Is this what I have been seeking? Or is it an echo, a remnant?
I entered the woods from a warm morning Spring sunbath on a path with a hint of the dew deep from the forest. In the light toward noon the trees played hide and seek with the ferns while I stepped lightly across small rocks along this new trail I had just found, which was the reason I was there. The rocks were gathering in piles to discuss rock business, and the trees (farther in, now) stood silent and listened. Paper beats rock. I grinned and wondered if perhaps there were some scissors about so that I might snip off a few of the little redcaps squatting underneath an old once-tree, uprooted and rotten to spongy marrow. EAT ME, they said, and suddenly I wasn't sure I hadn't already. The trees returned my glances with eager smiles. It was going to be a wet day in the forest, what began as a bright morning walk, as the clouds came floating eerily down the path and through everything as though nothing were solid at all. The whole world seemed a ghost and I crouched down with the mushrooms and gathered them up in my arms. EAT ME, they cried, as they struggled and began biting my arms. I threw them and shook them off and fled deeper into the gray maze.
The rocks whispered together in the corners of my eyes. TREASURE, one said. GEODE. The path grew narrower, and the trees stepped in front of me. I pressed on until a slow-rising horror became a conscious fact: the path was gone. My arms were itching. A small pool of water reflected the panic in my eyes, and the frog croaked beside it FLY FLY FLY and fell into the glittering black surface. I had a vision of pebbles rolling into the water, a few at first, and then a fist-sized rock, and a larger one just small enough to lift, and a boulder---the kind that keep watch atop mountains---and the water yet was calm. The frog, from the bottom, flattened by the weight, let out of its rubber ring mouth a bubble, and the mirror shattered into a thousand concentric cries. I turned from the pool. FLIGHT, it said as I left.
The fog got thicker and the trees got thinner, my pace slowing as a wave of nausea overcame me. I felt suddenly sick and frail, as though my skin were going to separate from my bones and echo against the walls of a huge cave. Everything looked small and the sun twisted its way onto my face. The fish flew past my fevered cheeks. In the blue sky it almost seemed I was standing at the bottom of an ocean of air, and they were schooling around me. Between my toes I could still feel the lush wet forest, but when I looked down, I saw only a rolling fog, and when I looked up again, the sun was slipping away and the trees were laughing at me. I ran with tears in my eyes and the branches tore at my clothes.
There was something dark in the forest. It was darker than fog, and higher than the trees, and I came up to its rough, studded exterior. Inside it made the sound of slow digestion and moans or wails. I stooped to enter a small arched tunnel, the only entrance. Mud stained bones huddled at the base of the wall. It went on for a ways, turning abruptly and skirting an inscrutable void, then opening into a modestly sized torch-lit room. In the center was a stone slab, and draped across it a long pink dress. In the dress curled the form of a snake, and beside it a looking glass. I took the glass and beheld myself for the first time since this morning. Something was different, and it wasn't the water of the forest or the mud or my tattered clothing. Gently, I lifted the dress and the snake slid out from among the folds and curved away into the dimness. The fabric was soft, and my eyes fierce in reflection.