Running With the Prince of Darkness

December 8, 2007
By
She would have remained in the comforting embrace of slumber, had the balmy wind not blown a strand of golden hair across her face. The serenity in which she’d usually awake after such a refreshing repose was abruptly ground to a halt. She realized the bed she was awakening in did not consist of crisp sheets and a down comforter. Gasping, she quickly sat up, hands clenched in the stretch of cushioned moss beneath her, buttery rays of sunshine warming her back. Her harsh breathing seemed much too loud in the eerily halcyon forest; sage green boughs above her head rustling in something akin to parental disapproval.

“Wha--,” her voice cut short, shrinking in on herself as the trees loomed more gargantuan than before, the angry whisper of wind throughout the vegetation hissing like a bed of a thousand snakes.

Rising unsteadily to her feet, she warily cast an eye over the landscape: the monolithic trees, the jagged rise and fall of the snow-capped mountain peaks that walled in the forest on all sides. The jungle glowed in the early morning light, floating dust motes hung in place where the light beams cut through the canopy. The young woman’s own open thicket amongst the trees was filled with the small balls of radiance--giving the illusion that she was the center of some arcane fairy gathering. Pale blue and fuchsia blossoms festooned the trees, vines heavily laden with white flowers and tiny red buds twisted around trunks and hung from branches. A soft layer of mist hung over the treetops, as if to mute the shocking beauty of this wondrous place. Wafting from the trees, emanating from the very ground, the soul-searing aroma of honey mingling with peaches and passion fruit took the young woman’s breath away.

Without warning, the tranquility of the forest was disturbed as a sinister dark shape darted amongst the silver trunks. Involuntarily, she cried out, stumbling away from where the nefarious apparition had appeared. Her eyes were wide with the combined terror of being in this unknown place and possibly being stalked by some sable beast in the undergrowth. She shook her head, squinting as she peered into the shadows, willing herself to believe that something of that size could not flit about so quickly. Yes--it had to have been a trick of the light. Still standing in the echoes of her own shout, she yet lingered in doubt.

Taking a deep breath, she warily peered about for any other sign of movement, but her eyes only caught the back and forth sway of leaves disturbed by the breeze. The faint shivers of the undergrowth was almost akin to the shakes that accompany laughter, and she scowled. Taking an arrogant step forward to almost challenge the mysterious phantasm, she arched her neck to see deep into the muted glow of the forest. Nothing. She continued to march forward, trying in vain not to visibly show any alarm at every swinging vine.

The glimmer of sunlight through the petals and leaves of the canopy cast pale shadows of mauve and lime across her face, a now ethereal quality added to her angelic visage. Mutely she berated herself for being so frightened, and forced herself to take a confident few steps deeper amongst the trees. She looked to the serrated precipices of the mountains above for almost a higher power’s guidance, refusing to let her lips tremble, but her fists were clenched at her sides just the same. Beginning to feel at as much ease as she could in this strange place, her gait lengthened, arms swinging at her sides, honey-blonde hair swept back from her heart-shaped face. She reached out her hands to brush her fingertips across the abnormally smooth tree-trunks. The long grass whisked and tickled about her ankles, the occasional branch and fallen tree trunk needing to be ducked or jumped. She smiled in the warmth of the mid-morning sun, her current milieu much too peaceful for any anxious thoughts.

Finally at ease, it came as an even worse shock than before when the shadow rushed close enough to touch, but disappeared again just as quickly as it came. The only sign it had been there was the backlash of a flowering bush, small yellow petals floating in the air before they drifted to the ground. She gasped, stumbling backward as if struck, finding some solidity as her shoulders hit the trunk of a tree behind her. She groped about for something, anything to defend herself--a loose branch, or a rock--but when her fingers closed around a substantial bough, it jerked out of her grasp--alive--and held itself out of her reach.

Letting out a horrified half sob, half shriek, she turned and dashed pell-mell back the way she came, as if the small clearing would offer some form of refuge. Branches intentionally swung down to tangle in her hair, roots lifted to trip her up. Her breaths came in panic-stricken gasps, eyes wide, terrified, filling and brimming over with tears. The shadow whooshed by again and again, darting in to push her off balance, forcing her to fall to her knees more than once. The beauty of the cloudless aquamarine sky was lost on her as she ran on and on, unnoticing of the leaves and blossoms that had become trapped in her golden tresses.

Abruptly, a vast cliff-side reared as the forest ended--she had somehow missed the clearing--the mountain top invisible from this angle, clouds hiding it from view. She tried to climb anyhow, using any means possible to advance--knees, elbows, teeth--but to no avail. The soil slid away beneath her bloody palms, vines she tried to grab hold of slithering away under their own power. Climbing like an animal, she grunted and cried out, dirt smeared on one side of her face, her forearms scraped and bleeding. Where she was going, even exactly what she hoped to escape, she could not say, all that drove her being the mind-numbing terror that screamed, “Run!” Her breath came in ragged spurts, a desperate grab for a vine missing and sending her tumbling backward in a spray of dirt and loam. Mouth opening in an unvoiced scream of horror, she flew backwards into the waiting arms of the shadow.

Touch blistering and frigid at the same time, it grasped her wrists behind her back. She could practically hear her skin crackling and flaking off like a molting bird.
“Welcome,” the nefarious specter whispered, nuzzling into her hair, seeming to inhale the fear and disgust that rolled off her in waves. And simply by the loathsomely angelic resonance to its voice, she knew she was in Hell.





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