I still remember when we got lost in the trackless forest. It was night-time, and the thick, black shoots perforated the springy ground of the region, engulfing us in unfamiliar stiff corridors and enticing almost-paths. We had come there on a dare, Melvin and I — propelled by nervous youth and burning curiosity in equal parts, knowing none would really condemn us for failing to go, yet going nonetheless! It was foolish, yes; but we drew courage from each other’s company, spurred on by brazen fear and whispered jokes in half-hushed tones about the horrors that were said to lurk in these forsaken woods.
This dark, forbidding forest was nothing like the one from which we’d come. Back home, the land was lush and fair, and the matted vegetation our families burrowed into was golden all year round and stretched for countless footfalls to the compass rose’s furthest points. Warm rains swept our woods like clockwork and at night’s approach, when the Turning came, we nestled snugly in our woven hammocks and were lulled to sleep by the gentle nightly tremors that rocked us where we lay. It was paradise! There was no danger in our woods, no predators that sought to end our lives in short, sharp snaps – and no excitement. Adventure beckoned, and so we went; oh, we answered its call, Melvin and I, for ill or for good.
The thing that I remember most was the latent terror in the air. It manifested itself slowly and in small ways: a far-off rustle in the brush; a wheezing gust of wind; a crooked spike of black brush (so unlike the wheat-soft strands of home!) that barred our path and forced us off our chosen route. I cannot say why we went so deep, or what we thought we’d find, but the dimly-present nudge of honor and the lure of the unknown stayed our retreat. Then, too, there was the niggling sense that we were utterly lost, and could not find our way back even if we wanted; but Melvin shrugged it off and laughed (however softly). We were explorers that night, he said, and could trust in our keen hunter’s instincts to lead us home before the Turning cast us into the Void Below.
As the hours wore on in the stifling, unchanging darkness of the night, our smiles waned and the jovial camaraderie we’d brought along grew brittle and strained beneath uncertainty’s hammer.
Then at last: a clearing in the woods, a break in the dense scraggly shoots that loomed so menacingly in the darkness. We emerged onto the vast, cracked rim of a yawning pit bigger than anything we’d ever seen that opened and closed in a monstrous rhythm. Every shudder was accompanied by a powerful rush of whistling air that threatened alternately to suck us in or fling us up above the surrounding thicket. It was awful and exhilarating and we fled from it in mindless panic.
Melvin and I never spoke of what we saw that night in the forsaken forest, for who would believe such an incredible tale? I think of that pit often, waiting there patiently for our return. It beckons to me in my dreams, and when the Turning comes I can still feel its call.