Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dark Forest

A dark forest. Viewed from above, it seems endless. It reaches far beyond the horizon, away into the vast, never-ending blackness of the cloudless, moonless, starless, empty sky.
In this forest there are swamps with ancient trees, many of them thousands of feet high, some over a million years old. They twist with the collective weight of their years, bending back on themselves in a slow dance that has progressed slowly in all directions.
In this forest, the weather fluctuates between extremes. There are harsh hot winds that scrape the skin with their abrasive tear. Rain that chills the earth to ice. Humidity that holds the lungs tight, pushing down on every sign of life until it lays weak and defeated, laying almost still until one last blast of cold air destroys it forever.
In these elements my nakedness is always too bare, my clothes always too heavy. I search for a cool breeze under rocks, finding only ice. And then the sun comes out, its heat somehow finding me through the layers of leaves and branches in the forest. It burns me, turning me red and scaly.
In this forest creatures hide in the shadows and melt undetected into the landscape. Their eyes burn holes deep into my skin. Their stares follow my footsteps, covering my body with attention I do not seek. The creatures call out noisily in the distance, running through thick bushes, breaking old branches. The night is filled with the snaps of small breaking sticks and cracking dry leaves.
I cannot see them, no matter how fast I turn. They are the sounds of my dreams, the endless cacophony of the night. The nightmares that slip through the cracks, becoming reality. The sounds, their creators, they are always out of sight, just in the corner of my eyes, little shadows that seem to be pure imagination, almost beyond the farthest reach of my peripheral vision, like a shadow of fear that continually seeks me out.
With every snap I freeze and lay still in the dark. Fear becomes me. An unseen, intangible force keeps me pressed against the floor. Images of ten-foot high demon-like creatures invade me... bloody foot-long fangs, tiny red-eyed slits, two-feet long spiky tongues pointing downward to hell and moving from side to side in an endless quest for meat; saliva hanging in three foot long strands from their foul, stinking mouths; huge, hairy paws with bloody dragon claws pointing upward.
It is their smiles that shine out into the darkness. Smiles without a trace of sympathy or sincerity. They walk up to me, slowly, their jaws already working, their mouths dripping with desire. My breath begins to choke, stopping somewhere between my lungs and mouth.
The center of my chest pounds, sounding like nails against a thick piece of wood. I am acutely aware of something behind my neck. A cold sticky air that burns slightly as it touches me. I can hear its ragged breath, like air moving through a tunnel of rocks. It takes in air loudly, thickly, pulling in most of the oxygen around us. As it emits a long breath that smells of old meat and grease left in the sun, it wraps its three arms around me; pulling me up from the ground.
I freeze. I feel the demon hugging tighter, lifting me higher than the trees. Flying, transporting me away from the forest, into an empty space, where the temperature is warmer. We float and I’m unable to do a thing when it starts licking my cheek.
I squirm, trying to wiggle my way out of its grip. But I feel iron, the cold steel hands of the demon. It cinches tighter as I breath, every movement is reciprocated with a tightening of the noose. It licks my head and I can feel its huge tongue slobbering all over my hair and skin, leaving its stinky wet trail. I wonder what it tastes, what it perceives as that black tongue covered with a texture of dry paper covered in needles and sand moves over me. Each touch of it brings new wounds, bring out blood that quickly beads up with the heat.
We seem to fly higher, moving faster, going up. Its grip tightens and I can no longer breathe, the pressure begins to build and the sharp stinging pain of breaking bones begins. Its tail-like tentacle wraps around my neck, searching for my mouth in whip-like movements. It wants entry.

In this forest, thousands of voyagers and adventurers loose their souls wandering aimlessly in the dark. They become tangled in the thick vines dripping from old twisting trees. The sudden snapping sounds in the night, the invisible creatures and their penetrating eyes, following the rise and shallow fall of my breath. The other voyagers, they wait like me, with fear flowing slowly into their hearts, a river that with time, finds its way into the fortified core. They sit, like me, hiding from the shadows, running from rock to rock looking for shelter from the heat, from the wind, from the penetrating sky.
We run, never knowing where to go, nothing is safe. The forest is eternal darkness even when the sun shines behind muddy clouds. We run seeking shelter, not knowing who we are. Have we always been here flinching in the darkness? Memories are lost in these unfriendly woods, dropped into holes that quickly fill with rotting leaves. Tears make the lakes, supply the groundwater, nourish the red and white mushrooms.
In this forest, millions of creatures roam through the endless night, but in this forest, everyone is alone. I can only see myself. There are thousands, all invisible, all alone, the night providing no solace.
Viewed from above, the forest seems endless, reaching far beyond the horizon, away into the vast, never-ending blackness of the empty sky.

I open my eyes, looking closely into the dark. Sometimes I can almost see flickering lights within the depths of the forest. Almost like faint, far away stars through the fog of a crowded soot-covered city.
Between sprints and trees, when I stand still and stare, they get brighter, shining loudly through the filters of space and branches. When I stand still and stare into the endless expanse of trees, somehow hostile in their very shape, the lights glow like stars in the sky, hovering over the ocean on a clear, moonless night. They flicker on and off in different places as though talking to me, sending me some sort of message.
I am comforted by the light, by their existence in the forest of blackness. I wonder what they are. I wonder if, like me, they too are wanderers.