Heart of the Wood
The sinking autumn sun shifted through bare branches of the wood, casting playful rays on the peeling white bark of the Aspens, and painting a picturesque forest sunset that Malcome gladly soaked in. This had been his dream ever since he was young, to climb to the highest point of the wooded mountain range and watch the sunset. Malcome felt his spirits lighten as he looked across the magnificent scene before him. “Almost there,” he said to himself, “almost to the top.” Malcome had been trekking through the mountain forest for almost three days now, enjoying every minute of being among the wildlife and breathing the crisp, clean air. He was a lover of the outdoors, and of all the creatures that lived there, and was often teased when he was younger for his carefulness towards insects and small creatures that easily got underfoot. Once, poor Malcome was found crying over the accidental death of a pretty orange caterpillar that he had mistakenly stepped on while playing with his friends in the back yard. They didn’t understand Malcome’s distress, so they teased him for it, calling him “Bug Boy” and other rude names. Even now, being a tall, muscular man of 25, his friends still called him Bug Boy every now and then when he gets overly emotional over the loss of a butterfly.
Malcome reminisced as he set up his camp for the night, thinking back on all those memories of his childhood. It was a good one, he thought to himself as he sparked up a fire. As he watched the dancing flames, old images started playing in his mind of times that weren’t as nice as the ones he had been fondly daydreaming about. He felt his stomach drop as the bad memories came flooding back to him. No, he commanded, the past is the past now. Let it go. No use thinking about all that on such a beautiful night as this. Malcome shook his head, sandy hair bouncing. The sun had sunk so far beneath the trees, it was almost completely dark now. Yawning, Malcome stretched himself out on his sleeping bag, placing his forearms behind his head. He gazed up through the Aspen branches at the stary sky, his olive eyes taking in as much as they could. How lucky I am to be here. To be alive, he thought as he sighed. He listened to the breeze whistle through the white trees, the owls whooing as they came out to hunt, and as he dozed off, Malcome could have sworn he heard a soft voice singing the drowsy forest to sleep.
It's a horrible feeling. Being in the woods on a cloudy night, nothing around you but the looming trees and thick, unrelenting darkness. When every cracking twig or rustle of foliage makes your heart skip a beat. Makes you question if, in fact, you really are alone. Or if it's just your thoughts playing nasty tricks. But the worst feeling of all is knowing. When you come to the realization that the noises in the forest behind you aren't just little bunnies at play, or that the rustle of leaves above you isn't the wind. Because in the middle of the night the forest creatures are tucked away safe in their dens...hiding. Because there is no breeze tonight to make the leaves quiver like that. The worst feeling of all is knowing why every creature steals away to their holes well before sundown, and that you should have too. Because at night, it hunts. Sliding through the darkness. You can't see it. You can't run away. You can only feel it, hovering over your shoulder in the blackness, then a soft brush of ice cold air on your arm as it slips away when you cast a glance over your shoulder. It loves to play games in the dark. And none have ever won against it.