“Never go into the forests, child,” my mother used to say to me when I was little. “Horrible things lie within those forests. Horrible, horrible things.”
“What kinds of horrible things, mother?” I’d ask in return.
“In the forests lie fear incarnate. For anything that you fear, that any of us fear, you may find it embodied in the forests.”
“Has anyone ever been into the forests?”
“Yes, child, many have tried to brave the forests, hoping to find something on the other side.”
“Has anyone ever made it through?”
“I don’t know.”
“Has anyone ever returned?”
At this question my mother would sit pensively for a moment, her expression becoming darker, more fearful and depressive. “A few folks, yes.”
“What did they say? What had they seen?” I would ask excitedly.
“Rarely did they say anything,” mother would say as she looked away from me, down at her lap. “They were changed men. Not all lasted long back in the town.”
“Did their fears find them, mother?”
“Fear always finds you.” she’d say as she stood up. The conversation always ended here.
Mother and I had this conversation many times over the course of our years together. It always went the same way, always ending with that final phrase. “Fear always finds you”. Those words haunted me as a child.
In a way, it also inspired me. I lived in a small village, very small, though I never had other villages to compare it to. It was surrounded by thick forest, massive silvery trees fencing us in. From one side of the village you could see the trees growing next to the other side as clearly as if they were the trees next to you. Around the perimeter of our land we kept our crops, and our houses were condensed to the center. The number of villagers never went higher than 75; births were usually followed closely by deaths. Children went to school during the day and stayed inside for most of the rest of their time while their parents worked the farms.
This modest life was never quite enough for me though. I felt as though I were in a box, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. The town was my prison, the forest the bars. I was never satisfied with what I was told in school. My curiosity could not be contained. It was always, “How could we know anything about anything if all we had ever known was this small patch of land?”; “What had come before then?”; “What was in the forests that kept us from expanding, from leading better lives?”
Alas, my teachers never knew. My mother was the only one who would give me anything regarding the forests, and even she gave me so little. I knew not what she meant by “horrible things” or “fear incarnate”. I had to be satisfied with what I had been given. Going into the forests was taboo – everyone knew that. And yet I still wanted to see for myself.
When I reached the age of 17, I could no longer wait. It had been another night of quizzing my mother about the forests, again ending with “fear always finds you”. Exasperated, I ran to my room and started to plot my escape. It was a simple plan – run away. That’s really all I could do. No one here sympathized with my curiosity. The only way to accomplish anything was to go into the forest myself. Maybe there was something on the other side of the forest. Maybe even more people! This was such an exciting prospect to me, especially seeing as how I had grown so weary of the people there long ago. If this didn’t pan out, I could always just turn back to the village. “Mother said people before had made it back,” I told myself, “and as I seem to be a bit more competent than any of the people here, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
I grabbed a sack of some vegetables and, in the middle of the night while mother was asleep, I snuck out. The village typically goes to sleep at sundown; nevertheless, I made my way towards the forest with extreme caution. Reaching the edge of the crop area, I turned my complete attention to the woods. The seemingly impenetrable mass of trees was striking, almost freezing me in place. I realized with a jolt that I was scared: scared of the darkness before me, scared of the unknown, scared of the trees themselves and all they symbolized.
I thought back to my mother’s words. “For anything that you fear, that any of us fear, you may find it embodied in the forests.” My fear was only reasonable, I thought. This is unknown territory. If I fear the forest itself, what else could find me within it?
“‘Fear always finds you’,” I muttered to myself. “Bah.”
With that, I marched into the forest.
It was a bizarre feeling at first, being entirely surrounded by trees. Only ever had I seen them from one side, enclosing my village. I trekked onwards through them, trying to keep myself going in one direction, only able to see by the light of the moon. Even that light was largely hidden by the thick canopy above me that seemed to stretch on to touch the sky itself. The only sounds I heard were that of my breath and my footsteps.
After what I took to be an hour of walking, I decided to stop and sit by a tree. I realized that in my anger earlier that night, I had forgotten to eat supper. I pulled out some food and stared into the darkness around me. There was no movement, no more sound at all. It was surreal, serene but ominous.
“‘Fear always finds you’,” I whispered to myself again. “I’m doing fine so far, thank you very much mother.” My fear of the forest had abated over the course of my walk. “It’s just a bunch of trees,” I said, fixing my gaze on a tree about 10 feet in front of me, where a beam of moonlight was falling through the dark.
Suddenly something caught my eye directly to the left of that tree. I could hardly make it out, as it was still dark, but something in the darkness had moved. I jumped up to my feet, brandishing my meal like a weapon pointed at the dark spot.
“Hello?” I called out, “Is someone there? Have you come looking for me?”
There was no more movement. I stood there for a few minutes, completely frozen, waiting for a response. I eventually resolved that it had been nothing – perhaps wind hitting a lower tree branch – and so I moved to sit back down.
As I was turning back around there was another movement, larger this time. I whipped back around to glimpse it; something there had moved closer, to be standing at the tree in front of me. I still could not see it. I flattened myself against the tree I was on, breathing heavily now. Timidly, after a moment, I spoke: “Who, or what, is there?”
The shape moved closer to me, stopping just before being past the tree. It shifted itself so that, slowly, it emerged into the moonlight. I could only see its face – if it can so be called. What I had thought was darkness concealing it was actually just the thing’s flesh, dark as the night itself, if not darker, pulled tightly around a slender rectangular skull. It bore three glazen, pearly white eyes set like a triangle above a lipless mouth, stretching as far around it’s skull as I could see with flat yellowed teeth. The lack of lips gave it the impression of smiling at me, though whether or not it really was looking at me I could not quite tell. A thin two-fingered hand stretched itself in my direction through the light. The thing made a noise like a high pitched laugh through its closed teeth.
I dropped my food and bolted around my tree, running in the opposite direction. The laughter grew louder and more pronounced as I heard a whooshing sound from behind me. Looking back I could see it sprinting after me, running at a ludicrous speed on what I could just make out to be two gangly legs supporting a gangly body. I ran as fast as I could, dodging between trees trying to lose it, but it always sounded so close behind me, like it could just reach out with its long black hands and snatch me. When I looked to my sides I saw it running beside me, never looking forward but staring at me. It never overtook me, but matched my pace exactly and seemingly with ease.
I ran for as long as I could and as quickly as I could. Finally I could run no more. I slid to my knees on the dirty forest floor, holding my head up, screaming at the canopy above me. When I had run out of air and had to stop this screaming, I heard the thing saunter up to me from behind; with surprising strength it gripped me with both hands, lifting me off the ground and turning me to face it. I struggled to fight it but my energy was gone. Its laughter grew louder and louder, deafening – but then suddenly stopped. I stared into its eyes. Slowly it opened its horrifying maw to reveal an inside as dark as the rest of it, tongueless, like a void. As I began to scream again, it shoveled me in.
I awoke with a jolt at my tree, where I was still clutching my meal with both hands now. It was still dark. With a sigh of relief I took a bite out of my food. It had all been a dream, thank goodness. I was safe.
I turned to my right to reach for the sack with the rest of my food in it. Less than an inch from my face was that same pitch black face, all three eyes widened and gazing into mine. I yelled and threw myself backwards, landing on my back in the moonlight. Before I could get back up it was on top of me, mouth already widened this time. It screeched laughter as its huge teeth closed around my head.
Sometimes I wake up again at that tree. Other times I wake up somewhere else in the forest, or already running from it. Once or twice I’ve been on the fringes of the forest, gazing out at the other side, when it jumps from above me and swallows me, starting everything over again. It’s always the same monster chasing me, with those pearly eyes and teeth and skin like the night sky.
I thought that I would be fine in the forest. “For anything that you fear, that any of us fear, you may find it embodied in the forests.” I thought that I was fearless, that I would be safe in the forest. How could a fear of the forest persist within the forest itself?
I was wrong. My fear stands just as strong, if not stronger here. It’s that monster. I struggle with it over and over. I never escape. The monster always finds me.
Fear always finds me.
Credit To – Felix A.