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Bones and Trees

The forest is quiet at night, a peaceful realm that exists only in the dark. Leaves and pine needles blanket the coppice floor, a million dead souls resting in peace; the forest is their graveyard, a sacred place to lay forever, waiting for the, to break free from the oppressive trees they sprouted from and fall…fall…fall, falling into the opened arms of Death himself.

I like walking there at night. I go out alone, sneaking out my bedroom window after curfew without letting anyone know. If I did, they wouldn’t let me go. They think I’m crazy, that I’ll get myself killed one of these days. Nobody trusts me to do anything alone.

It’s so amazing out there without the presence of a single living person to put out the magical flame it lights inside me that I can’t resist the urge to go out every night. The stars shine like pinpricks of light through a thick, wool blanket, the sky penetrated by the wide berth of the trees that stretch up and up and up… And I’m strong there. In the forest, I am the strong one, the mighty one, not the weak fool everyone makes me out to be. I’m dominant, and with my lucky flashlight in hand, there’s not a single animal that would dare mess with me.

I rule over the world of the Dark Forest.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. The Invisible Ones call me a whimpering fool, an idiot incapable of anything, just like everybody tells me. They tell me that a kingdom under my rule would crumble within minutes, consumed by its own chaos.

In the darkness, it is easy to forget that the Invisible Ones aren't real.

With the stars as my witnesses, I traipsed through the forest, my feet following the beaten-down path I’d carved away many years ago. The moon hung bright and bloated above me, a swollen orb that could crash down to earth at any given point in time. Its luminescence breaks through the canopy of leaves and needles, a faint shimmer against the heavy blackness. My flashlight was more effective, slicing through the night like a butcher’s knife.

Minutes turned into hours as I walked in circles around the forest. I brushed my fingertips absentmindedly against the trees, the bark sometimes breaking off in brittle chunks. I would crush the bark between my fingers, clenching my teeth so hard I might have been afraid of chipping a tooth if my mind hadn't been buzzing with the sound of a thousand voices vying for my attention.

At home, when it was nearly impossible to deny reality, the Invisible Ones pestered me, sometimes for so long that I’d collapse from the roar of so many voices pounding against my skull. The forest was my only sanctuary, the repetitive rustle of leaves in the wind and the scuffle of my Converse shuffling through the dirt could drown them out, if only enough to allow my own thoughts to be heard.

If I kept my head perfectly straight, eyes aimed down at the ground and my feet, I wouldn’t be able to see them. Seeing is believing, and I clung onto the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” like a life raft in the middle of a raging rapid. If my eyes could not even make out a fuzzy image of their bodies, I could persuade myself that all the voices were mine. Even the slightest turn to the side, though, or the littlest tilt upwards, could bring the Invisible Ones into view, and my barricade of lies would come tumbling down into a pile of rubble and debris.

They stood a thousand or more strong, a mixed assortment of people. Some were short, others tall, while some were skinny and some were not. They were as pale as the morning sky right before sunrise, and they were as dark as the cruel world holding me captive. They were cold and formidable, yet they were also warm and inviting. The one and only attribute they all shared was their eyes.

Yellow, glowing orbs were contained in the orifices where human eyes should have been. They were the eyes of a cat, phosphorescent. The pupils were slits, barely discernible, staring endlessly at me. Not a single blink could disrupt their undying focus; they all bore steeled gazes that burned a hole through my soul, irreparable even by time itself.

The mind is quite a funny thing, you see, a trickster, always playing jokes on its host. It has allowed me to masquerade as a sane man, but has failed to notify me that nobody has bought the disguise, save for myself. It plays with me, a big long game of cat and mouse, obscuring the fine line between reality and imagination until the two bleed together into a puddle of deceit.

Most nights, they stand still and staring, the only muscles twitching in their frozen faces being the ones that control their wriggling, blubbering lips. Tonight, though, was different. The crisp cool air blew incessantly, and I shivered alongside the barren trees, tugging my fleece jacket closer to my freezing body. The clouds, painted a light, fluffy grey, rolled over the sky, enveloping the silvery moonlight and plunging the forest into a frosted gloom. Suddenly, the trees resembled towering, skeletal figures grasping for me, rather than the bare frames left vulnerable for the oncoming winter.

As I stumbled headlong into the mist of my beloved haven, the Invisible Ones began to inch forward, their golden eyes never wavering. The woods were silent, save for the slight crunch of my footsteps on the heavy coppice floor; their voices were silent, as terrifying as a laconic rage.

Scared out of my wits, I ran deeper and deeper into the forest, tripping over autumn debris and smacking my face into low hanging branches. The Invisible Ones – demons that haunted only me, remaining anonymous and nonexistent to the rest of the world – faced no such problems, their lithe, graceful movements chasing me off the path and into parts of the forest I had never before explored.

I sprinted into a clearing, collapsing in a heap of limbs as my lungs gave out, gasping for life-sustaining air. They followed relentlessly in that slow, controlled gait, their eyes devoid of emotion.

My brain fought to escape, recoiling from the thought that this was the end, that I would die alone. Any such effort, though, would have been futile. By now, they had circled around and formed a ring of silently creeping figures; their mouths were shut so tightly that they turned white. I tried to scream for help, calling out to the celestial beings above to take mercy on my soul. I prayed for someone to save me, but nobody came answering to the quiet squeak that barely disturbed the air.

As if drawn to my misery, an owl landed on a branch across from me, those big, bulging eyes seeming to mock me. I glared, albeit a bit teary-eyed, at the beast that dared to laugh in the face of his queen, only to realize how tiny and insignificant I was. Like water cascading down a waterfall, it suddenly dawned on me that it was not the flashlight that frightened the animals away from me; no, it was more than that. In fact, it was the reek of failure and incompetence that drove them off, like the air of unworthiness that surrounded me was contagious and they might catch my afflicting disease.

They were right, I thought helplessly. They were all right. Everybody – Mom, Dad… the Invisible Ones…

The forest is quiet at night, a peaceful realm that exists only in the dark. Leaves and pine needles blanket the coppice floor, a million dead souls resting in peace; the forest is their graveyard, a sacred place to lay forever, waiting for the, to break free from the oppressive trees they sprouted from and fall…fall…fall, falling into the opened arms of Death himself.

In that moment, I was just another leaf committing a suicidal leap from my tree, tumbling headfirst into the face of death as the nightmares of my mind’s own creation fell upon me, tearing my soul from my beating heart. I gave into them as my blood ran into the river and my flesh became the petals of a macabre rose. My eyes heart fluttered away as a butterfly; my eyes squirmed and shimmied into fat, juicy earthworms; my bones fell apart and encircled the tree trunks, building them up like the infrastructure of a skyscraper.

That night, I became one with the forest that, once upon a time, harbored my safety and sanity.



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