I found myself alone and lost in a dark forest, which was twisted and bent in strange ways, such that the eye became lost in the maze of brambles and thorns. It was like a dim night here, though the sun blazed hot and fiery far overhead. The tall twisted knots of trees, though their bases stood far apart, kept the light and warmth from reaching the forest floor. The area between the trees was filled with twisted growths of thorns or patches of parched soil. It was eerily silent here, lacking of the happy chatter of birds and the sound of nuts being cracked by squirrels. I stood for a moment, and listened. Nothing. As I stood, looking slowly 'round, the scuff of my boots on the barren soil and the rustle of my heavy wool sweater penetrating the crystalline silence with unbearable loudness.

My heart froze solid in my chest, fear rose up in my belly. Loneliness struck at my soul. How had I come to this place? Had my unschooled blundering slowly brought me here? So slowly that I never noticed the change until it was complete? It did not matter. The fear and solitude seeped through my body, twisted fingers brushing against my consciousness. I felt I had to run, to do something, anything to escape the crushing fear and solitude that now took grip on my soul.

I ran for what seemed like hours, till my chest was lit with fire like that of the sun which I knew stood waiting overhead but which I could not see and could not hope to reach. My legs were melting, the muscles, barely used till now, were turning to jelly. My sweater I had long since discarded, it lay back alone the path from whence I had come, a sweaty crumple of wool in the fruitless dirt. I collapsed in a heap, quivering all over, fighting to quench the fire in my lungs, fighting for oxygen to fuel it.

My mouth became like the desert, barren and swollen with thirst, and I gasped at the cold dirt pressed against my face. It began to fill my mouth and nose, more with every desperate breath. I had run so long. The forest had changed little, but night was descending. The enveloping fear and horror grew worse, closing tighter around my soul as would a noose around my neck.

The light faded away, and horror gripped my brain like a fever. I could run no longer, my body lay in ruin. My mind was cracking, and as the last light faded from above, the brambles grew thick, thorns grew long and sharp, gorging themselves on the darkness. My mind shattered, the millions of pieces floating like motes of dust to rest in the base of my skull.

A cacophony of noise rose then, to torment my frozen soul. Ravens and owls, strange cats, spiders and crickets, creatures of all sorts. My ears bled at the onslaught. Then upon my body did these beings descend, tearing it to bits, and quarrels broke out over the meaty parts. My soul leaked from the stinking wreak, thawing, but not warming, on the ground now covered with weeds and nature's most potent poisons.

Lacking mind or body, being only essence, freed my soul from the tortures and terror around me, but darkness lurked in my soul as well. And it was consumed, my soul, evaporating in a nuclear fire of darkness.

Peace? At last.

I found myself alone and lost in a dark forest, which was twisted and bent in strange ways, such that the eye became lost in the maze of brambles and thorns. And so it went, for as long as I could remember. I was born, consumed, utterly destroyed, and born again.

Something changed with this day. A faint, unrecognizable scent wafted from somewhere beyond my perception. My dead curiosity arose, awakened by the smell, and I tried to find the source of the scent. Light faded and fear once more took me. I was so despaired at not finding the source of the odor, that I slumped to the ground, not running, not doing anything. My stomach grew weak, I was pale and thirsty, and my mind became dull like a knife left in the elements, uncared for, unloved. But I was sure I heard it, the faint sound of footsteps. I couldn't care, it was as if I was already dead. I left myself to misery.

A voice grated in my sore skull like a file against rough old wood. I sat in silence, fear and loneliness gripping my tongue like a vice. A hand I felt then, laid upon my chest, and warmth flooded my soul. Fear withered and died.

"Too long have you been hiding in this wood of yours. You must reclaim your place in the world."

"My wood?" The sound of my own voice startled me. It felt strange to speak again. My mind softened, and delicate crystal faded into something tougher.

"You created this place. You hide here. No one else."

Confusion flitted across my mind, a vague understanding. "What?"

The wrinkles on the man's face and the long, unkempt beard of white spoke of great age in this man. He was nimble and light of foot, but pain lurked in his eyes. His face spoke of great sorrow. "I am part of who you are. You must come from this place, face your real fears, your real reality. You can't let yourself die every night anymore. You can't hide. Come from this place."

"I run as far I can, but I get nowhere. How can I possibly leave here?"

"You can't run from here. You must accept your reality. Free yourself. Grieve your wife and son. Open your soul and leave this."

My mind fell over itself. Then the memories flooded back, and tears stained my face. I knew then, I remembered. As my tears fell upon the dry ground, my tears of grief and sorrow, my world changed. Sun shone upon my head, and I raised my face to drink in the sweet light. I stood now in a garden, green grass growing beneath my feet, apple trees swaying in the breeze. Birds flew about, signing merrily, and water flowed in a brook, meandering through the garden.

"It's always been your creation. You hid yourself from the pain you felt, but you found only torment and fear."

White light suddenly flooded my view, and faded to white ceiling tiles. I felt immobilized on my back, and I tried to move.

"Nurse! He's awake! He squeezed my hand!"

This is a short story I wrote a long time ago.

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