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Consumption of the Heart
There was no hope left for me. I knew that. I could sense that I had come to the end. The darkness that surrounded me was embalming. It was eerily quiet; the only sound to be heard was my own breathing. The pale moonlight filtered through the twisted black trees, bare in the chill autumn weather, which loomed menacingly over me as I ran through the forest. The mossy, earthy forest air blew past me. Dark shadows swirled around me. Snaking inky branches writhed in the wind. Burning adrenaline coursed through my veins; blood pulsing through every inch of my body. Fear was the only thing that kept me moving. I knew what they wanted. They wanted me. My heart.
I could feel them close behind me. It felt like their outstretched fingers were grazing across my hair, my legs, my neck, every inch of exposed skin, grabbing at my t-shirt, clawing at me, even though I knew I was ahead of them. 'Time is running out,' I thought. 'I’m never coming back; I’m never coming home.'
My eyes desperately scanned the forest around me, searching for somewhere to hide. It was difficult to see anything in the deep blue night. There were a few small, slimy boulders… a fog-filled ravine… a small trickling stream… 'Yes! Perfect,' I thought as I spotted a huge, ancient fallen tree covered in a thick blanket of moss. I leapt over it.
Of course, there was no point in trying to hide from the heart-eaters. I knew it was no use, but I had to fight. I couldn’t just let them devour my heart, consume it like it was never mine to begin it. I needed to defend my heart, no matter how futile it would be. As I watched them wind their way lithely through the coiling trees at an enviously fast pace, I planed my next move, ready to spring into a sprint again any second.
These creatures, these heart-eaters, had always seemed more of a myth than a reality, but, as I looked at the mass of monsters in front of me, nothing had ever looked so real. A story had been in the news about them just the other day. There was a young farm boy only miles away who had, apparently, witnessed these creatures devour the heart of a cow in a field as he watched out his kitchen window. However, most people took crop circles more seriously than this story and simply ignored it, dismissing it as a colorful tale from overly imaginative child. I, unfortunately, now knew that he had been telling the truth.
As they approached, I was able to really see them for the first time. There were both men and women, slender and exquisitely youthful. Their irises were a captivating shade of pale violet red that somehow found radiance even in the darkness of the night. Deep crimson roses were scattered their golden hair. Their perfect snow-white skin was luminous in the silvery light of the full moon. Entirely glowing, they looked more like angels in a renaissance painting than wicked, heart-eating monsters. They were made even more insidious by their enchanting beauty. If only they were angels.
“Sophie,” I heard them call in harmonic voices that were so sweet and melodic that they sounded surreal. “You can’t hide from us, Sophie.”
'How do they know my name?' I thought. Undoubtedly, these things were much more than mere humans. I could never stand a chance against these creatures. They advanced toward me relentlessly, searching every inch of land. I could see the desire in their frightening eyes as they floated around the forest. I was completely repulsed and absolutely helpless. I tried not to imagine it, but the image came anyway - the monsters with my heart in their hands. The center of my entire being, from which every emotion flourished, being consumed, devoured, eaten away. My blood staining their palms, their teeth. My life on their fingers and in their mouths and then gone forever.
I had heard many people say that before you die your life flashes before your eyes. I was grateful that this wasn’t true for me. In this, my last moment, I didn’t want to recall every tear shed, every wrong done, every regret, every unattained wish. Instead, a single perfect moment flitted through my memory:
Caleb and I were just outside this very forest that had become my graveyard. It was only a few days ago, but from where I was now it seemed like forever. We had decided to secretly drive up to his parents’ cottage in Northern Michigan and take a long weekend away from the monotony of high school. The smell of freesia filled the unseasonably warm air, drifting over from the delicate purple flowers in the small cottage garden. Beneath my feet, the silky emerald grass grew darker as the sunlight faded and day turned to dusk. The golden October leaves drifted down all around us as we leaned against the trunk of a large oak tree next to the glittering lake. The night was completely silent. It felt like the air was electrified as I stared into his distinctive hazy aqua eyes.
Something else caught his attention and pulled his eyes away from mine. I followed his gaze to stare up at the night sky. The stars were falling - a meteor shower. He grabbed my gently around my waist and pulled me against his body, I couldn’t help but smile. I reached my hand up and ran my fingers through his soft, copper colored hair that seemed to be in constant disarray. He ran his fingertips lightly across my cheek. It was such a simple touch, but the way it made me feel was stunning, like nothing else. The instant was so intense; I wanted it to last for eternity. It was like being swept away in a powerful ocean current - waves of ecstasy washing over my entire being. My heart, utterly consumed with such indescribable euphoria that I had never felt before, was all his and always would be. I had never felt more alive in all my life than I did in this one moment.
“What are you thinking about, Sophie?” Caleb asked me softly as he stared deeply into my eyes.
“Just about how happy I am to be here with you,” I replied. I had never been able to say anything less than the absolute truth to Caleb.
“Really?” He smiled his breathtaking smile. Always charming.
“I’d be happy anywhere with you, Caleb.” I was completely spellbound by his eyes that seemed to dance like water in the starlight.
“That’s funny,” he said as he drew me in even closer, wrapping his arms more tightly around me.
“What?” I said, searching his face and starting to get a bit offended.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” he whispered in my ear. The words, the sensation, his voice sent shivers running up and down my spine. My breath came out in a gasp as the small amount of space between his lips and mine suddenly closed. The air pulsed with energy. The waves of emotion seemed to grow stronger with each passing second. I knew that I was hopelessly and endlessly in love with him.
Inevitably, the moment in my head ended and my mind had to return from the flawless memory back to the cold, bleak forest and deadly creatures that were seeking my heart. This was an ending to our weekend that I could never have imagined. I carefully peeked up from behind the fallen tree and stifled a sob, seeing the ominous creatures coming toward my inexorably.
I couldn’t avoid the truth of this hopeless situation. My life was soon to be over at the dreadfully young age of seventeen. I was wrought with emotion as I thought of all the things that I would never get to see, all the things I would never get do, all the people I would never see again. Just hours ago, I thought my future was so concrete. I never questioned whether I would see Caleb again as I silently crept out of the cottage, trying not to wake him. I would never see him again. Ever. But I there was no time for tears now, so I quickly wiped them away.
I couldn’t hide any longer. My heart was pounding. Even if these creatures were human, I was sure anyone could hear my furiously beating heart right now. My doom was quickly impending. There were so many more of these heart-eaters than I first realized, I had to fight back rising hysteria. They were countless! It seemed like they filled the entire forest in front of me. They would soon overtake me, and they would consume my heart. This sinister fate was mine.
I didn’t know what would happen after I died. I had never thought it would happen so soon. I always figured I still had time. Time to spend with Caleb, to experience all the things most teenagers get to experience. I had only just found him. There were so many things I still wanted to say to him. I clung to the smallest thread of hope in the back of my mind, the little bit of me that always held faith even though it was clear now that my time was up.
Despite the voice that told me to keep fighting because I just might be able to make it out of this forest alive, I wondered where I would go after I died. Maybe my soul was all wrapped up in my heart and it would just disappear with it. My only wish was that in death I would somehow eventually find my way back to Caleb. Nevertheless, I wasn’t the kind of person to just give in. It was a shot in the dark, but if I was even going to try to save myself, I needed to take the chance now.
I took a deep breath and prepared for what I would do next, savoring the fresh air, the smell of dirt, the distinctive smell of forest. Who knew if I’d ever have the chance to appreciate it ever again? I slipped off my sneakers as quietly as I was able to, cursing every twig that broke with my movements, and threw them both in opposite directions as far away as I could. Praying that I had created a sufficient distraction, I quickly turned and started running as hard as I could and didn’t bother to look back, not caring about the searing pain in the soles of my feet as the sharp rocks cut through the soft, bare flesh. This pain would be nothing compared to the pain that I would soon have to endure, after all.
Why on earth did I decide to go for a walk in the woods in the middle of the night alone? I figured I would just get some fresh air, take a short walk in the woods for a few minutes, and then return to the cottage to fall back asleep in Caleb’s arms. At least it was me that was going to die, not him. I was thankful for that. He was more precious to me than I ever thought a person could be. Why couldn’t I have just stayed in the cottage with him, safe and protected? If only I could go back to Caleb, if only I stare into his ethereal, sea colored eyes endlessly.
As I ran as fast as I ever had, all I could hear was my pulse pounding in my ears. The forest was nothing but a blur of darkness. No one could possibly save me now. I was on my own, entirely alone. I ran for my life, and for the future that I so desperately wanted.
Suddenly, my running ceased. I let out a shattering scream as I felt an arm grab me firmly around my waist and pull me back against his body.
There was no hope left for me. I knew that. But I turned around anyway - just to see the face that promised me the end.
If what I saw next was real or if I was dreaming, hallucinating, driven insane, or maybe already dead, I couldn’t say; but when I looked at the face of whatever had me in his grasp, I was surprised to see that his eyes were the most beautiful and familiar shade of hazy blue-green.