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.
The hunter saw her pale body drifting like smoke through the dark woods. She was far more beautiful than moonlight or snowflakes. To capture one was nearly impossible, buf if one did, there were untold surprises and rewards, as the old legends reported. It had been some centuries since one had been captured. Quietly, the hunter moved among the blue and black shapes of the spruce, among the silver and gold of the birch. She was leaning down to drink from a partially frozen stream when he threw the halter around her. Though the blue-green eyes were startled, she made no sound or protest. Instead she bared her midriff and beckoned to him, speaking softly in her ancient language. It only took a few minutes to learn the ancient words, for they lie dormant in the minds of most men. Bewildered and enchanted, the hunter immediately removed the halter, and asked her if it was indeed allowed. She nodded in assent, a gentle and inviting smile on her lips. She whispered that he would require no blade. And so the hunter knelt down beside her, and dipped his fingers into the pale skin of her abdomen. She moaned or sighed. Gelatinous streams of lapis lazuli poured out, and his fingertips quickly found the brilliant gems. He ate them carefully, watching her watch him. The gems tasted sweet like cold, fresh cream. When he thanked her, she said there was more, and pushed his head back down so that he could gulp more of the liquid sapphire and eat the pomegranate-colored gems. Afterwards, the skin closed over the wound as if it had never opened, and she rinsed herself in the stream. The hunter felt like a completely other being, euphoric and slightly afraid, but throbbing with energy, his body electrified. Lost in his trance, he barely noticed her lay him down to take her turn and discover the gems of his abdomen. Staring into the rising stars, he felt nothing but the slow leaking away of his life. She had no legends, or did not remember them. She was not aware that he had no gems, and would later be sad and puzzled by the wound that would not close and the lifeless eyes icing over.