The Forest of Lost Souls, available this September
May 23, 2024

The Forest of Lost Souls, available this September

After last month’s disquisition on the danger posed to the Koontz family by mountain lions, I had hoped that our community board of directors would send another emergency alert that would provide me with more priceless material for this newsletter. I imagined urgent notices with such inspiring headlines as GIRAFFES RUN AMOK or perhaps LARGE DESERT TORTOISES ARE SLOW BUT DEADLY. Sadly, the giraffe crisis has been resolved, and the board does not at this time take the tortoise menace seriously enough to issue an alert, a decision they will inevitably come to regret.

So let me tell you about the time a check-out clerk at K-Mart decided, with some reason, that I must be a psychopath. Gerda and I had friends who loved their pet rabbit, a large and floppy-eared Flemish Giant cutie for whom they were having a birthday party. These are the kind of friends you want. You don’t want the kind of friends who have only a canary, call it Tweetie, don’t know its birthday, and don’t even care, the bastards. However, buying a birthday present for a rabbit can be a challenge. For a canary, you throw some seed in its cage, and you’re done. If a canary has plenty of seed and the freedom to splash crap on everything in its domain, it’s happy. A rabbit is more sensitive than a canary, which we know because a rabbit very carefully produces its poop in hard little pellets so as to cause as little offense as possible. A rabbit expects some thought to be put into the gifts it is given and will be psychologically damaged by people who think it is just a dumb bunny for whom any gift will do, the bastards.

After a week of exhausting thought (I lost six pounds), Gerda and I conceived of a gift for the birthday girl that would endear us to her and bring her the joy she deserved on her special day. (Let me clarify the term “birthday girl.” This was a female rabbit named Jenny Bun, a genuine rabbit, not a human woman who identified as a rabbit. That kind of thing didn’t happen back then.) We thought: Over the centuries, uncountable people have given other people a rabbit’s foot on a little chain as a good-luck charm. Wouldn’t it be nice if we gave our friends’ rabbit a human foot on a little chain as a good-luck charm? Of course this could not be a real human foot. That would be too cumbersome for a rabbit to carry around. Besides, although we knew many strange people, we didn’t know one who would do us the favor of cutting off his or her foot to be put on a chain and given to a rabbit. And we weren’t accustomed to conducting unauthorized amputations. Therefore, we needed a doll’s foot.

In those days, when you needed a doll’s foot at a reasonable price, you went to K-Mart, which I believe no longer exists, perhaps because there just aren’t enough people who need a doll’s foot. Anyway, at the nearest K-Mart, in the toy section, we found numerous dolls whose feet were not appropriate for our intentions. Some of them had socks and shoes that were actually part of their feet, and we felt that the foot must be bare. After all, a lucky rabbit’s foot didn’t come encased in a Converse sneaker. Other dolls had legs and feet made of hard plastic that would be difficult to cut without splintering. Then we found shoeless Kewpie dolls that were inexpensive and made of soft rubber that could be easily cut. We were ecstatic.

On the way from the toy department to the checkout station, Gerda asked, “What will you say if the clerk asks you what you’re going to do with a Kewpie doll?” Well, I replied, that would never happen. When does a clerk ever ask what you’re going to do with anything you buy? What clerk has ever asked what you’re going to do with that toaster? With that hair dryer? When I put the doll—our only purchase—in front of the clerk, she smiled broadly at Gerda and then at me. She said, “I have dozens of Kewpie dolls. I make all kinds of costumes for them that I sew myself. Do you have a Kewpie collection? I said that we didn’t, that this was our first Kewpie, and she said, “What are you going to do with it?”

Gerda was wise enough to remain silent. I was so surprised that we’d been asked that I hesitated, but then I decided that this nice lady might find our rabbit gift amusing. Unfortunately, as startled as I was, I forgot to start with the story of Jenny Bun’s birthday and said, “We’re going to cut off one of its feet for a good-luck charm.” Her warm smile turned to a puzzled expression. Realizing my mistake, I said, “We’re going to put the foot on a chain and give it to a rabbit.” She was eager to ring up the sale but not so eager to touch money that I had touched. “It’s the rabbit’s birthday,” I explained. She said that was very sweet, though she didn’t sound like she believed it was sweet or that there was a rabbit. “We’ve never been to a rabbit’s birthday party before,” I said by way of reassuring her that I was not a mental case. “Shopping for a rabbit isn’t easy, unless you just want to give it some carrots, which would be too much of a cliché.” She said nothing, gave me my change, bagged the doll, and looked as if she would call security if I didn’t get the hell out of K-Mart.

In the car, Gerda and I laughed at the misunderstanding and how badly I had handled it. When we got home, I cut off one of the doll’s feet. We made a little hole in the ankle and threaded a beaded brass chain through it. When we gave Jenny Bun her good-luck charm, her expression seemed to say, Couldn’t you have just gotten me some carrots?

The Forest of Lost Souls Cover Reveal

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