based on the prompt: When?
It was autumn, and the sunlight filtered through the changing leaves to sprinkle multi-colored patterns across the forest floor. I wandered aimlessly, letting my feet guide me without concern for where I would end up.
I’d grown up in these woods; and unlike many, I feared nothing behind the shadows, beneath the stones, buried in the underbrush. The forest had nothing left to take from me. This was my land, now, my home. There wasn’t a single thing I couldn’t predict here. Except, of course, for her.
She strolled along beside me, blindly trusting my claim to be a decent navigator. Her long, thin fingers held a joint between them, which she gestured with at me, her eyebrows wiggling.
I smiled, letting the sounds around us take the spotlight. Words were not needed; we’d made the trip up to my family’s cabin specifically for smoking. Well, smoking and a spontaneous weekend getaway. We’d skipped work and climbed into my pickup, all adrenalin and anticipation.
Four hours later, the familiar crunch of dead leaves beneath my boots overpowered everything else. Like sinking into a hot tub after a long day, coming home relaxed me. A breath of cool air, the orange and yellow hue. Sensory memories bombarded me. Moments in time that seemed to last forever here, weaving between the trees. Hiding on a gust of wind.
Ghostly memories, I thought, but kept it to myself.
Her elbow bumped my arm and I reached to take the spliff. We walked in amiable silence for a long time, puffing and passing, puffing and passing. She playfully nudged me and the game continued for a while. Back and forth, back and forth. The sun began to set and my legs felt sore from the walk. It had been too long since I’d been home, too long since I’d perused the acreage my parent’s left to me.
Something occurred to me, then. I’d been wrong before. I suddenly realized how late it was.
I stopped walking and she imitated me. ”Something the matter?”
“No,” I said, though something was most certainly the matter, my eyes scanning the trees around us.
These woods did not frighten me, however, they frightened almost everyone else. Fear could be pulled from someone; it could be grabbed ahold of and tugged, violently or gently, from someone’s gut, up through the fluttering in their ribcage, squeezed through the tightness of one’s throat, and pulled from between parted lips. Sunset was the worst, a truth I had just trapped her into realizing. The warm light and the brisk autumn air played tricks. A shadowy figure here, a dangerous rustle of the wind there. But not everything was a trick.
Fright around every tree, my mother had said, once.
“Why are you lying?” There was genuine apprehension in her voice, now.
“We need to get back to the cabin.” I let my eyes meet hers for a lingering moment before I returned to scanning our surroundings.
“Why? Did you hear something?”
Everyone always had so many fucking questions.
How did you survive?
I shook off the memories. ”Do you think you could race me there?”
Her eyes narrowed at me from a few feet away, those watercolor green orbs peering into my soul. She could see through everything, and she didn’t believe I wanted to race her; not for a fraction of a second.
“Fine,” I said, “can you just trust me and run?”
A crash sounded a few hundred meters away, somewhere deep within the growing shadows on the outskirts of my vision.
She bolted, and I was close on her heels.
When had I let down my guard?