoke that led him deeper into wilderness, into being lost and full of sorrow. Both his coat and clothes were drenched with wet snow and blood. It was cold on earth. When he struck the last match, all the pages of his book were blank. The book burned, and by its light he thought he caught a glimpse of her, and he could not help but wonder if he had seen the spirit, not of the beautiful wood nymphs, but of the woods that made the paper and ink. In the darkness, the naked smoke embraced him and would not leave this time. Golden leaves and snowflakes clothed them. 

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