Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
A shadowy wind swept through the pines, shivering the trees with a cold they had not yet known. The creaking pines collided with one another in the freezing air. Snow from the bristles was prized off and carried into nothingness. The moon illuminated the snow with a sinister whiteness and cast dancing shadows across the pale canvas. At first the shadows played with one another, but as the night deepened and darkened, the dance became a dance of death. The shadows became entwined as one sentient being devouring the forest – darkness incarnate. The being swelled to the sound of the wind and the creaking timbers, to the beat of an ancient drum. A beat so primal and instinctive that all was consumed within the dance. All became one, and then there was nothing. Silence. Void.
Dawn broke in a distant land.
A man awoke on a dusty road, face down in the earth. His clothes tattered and torn, bloodstained and stiff. His face was encrusted, his lip burst and his nose crooked. He sat up, rigid and fatigued, and inspected his body. Bewildered, he arose from his sitting position, brushed the dirt from his clothing and set off unwittingly down the path – towards a destination. As he walked wearily on the path he tried to recall how he had ended up in the middle of a foreign land. A stranger, in a strange land. The road remained dusty. It meandered to and fro, round hillocks and small crystal streams teeming with trout and stickleback. He came to a river bank and perched himself upon a small rock. On the bank of the stream was a weeping willow, weeping for something. Its branches caressed the water with an elegant display of affection, a ballet in mourning. The sky was an eternal sapphire with scarce clouds scattered around, and the land was green and the fields golden in the sun. Trees swayed and shook their leaves in the breath of the summer day, the emerald green of the leaves and the soft pink of the cherry blossom highlighting the riches of the land. The warm, lingering air drained him, and he became drowsy. He slept by the river upon the bank. He continued on his search for any shelter, hostelry, inn or township.
Night fell silent and deep.
Darkness fell upon the earth. The trout ceased to jump and ripple the glassy surface water. In the twilight there was neither birdsong nor the sweet smell of grass and nectar. The weeping willow ceased her mourning and retired her gentle caress, instead she wept in fear. He continued down the road. With only the moonlight to guide his path, he became weary. He did not know what lay lurking in the shadows, watching his every footstep and movement. Forever watching. He imagined malicious eyes upon him. His pace quickened, as did his pulse and perception. The road dragged on forever. He saw no other mark of human life along the dusty trail, nor any sign of civilisation or building. The moon rose to its throne. The moon, deceptively sinister, reigned king of the nightfall. The man persisted down the road, determined to find something, anything. He was chasing waterfalls, trying to catch the shadows. The moon shone ever brighter, guiding him.
He travelled on, exhausted.
The road was unyielding to any sign or notation of civilisation. His mind and matter were exhausted; he could not walk any further, until the road ended on the edge of what seemed a forest. He was on all fours, gazing into the vast expanse of black that was in front of him. The forest loomed over him, pulling him in with gravitational forces, devouring the little morsel of human into the shadows, enveloping him. The man was too worn out to perceive that the forest was unsettling and ominous, and he clambered like an unwary and innocent infant into the void. The cool night air ambushed him. It was somewhat aggressive; it bit and scratched at the skin, pierced him like a thousand needles. All colour faded from the night forest and emerald trees and purple galaxies in the night faded to black. The colours did not run. He scrambled deeper into the forest, deeper into the everlasting darkness, past giant trees that did not possess leaves or any other indications of life. Only death and decay. Denser and darker. Denser and darker. The shadows stalked him, licking their lips. Savouring the meal yet to come.
The man appeared in a glade where to moon was directly overhead. Panting heavily, starving and thirsty he collapsed in the centre of the clearing. His chest began to hurt, clutching his chest where his heart was, writhing in pain. He heard a branch break from behind him. He jolted up, and stopped breathing – but his heart beat was all he could hear and the pain was all he could concentrate on. The thumping was loud, but the silence of the forest was louder. Not even a stray gust rustled the branches. All was silent, all was deep. He heard another break in the tree line, this time closer and louder, almost like the breaking of bones. He was sweating profusely, heart rate off the scale, senses acute. Still silence, but inside he was screaming out. Again he heard another break, closer, louder, faster. He heard whispers, faint whispers among the dead trees. The moon was bright directly above. Deadhead. He was too weak. A shadowy wind swept through the pines and started to dance. To dance. Devouring. The shadows twisted within him, corrupting his mind, distorting his vision and making him collapse in a bundle of rags on the forest floor. The shadows moves him, engulfing his very essence. The pain was unbearable but he could not cry out.
The wild wind blew, carrying darkness, then subsided.
Awaking at a time undefined, he rose from the ground, and snow began to drift down. He felt different, he felt heavier, like a burden had been placed upon him. Hours later, stumbling about the dark forest, he found what seemed like the continuation of the road he had once travelled. But this road was different. It was dark and the trees were bare and skeletal. All colours had faded and grey and ash became the sallow vibrancy. No birdsong filled the air. No trout leapt in the brook and the glassy surface remained untouched. Dead. Only murk and pestilence remained. The void was the silence, and the silence filled the void. He came to a pool, a barren and desolate pool. The gentle waves lapping the dead soil. He peered into his reflection. He saw himself. His eyes held neither colour nor life. Darkness had consumed him. Darkness incarnate.
Credit To: Benjamin Goodrich