The worst mistake I've ever made.
This forest is slowly eating me alive. All the myths were true; all the fables lived up to their names. This place has a heartbeat and I hear it every night as my torn head rests on cold, unforgiving dirt. I'm well aware of what may happen to me, but at night I hear him shouting. Hear my father shouting my name, shouting for his life, but he gets no reply. It keeps me going; keeps me aware. My paranoia has hit an all time high, never walking two steps without checking behind my shoulder, and it all began with those first few moments on Hopkins' Witch.
My confidence was at an all time high, thinking that I would certainly find him in no time; that no man can just disappear into the trees. Little did I know that the path soon drifted into the pure dark that overcomes the forest at night. The moment the sun sets, you belong to the trees. Distance shrieks of animals foreign to my village in the distance and the chilling sound of twigs snapping all around. These things soon became the soundtrack to my nightmares and all I want is to hear his voice, to see that now unfamiliar face. I know one day I will find him, or rather his corpse. I'll trip into a dried creek and find him there, eyes wide and blank, just like in my dreams.
The witch-like abilities I thought I once harbored have long since abandoned me. I must be tethered to the village, or maybe the sun. I have no certain way to determine it. The first night I tried to conjure fire, mere sparks left my fingers, enough to create a small puff of smoke on a stack of leaves. My defeated tears soon extinguished the small hope of warmth that night, and from then on I have been nothing short of frozen. Sometimes I feel the vines on the ground wrap around my legs, or maybe I imagine them. I can never quite tell what's real any more.
I have been here for what feels like months, but I have no definite way of telling. The number of sunsets doesn't seem to match the number of sunrises. I wake up from slumber to a completely dark forest, sometimes thinking I'm back in my room, and for a moment I find comfort in it. For once in my life I actually want to see my old cot, or maybe just smell my home. The small berries growing around here have kept me living, but with a skeleton figure. Each day I stumble around, looking for food, looking for shelter, and looking for him no matter how harshly my legs protest.
I catch small glimpses of him. He looks around the trees and drinks from the mud. He never acknowledges me, though. He looks back and forth then disintegrates like dust in the wind. I believe he's a ghost, or maybe the forest is playing tricks on me. All of these delusions and insanities always leading to the ultimate disappoint of sunset, when the forest blinds all those that walk the ground. It is now the end of my day and I stare at the canopy of the forest, mulling over all of these thoughts in my head and preparing for darkness. It falls on me like a thick blanket and soon I see nothing, but hear everything. I take a few more steps, considering adventuring in the dark, but soon realize it's impossible as I trip over a vine and make my way to the ground. My cold head resting silently on the dirt, I accept this spot as my bed and await slumber.
I spring awake in what feels like mere seconds. A sharp pain on my ankle makes me flail wildly at my leg, trying to stop whatever may have latched onto me. My hand connects with a slick, scaly creature which I mistake for a vine initially, but soon realize I have no such luck. The snake squirms in my grip, but I have just enough strength to keep it under control. I rip it off my flesh and throw it across the forest floor, but the damage is done. Blood drips from the tiny wound and my heart beats out of my fragile chest. I must be poisoned, my leg begins to feel numb and my hands shake harder than my heart beats. My fist grips dirt and I try to scream, but only small cries escape my ragged throat. Any sliver of hope I had before is extinguished. A suffocating weight on my chest. I'm done for. In this place, an injury means your life. Without my leg I can't search for food and can't search for my father. I've let him down. My head begins to feel light and I'm sure I will be dead before I awaken, but all I can focus on is the stabbing pain in my leg. Maybe this is for the best.
The worst mistake I've ever made.
I awake colder than I've ever been; fully convinced that this is the afterlife. My eyes barely open to the slightly lit forest, and I once again know that I'm still in hell. The skin over my skeleton is a ghostly pale and my voice is a raspy mess. The poison still circulates through my blood and I peer down to my ankle as I lay in the fetal position. A puffed up, purple lump on my leg tells me that travel won't be simple, if at all possible. I look around the forest and realize that maybe not all is lost. It takes all of my strength to press my fist into the pool of vomit by my face and try to bring myself up. My fragile spine manages to keep me upright and my eyes finally focus. I collapsed mere feet from a path barely visible through the trees.
Salvation was implausible twenty-four hours ago, but now I feel like I've found hope. If I can just move my legs enough to get me on the path, maybe I can crawl my way to wherever it leads. If it leads to the exit of the forest, then I can come in contact with the sun for the first time in ages. It's been so long since I've felt the warmth of true sunlight, and not that which I receive from the canopy's filter. Hope slowly wells in my chest and tears appear in my eyes. They stream down my face, both from pain and happiness. I put weight on my injured leg and bite down hard on my tongue, feeling as incompetent as a new-born, but more hopeful than ever.
My brittle bones wobble pathetically over to the trees and my hands barely support me as I slump onto them. Sharp bark from the trunks scrape over my skin as I squeeze myself through the small opening and fall onto the path. Swiftly surveying the area, I take in every bit of scenery I can see. It feels like I'm being deceived, that there was no way I couldn't have noticed this before -- But here I am, as sickly and dumbfounded as I have been since I entered. Everything is suddenly so familiar. A dark dirt path, a torn up girl, and a forest looming overhead. I stare off to the right, where the path seems to lead forever into the forest, but never turn over to see to my left. Dirt fills my fingernails as I push myself up once again. I turn myself over and stare in the opposite direction, dumbstruck by what is there.
In the distance stood an eerily spotless white church, looking as if it was just built. The trees cast an ominous shadow around it as if a colossal man stood observing the small building. My mind immediately went to my father. Maybe this is where he's been. Maybe he's been hiding here and has become a refuge in the church. Maybe I can be saved. Maybe I can hear his voice one more time.
My feeble body limps back over to the trees and I use them as a crutch as I make my way down the path. The bruise on my leg pulsates but I give no thought to it, my mind set on touching the door of the church. I feel as if I may collapse at any second but I don't let that hold me back. My mind conjures blurry images of my father and I grin for the first time in months, feeling my motivation slowly seep back into me. I start to think about what brought me here in the first place; start to think about my village and all the wrong they've done. Maybe I can go back someday...
Mere feet from the church and I hop silently along, smiling like a maniac. A sharp pain in my foot catches me off guard and I nearly fall to the ground. I look down and find a splintered road sign. I'm almost surprised by what it reads, but I knew since the second I fell onto the path where I was. I was meant to find this place, meant to avenge my father. The witch of Hopkins' Salvation has a calling, and it lies in this church. I don't allow my mind to dwell for too long, and I keep going. My feet reach the steps and I nearly slip and fall, but catch myself and eagerly make my way up to the door, feeling a tension grow in my chest. I stare at it for a bit, hoping that among everything that I've seen, that this is real. My pale fist grips the doorknob and I turn it swiftly and slam the door open.
A run-down, dilapidated church greets me with a wicked, deceiving smile. I let my excitement get to me, and it led to me a dead end. There was no way anything would live in here; the ceiling was falling through, though I couldn't see it from the outside. The floor is coated with a thick layer of dust and dirt, small bugs sped away from the door, and the windows were broken out. This entire cursed forest is a trick and I fell for all of it. I break down on my knees and sob uncontrollably, all hope flooding right back out. Is this a cruel joke? I'm just a girl. I just want my father. This must have been designed by the village. Nothing so cruel and mocking could be done by anyone but those monsters. All the rage living inside me shows itself again. Every bit of hate and sadness swells together until I'm punching the floorboards with my weak fists. The boards creak and slightly split. I'm surprised by my strength, but I don't stop.
I pound the floorboards with a burning intensity and soon the board is coated with my blood, but continues to split. I hear an odd, unfamiliar noise as I break it further. Soon it becomes a dull hum, growing louder and louder. Finally I realize I know this sound. I had just merely forgotten. The sound of running water has been so long lost from my ears. One last punch, I think each time, never pondering whether or not this is another trick. It takes one last, hard pound for the board to finally snap. My fist plunges down and is immediately soaked in cold water.
The blood from my broken fist colors the water a dark crimson, but it soon clears. Water rushes fast under the floorboards, and my mind is boggled at the thought. It runs in from the right side of the church, and takes a sharp turn straight ahead of me, toward the back of the church. I scoop up as much as I can and fill my mouth, my thirst unbelievable. The flow of water down my cracked throat clears my head of any thoughts and removes all pain from my body. A full release from everything that's plagued me the past weeks.
My mind free to finally think, I scan the area and try to assess the situation; still guzzling down as much water as I can. Immediately it hits me and I press my ear to the dusty wood that covers the stream. I hear the stream moving and I follow it, slowly making my way toward the front of the church. My body scraping against the floor makes a trail in the dust, my fingernails leaving small impressions as they move along the floor. Small splinters sink into my face and body but I pay no mind, my focus entirely on hearing the stream. I nearly reach the podium at the front of the room before I heard the noise break off.
I look down in disbelief. Is that all? It just stops? No, the flow was far too strong for it to just cease. It must have changed direction or gone down. My mind races and I search around for a sign of anything I could use to break through the wood, my fists unable to do the job again. I knock over the worn down podium at the front of the room and notice the most critical part of the church. Where the wall meets the floor, there is a gaping hole with jagged pieces of wood sticking out. The opening is covered in dust coated vines, but I can barely see the reflection of water inside. I move closer and press my face into the vines, ripping them out of my way as I claw desperately to try to reach the water.
The vines give way to my weight and I fall face first into the hole, my skeleton-like figure somehow fitting. My skin crawls the second I hit the water and I realize where the creek led. It fell off into a much larger pool at the bottom, which flowed just as fast. I immediately panic and try to claw at the walls but my hand connects with nothing. The flow takes me through a pitch black tunnel with only the sound of rushing water to fill the air. Another drop takes me down to the bottom and my skull hits hard against the rocks. A brief second of pain and then nothing. My weary brain is done for. Please let this be death.
Two hands hold my head up and a pair of lips greets my forehead. Everything on me hurts, my lungs are torn to shreds, my head is screaming, my leg is corroded, and my fists are skinned -- But none of it matters. I open my eyes to see who holds me, and know everything is okay. There is a blinding sun in the sky, but it is shaded by a tall man. Tears drop onto my face as I see my father standing above me, smiling like I'd never seen him smile before. His eyes were pouring and he pulled me to his chest, holding me tight. We both sobbed and shook, knowing no words to say. I hear other footsteps around me, but take no notice. I reach my feeble arms up and squeeze him back, his old hunting vest just how I'd remembered it. Everything was worth it. Everything is okay. Everything is beautiful. My father is alive and so am I, but only just. I hope their words were worth this. I hope they know what comes when we return. When father and daughter travel back on Hopkins' Witch.