Fiction Friday: The Path

She’d been stumbling through the woods for hours. Rough, branchy fingers reached out to snag her skirt and tendrils of her hair, scratched at her weather bitten cheeks and exposed arms as she crashed through the trees.

Reason had left her long ago, much like she’d accidentally left the path through the unknown forest. She was certain that every rustle of the leaves was the movement of vicious beasts waiting to rent her flesh from her bones and swallow her up. She trembled as she imagined teeth ravaging her skin while the lonely woods watched on.

She shook her head vigorously, trying to blur the all too pristine images of monstrous creatures with glinting teeth and razor sharp claws lurking in the shadowy places of the all too shady woods.

Her pace slowed as she grew wearier, panic eating up her energy as much as her feet ate up the ground she trudged over in hopes of finding familiar territory. She feared the darkness that would soon envelope her, breath laboring as she tried to quicken her tiring pace.

She finally slowed to rest her back against a tree and regain the breath she’d lost on the blind search for recognizable scenery that would lead her to safe company if not to the steps of home. Even as she surveyed the woods with a stationary eye, she was certain she had never seen these trees before.

She was about to choose a direction to wander further when she noticed the tell tales signs of a path at her feet. Worn into the forest floor was a smooth dirt path strewn with pine needles, nettles, pine cones and other forest debris.

Turning to the right as she followed the trail with her eyes, she saw that it split only a few hundred feet from where she stood. Each path was utterly out of place next to the other.

To the left, the dirt path slowly became a simple paved road; the sky seemed brighter and absurdly blue for so late in the day. The trees on either side of the road reached out to each other and intertwined their branches like lovers’ fingers, casting a welcome shade in the sun drenched wood.

Without looking at the other, she knew it looked like the most welcoming path, certainly the most enticing one she’d seen with its unnaturally brilliant quality. But even as she began to marvel at the beauty of the vibrantly colored flowers blooming along that brightly lit road, the image of gorgeous figures with painted smiles that cracked from the emptiness inside them swam before her.

A shiver ran up her spine as the memory of the chilling faces with cruelty beneath their nothingness refused to leave her. She gulped air greedily and tore her eyes from the path to the left, and turned to the right.

A whimper greets the silent air as she takes in the gnarled and clutching fingers of the trees that lined the debris strewn and uneven path that greeted her sight. It’s not nighttime, but there is something darker, dimmer about the lighting on this foreboding trail.

She’s about to turn away from both and set off as fast she can to put distance between such horrible choices when another impression engulfs her; a gnarled man and uncomely woman with rough features and worn clothes swam before her, but their eyes were smiling like stars twinkling in night, and warmth like firesides on winter nights fills her up and makes her smile.

She doesn’t have to look back, she knows which way to go. Though the dim light makes the shadows dart between the reaching branches and causes her to jump, she feels the hum of something pure and safe. She knows the thorns, rough terrain, and menacing path is worth the promise of what’s ahead; with each step she feels the thrum grow stronger, calling her down a path she’d never thought to tread.

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