There were leaves littered about the forest floor, huddled around the trunks of trees which were swollen and splitting with
She looked ahead; the woodland seemed to stretch on eternally. She looked upward; the sky was barely distinguishable through the dense foliage and shallow branches that jutted upward from the leaden trees and into the heavens.
She took one careful step and then another; and, she continued her unhurried cadence in one direction.
The sun seemed to be brightest in that direction, though the spiny veins of tree limbs creeping overhead prevented her from knowing the exact time of day. She took one portly breath. And, after detecting the unusually warm, aromatic moisture rising up from the soil, she decided that it was now early evening and that she was walking west. Catherine pulled her soiled garments closer to her body and hurried through the forest.
Judging by the thin layer of fog rapidly creeping across the forest floor, she presumed that she was fast approaching a body of water. That was not a good sign.
She looked up at the sky once again and could only perceive a sparse haze of silvery light spilling through the trees where the sun should have been.
Night was coming more quickly than she had expected, or had she gone so deeply into the forest that she could no longer discern between the times of day?
Catherine stopped dead in her tracks and spun around once. She didn't think that she had spun significantly enough to become dizzy, but she was now lightheaded--she needed to rest. She stooped down on the forest floor and held her head for a few moments. Then, deciding that she could waste no more time, Catherine opened her eyes.
She thought that maybe she was hallucinating. Across from her, covered in a shallow grave of dead leaves, she could faintly make out the shape of a body. Dare she take a look?
Reluctantly, Catherine skulked across the forest floor on hands and knees across to the incongruous mass of decaying leaves and moss. Once she was close enough, she had confirmed that it was indeed a body.
A heavy, black boot sprouted out from underneath the shallow grave--heavy, yes, but too small to be on a man's foot. She presumed that the body belonged to a woman. Catherine, being more reluctant than brave, quickly surmised that she should find her way out of the forest before whatever madman, who attacked the poor woman before her, had come back.
Catherine jumped up quickly and began walking, hurriedly, in the direction of the dying sun. The closer and closer she felt she moved towards the light, the thicker the forest trees spiraled and twisted into each other's monochromatic bodies.
Once she had gotten far enough away, she stopped again and looked around once more. She had no earthly idea where she was, but she had hopes that walking west would lead her back to the village. It shouldn't have been taking so long to reach the outskirts of the wood, and now, Catherine was becoming frightened.
She mulled over whether she should continue walking when, again, her eyes caught sight of something--a rather sketchy-looking pile of crumpled, decrepit leaves piled atop a mass of--something indistinguishable.
Catherine's skin prickled. She wasn't normally easily scared, but the situation was too gruesome for her to ignore. Once again, she made her way over to the misshapen mass of leaves. Yet again, she noticed the rustic, worn, disheveled, black boot jutting out from underneath the foliage.
It was the same body... But, how could this be? Didn't she just desert the body a few hundred yards back? At the grim realization, Catherine briskly turned on one heel and marched away, trying to catch the sun before it had become completely obscured by the thickening fog gathering overhead.
As she walked, she thought intensely. She thought sickening thoughts: of madmen loose in the darkening forest, searching for lost souls to stalk and slaughter at will. Now fearful, Catherine's swift marching quickly sped into a jog--no, erupted into a run--a fierce gallop through the dim forest.
Her mind ran wild with decease and decay--wraiths and phantoms creeping amongst the miasmic fog. A lunatic, tongue lolling around wildly in his loose mouth, filled with spirits and unnatural things, out to spill her young blood over the moist earth.
She ran through the forest with a head so filled with madness and with thoughts so filled with depravity that she scarcely noticed the direction of her own two feet. Soon, she clumsily tripped and landed--on what would have been her face, had she not rolled so violently--on her back.
Catherine, dazed and befuddled, scrambled up to her knees and wiped her eyes. She looked behind herself and to the left and to the right; then, she let out a nervous chortle. Surely it had all been in her head. There was nothing to worry about.
She readied herself to stand and noticed something yet again. It was huddled underneath a poorly cluttered mass of dead leaves--the
leaves had been disturbed--someone was there.
Catherine walked over to the poorly covered mass and quickly noticed the boot--the black boot that was too small to be a man's. This time, she did not run. She knelt down over the hideous slump and began to sweep the leaves away.
It was definitely a woman--Catherine uncovered a portion of the woman's dress. It was black and portions of it was covered in disheveled frills and lace--much like her dress, had it been covered in dirt. She continued to uncover the lifeless body--an arm, thin and wan and speckled with black soil, rested atop the body's breathless chest.
The neck, lovely and pale--thin and delicate, was wrapped with black lace--like Catherine's neck had been.
She reached up and felt the black ribbon clinging loosely to her lean neck. Could it be--? Desperate yet also terrified, Catherine curiously uncovered the face.
Gently, she swept the blackened leaves away--no... It couldn't be... The body was hers.
Catherine screamed so shrilly that she was sure that she was still alive! She could feel the hot blood coursing through her tiny green veins! But what's this? Her blood suddenly burned with an icy flame--she could feel her veins constricting--her lungs were swelling but collecting no air!
Gasping for oxygen, Catherine threw herself on the ground, beating the floor of the forest, begging for air in a breathless rage. Desperately, she beat on the corpse and soon, she could feel her lungs filling with air.
Fitfully, Catherine collapsed atop the body and wept. What foul play was this? Surely she couldn't be dead! She could walk for goodness' sake. She could speak; she could scream! Was this some bad joke and were the bodies all wax dolls...? It had to be some distasteful, elaborately staged joke.
Satisfied with her explanation, Catherine pulled away from the body--but it held onto her. It wouldn't let her go. She yanked once more, but the body only seemed to pull her deeper down. Catherine didn't like the joke. She didn't like the forest. She wanted to go home...
"Home?" she heard a voice say, and looked around desperately for the voice's owner.
She found it. It was a man in robes--or a creature, she couldn't tell. His face was transparent--covered with a large hood and his clothes were rags--black rags stained with dark brown soil at the hem.
"This is your home now," he said.
"It can't be! This is a mistake!"
"Oh? Do you know who I am?" he said menacingly.
"Of course I do," she replied tersely.
"Then this can be no mistake!" he hissed. "Only my intended know me."
"Did you kill me?" she asked bravely.
He shook his head.
"Then surely there is a mistake!" she argued. "Ifyoudidn't kill me, then I mustn't be dead!"
"I didn't kill you," he said, bowing his great, black hood. "He did." He pointed behind her then added, "Or he will, soon..."
There was a man walking towards her now. She recognized him--it was her lover, Seth.
He looked pained and bitter all at once. He stood silently over the inanimate body for a moment.
Her spirit whispered his name and the corpse's eyes--her eyes--they twitched! She was sure that she was still alive! She just had to figure out how to-- reconnect...
Seth knelt down over her body. "We had fun, didn't we?"
She smiled to herself, slowly feeling her fleeting spirit mesh once again with her body. The strange man in the hood watched silently.
"But now, it's time to say goodbye," Seth said, brushing a speck of decayed foliage off of her face.
"Huh?" Catherine said confusedly.
Then, Seth scooped her up into his arms; her spirit was scarcely aware of what was happening. She flailed unnaturally out of her body. The man in the hood skulked along and followed behind them...
Catherine felt tired and soon, everything went dark. Her lungs, her nose, her chest--they burned. She couldn't breathe... Where was she? Where was Seth? Why was she so cold?
She was now weightless, floating up through the darkness. And she soon found herself slumped under a tree. Across from her again was the hooded man.
"You've come to show me the way home now?" she asked.
"This is your home. You're no longer with the living."
"But, I saw it with my own eyes! Seth--!"
"--Buried you!" he hissed, pointing at the freshly stirred earth underneath her.
"But--" she swallowed an immense sob that tasted of toxic mold and moist, black soil.
"--If you should run, you will always find your way back here. This will be your home," the hooded wraith whispered, fading into the smoky fog. "Eternally."
© Copyright 2016 Jennifer Brighton. All rights reserved.