It is a sullen day. Forsaking the exhausted sun, I walk into the wood. Lilac blooms, birds chirp, and the last rays of sunlight weakly bid the trees farewell. Finding a shaded nook I sit down by a flowing brook and open a book to read. As the hours pass, the scent of the blooming lilac nests in my nose.Occupied by my book, I am startled by a noise coming from deeper within the wood. Looking behind me I gaze into the tree line. Slinking over roots and twisting through branches, smoke begins to approach. As I stand up from the brook, the smoke moves closer. The ashen grey fumes dance between the trees like a snake approaching its prey. Creeping nearer, the mist wraps around me in a warm embrace. I do not resist. It cradles my body while the scent of burning wood overwhelms the lilac. Breathing in the mysterious mist, I begin to see human figures dancing, surrounding me. With a wave of their hands, they invite me into the forest.I reach down to remove my shoes and place my feet into the softness of the grass. The dry blades cling to my feet, as if warning me not to move. Yet the invitations from the smoke continue as the people of the dark dance before me. The grass is defeated under my feet as I walk along a path leading into the depths of the wood. Fascinated by the dark fog, I let the scent of burning wood tingle my mind, numb my thoughts, and possess me to follow. Bound by the scent I break into a run. My feet fumble over tangling vines and tumbledown trunks while the figures urge me to join in their dance.
Running and spinning numbly, I follow the figures to the entrance of a great cave. The cave is dark with smoke billowing from the deep tunnels of its heart. I remove my jacket and enter the mouth. My eyes blur and burn as the smoke grows stronger; I can feel myself nearing a wall of fire. The figures dance along the chamber in time with the flickering lights of flame. In front of the heat sits an old man. Blindfolded, the man sits facing the fire, his back to the cave’s entrance.
“Hello?” I call as I step closer to the mysterious figure. “Why are you blindfolded and not dancing in this grey enchantment?” Moving closer, I stand beside the man, and reach for his blindfold. Grasping the cloth, I remove the blindfold from his aged head. Gasping at the sight, I step back. Begrimed, brutish hair falls to his waist and his ashen beard graces his knees. His eye sockets stare empty, smoke drifting through. He stands. “Do you see them?” He asks me. Looking around the cave, I realize the figures have disappeared, leaving us alone with the fire.
“No, I do not,” I reply meekly. Combing bony, grey fingers through his decaying beard, he paces in front of the fire. “A captive within these walls, I spend my days in this prison. I watch the images laugh in the cave, haunting me… reminding me of what was, and what could have been,” he says as his empty eyes stare at me. I step closer with concern.
“Why haven’t you left?” I ask, “For the cave has an exit, and the wood is waiting outside. Follow me!”
The old man shakes his head, “I cannot leave. For years I have moved from place to place haunted by the smoke. Figures dance along the walls as I sit numbly waiting for the day the pain goes away.”
Confused, I ask the man, “What do you mean? The figures are nowhere in sight! We can leave!”
He laughs. A deep, hollow cackle that shakes the cave and excites the fire. Quieting, he nears my face and whispers, “While you may leave and go, the figures are here to stay. Wherever I go, the smoke comes my way.” I watch the smoke creep out of his eyes, slink across his wrinkled skin, and reach softly out to my cheeks. My face blushes in the heat but my body is numb. In a quiet voice the man says, “You can find a place to move and start somewhere new but you cannot escape the mind for the mind belongs to you.”
The cave begins to swirl in a storm cloud of ash. I anxiously try to locate the mouth of the cave – to find the safety of the lilac wood. Through the dust and debris I spot a glimpse of sunlight and begin to run. Gravel grinds the tender skin of my feet, stones pierce into my toes; I cry out as I attempt to escape the confines of the smoke and reenter the wood. The smoke tightens its grip around my waist and fills my nostrils with soot. The fog holds me captive. With the dying rays of sunlight in sight I leap for the wood. Grabbing for the tumbling vines and tumbledown trunks, I feel myself gasping for air as I struggle to escape. With one desperate final breath of the lilac wood, the fog consumes me, forcing me back into the cave.
Written By: Kyle MacK
Edited By: Julia Wittmann