The well worn path: the dirt and the ground and the sun and the sky and my feet following the path, onward, onward.
The mist was so heavy it looked like the rest of the world hadn’t loaded yet. All I could see were trees, and the path. Even the sky was white, the sun itself not strong enough to cut through the gloom.
And so I walked down the path, my backpack heavy, my brow furrowed despite the lack of sun, and things moved in shadows all around. Only rabbits, I thought (or maybe said). Only rabbits, despite knowing that bears roamed these woods. Nothing but shadows, stray noises.
I was walking down the path, my feet rough, almost cut, from the constant barrage of sharp rocks and twigs. The soles of my shoes as thin as the skin between my fingers. Still I pressed on. Day was coming — fully, finally — and with it, the sun. The rest of the world would fill in and I finally would be able to breathe easy. I had my backpack, filled with clothes and water, my cell phone — beaten and old, reliable though uncharged.
I was walking down the railroad tracks, to the sea, but now I was… I won’t say I was lost but near it. After the tracks crossed a highway, I stopped following them. I tried to stay parallel, following along the side of the highway — not daring to come out of the forest. Then the tracks faded to white and I was here. Somewhere.
Somewhere near me I could hear a brook. Water flows… water flows towards the ocean. I thought I heard that. I followed that for awhile but now, now I’ve lost my babbling brook. The highway, with its infrequent roar of cars, was lost. All I had to guide me was my gut, and a well worn path through the trees.
I had to be getting nearer the ocean, or at least, somewhere — somewhere with people. After all what good is a path that goes nowhere? but I had been on for awhile, and my torn shoes failed to protect me from the harsh underbrush, and despite the fog I felt hot, my clothes barely protecting me as threadbare as they were. (Bought from a Goodwill on one of my few splurges after finding some money on a railroad track. I always follow the tracks, the life blood of America, or at least they were, once upon a time.)
I was beginning to lose hope when I came to the clearing and saw it — a house, a cabin. Huge and brown, with red filaments, and green trim. Smoke rising from the roof and it was all I could do to stop from licking my lips. There was a smell like cookies; it reminded me of Christmas.
Then, movement from the trees across the way, and I hid, as two small children came to the backdoor — or what I assumed was the backdoor, as my view was cut off, but I heard them knocking. A lady’s voice welcomed them — their mother, I thought — and they went in. Shortly thereafter, the smoke stopped. I crept deeper into the forest — to take a breath and figure out what to do.
I had not seen a car, but the path I followed led from this house to the forest. There must be SOMETHING, some trace of civilization, nearby. I could wait, see if there’s a car. Hell, I could even follow them — stealthily — when they left, the children. See where they went, if there was a way to a city, a town — something aside from this endless parade of trees, and harsh white.
I was sitting there, relaxing, wondering if I was close enough to the house to hear them, if I was too close to start a fire — because at this point it seemed the fog would never let up — when I heard the small crack of twigs. I grabbed my pack, getting ready to jump up when the two children looked at me, through the forest. They did not come closer, did not move closer, but I could feel them look at me. Then, our eyes meeting, the two moved into the circle.
They were twins, wearing blue and green. Holding hands like characters from a storybook. It would have been cute except all I could think was how bad this could be for me. Neither of them said anything for a moment. I turned to walk away and this is where it gets confusing.
I thought I turned but when I did, I was looking back at them. No, I wasn’t spinning around, and they hadn’t appeared behind me. I felt light headed and needed to sit down again, so I did. The two didn’t seem bothered by me.
I thought I’d chance it. “Hello. Do either of you know the way to the road? I got a little lost here.” I could not have looked more homeless if I had tried, but neither of them seemed to care much. The little boy — I think he was a boy — picked up a small stick and I thought he was going to break it, but instead he offered it to me.
I was… creeped out. I thought the two might be mute and all I could hear were the news reports, see the tweets. So I got up, smiled politely and moved to walk away.
I don’t know what happened next. I try to remember and just… can’t. I come to on the forest floor, my head throbbing. The two stand over me and I pass out.
I’m told I hit my head on a branch. I don’t believe it, did then, don’t now.
I woke up on a bed. For a moment, I didn’t want to wake up. It had been so long since I’d slept on a bed that didn’t have a gross man in it, one that wasn’t hard and stiff, one that wasn’t makeshift and outside. But then I remembered where I was.
I looked around. The inside of the cabin was honeyred and soft. There were no rooms and I distinctly remember thinking “how do they go to the bathroom,” because there wasn’t a bathroom. Just a large fireplace, a furnace, in the center, with three beds in three corners, including mine. The other corner was a makeshift kitchen, with a long table, counters, everything a kitchen needs.
The house seemed so much larger from the outside. I swung my legs off the bed and realized I didn’t have shoes on. I was wearing rather large soft blue pajamas with CH marked on it. I didn’t like that but hey…
I saw my clothes thrown over a chair. I had enough of this place. I went to grab them when she stepped out from ???
Somewhere, I guess. But I didn’t see her and there was no place to hide, not in that small cabin. Her two children, which seemed less and less like children, and more and more like sentient forest guardians from some archaic eighties game I half remembered, were standing near her. Smiling at me. Motherfuckers.
She held out her hand and I couldn’t help but take it. Her skin felt like raw chicken, and when she squeezed it felt like feathers wrapping around me. I felt warm, under my skin.
Was I dreaming? Was I asleep? Is this what happens when you get lost in the woods?
We’ve been waiting for you, Charles.
That’s not my name, I said, I almost screamed, but I couldn’t scream, not there, not while looking at her beautiful, soft face. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t talk. It came out as a breath. That’s not my name, don’t call me that.
She smiled and rubbed my soft cheek, no trace of stumble despite me not shaving in years. She touched my chest and felt the small rise that had, in recent months, slowly stopped growing.
We would be honored to have you for dinner.
She held my hand and led me to the long table.
She helped me up. I asked if it would hurt and she said lie still. She kissed the top of my head and I felt numbness spread through me. I was asleep and awake.
She took a skewer from the furnace, the top of it upturned and crooked, like … something else. She wiped it clean and then spread my soft legs. I couldn’t help but getting hard from her touch. So long since someone had touched me there.
She curled a finger against me and cupped me gently, pulled the pajamas up to my waist, I wanted to cry, but I didn’t have time.
She took the skewer and stuck it between my legs, up inside me, through that unholy and sacrosanct area — I felt for a moment, a wonderful peace, this is what it would have felt like, being whole, with someone I loved, but then the path came like the tide and with it, the blood poured out — as she ripped the scythe — for it was curved and crooked like a scythe — out of me.
The two twins giggled and all I wanted to do was beg for their help, but I couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. All I could do was think, think about what this meant, that my parents were right, everyone was right, I should have stayed home. I should have hurt there and let them burn me, burn my heart out of me, and then at least I wouldn’t have to feel her reach inside of me, reach up into that sacred spot in knew I always had, but never had felt until she cut into me, feel her reach inside me, and cut and cut and cut, her fingers so sharp, like knives, I felt them burrow through my body, into my ass, her fingers tearing the separation and now all I had was a gash, a cloaca, and she stopped, for a moment, just a moment.
The pain was there but buried. All I felt was hollow, empty, but in a blissful way. I know it should never have been like this, but I thought that perhaps I could give birth, a small fat egg, like a bird. I was turning into a bird and I began to laugh but I didn’t have the breath.
She brought her hand out, my skin on her fingers, hanging like rags. She licked them and held them out to her children. Her children pecked at her hand, feasting on me, and despite the pain blooming and blossoming, I began to laugh.
Thank you, she said, and kissed me, her mouth an endless spiral into black.
What big eyes you have, I thought as the pain began to blossom, the numbness fading away, replaced by weakness and burning, what big eyes you have but that was the wrong fairytale want it, the wrong one entirely.
She smiled down at me, with teeth like knives, opening her gullet to swallow me whole.
I woke up in the field, outside the house. I looked around. No children, but I was back on the path. Something was different but it took me awhile to discover what it was. I followed the path, calm, but hesitant. The fog had lifted.
The house was gone. I thought I had misplaced it but after going back and forth on the path, following it all the way back to the highway, I had to admit that it just wasn’t there.
The sun began to burn and I had to piss. I stepped off the path to relieve myself and discovered the difference, what was missing, what was there.
I didn’t take too long, just a few cursory glances and a touch here or there. I smiled but panic threatened to take hold so I returned to the path.
I’ve always had mental health issues. What if this was them finally cascading to an unbearable symphony, a tsunami of disastrous cells misfiring crashing down and erasing everything that mattered, am I real, all that was real washed away, and nothing but the path remained. Or it was a nice day, and I was headed to the beach, and.
All I could do was walk.
Was I still back there? Back in that house? Was this a dream or was that? Does it even fucking matter. Was I a girl who dreamed I was a man or a man who’d dreamed I was a girl or is there no fucking difference between this and dreams. All I knew was my pack felt lighter, I felt lighter. I still couldn’t walk, couldn’t move. I would rest here awhile, watch as the burning red sun set, and then I’d continue down the path, down this path to the ocean, where there was nothing but shadows, and trees, and soon — me.
Tara Marie writes stuff at places. You can find her on Twitter @TaraMarieWords.