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Wayward, wayward I must wander through this deceptive forest. The twisty, tentacle-like branches of the trees block the dim shine of the luminous moon, but the light I carry still burns fiercely, my determination with it. I will make it out of this patch of wood, I must. For I know, without feeding the desires of my starved heart, I will surely lose myself to the mist that haunts the grove. It aches for familiar sights: the elm trees that raised me, the creeks and brooks that trickled through the muddy leaf-litter, and the companion whom I have left abandoned. I am alone, but the oaks seem to stare deeply into me as I walk, nonexistent eyes glaring at my neck.

Is what I’m seeing real? Or is this another one of the lies of these woods? Just atop the grim hill before me sits the lost love of my search! My hopes, my dreams, my aspirations, all rest just ahead. I run as fast as my weary, aching legs can take me, ignoring the darkness envelop the heavy air behind me. My light glows stronger, and my sunken eyes widen. The gateway to the days of yesteryear lie ahead, I am sure of that! I will soon wash myself on the shores of joy and bliss. The warm light feels closer by the second!

Without warning, the damp cold returns. The shivering with it. This woodland outwitted me once again. The sight it now compels me to gaze at is not the escape I was praying for, but in its place stands a chiseled gravestone, engraved with the unfortunate truth I have been blinded from for so long. My efforts were for naught. My knees buckle and I fall to the firm, frigid ground. Inside I howl, but I cannot voice as much as a grunt to the outside. I can only gape at the tormenting petroglyphs. The ringing in my skull assaults my sanity. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?

I gather what little strength I have left, and pull myself off of the ground, breaking free of my trance on those god-forsaken words. I start my descent down this hateful hill. There is no fighting this migraine in my head. Horrific pain jolts my body with each step, but I keep walking aimlessly. I allow the voices to dominate my thoughts, and I begin comprehending their taunting words:

“You're worthless!”

“Disappear!”

“Failure!”

“It's all gone!”

What do these chants mean? How should I act upon them? Why is the forest thinning as I march on? There is no one to answer my questions, for I am just as alone now as when I awoke in this realm of nightmares. My toes curl as I take a step into a stream of black, translucent liquid, almost identical to the creek where I used to spend my summer days. Looking into the distance, I spot nothing save for one lonesome oak tree.

I step between the stones of the creek carefully and cross to the other side of the watershed while remaining relatively dry. Crawling through the mud, I stumble towards the tree. My insides compress. With each breath I take, I realize that it could be my last. Even with this anxiety of uncertain death hovering over me, I reach the trunk of the last tree. I lay down beside it, unfazed by its roots tangling around me. My body feels heavier, as if I could never stand again. Everything aches. I watch as my skeletal fingers crack and gradually transform into oak twigs before my weighted eyelids droop, and the Reaper embraces me. I know now that I have lost and that my story will end here in the basin of this damned tree. I couldn’t escape the “beast” that maintains this woodland. I close my eyes and prepare for my eternal slumber.

Before I sleep, hear out my final wish. One day, darkness veiled as change will come for you too, and you mustn’t let it cloud thoughts like fog. All things pass, and it is only in resilient motion that it can be kept at bay. Keep walking on, and let the leaves flutter behind you. For me, and for those who have been taken before me, in these woods.