The sun streaked past the leafy branches of the trees, blinding me momentarily. A bird cried in the distance and a breeze swirled through the woods, as it pulled dead vegetation up from the ground to dance around my feet.
The forest smelled sweet, yet earthy and it elicited a sense of invigoration that would have been comforting if my mind wasn’t so clogged with thoughts of recent events, my insecurities, my worries of what is to come — the chaos that is me.
Instead, the scent of the woods made me tense with anxiety. Alternative to the sense of wonderment and tranquility the fragrant wilderness would have usually conjured in me, I felt as if I had been drugged. I was compelled to fight through my body’s traitorous sensations of comfort to stay alert and clear-headed.
Movement at the horizon of my line-of-sight snapped me alert. It had to be him. He quickly darted behind a tree off in the distance. The motion was so fast, I had a moment of doubt in what I saw, but the figure was too large to be just the plants stirred by the wind.
It was him!
Before my brain could process what was happening, my feet sprung into action. Trunks of trees barreled past me as I propelled forward, eyes fixed on the spot he disappeared. My flip-flop caught on an exposed root and I tripped. The sandal folded up underneath my foot and it took several clumsy steps to avoid falling on my face.
I looked down to kick off the flip-flop. It was just an instant, but when I raised my eyes again, I could not find the spot I had been so transfixed with just a moment before.
Was it that tree? No, it was that one. Oh, wait! No, it was further to the right.
I had lost the exact spot from which I was sure he had vanished. Yet, it did not matter. I knew the vicinity and every fiber of my being ached to get there.
My newly bared foot crunched down on the carpet of leaves and twigs & I hopped on it just long enough to fling my other flip-flop off my other foot. I could not be impeded by faulty footwear for the occasion; bare feet would have to do.
I ran as fast the rugged terrain would allow, until my lungs burned with the effort and I was gasping for air.
I had to be close.
I slowed my pace and twirled in circles, looking into the distance for another tell-tale sign of movement — another clue on which direction to focus my efforts. The leafy branches of the trees around me swirled together and the bands of sunlight escaping between provided just enough light to illuminate my efforts.
Just as I was about to lose all hope, I saw the movement I was waiting for. In one fluid motion, I pivoted on my right foot and launched myself in its direction. I ran with a careless abandon, fixated on my destination, but failed to heed my surroundings.
It happened moments before my realization that the ground beneath my feet was no longer firm and noisy with the cracking and crunching of the dried vegetation giving way to the weight of my body crushing down upon it. The ground turned spongy and eerily moist about five huge steps ago and my left foot was sunk to mid-calf before this all registered.
In the moments it took to assess my situation, my right foot had joined my left, sucked into the earth to my ankle. Fear bubbled up from the pit of my stomach, but I could not bring myself to cry out.
How silly? It’s just a muddy spot. Don’t panic; calm yourself. Work yourself up and out.
My thoughts tried to turn comforting and rational, but my body would not heed my mind’s warnings. I flailed as if I were having a seizure. My arms thrashed about, but in my reckless pursuit, I had propelled myself into a small clearing; there was nothing to latch onto.
I pushed upward on the ground beneath my feet in an effort to nudge my way to the surface, but every movement I made seemed to sink me further into the earth.
I tried to calm my breathing, but it became increasingly shallow and hurried and it wasn’t long before my head felt lighter than it should & my vision blurred.
The soil around me felt as if it had grown its own limbs, complete with gigantic hands that wrapped themselves around my legs and pulled me slowly, but steadily, further into its depths.
As it registered that my body had sunk to just below my rib cage as a result of my panic, I let my body go slack. Until crocodile tears slithered down my cheek, I had not realized part of my fuzzy vision was from the tears that pooled in my eyes. I tried to blink them away, but my alarm had turned to hysteria and my emotions were taking over.
In the distance, I could see him poke into view. It seemed as though he might have lingered a bit longer than the times I saw him before, but I could not be sure; he was still gone quicker than my mind could process what I had seen.
Something wailed in the distance, startling me out of my own thoughts. . . Then I realized the sound was my own sobs, becoming progressively more constricted as the earth wrenched me further into its abyss.
The mud and vegetation and God-knows-what-else had reached my shoulders. I could no longer move, save to turn my head or wiggle my fingers, which I had raised above my head.
My hysteria took over and I waved my arms about, trying to call for help, though there was no one there. I pointed my face to the sky and let my previously stifled scream erupted out of me with an intense desperation. My shrieking and bawling persisted until my throat cracked and the earth swallowed my tear-streaked, snot-covered, swollen-eyed face.
My last breath was peppered with remnants of dirt and I could swear I felt an earth worm at the corner of my mouth. It did not matter; those sensations did not last long. As the earth pulsated around me and enveloped my body, tugging me further into its depths, I felt one last breeze upon the tips of my fingers.
God help me.
I convinced myself the constricting mass of writhing earth that surrounded me was really a cocoon of my pillows and blankets as if I were curled up in my own bed. It was futile to protest further, even if I could. I let my exhausted limbs go limp and I gave in to the looming darkness.
I spent a few hours writing this (& flipping back & forth to Facebook & email). I will admit, I am not 100% pleased with this, consider it “rough” (at best), & I could easily sit & revise & rewrite for hours more. With that said, I am still feeling good for pushing myself to write — & even more so for actually getting up the nerve to publish, despite my reservations. Whatever. You only live once — & life is short anyway, right? 😉 For my only other post of fiction, click here.