My life is an ideal one. Good paying job, friends, apartment, nice car, and a beautiful girlfriend. Hell, even the town I live in is great. Which is not to say there weren’t a few flaws here and there, but those don’t matter.
I’ve never really been interested in traveling, which might explain why I never left my hometown of Commune. If I wanted to go exploring, there was a forest at the edge of town-the Gaust Wilderness. An ever expansive grove of trees that seemed to stretch on for miles.
Some said that the woods were haunted, or that Bigfoot himself inhabited them. Whatever the truth was, it was lost many years ago, just like our childlike curiosity. And soon, we were more worried about paying bills, rather than wondering what kind of things resided in that ocean of trees.
When I was younger, I had an avid curiosity for what lay beyond the starry sky. Millions upon billions of planets and galaxies, all coexisting with one another. Recent discoveries of stars such as VY Canis Majoris-really shows you how truly insignificant we are in the grand cosmic scheme of the universe.
Even then, it doesn’t bother me all that much. We’re born to be whoever, or whatever, we want. And my dream is to be with Evelyn, my significant other. I know, you may think of me as just another lovesick person, but I feel a profound connection. Almost as if she was made for me.
It all started the day she introduced herself in middle school. It was love at first sight, and all my friends teased me. Luckily, it appeared fate was on my side that day, as she was assigned to sit right next to me.
She smiled, and greeted me. I, speechless at the time, could only nod as she spoke. Giggling at how stupefied I was, she gave me a gentle nudge. Pain flared across my body as her elbow tapped my hips-because the night before, it felt as if someone was breaking my ribs. Seemingly worried about my reaction, she asked if I was okay, to which I feigned a smile. From then on, we were the very best of friends. Talking, texting, and always hanging out. It wasn’t after our high school graduation, that I gathered the courage to ask her out on a date.
Surprisingly enough, she agreed to it. And it was the best night of my life. Her charming smile, infectious laugh, and personality all seemed to be too good to be true. Although it wasn’t. Two years since then, and we’re still the same, happy couple. As I said at first, it was an ideal life. Perfect, even.
Getting through the work day, though, wasn’t the easiest part for me. Sure, it pays good, but sometimes the workload is a bit too much. Sorting my way through several files on my computer monitor, I overheard a few of my co-workers in the cubicle next to mine. “Have you heard? Some people have been claiming that there have been bears wandering into the streets,” one said.
“That’s nothing to worry ‘bout, the cops can handle it,” the other replied.
“Probably, but they say some of them just wait outside their lawns.”
Just as I finished printing off several documents, my boss, John, waved at me as he stood at the exit of my small space. “Hey boss, what can I do for you?” I asked, stapling the papers together. Clearing his throat, he clasped his hands together. “I’m going to need you to stay late tonight,” he said. Frowning, it took me a moment to respond before I knew what to say.
“Umm, sure. Is there any reason why?”
“Yes, actually. Some of your fellow employees haven’t been….” Looking over his shoulder, he leaned closer so that no one could hear him. “Diligent workers.”
Bemused, I still didn’t see how I was directly involved in their affairs. “I don’t get it. Why don’t you just ask them to work a double shift? How is making me do all the work teaching them a lesson,” I whined, trying to find a way to escape the extra work hours, and just head home.
“You see, I have full confidence that you’ll be able to sort out all these troubles before the night ends. Especially since you’re a hard worker and whatnot,” he stated. While I contemplated on how to take in his praise, he rested a hand on my shoulder, and nodded. “You’re a good man. Keep at it.” That was the last thing he said to me, before he headed back to his office.
Sighing, I threw the stack of papers onto my desk, and slouched in my seat. Great. Make me do all the work in the end, huh? Take about luck.
Around five o’clock, I dialed Evelyn’s cell. The phone rang once, then twice, before she answered. Her perky self was enough to lift my spirit up, after being dragged to the dark abyss known as “extra hours.”
Since there was no one left in the office, I was all to myself, and I know it’s not in the best for a worker to talk during their shift, but I couldn’t help it. Plus… I missed her. Cutting her off mid sentence, I began in a shaky voice, “H-Hey, I know we haven’t done anything for some time now, but how about-”
“A date?” she finished, cheerfully. Smiling from ear to ear, I nodded, even if she couldn’t see me.
“Yeah! Tomorrow sound good? I mean, unless you’re busy.” I couldn’t believe this. I was still this nervous after all these years?
“Of course I’m free, silly,” she reassured.
“Great! Then I’ll pick you up after work. See you then!”
“Okay! Remember, don’t overwork yourself.”
Hanging up, I felt a strange surge of happiness rush into my being. That stupid grin that plastered itself on my face wouldn’t go away, but I didn’t care. I was exhilarated! Just thinking of being with her made me feel complete. Taking a deep breath, I focused my attention on my work, and typed away at the keyboard.
The tiny clicks of keys, and the groan of the printer as it delivered fresh sheets of warm paper filled my senses for the uneventful night. Getting up from my chair, a loud, tired yawn escaped me as I stretched out my sore elbows. It was 11:37, and I had just finished the final load for the night. Setting them each into their own portfolio, I turned off the lights, bathing the office in darkness.
On the way to my car, I sent a quick text to Evelyn, wishing her a good night's rest, followed by several tacky emoticons. Slipping it back into my pocket, I stopped at my car door, before looking up into the brilliant night sky. Thousands upon stars all shined down on the Earth, twinkling, and flickering with light, like a candle. The ever hanging moon in the sky decorated it even more, like the cherry on top.
But that’s when I noticed this strange array of lights. They were green, and blue. Pulsing, as if they were trying to convey a message. Unsettled by this, I tried to logically identify them as a passing plane. Which wasn’t too hard to imagine. Planes fly over cities and towns in the night all the time. Delivering packages, and such. Why would this be any different? It did help knowing that the aircraft was going in a straight line. Yeah, maybe their stories just psyched me out. I really need to stop being so gullible.
Starting up the car, I drove out of the lot. Luckily for me, my apartment wasn’t so far off from my workplace. It was just down the strip of road heading for the forest. Strangely enough, it felt like I kept up with whatever was up in the sky. It only moved when I did, which was a bit unnerving.
When I finally pulled in the lot, the thing had vanished deep in the Gaust. Going up the flight of stairs, I checked my phone. She never responded.
The following day, I sat in the break room, eating away at the lunch I had prepared myself. A hot ham on cheese, which was more or less lukewarm with the help of the microwave, coupled with some mac and cheese, and water. John sat across from me, digging into his fast food while paying little to no attention to me. It was uncommon for us to eat together. Actually, it was more of a common occurrence.
As I drank from my bottled water, he looked up from his burger, and coughed. “Got any plans for tonight?” Gulping down a swig of water, I nodded.
“Yeah. Evelyn and I are going out on a date. The problem is, I don’t know where to go,” I answered, smiling sheepishly.
His voice sounded curious, as if we haven’t spoken of her before. He raised an eyebrow questioningly at me, and threw in a few fries in his mouth.
“She’s my girlfriend. I think I’ve introduced you to her a few months ago.” There was this look in his eyes, almost like he didn’t believe me. I chalked it up to his age and forgetfulness.
“Sorry bud, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Obviously, I was starting to get a bit irritated. I didn’t expect him to keep track of every person he’s ever met, but it’s just strange he couldn’t recall an employee’s loved one.
“Whatever,” I mumbled, biting into my sandwich. I’ll just invite her over some time just so I can remind him.
After finishing our quick meal, we went back to business as usual. The day went off without a hitch, and before I knew it, I was driving down to Evelyn’s apartment. I glanced at the phone in one of my several cup holders, and noticed she still hadn’t responded to my messages. Maybe work kept her busy. Yeah, that makes sense.
Pulling up in the parking lot, I noticed that her car was missing. Must’ve been in the garage, I thought. Stepping out from my car, I walked over to her A3-her complex number. Knocking on the door, I waited outside, fixing my loose shirt, and messy hair. Pressing on the doorbell a few times, I heard the echo of the ring from within the room.
Growing tired of waiting, I peeked in from the window, to find a vacant living room. No furniture, or anything to support that someone had lived here. Pounding my fist on the door, I eventually garnered the attention of her neighbor, who glared at me with piercing, green eyes. “Quit making so much noise. Or else I’ll notify the authorities for breaking and entering.” she threatened.
“No, you don’t understand. My girlfriend lives here. We were supposed to-”
“What’re you talking about? No one has lived there for the past twenty years or so.”
Frozen in place, I stared at her, unblinkingly. “W-What do you mean?” Pinching the bridge of her nose, she vented her feelings of frustration with me. “Are you an idiot, boy? I’m saying that no one’s lived there for some time. I swear, I have half the mind right now…” Grumbling, she slammed the door shut; leaving me perplexed. Did she lie to me? Surely she couldn’t be telling the truth, but her tone….
Heading back to my car, I glanced over my shoulder to see a sign firmly planted into the ground. ‘Apartment For Rent’
Apprehensive, I scrolled through my contacts only to find that she was missing from them. Dread filled my being, making my heart ache. Why? Why was she gone all of the sudden? Switching to my photo album, all I saw were photos of me, by myself at restaurants, parks, and so on. That genuine smile had disappeared altogether, and what replaced it was a somber expression. As if they knew, my past self knew; that she wasn’t there.
Even her parents' numbers were deleted from my phone’s memory. All that was left in their place were random numbers I’ve never seen before. That’s it. I wouldn’t be finding the answers in town, so the last place to head out for was the forest.
I remember how much she loved that backwoods area ever since we were teens. Saying how the wildlife was magnificent, especially the plentiful berries and fruits that grew in the shrubs and low hanging trees. Did she drop everything just to live there? It was too elaborate for everyone to join in on this charade, and even more unusual that she had somehow sneaked into my apartment last night, only to delete hers, and her parents' phone numbers.
In any case, I had to put a stop to this-and that meant heading into that forsaken forest.
Speeding down the desolate road, the setting sun barely managed to overlook the woods, streaming in light through the filters of branches and pine trees. The dirt road was rocky and uneven, making for a difficult drive through them. The cawing of ravens overhead casting a small shadow as a flock flew overhead.
As I drove deeper into Gaust, the sounds became more distant, as all life came to an abrupt end, all except for a few foxes that darted through the bushes. By now, the sun was down, and I was shrouded in complete darkness. My headlights were the only source of light, but I had completely lost all sense of direction. Every turn, every subtle shift disoriented me; causing me to think that I had just ended up where I started.
She was the only thing that kept me going. I couldn’t give up on her. I know she’s out here. A bit further, and maybe I’ll-
A loud pop sounded from the exhaust pipe of my car, as it began to break down from the rough terrain. The windshield clouded with smoke as it vented from the engine in an attempt to cool down. Coming to a complete halt, I slammed my fists onto the steering wheel. My phone didn’t have service all the way out here, and I was as good as dead by the time I make it back to civilization.
Grabbing a flashlight from the glove compartment, I burst through the door, and headed straight. I knew there was something this way. I did nothing but run. Avoiding the road, I jumped into a clearing and sprinted down. My legs grew exhausted as I was at this for what felt like hours. All with the same end result. A dead end, barricaded by an assortment of tightly knit Great Oaks.
Sweat dripped down my brow as I panted heavily. Waiting for oxygen to fill my lungs once again. I leaned against the sturdy wood, gazing at the stars as a gust of wind blew in, tousling my hair.
Suddenly, my ears were filled with the sound of a stainless steel pot being dragged against a stove. It reverberated throughout the entire forest, shaking the trees themselves. A bright light shined from the woods, making my head shoot up.
It grew brighter, and brighter, until it closed in, and hovered just in front of my face. The object illuminated the place in the purest shades of green and red. Making me see the world for what it really was. A cruel, beautiful place.
Motionless, it suddenly hurled itself at me. The world exploded in colors.
Waking up in my bed, I glanced at my fully charged phone to find out my alarm had gone off. Groaning, I tiredly rubbed my eyes, and got dressed for work. When I finally arrived at the office building, I slumped in my seat, and stretched my arms. The loud yawning of other men and women came from over my cubicle as they were still recovering from getting up so early in the morning.
My mind was set on one thing, and one thing only. To finish my workload, and then…? “Morning,” John said, in his usual chipper tone.
“Hey boss, how’re you doing?” Logging in, I patiently awaited his response. I’m sure I knew what it’d be already.
“I’m doing great. Say, how was your afternoon last night?”
Smiling, I opened up a document lined with links to recent company news. “I went out to the store, bought some snacks and a drink. Then I just watched some TV and whatnot.” I muttered.
“Well, you wouldn’t believe what me and the Mrs. did yesterday. We went out for a night on the town. Going to a few restaurants and even watch a movie or two," he reminisced dreamily.
Something felt wrong. When I tried thinking of last night’s events, everything became hazy. All I remember was driving down to the gas station near the edge of town. Near that forest. Even then, why did I go that far? Surely there were closer stores nearby. So why did I go there?
“Well, it’s time I leave you to your job,” he stated, slapping his hand on the white walls. Once he left, I stared at the bright monitor. Trying to recall what had happened. Probably nothing. I was prone to overthink things. That’s what she used to tell me when we were in school. Wait, who?
A classmate, I know that much; but I can’t remember her face. All I could see was a beautiful, charming smile. Maybe it was a girl who moved away years ago. Whatever the case was, I started on my rounds that day. Chatted with my neighbors, delivered copies of important documents to my boss, and even sat down to eat lunch with him and two other fellows.
They were talking about how badly whipped they felt because of their wives; which caused me to laugh at them. Not seeming to take offense from me, one turned towards me and asked, “So, how’s Lily?”
Not hesitating, I responded with, “She’s great. Although she’s been getting a bit feisty lately,” John chuckled, swallowing a bite of his sandwich.
“Maybe it’s that time of the month,” he joked, taking a sip of his drink.
“Come on guys, that’s not funny.” I blushed, poking at my plate of spaghetti. Waving his hands, he soon apologized, and changed the subject to something much more appropriate. While they conversed, I felt an itch. Something was wrong. That name. Each time I thought of it, memories would pour in. Some of carnivals, others of sweet hand holding and cuddling at home. Why did it all feel fabricated?
Like someone had force fed me this information. For the entirety of the day, I felt this sense of unease looming over me. By the end of the day, just as I was about to head home, my boss called me over to his office. It wasn’t unnatural for him to want to talk to me after work. We rather enjoyed it, but I really didn’t want to stick around today.
He mostly went on about his wife, and traveling plans for the future. I wasn’t particularly interested in the conversation itself, but I didn’t want to come off as rude. “Any plans with her today?” He asked. A smile forced itself onto my lips. It felt as if someone was pulling the corner of my cheeks to fake a sincere grin. My voice was no different. In my mind, I sounded dull, and boring; yet I spoke excitedly.
Going to the park, late night walk, or movie. Those were the options that spewed from my mouth. He seemed intrigued, like I hadn’t been with anyone in months. Just as I finished, I edged ever so closely to the exit. I wanted to be long gone from this place, and just sleep.
Talking about that woman didn’t help either. It just made me angry. How can I speak so fondly of someone that I never thought of until today? Each word was a painful lie. How much I loved her, cared for her, and trusted her. I was a prisoner in my own body.
Lily, or was it Lilith? I couldn’t pinpoint which it was. Her name was being tossed around so carelessly by me and my boss. While he was talking, I felt my phone vibrate. “Sorry, got to check who it is.” I apologized, taking my cell out of its pocket. The message was enough to make me shudder.
Without so much as a word, I left. Running to my car, I drove off to the park. The sun was beginning to set in the afternoon sky. I sat down on a park bench, head back. Anguished, confused, and hopeless. My hand laid on the spot where a second person would sit, but since I was all by lonesome, there was no need for that.
The sounds of two children laughing caused me to look down for a moment. They were chasing each other, playing a game of tag as one declared loudly, “You’re it!” Continuing their little game, the girl who was it giggled as she barely scraped his back with her fingertips. “You’re it!” “What?! No fair! That doesn’t count.” He retaliated, halting the game altogether. “Yes it does. So stop complaining!” She shouted, crossing her arms.
A small grin formed on my lips from their childlike innocence. Not a worry in the world. “That’s not fair Eva!” Pushing her, the girl landed on her bottom. Her whimpering was enough to send the boy into a panic.
“Eva?” I murmured, turning my attention to the forest just a mile away from the park. Her name rang in my ears. It was… familiar. Standing up from my seat, I mindlessly approached the woods. No matter how far it was, I needed to go there. After all, she was in there.
“Who was in there?” I found myself asking that.
The forest was abuzz with life. Small animals ran amok, and even the cicadas were more lively than ever. A harmonious sound filled the woods, reminding me of a hymn. Growing louder and louder as I headed deeper into the depths of mother nature’s creation.
Coming into a clearing, I came upon a wall of trees. It was impossible to see through, and the only way to go was back into town. The dying rays of light gave the place an orange hue, making the once bright Gaust much more sinister. The place went silent, as if all the creatures had vanished without a trace. A gentle gust of wind ruffled the leaves, and made me shiver. It was nostalgic.
That was until I remembered her. Evelyn. She had gone missing just yesterday, and I found myself in the same spot that everyone’s lies lead me to. This clearing.
A faint blinking light came from the far corner of the barricade, attracting me. It was a branch. With a tiny, illegible inscription. Wrapping my hand around the glowing branch, I snapped it off, and began beating it against tree.
I was angry. More angry than I had ever been in my entire life. She led me to this accursed forest, just so she could remind me of the life she took away?
The thin limb finally broke in two, eventually leading to pounding my fist against the great oak. Over, and over, and over again; until I heard a tear.
Falling through the tree, I felt as if I was swimming in water. Pulling myself onto the surface, there wasn’t a drop of water on me, yet something even more strange. A black hole lied on the ground, which I seemingly came out of. The reflection was that of the small clearing I was just in.
The place I was in was completely dark, save for these odd balloon like orbs of light; dimly lighting the void. It both amazed, and terrified me. Just where the hell was I?
“Welcome home.” A deep, enigmatic voice greeted me from all around. I spun on my heels, and found nothing but the inky shroud that was beyond my comprehension.
“Who are you? And why am I here?”
A faint outline of a man materialized out of nowhere. There were no defining traits on him, aside from his voice. “It seems that the program I had installed was far too much to your liking. I’ll have to be careful of that next time.” He commented.
Glancing at the floor, I found the reflection missing. As if it had sunk back into the void. “Answer me!” I shouted, pushing me hands out toward him-only to phase through him harmlessly.
“A nice projection of the sky might soothe you.” Stars matted the void from all sides. Infinitely decorating the room for as far as the eye can see. “This place, is where I watch over all that exists, will exist, and has.”
Great. Now I just need to wake from this dream, and everything will return to normal. “I know what you’re thinking, and I’m sorry to say this, but you can never return to your Garden.” Garden? Now he was just making things up.
“Why did you ever want to leave my paradise? There was so much in store for you, but you threw it all away for some rogue software?”
“She’s not just some computer! Stop talking about her like she was nothing more than a program. Humans aren’t just things you can assemble.” Even with no facial features, I could tell he was frowning at me. The way a parent would do when their child was too stubborn to believe the truth.
“It’ll be awhile before you can believe what I say, but give it some time. I’ll fix you up, and-”
“You can’t fix me, quit talking like I’m some sort of machine. I’m not broken,” I growled.
“Of course you aren’t. Forgive me, I guess that’s what happens after spending eons observing.” Eons? Just how long can one guy stay in a place like this?
“It seems like yet another failure. Just how many more times do I have to watch the same cycle of life and death? At least this time I’ll have you here,” he admitted.
My mind strained as I refused to believe word for word of what he was saying. The surroundings, his tone, and the situation didn’t help. Was this heaven? Hell? No, it was far worse than that. It was nothing. Hands trembling, I took one last glance at my dying phone. The screen was distorted with a mesh of numbers. “J-Just… when will I wake up?” I asked shakily.
Sighing, he sat down on a starry throne. “There’s no point in going back when you’ve escaped from that reality. It’s a one way ticket. In a sense, you can say that you deleted yourself, Adam.”