So I’m actually a week late on getting this posted, but over the real week 4, I had a really rough time at work that ended with me sending an email to my boss in the middle of the night taking a few days off for mental health. Here’s your friendly reminder to people to never be afraid to take a mental health day or three. Even if the optics aren’t great (I didn’t realize it was a US holiday weekend when I took the time off). Mental health is important and everyone should always take care of themselves.
With that out of the way, I’m going to jump right into the story, and you can find my closing thoughts on my piece and the growth of it in the next post, coming later today!
“You need to get off Twitter, see reality for a change.”
My twin brother Jack’s words echoed through my head as I watched the sun set behind the mountains in the distance. The sky was filled with deep blues and purples, but the colors struck fear, not comfort. I needed to get back to camp. I wasn’t even sure when I left…or why. I hated the outdoors. Those colors meant it was almost nighttime. I was alone in the woods, and officially lost.
Nighttime was my worst enemy.
Every minute closer to total darkness, my heartbeat raced faster. The dread told me I’d be spending the night in the woods. Alone. The forest, once too hot for comfort, was now cold enough to see my breath. The change felt instant.
That’s when I noticed how quiet the forest had gotten. No wind rustling leaves, or crickets chirping, nothing indicating that the forest was full of life. It was silent.
With no idea where to go, no path to follow, I decided my best course of action was down. Just keep going down. Stopping briefly to drink some water, I said a silent thank you to Jack for packing the bottle. I only took a few small sips, not knowing how long I’d need to make it last.
The silence was deafening. It felt like I was staring at a perfectly still lake in the middle of a storm. Completely unnatural, and yet…it was happening.
“Hello?” I tried yelling out. My voice cracked with nerves, but I still managed to make it loud enough that something should have moved.
Instead, the sound just died.
“Anyone?” I screamed. Again, nothing made a sound. It was like the forest was stealing my voice along with all the rest of the sound. How could this be happening?
Mist covered the whole forest, obscuring the moonlight, and making it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me. Jack, planning ahead again, had also packed a flashlight. Did he know I’d get lost? With a flicker, the light came on, cutting through the mist like a warm knife through butter.
But it only brought more dread. In front of me was a pair of deep red eyes.
I froze in place, and my stomach dropped like I was on a roller coaster. As quickly as the eyes were there, they were gone. Was my mind playing tricks on me? The air became cold again, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
The eyes were gone, but I could still feel them watching.
I turned and ran as fast as I could. I didn’t hear anything, but whatever was out there was following, no matter where I ran. My heavy, labored breaths told me I needed to slow down. I tried to believe that the chilled air and the eyes and the silence weren’t real. That didn’t help me feel like I could slow down though.
When I finally stopped and looked around to see if I recognized anything, I found myself in a clearing near what looked to be an abandoned campsite. When did I end up here? I wondered. I didn’t remember leaving the woods.
It looked exactly like where we were camping, but things were off. There were four logs for people to sit on, but they weren’t arranged in the nice circle we had put them in. The place where a fire once stood was replaced by a flat blackened patch of earth that had been stamped out long ago. Empty soda cans were strewn about, and the trail leading to the creek nearby was now overgrown with weeds.
“Mackenzie?” A soft, deep, voice behind me said. Turning to see who was there, I couldn’t find anyone.
“Don’t sit down Mackenzie.” The voice came again, this time from all around. In front of me, a young man who looked like he was just a few years older than Jack appeared. Brown hair and a bag that looked exactly like mine. Rainbow pin and everything. His sunken eyes stared at me with an expression filled with sorrow.
“What?” was all I could get out.
“The forest knows you’re here, Mackenzie. You’re not safe. You have to keep moving. If you stop, the forest will catch you and never let go,” the young man urged. He reminded me of Jack, I thought, even though there was no way he could be. Still, something inside me was nagging that he could be Jack.
I headed towards the edge of the clearing, pausing only to take one last look at the old campsite. No one was there anymore. Did I imagine that man? Following his advice, I started off again, back into the woods.
Moving like my life depended on it, I tried to be careful about things like tree roots or rocks that would cause me to trip. But, the mist kept me from seeing the small cliff. Without enough time to stop, I fell and landed with a loud thud and the sound of a crack coming from my arm.
I tried to scream, but the sound disappeared as I lay on the ground, my breath freezing in front of my face.
“Keep moving, Mackenzie, or the forest will find you and keep you. Forever.”
Before I could process the words, the red eyes appeared in front of me.
I was trapped. A cliff behind me, the eyes in front.
I had nowhere to go. Without any options, I stood, pain screaming in my arm. Feeling the pounding of my heart, I took a quick deep breath, gathered my courage, and charged. If the forest wanted me, it’d have to take me fighting. Screaming, I ran straight for them.
Breaking through the tangle of branches where the eyes were, I stopped running to get my bearings. No eyes in front of me or behind.
Instead, I was in a large clearing, complete with the same four logs, a campfire, and Jack holding a Dr Pepper. Holding my arm in pain, I ran towards Jack. I had found my way back. Somehow.