Treatment 44 - The Last Bride of the Forest

In an isolated village in Europe, a teenage bride-to-be prepares for her wedding to the local forest god - and her presumed death at its hands.

Deep in the woods; canopy so thick you can't see the sun, but little undergrowth to slow passage. ALI (14) is a medieval Andalusian boy, led through the woods by his father, MISWAR (38). There are strange noises in the woods around them, which spook Miswar, but Ali is stoic.

They stop suddenly; Miswar orders Ali to disrobe. Ali obeys, but he's uncomfortable. Miswar apologizes profusely, runs back the same direction he came. Ali's breathing grows faster as something rattles the treetops - something that's coming closer.

In a more modern city, RIMA (14) is fitted for a bridal gown in a small shop. Her father TONY (30) and mother LUISA (31) are with her, but all three seem a little more somber than you'd expect for a wedding - then again, she is only 14. The dressmaker clearly disapproves, makes a few comments expressing her negative opinion of shotgun weddings, but Rima convinces him she's just getting fitted in place of her older cousin, who has the same measurements. Later, Tony tells her she didn't have to lie, to which Rima tells him she didn't want people remembering her like that.

They take the train to the end of the line, then drive the rest of the way home. Tony gripes about the long drive, to which Luisa reminds him he didn't have to come - but they both look back at the sleeping Rima and agree they can't stand to be apart from her, even for a day. It's not a short journey, and they reach their cabin in the woods deep in the middle of the night.

In the morning, Luisa wakes up to see Rima long since awake, staring into the woods. A common pastime in recent months, and growing moreso.

Days pass. They're isolated at their current location, an hour's drive from their nearest neighbor - though he does stop by once, an old man named ULYSSES (70). He expresses the importance and value of the family's willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the community, but Luisa gets mad - "What community? There's barely a dozen of us that live in these woods." Tony calms her down, but it's clear this is a repeating argument.

The next morning, Luisa is gone. Tony asks, but Rima hasn't seen her. The car is still there, but a lot of their camping supplies are missing. Tony decides to go looking for her - "All depends on when she left. If it was with the sun, I might catch her" - and warns Rima not to tell Ulysses what happened if he shows up. Rima is troubled, but accepts it.

Rima spends a few days alone in the cabin. She gets a phone call from the dressmaker that her dress is finished, and spends a day hoping for her parents to return - but eventually decides to go by herself. She forges her mother's signature on a check, then drives the truck to the train station, takes the train into the city alone. The dressmaker, seeing she came alone, tells her she can help - "Come stay with me, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do" - but Rima assures her she has the wrong idea, thanks her for her kind words, and leaves with the dress.

The truck is almost empty, so she's forced to fill it up before beginning the drive home - which is a bigger pain that it needs to be, because she doesn't have any money. She manages to convince the gas station attendant, who knows her parents, to refill the tank on credit, and that they'll pay him for it within the week. By the time her tank is full, it's getting late; she drives the truck a little ways into the woods, but it's too dark for her to be comfortable, and she's getting tired besides - so she pulls over and sleeps in the truck. She's awoken by the sound of a rushing wind and sees nothing but darkness around the truck - no stars, no moon, no trees. She gets out of the truck and suddenly it's the middle of the day, she's in the middle of the woods, the truck is nowhere to be found. And just around the corner is her father with a broken leg, trying to hobble his way home.

With Rima helping Tony, they're able to get home by the time it's dark again, but Tony's in bad shape - dehydrated, his leg is probably infected, it's no good. Luckily, Ulysses is there waiting for them, and patches Tony up. Rima tells Ulysses about her mother disappearing and her father going after her, but doesn't mention the truck until he says he passed it - then she lies and says its out of gas. Ulysses tells her he'll take her back to it with some gas, and she has no way of getting out of that, so she agrees.

The drive is long and awkward. Ulysses pries a bit on some awkward subjects - he forces Rima to state out loud that she's still a virgin, makes her assure him she's never had a sip of alcohol. He tells her that's good - the Forest wouldn't accept her otherwise. When they reach the truck, Ulysses opens up the tank and sees it's nearly full - just before Rima hits him in the back of the head with a tire iron.

He's not unconscious, but he is dazed enough that she's able to tie him to a tree. She cuts his clothes off of him, asks him if he's a virgin - he is - or if he's abstained from alcohol - he hasn't. She warns him the Forest isn't likely to accept him, but posits that maybe if he cries loudly enough, somebody will find him before dark. Then she drives the truck home, tells her father Ulysses went straight home. Tony's doing much better now; he chastises her for driving, but is glad she did okay and that she got her dress.

She wears the dress to make sure it fits, and Tony breaks down in tears. He takes a few pictures with a disposable camera, and they dance to some music from an old record player. Tony gets drunk off of an old bottle of good wine; Rima disapproves, but softly.

In the morning, Tony is up with the sun, hung over but toughing it out. He and Rima sit and stare at the woods together. Tony wonders if Luisa is okay, and Rima says she's sure she's fine. Tony accepts that answer.

They spend a relatively quiet day together. Tony cooks a nice big celebratory lunch for them, and Rima tries to teach him how to braid her hair.

Then Luisa appears at the edge of the woods, holding a small wooden effigy.

Rima jerks awake - she's in the truck, stopped in the middle of the woods, as she had been on the way home from getting her dress. She gets out of the truck, looks around - everything seems normal. Fine.

She drives home, and everything is just how she left it - no sign of her father. She drives to Ulysses' cabin, and finds it unoccupied, too - though his truck is there, there's no sign of him.

Rima drives home, runs into the woods where she'd found her father in her… dream? She finds his body, already long cold, right where he had been before. She drags the body home (a monumental task) and tries to bury him, though she's too tired to dig deep enough and winds up having to abandon the effort to sleep.

In her dreams, she sees her mother standing at the edge of the forest, holding the effigy. She wakes up, grabs a flashlight, and runs into the woods, but finds nothing. She gets lost trying to get back to the cabin, and wanders for a bit, getting increasingly worried and afraid.

She happens upon a wounded wolf - she's scared at first, but when it appears harmless, she curls up with it for warmth and sleeps.

She wakes up to complete silence - not a bird is chirping. The wolf is dead, but there are no flies at its carcass. All the leaves on all the trees are the gorgeous crimson of autumn.

Rima weeps.

In the light of day, she has no trouble finding her way back to her cabin, and sees her mother there, finishing burying her father. Her mother is covered in scratches, like she fell into a thorn bush, and one cut near her eye is bad enough and infected enough that she might lose it. Rima tends to her injuries as best she can, but neither of them speak to each other.

Once Lucia's wounds are fully dressed, they pack up the truck together and drive away from the cabin.