The Wood/s [A Short Story]
I drift beyond the depths of the forest. The mystery settling in the woods captivates me, seeking around as if I was born again, appreciating the wide nature that has brought in this world.
Trees stand as high as if they are kissing the sky right now. The leaves in evergreen attach to their branches. But once the wind whispers through them, they’ll fall smoothly, like a feather, and lay gracefully to the earth. The thickness of their trunks can’t be comparable to my arms and thighs. And the bittersweetness of leaves and woods lingering in my nose. Black clouds cover the light that stretches across the vast sky. The smoky fog blankets the woods, blurring pathways from afar distance; silence flies like black butterflies, giving the atmosphere a cold gloom.
The quietness sets a calm mood. My lips curve upright to my cheeks, giving my first giggle. My heart beats a thousand times in peace. I became mesmerized by the scenery that I can’t think of if this is a dream or a reality. How surreal is this being the only human soul existing in this certain plain, and not one who might hear me? I continue tripping on, refusing to admit the loneliness has started to kick in.
The air is frigid and moist, stroking my arm to keep myself warm. I speculate my outfit isn't the right fit for this condition. A simple black dress, with a high-low skirt, and an off-shoulder sleeve. Lovely it is, but clothes that can warm up my body would be preferable.
Autumn leaves are crushed on a bed of dirt, the crunching sound echoed with my steps. Now, I have broken fragments sticking on my open feet.
Despite the heavy clouds in the sky, little raindrops decline to fall, and let the white smoke dampened the earth.
An endless wander in the woods without finding any path to follow.
As I went deeper in the forest, a distinctive tree standing behind the thin fog captured my attention. I wonder why it makes me eager to go closer. Is it just me wanting to see what’s around that odd-looking wood? Unlike most trees in the forest, this one appears to be small ㅡ although it has a thicker trunk than most of them. The leaves dried and ripped off from their ash gray boughs, which lacks the only perfect color. The delicate branches bounding to its body look unpleasantly like arms of a dead person with many pointed skinny fingers bending in any direction.
Why is the atmosphere surrounding this tree cold? I thought. I feel a sharp needle inject through my chest. It tingles, and it hurts. And yet, this sentiment is unfamiliar to me.
Allowing my hand to touch the surface, the bark feels rough as a hard rock. Skins have peeled off at some portions of the tree. Perhaps it has been abandoned for a long time, the nature itself isolated this one far distance away from the trees who are considerably still well-nourished in the forest.
“How did you survive?” I whisper softly to the tree. Even though this old tree cannot respond to my question, it’s cold and unsettling for it to die here. Loneliness remains, and there is nothing else that can support other than its twisted roots.
For a moment, I felt a strange blow on my ear. I imagined it must be the wind blowing; yet, it isn’t. An unfamiliar voice, as soft as the wind, has spoken closer to my left ear. I turn around, and not one is behind me.
Seconds later, there is the whisper again. But this time, I didn’t just hear one, I hear two...three...four...murmuring in thin air, closer and closer. I place my palms to cover both of my ears. And still, I can hear the whispers.
“Wh-wh-what? What is it?”, my voice is shaking. My hands tremble that I can feel it from my ears and cheeks. I want to know what is happening. But who can give me an answer, when there is no one person in the deep forest. If I can guess it right, it could be the old dead tree doing this. Nothing else I could have done.
I distance myself from the tree. I run as fast as I can. Wherever, whatever path that I see, it doesn’t matter. To lose sight from the dead tree is keeping myself away from the whispers. But these murmurs coming from the unknown have followed me, and I scream as loud as ever; it echoed. Nobody can help me, so my decision is to get out in the woods.
I have been running for a while now since I left the old tree. The murmurs have lost their way, and I’m alone with silence. Chest feels heavy, and my breathing has subsided. The wobbliness of my legs barely makes me walk further. A few scratches on my arms and legs, and I didn’t notice them. There is dirt all over my dress. My skin feels tacky ㅡ perhaps it's the humidity or my sweat.
Bearing myself in control until I can escape the forest.
No one else is here but you. You cannot get out. You cannot. Stay. Stay. Voices articulating their words over and over like an echo.
My heart is throbbing rapidly, which gives an uneven shortness of my breath. The heaviness in my chest pulls my trembling body to the ground, and both of my legs are now paralyzed. Eyes watering, hyperventilating.
You belong here…
Harsh and high pitch voices; one by one, they each have something to say.
“No”, I shake my head.
My blood is boiling.
I clench my fists, squeezing the dirt mixed with pieces of broken leaves in my palms. I let out a huge breath from my lungs, and shout to the air. “I said...NO!” Apparently, my words don't work on them. They are still persuading me to stay.
However, among those voices, one of them speaks to me differently.
Unlike the other voices, this one sounds calm and gentle as a cool wind.
“Come back? Where?”
Come back...wake up...Come back....wake up
“What are you telling me? Wake up? Go back?”
I am puzzled by that whisper, but it did help me calm down. Yet, the words bother me a lot.
I quickly stand up.
My hands have stopped shaking. I can finally breathe in a normal state. The plan to get out of the woods is still in my memory. I begin to move.
Those voices, other than the one who seems to be the good one, are still following me but their persuasion doesn’t work on me anymore.
I follow that gentle whisperer who only says a few words.
Wake up...come back...
One voice can lead me to an exit.
I still don’t have any clue of what is going on, but I am starting to think something isn’t right in this place.
Changes are happening in the forest. The heaviness of the fog causes to blind pathways. Clouds thicken with smoky gray, and the light fades even greater into darkness. Shaping the forestland into silhouette, the woods that was once a picturesque world turns into a haunting facade.
To witness the alteration of the woods, it comes with the truth of this world. And now that I found out I was deceived, this world intends to keep me in here forever. Well, that is not gonna happen. I would rather be in the light than to decay in the woods, I convinced myself.
While retreating my way out, I stumble on a thick root of the tree and fall down with my body sliding on the ground. The bottom of my dress is torn. I have a bruise on one of my elbows and both on my knees. The pain is gushing on my injuries, but I quickly stand on the ground. The gentle whisperer stills giving me guidance, and I keep up on my pace without a second thought of resting.
As I hope for the horror to end, a terrifying harsh cry explodes out of nowhere. The silence breaks off by a murder of black birds flying above the sky, loud enough to startle me and gives me a brief time to pause on my pace. It’s random to know there are birds all of a sudden in the woods. How? And why?
A piece of anxiety has landed on my shoulders when the cries came out. I shake it off after. In the woods, another hallucination has occurred: the sound of crying crows. Not gonna be cockeyed by their deception.
My calmness didn’t last long.
Instead of haunting crows taking over the silence, something else in the woods whom I believe brings mischief. My throat is choked by a dark menace lurking in the fog. I can’t scream.
I hear chains rattling behind the fog. The fading sound of crunching leaves turns clear as a signal of something being close. My heart isn’t ready for what’s coming.
It’s discomforting. Two of the noises are coming closer. Closer, closer, and closer; so the noise gets louder, louder, and louder.
Something, or someone, appears walking so calmly through the fog. I flinched, slowly moving my left foot backward as I’m prepared to run. As it passes through the fog, the figure becomes clearer. I cannot breathe. Feeling quite dizzy; my mind is about to cease down. But luckily, my feet are doing the job supporting my body.
For a moment something about this monster could intend to kill with its own fear. The desire to chase someone in a nightmare, and drag its soul for eternity by this unwholesome beast, whose face is vaguely a human without a nose and ears.
The monster has pale fine-looking skin, with long thin arms down to his waist, and his fingers are like broken twigs. His deadly eyes are hollowed black, with white pupils. The mouth is sewed with black threads, unable for him to speak. Folded lines on the lower lip, with the absence of his chin.
But mind you, I can predict what’s going to happen once he takes off those threads. I’m sure the forest would be delighted to taste something different, and soak the leaves with my red blood.
That can be one of his plans.
But in order for him to do that, he needs to catch me.
Slowly, he raises his left arm. I quickly react in case he would attack me. Instead, he shows me a small rusty birdcage clutching the handle in his hand. Then he raises his other arm, holding a metal chain.
“W-what...what are you going to do with them?,” my throat is choked with anxiety.
Even if the monster couldn’t respond, with those threads clinging on his mouth, I can already tell what he’s going to do with those.
He begins to use his fear, and I look directly into his eyes. It’s getting near to me. I don’t see it, but I can feel it wrapping around my legs.
It’s cold. My body starts to shake.
This is what he does to catch me. By paralyzing my body, there’s no way I could run. I won’t be able to be free. Let alone my soul be trapped in that birdcage, and darkness is where I should stay to become his pet.
“You fooled me once,” I say. “If only this is a dream, now it’s time for me to wake up.”
With my bravery, I got out of his ghastly terror. There is no trick of how I did it, but I have forgotten the fear swarming around me.
I turn my back on the monster, and run away from him as fast as I can. I continue to follow the voice, telling myself to wake up. Wake up! ... Wake up!
Even if I am running away from the monster, I can feel he is following me. Never wanted to look back at him. I know he is waiting for me to look into his eyes.
One way, I see a big light behind the fog. I followed where the brightness is placed without doubting my instinct. As I have found the light, I stretch my hand as if I am wanting to grab on to something. It’s so bright and warm, I never want to close my eyes. Instead, I want to see what’s about to happen.
The atmosphere feels distinct; it’s warm and comfy. As I slowly open my eyes, I see something white above me.
For sure, it’s not a sky.
I blink a few times trying to adjust my vision when the light trickled from outside of the window. I sit up, looking around at the setting.
A soft bed, with a wrinkled sheet above my legs, and each side has a pillow laying down. When I turn around, there's a side of the mirror standing behind the bed, and a door right next to it. The walls have painted in peach pink; disorganizing books on a wooden shelf. Two windows in front, showering a bright light in the room.
As I have recalled, this is my bedroom.
It feels relieved to be back, I thought.
Even if I am, my body feels heavy. Having a long slumber can cause my back to ache. As I stretch my arms, hearing a soft crack sound, it feels a lot better. I pull my soft sheet away and move my feet to the soft pink carpet.
One of my toes feels a cold touch of metal. I bend over to see, and turn out to be scissors lying on the carpet. It has sharp steel blades with a black handle below. I pick the tool up, then something flashes back on my head.
I begin to remember what happened before I fell into slumber. Nervously looking at both of my arms, I see a few cut lines but no blood. Going to check myself on the mirror, I notice below my eyes have swollen up.
I guess I was being emotional last night, I thought.
Right now, there are no feelings running around my head. I’m just happy to be alive.
Maybe it’s because, seeing the world I’m breathing in is so surreal, I have forgotten what happened to me in that dream.
And yet, that voice. I could never forget that whisper. I wonder. Who was that?
When I see the light from outside of my window, I realize how the world is so bright, my smile feels real, it woke me up from an endless nightmare.
--- THE END ---
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