The red flags were obvious. There was no trail, there were no signs, and he couldn’t hear the traffic from the highway anymore. He knew he had walked too far. Dave had stumbled into the deepest reaches of the forest. Nobody had ever come back from that far in. The uncertainty of survival made his heart beat out of his chest.
It was getting dark and the only thing he could hear was an owl in the distance and the nature sounds of the forest accompanying it. So lonely now, he tried to locate the owl. If the owl was the only company he would have for the night, he could live with that.
With his next step, a branch snapped beneath his feet, and everything fell silent. Even the voices of the forest didn’t make a peep. He slowly stumbled forward. His heart was racing again, and the darkness had arrived. The silence continued to plague him. Looking frantically in all directions for the slightest sign of light, a star, the moon, a shop sign, he saw nothing. Any sign of light would do. He squinted hard so his eyes could comb his surroundings for light. Maybe his eyes just needed a moment to adjust. Then again, maybe there was no light.
In the distance, he focused on a tiny dot of light. Finally, he thought to himself. Maybe it was a firefly or something. But as it got closer, he saw that the light was gently swaying in the air. The light came closer. It was a lantern being carried by—nobody. There was no person around it. At least—no person he could see. The lantern stopped in midair, and he trudged around it. His mind couldn’t grasp what he was seeing. It was beyond comprehension. He inspected the lantern from every angle. He could see the trees that surrounded him in the lanterns flicker. But he could not explain where the silence came from—or the lantern. Ducking down, he looked up at the bottom side of the lantern. As he did, a white face met him eye to eye, a face suspended in the air. The face lined up with his and the dark green eyes began staring deep into his soul. His eyes froze and he couldn’t look away from the thing. Its mouth opened wide, and a scream followed, piercing his eardrums. It was a scream of anger, pain, and death. He felt the scream penetrate him, making him question everything he thought he knew. As quickly as the lantern arrived, the light left. The face disappeared. Everything immediately went back to black, but the sounds of the forest did not return.
Copyright © 2021 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker