Collaborative writing project by Tyler Alwardt, Cody Blue, Abby Clymo, John Dengler, Carol Graves, Steve Ohlson, David Tetreault, Josh Vernaccinni, and Julia Will
Walking between the trees a thickening fog cloaked the path ahead, almost rolling in. I muttered, “What is that?” into the empty expanse around me. Leaves brushed past my face like falling rocks, I ducked for cover, unsure if there was something that caused the leaves to practically attack me.
Thinking to myself, “Where the hell am I?” I felt the trees around me grow more and more dreary looking as the woods darkened. There was no sign of life as far as the eye could see, causing the path to be eerily quiet, almost as if I had become deaf.
Pushing my body into the fog, it swarmed around me like angry wasps. My mind raced as I considered whether or not I should continue down the trail alone. I reasoned with myself that continuing on was my only choice. I wanted to, needed to; because most everyone else I once knew had and I did not want to be left behind.
Realizing, ironically, I was here alone on the path that now felt void, empty, dark. That is, if you could feel darkness.
Going further down the rugged dirt path, I trembled with every step, as the thickening, heavy fog seemed to reach into my lungs and take my breath away. Crack. The sound echoed throughout the woods. “What was that?” I said to no one, turning my body around I heard what seemed to be faint but echoing footsteps creeping behind me.
Racing with questions, my mind began overthinking, “Is there someone or something following me, watching me? Something isn’t right about this place. What did I get myself into?”
Stopping for a moment, I looked in either direction and noticed a shadow moving across the trees to my left. Frightened, I decided to turn back, until I saw it, a body hanging from the branch of a bent and gnarled tree.
Feeling a deep sorrow, I wondered to myself, “What led him to this end, what pushed him over the edge, and were there others’ whose fate the woods had taken as well?”
Burning my nostrils, the pungent smell of the rotting corpse mixed with the damp leaves caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up and goosebumps to appear on my forearms. The wind whispered in my ear “Why?”
Creeping into my thoughts, I remembered stories about those who had ventured into this thick wooded land, bits and pieces the locals had shared, warned really, about others, some who had made it out alive having entered with others, escaping only after turning on their comrades, using them had almost as a tool for their escape, only to lose later, guilt taking what was left of their sanity.
Backing away from the corpse, I felt trapped between the trees that lined the narrowing path that twisted and turned ahead of me. There was not much room for movement between the trees where the traveler hung causing me to feel claustrophobic.
After what seemed like a long time, my mind slowed to match my pace and the energy around me changed. I rationalized that I must be getting closer to the end, even if looking ahead of me, it didn’t feel like I was. Continued on, the wind still squalled around me, there were still sounds I could not explain.
Fumbling, I tripped over a root and landed on my bent knees. Looking up from where I had fallen into a break between the trees, I saw a light a short distance ahead.
Filling with renewed strength, I raised my weary shoulders and felt my heart commence, racing faster. Despite this my body still protested, with each step my chest compressed forcefully almost as if bricks were being piled on my chest, daring me to breathe, I pressed on.
Following a turn in the path my body stumbled forward once more; this time causing me to fall nearly flat on my face, on a pile up of rocks and downed tree limbs, that appeared without warning.
Furrowing my brow, I asked to myself, “Tyler, what are you doing?” I began to once again feel a dark, dreadful sensation in the pit of my stomach.
Every part of my body screamed retreat, but even as the feeling of dread lingered within me, pride pushed me on. I reasoned that going back would be foolish considering how many moons have risen and set during since I first set out.
Pushing on, I was determined to finish, to know what lay beyond the woods. Adrenaline rushed through my bones matching my stride as if my body too had decided to keep walking despite the feeling of dread that took over my very being.
Stepping over tangled vines and weeds, the path widened as a warm breeze tousled my sweat drenched hair. Continuing on, through the dense thicket I noticed a strange man coming towards me. He was dressed in a black suit with a top hat, clothes that eerily looked a lot like the clothes worn by the hanging corpse I passed earlier on.
Stopping in front of me he started speaking loudly, ranting in a language that was foreign to me, shouting as if he was directing a large crowd. I couldn’t understand him yet when he held out his hand, I allowed him to grasp mine. His grip locked tightly, causing me to let out an agonizing scream, as I felt like every bone was being broken.
Loosening his grip an object not much larger than a coin slipped from my palm to his, searing my skin and revealing an imprint in the center of my palm.
Staring continuously at the miniature object, I felt as if I immediately learned how to finally escape these horrifying woods. Looking up from my hand, a gateway of open arched trees unfolded with large sums of light gleaming from the distant end of what could only be a portal. At the same moment, the dread that I had felt finally came to an end and I could see sunlight again.
Straining, I could hear the sound of a humming car in the distance slowly lingering. The sun continued to come out from the clouds, giving me a shimmer of hope. My anxiety vanished, the weight on my chest and my shoulders lifted.
Leaning forward, towards the warmth of the sun, I heard a loud crack and gasped, when just as suddenly as this day began, I abruptly awoke to see my teacher standing over me, ruler in hand; vibrating from having struck my desk. I was no longer in the woods, no longer at a clearing but in class, at my desk with my teacher glaring at me disappointedly; my peers snickering, their hands hiding mocking grins. Then, another crack of the ruler against my desk, causing their eyes to dart away from me, afraid to be connected to me, now an outcast caught up in our teacher’s wrath.
Sitting there, sweating profusely as the other students gathered their things, I realized that what had felt like a lifetime of walking had only been an hour-long class, much of which I had slept through.