The Blazing Forest
The green leaves of the trees blocked the sunlight above the daughter and her father, who were standing in the forest. Their gazes were aimed at the animals in front of them. The beings had symmetrical antlers, except for one. The one standing out had, instead of three points, only one point which meant it was dangerous for the surrounding deer.
The father of the daughter had explained a similar situation beforehand in case they would encounter the current case. They both silently observed the group of deer. It was the daughter’s first time shooting an actual living creature, and her father chose one of the best days and places to go out hunting.
Their spot was out of the wind so the deer couldn’t smell them. The dark colours they wore prevented the deer from seeing them and the temperature outside was comfortable. Neither too hot nor too cold.
The father readied the gun with the lead bullets and handed it over to his daughter, who waited with anticipation. She grabbed the sniper rifle and pressed the buttstock into her shoulder just like they had practised many times before.
She glanced through the lens. The deer came into view, and she adjusted her stance to receive the recoil with the least amount of pain. She made some distance between the scope and her eye. If she held her eye to close to the scope, her eye could pop out of its socket. And that was not something she planned for.
Her finger twitched to pull the trigger, but there was another deer behind her target, so she waited. And waited. Until finally, the deer started to move. she aimed at the heart and lung area before pulling the trigger.
The bullet hit the target, and it went to the ground. The other deer ran away, leaving one of their kind behind.
The father rose to his feet. The daughter handed him the rifle before standing up herself. Together, they walked towards their dead prey.
They went along with the usual routine and wrapped up afterwards. The daughter stared off in the distance, but she was snapped out of a trance when her father called her over.
“Come on Oriana, it’s time to go home!” Her father yelled from a path that led back to their car. The daughter, Oriana, spun around expecting to see her father’s smiling face. Instead, her head collided with the hard bark of a tree. It felt as if her very own bullet bore right through her forehead, the leaden tip cutting into her skin.
She fell down on the muddy ground. Oriana could feel the broken sticks, which were probably trampled by other people, under her hand. She concentrated on the ground to see if her vision was alright. The bugs and leaves came into focus, and Oriana started to stand up.
Oriana looked around. ‘Where did the path go,’ she wondered. “Dad where are you!” The answer she got was the leaves ruffling and the faded sound of chirping birds. Oriana remained calm. Her dad wouldn’t just leave. Maybe the hit she took was worse than she originally thought.
“Okay, it’s alright. You’re in a forest. It’s not a first.” Deep down Oriana knew it was definitely not alright. Far from even. But she couldn’t just sit still and wait for someone to pop up. So she did something little her would be proud of.
She climbed a tree.
The first few branches were the hardest. Oriana tried to reach for the lowest branch, which was about three heads above her. The moment she tried to pull herself up on the same branch, it snapped.
She huffed a stray of hair out of her face and once again pulled herself off the ground. The flicked a bug off of her hand before giving it another try. She jumped but couldn’t reach the lowest, not snapped, branch. There had to be another way to explore the place efficiently without straying too far from the spot she stood in.
If Oriana could find a spot to look at the stars then she could find her way out of the forest. The Polestar would point her in the right direction. But there were no open spots she could see from her current position.
Oriana would have to set off in a direction and keep walking to see if she could find her dad or someone else. It was her only option left next to staying here.
She started to jog to what she felt was the north. Not like she could confirm it actually was. It would have to do.
The trees all looked the same. Oriana felt like she was in some sort of cheap simulation where they didn’t have the budget and time to make the scenery more varied. There were also no animals in sight. She hadn’t seen a single animal since she shot the deer.
Did her dad take the deer with him when he took the rifle? Or did that happen afterwards? Oriana couldn’t seem to remember what happened last. She knew her dad called over and then she hit her head. Yet, she woke up in a place unfamiliar.
She stumbled over a root. The first thing that went through her head filled with questions was ‘Why me again?’ before she crashed into the forest floor. She rolled onto her back and looked up at the sky. She stared at the clouds drifting by and let out a big sigh. And then it hit her.
She sat upright and searched for the position of the sun. She couldn’t see it from the clearing which meant it was either morning or late in the afternoon.
She couldn’t believe it if it was a new morning, because Oriana and her dad left at noon. He wouldn’t have left her for dead, right?
She decided that it was somewhere in the afternoon. She hoped she wasn’t wrong about her father. He didn’t seem like someone who would do that.
Now that she found a spot she could use, she needed to set up a camp. It didn’t have to be big or comfortable. It just had to work for the time being.
Oriana spent time on finding sticks and moss that she could use for the upcoming night. For once, she was actually glad that she had her pocketknife on her. She made a safe spot where she could start a fire and cleaned the moss of bugs if she needed to sleep there for the night. She also sharpened a few sticks she could use for traps.
After everything was set up, the last daylight was fading behind the horizon. She had guessed correctly. Oriana turned towards the small fire she made to heat herself up. The smoke of the slightly wet wood had created extra smoke. It still produced thanks to the dry branches she had cut of trees to mark the path she took.
Oriana relaxed against the tree, her sight fixated on the dancing fire. The flames swirled and burned the branches with a slow tempo. The wood gradually turned into ashes. It fell down on the dry dirt beneath the fire.
Her eyes closed as she enjoyed the heat. However, she wasn’t planning on sleeping and neither was the voice that called out to her.
A distant voice called out to her. It sounded like her dad. Although Oriana could hear him, she couldn’t pinpoint where the sound was coming from. She spun and spun, hoping to catch the direction of her dad’s voice, but it felt like the trees were reverberating the same voice. It was coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
“Dad?!” She called out into the void of trees. The sound bounced off the trees and echoed through the whole forest. Oriana desperately ran around trying to find her dad.
She huffed and puffed and sat down on the ground. Her hair hung in front of her eyes. Tears streamed down her cheeks while she looked at her hands. She grasped some dirt and threw it away. It was all her fault for not staying in the spot where she woke up. She stupidly walked away as if she could figure it all out like Bear Grylls. She wasn’t an expert and she should have waited.
As if her dad wanted to torment her even more, Oriana heard his voice again. However, it appeared to be louder and closer than last time.
Oriana wiped her tears away and took off in the direction she believed the voice was coming from. She was using the last straw of energy she had left. She hoped she used that energy for the right purpose.
Oriana slowed down after a while. The forest was dead-silent and dark. She had no idea where she was or how she could get back to her campfire. Everything just went from bad to worse. But the worst hasn’t been reached.
A noise. The last breath before death. Last words, but unidentifiable because there was nothing to identify. They’re just sounds made by something that was strangled.
Oriana turned around and came face to face with a deer. Blood oozed out its wounds, and a noose hung tightly around its neck. It was a devastating sight to see, and Oriana couldn’t help but be reminded of the deer she shot. However, that deer had been put out of its misery the moment the bullet had made contact with its skin.
With the wounds it currently had, it had no chance of survival. The last thing she could do for it was to end its life right there. And that was what she did.
It was gruesome and disgusting for any other person, but Oriana had learned to skin animals from professionals. After she was done, the deer laid peacefully next to the tree Oriana found it in.
How did it end up in the tree? The noose was obviously knotted by humans. Humans that either didn’t know how to finish the job or didn’t want to finish the job. Oriana decided that she would rather not encounter them in a forest where no one could hear her scream. Totally safe. Not.
Oriana expected to stop hearing the heavy breathing that she heard from the deer. However, that didn’t seem to be the case.
She turned around to where she had left the deer but bumped into something. Rather someone. It felt as if all the trees had moved, and she was in an entirely new forest. The deer was gone, and when she took a step backwards, she hit a new tree. A burning smell reached her nose. It couldn’t have been her campfire. She made sure that the flames couldn’t escape on their own.
Oriana looked up at the person on yet another noose. Instinct took over, and a scream escaped her lips.
There he hung, her very own dad. His clothes were blazing along with the rest of the forest. His face was beaten up, and his eyes were punctured with his knocked-out teeth. The barrel of the rifle she had used earlier stuck out of his stomach. Bullets were scattered on the ground beneath him.
She couldn’t take the sight of her dad. He hung so helplessly from a thick tree branch. She doubted he would make it out alive. Oriana turned around and ran. She ran as fast as her legs could go. The heat of the blazing forest burned her back. Oriana dodged trees left and right and hoped that she wouldn’t trip like last few times.
A black sludge-like figure appeared in the right corner of her eye, but it was engulfed by the flames as soon as it had arrived.
“Oriana help me!” A voice similar to her dad’s screamed. Although she hoped it was her dad, she couldn’t believe he was still breathing, let alone scream for her help.
“You ignited this fire,” It was another voice. It was unfamiliar but soothing. “So you should make it right.” Oriana couldn’t help to be drawn to the soothing voice. She knew the whole ‘voice from a burning forest’ screamed danger. Yet, it was tempting.
Oriana kept running, and more voices joined the choir. All she could hear were voices blaming her, convincing her to join them. She ignored it, or at least she tried to.
More sludge-like figures came down from the trees, trying to reach for her with their hands. The dark gooey liquid instantly set ablaze the moment it touched the ground, which made Oriana believe that the flames chasing her were the very same figures.
Oriana’s shoe felt a bit hotter than normal, and when she looked down, her shoes were on fire. She sped up, and the flames turned back into the black goo. She shook it off quickly.
Despite all her effort, her clothes were quickly set aflame. It turned back into the goo. The weight slowed Oriana down, and the flames were closing in.
A part of the muck travelled up to her ear. “You’re not going to make it. Give up while you still can.” The sludge whispered in her ear. She quickly swiped the muck of her shoulder, but it stuck her hand.
“I’m not going to give up until I have no other option.” She said to the goo before wiping it off on a tree she passed. The tree was submerged into the fire the moment she passed it.
Tons of goo-figures formed a wall in front of her. There was no way she could avoid it. Oriana wiped off more goo and picked up speed. She knew this wasn’t going to be a fun ride in a rollercoaster. Oriana went for a shoulder-charge.
Her shoulder collided with the muck, and she slowed down. It took some force, but she escaped the wall. Not a second later the wall exploded.
The force of the explosion blasted Oriana forwards, and her head hit the ground hard. She blinked a few times and looked up at the sun shining down on her.
Oriana sat up and looked at the flames reaching for her. She backed away quickly. Her back hit the cold metal of her dad’s car. She watched for the rest of the night how the flames converted back in the black sludge and crawled back into the trees.
She slept in the car in the morning, and the police found the car in the afternoon after getting a call from some concerned hikers. Oriana explained what happened only to be sent to a doctor. She never recovered from that fatal night.
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