Grim Quietude: A Short Story – Part 1 (Maybe the only part … we’ll see)

A volt of inspiration desperate to escape my mind from the confines of a dream where it should have stayed, the smoky, still, quiet real–how did I end up here? I’ve been walking for hours, or has it been days?

That face, that marred grotesque mouth pinched into a grimacing smile. I can’t shake it. It’s following me still, I know it is.

Tucker, Anna, I wanted to head up into the woods to get a few shots of the dew-kissed, steamy morning. We had been stuck in the planning stages of our midterm photography project for too long thanks to that nasty old friend, procrastination. I had an idea for a mixed media format combining my knack for photography, Tucker’s artistic sensibilities, and Anna’s way with words.

It was this idea that led to my current hell.

They shot this idea down, but after silence from the peanut gallery on what they thought we should do instead, the group settled for mine. I was glad. This idea, this sudden inspiration came to me while I slept. I was in a forest where the trees were brushstrokes from some unknown cosmic painter, the bark forming poems and stories…and warnings. It was scary and exciting and beautiful, and we were going to turn it into an A midterm grade.

I’ve always been drawn to the forest. Something about its deep shades of olive and emerald and sage graceful isolation lend itself to my introverted nature. As we walked up the rough, rocky dirt path from the parking lot into the trees, I felt an excitement and calm wash over me at the same time–a high.

Tucker led the pack, a real man’s man or so he liked to think. Anna and I trailed behind, my camera around my neck, a notepad and pencil in Anna’s hand, talking about the parameters of the project and how we were going to piece it together.

None of us had been on this trail before and as such, the scenery was new to all. We would turn a corner and see a grouping of flowers, a tree stump, or some other subject that incited the snap of my camera, and the sounds of Anna scribbling words into her notebook. Tucker was here only for the sensory experience that he said he planned to draw from when painting his portion of the project later.

An hour into our hike we came across a tree fallen over a stream, appearing to be a makeshift bridge. It was a detour from the trail, but a glimpse through the line of trees on the other side promised a meadow or field of some sort behind it.

We ever so steadily crossed the wide creek and trekked through the tree line. When we entered the meadow hollow, the calm and excitement left me and replaced itself with an inexplicable sinking dread.

It was quiet. It was more than an absence of sound, but a deafening void. No wind, no chirping, no buzzing, no rustling, not even the stream which couldn’t have been more than 30 feet behind us made itself known.

Everything in my brain screamed to step back into the trees, dash over the bridge and not to stop running until I made it to the car. But, my body was pulled forward. It felt like an all too real case of sleep paralysis, where your mind is in distress, but your body won’t react. In the trees ahead, my tear-blurred vision made out a silhouette. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it was pernicious. It was a hunter.

I looked over to my right where Tuck and Anna were. They were facing forward, moving in unison with my own two disobedient feet. By this time we had made it to the middle of the hollow. We looked at each other, equal parts confused and horrified when the trees began to close in on us. The space of the hollow got smaller and smaller as we looked around, terrified. Twenty feet, ten feet, five feet.

In an instant, we were in a dark forest. There was no trail, no stream, no meadow, but the sounds of the woods were back. This time though, they were menacing–growls, hisses, moans, creeks. It was dark. The sun was out, but the thick canopy of half-dead trees blocked it almost entirely.

We didn’t discuss what happened, or exchange experiences, we had a silent, mutual understanding of the events. Anna pointed, her finger trembling, at a lamp or porch light ahead through the woods. I whispered, not knowing why, but feeling it necessary to our survival, “Should we go to it?”

Anna began to whimper as quietly as she could help it, “We’re going to die. It’s here.”

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