The Elves of Aokigahara, by Alex Filipowicz

November 19th, 2014 Comments Off on The Elves of Aokigahara, by Alex Filipowicz

On the morning of her tenth birthday, Maisey’s height was four and a half centimeters. Her father, the village chief, had told her to stand against the old wooden ruler in the center of town, as custom dictated. Four and a half centimeters was a good height, he said. Not too tall.

Maisey spent most of the day playing in the moss patches with her friends. They ran up and down the twisted roots that encircled the village, throwing a prayer bead around and singing.

Hey bigfruit hey!
What will you bring for me today?
Hey bigfruit hey!
Fall down from that tree right away!

When they were all tuckered out, Arnold told Maisey he had actually seen a bigfruit once. Penelope said he was lying. Everybody knew that the trees in their grove never grew bigfruit. They didn’t have the right branches.

In the evening, Maisey ate a special birthday dinner with her family – bigfruit, mushrooms and clover. As it got dark out, Maisey’s older brother Patrick brought the firefly inside so the celebration could continue by the pulsating light of its belly. Maisey’s father pushed his toothpaste cap away from the pack of cigarettes and walked over to the living room, hefting something out from behind the plaid curtains. Though he was almost 6 centimeters tall, his teeth gritted as he staggered forward and dropped it onto the cigarette carton with a groan.

“Happy birthday, Maisey!” he said, smiling behind his gruff voice.

His gift was a huge hoop with a diamond welded onto it. The greenish-yellow glow of the firefly was refracted thousands of times in the stone and Maisey watched it fade in and out, completely mesmerized.

“Where did you manage to find this?” Maisey’s mother asked.

“Somebody in the caravan pried open this big fuzzy box and there it was.” Maisey’s father beamed.

“The things you boys bring home when you go looking for bigfruit… Well, Maisey, what do you think of your present?”

The firefly scratched its mandibles while Maisey’s family waited for an answer.

“Why have I never seen a bigfruit tree?” she finally asked.

“They don’t grow around here,” her father answered curtly.

“Why not?” Maisey picked at the last of her clover.

“The trees aren’t good by the village. They’re too high.”

“Will I ever see one?”

Maisey’s mother shot her a look.

“Your mother doesn’t want you joining the caravan.”

“But Patrick got to go last time!”

“That’s different. Patrick has the right disposition for it.”

Patrick got up and opened the ant door. He hadn’t been much for talking lately.

A procession of ants filed into the room and swarmed around the table, clearing every last crumb of food before marching back to their colony.

“Alright, Maisey, it’s past your bedtime. Thank your father for his gift.”

“Thanks, dad.”

“You’re welcome. Now let’s find somewhere to put it in your bedroom.”

They decided to lean the ring against the eastern wall, next to a silver cufflink and just under the laminated ID photo of a greasy-faced businessman.

After her father left the room, Maisey pulled the covers up to her chin and tried to fall asleep. Crickets thundered outside.

In the next room over, she could hear Patrick moaning into his pillow. He probably thought that the crickets and the cardboard walls were enough to muffle the sound. Maisey wondered why her father had put so much faith in Patrick when he had come back from the bigfruit harvest just to mope around. She could be a great asset to the caravan. She just needed the opportunity to prove herself.

Patrick’s moans eventually faded into whimpers and Maisey dreamed of a gigantic tree breaking through the forest canopy. Gemstones and gold pummeling down from its branches every time there was a gust of wind.

A week went by and the villagers were already lining up at the chief’s door to make their requests. Maisey’s father finally caved in and assembled the caravan.

“Let me go,” Maisey begged her mother.

She was braiding Maisey’s hair and now pulled the braids less delicately than before.

“What’s come over you, Maisey? You’ve always been such a sweet girl.”

The villagers were bursting open colorful capsules. Inside each one was a fine powder. Cheering, they threw the powder at the caravan as its members marched around the village.

“I don’t see why I can’t join.”

“It’s not as fun as it looks.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, I do. I don’t want you losing your innocence at ten years old.”

Arnold was jumping up and down on a Snapple lid and the caravan marched out of the village along to its rhythmic clicking.

“Maisey, get back here!” Her mother shouted as the half-braided hair ripped out of her hands.

She pushed through the crowd and caught up with the caravan, who were now belting out

Hey bigfruit hey!
What will you bring for me today?
Hey bigfruit hey!
Fall down from that tree right away!

A puzzled look spread across the chief’s face as Maisey ran up to him. He stopped waving to his villagers.

“Mom said it was alright for me to go with you guys!” she said breathlessly.

It was clear he didn’t completely buy it. But he shrugged and continued with his pageantry.

Patrick stayed silent as the rest of the caravan sung. Maisey noticed that he looked much older than thirteen now. There was something haunting about his eyes.

Two trees away from the village, the singing died out and everyone became almost as haggard as Patrick.

The forest was silent. The only sound came from the crackling of leaves as the procession of elves clambered over their dips and peaks. Autumn had only come recently, which meant the terrain wasn’t that mountainous yet.

A few hours passed and they came across a jagged line of yellow yarn stretching between the trees.

“You see that, Maisey?” her father asked in a hushed voice. “If we follow that north, we’re bound to find bigfruit.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“Some bigfruit isn’t sure it wants to ripen. That kind always leaves a trail behind it.”

“What would happen if we followed the yarn south?”

“There’s nothing for us that way. If a trail doesn’t lead to bigfruit, you can be sure it leads to danger. A black wasteland crawling with huge beetles that could kill you in an instant.”

The caravan trudged forward for two days, subsisting on whatever they could find along the way.

No one spoke much, except for the occasional remark about how it was getting colder.

They eventually came to an immense and blindingly orange mound. It was wedged between two gnarled trees.

“Bigfruit?” Maisey asked.

“Yes,” someone behind her whispered.

There was a loud rustling inside it. Maisey’s father knelt down on one knee and turned to her.

“Now, we wait.”

When the sun was almost as orange as the mound in front of them, they could hear a piercing vinyl shriek. A hand thrust out of the unzipped wall and then another. Soon, some kind of creature pulled itself out.

As it stood upright, Maisey realized that it looked just like an elf, except hundreds of centimeters tall. It had jet black hair, thinning at the top of its head, and a stained white shirt. The giant held a thick rope, meticulously tied into a loop at one end and dangling limp at the other. It looked up at the sun and down at the ground. It then walked over to a tree and squatted by its roots. For a good five minutes, it cupped its hands around its nose and rocked back and forth, almost as if it was hoping to lose balance. Finally, it wiped its eyes and stood back up. It stepped onto the roots of the tree and tossed one end of the rope over a branch. It slid the looped end along the branch and tied the other end many times around the trunk of the tree. It kicked its shoes off and put the noose over its head.

The bigfruit swayed like a pendulum for a long time. The caravan waited until it was motionless before they walked towards the tent.

The chief put his arm on Maisey’s shoulder. “We’ve all had our doubts. If there was another way of doing things, believe me that we would do it. But this brings us civilization. Taking advantage of them is what separates us from the insects. You understand that, don’t you?”


After the caravan came back, Maisey spent most of the day playing in the moss patches with her friends. They ran up and down the twisted roots that encircled the village, kicking a green Monopoly house around and singing.

Hey bigfruit hey!
What will you bring for me today?
Hey bigfruit hey!
Fall down from that tree right away!


IMG_3838Alex Filipowicz is a fourth year undergraduate English major who is currently working on a Creative BA in Fiction. He is a first-generation American born and raised in Chicago. His mother is Polish and his father is ethnically Ukrainian but grew up in Venezuela. He helps run two creative writing RSOs on campus: Drinkers with a Writing Problem and The University of Chicago Humor Magazine. Last summer, he attended an eight-week fiction course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His interests include punk rock, surrealism, and Studio Ghibli films.


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