Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
I’ve been hunting her, watching and waiting. Amanda. She’s lost right now, looking around and fighting not to let her lower lip tremble. She is coming to me, and unless they reach her soon, it will be too late. I have a lure. She has come to me before ... but she escaped. This time, however, she has wandered deep into the forest of fears. A few more steps and she’ll never be free from me. Yes, keep coming, Amanda. This way.
Amanda’s isolation has made it easy to tempt her, my lure all the more potent. She believes Darkness will hold her in comfort. I am Darkness. I will hold her - until the end of time - but she will not find comfort here.
She’s talking to herself. I lean in to listen.
She rubs her fingers across her forehead.
“Sometimes the path seems like I’m going backwards.”
Ah, yes, the maze of life. Fall for that illusion, fall into my depths. You are so close to me I can taste you.
She’s followed my trickle of treats spread on the narrow path before her, treats that only smell sweet because they are a phantom of promise, a connection to her past - even if that past is poison. Humans scurry back to familiar. I am good at familiar.
Like others before her, Amanda hasn’t learned to face me and flee. Without respite, play and rest from the inner work, she has made it all too easy for me to envelop her. And like many who have too much to shed, too many horrors to hide, she finds herself back at my door before she realizes she has stepped too far into the forest.
I open my arms to receive her. Her soul surprises me at the last and screams out for help. The trees of truth on either side of me respond and shake her from my hypnosis. She hears their hint to move, to awaken all her limbs, to reconnect with her senses. She reaches out and feels a leaf, smooth beneath her fingers. She inhales from her belly and closes her eyes to focus on the scent of spring.
The trees whisper, “Keep breathing deep, Amanda. Listen to us. Dance, move away from Darkness.”
A squirrel scurries out from behind one of the trees, sits up on its haunches, glances up at her then runs down the path. It stops and turns. Her instinct is telling her to follow. I turn up my temptation, but the squirrel has caused her to smile. No. She takes a step and stumbles, then races after the squirrel.
I almost had her. I will keep trying. This is the problem with humans: when it all becomes too much some souls break through and scream for help. Not all of them scream loud enough, not all of them notice the nudges and see the signs, but you, Amanda … Look at you, seeing trees extend their branches to you, showing you how to shake some of me off.
Maybe I have lost this one … but there will be more.