by Alex Price
Green. Everything is green. The trees, the ground, even the moonlight that managed to make its way through the thick canopy of trees overhead was tinted green. The soft moss of the moist grass made it easy to stay hidden away in the trees of the forest, but I realized why I had come there. I had lost my daughter, Ali, at the fair and had chased her into the forest. Trying to sit up, a sharp pain struck my forehead like lightning and caused me to immediately groan with discomfort. However, I needed to find my daughter and I began to get my bearings in these dark woods. I had barely taken three steps forward when I tripped over an obscure, rectangular object on the ground, which upon closer examination revealed itself to be an ornately decorated lockbox. The box was adorned with gold frills which lined the edges and adorned the keyhole that was directly in the center. Leaving the weird box, I decided to make my way through the forest. “Ali!” I shouted, moving through the forest. “Ali!!” I repeated again, agitated as all I could hear was my own echo. Suddenly, I heard a sound like a faint whisper in the distance. Moving towards the sound seemed to be my best bet and I rushed forward, anxious to reach my daughter and get out of the woods.
After walking for thirty minutes, the wind began to pick up speed as it traveled through the trees and around the rocks while making an unsettling, high pitched whistle. The leaves rustled on the ground and seemed to be falling upwards toward the canopy as if they didn’t need to follow such mundane rules as gravity. With an ear-splitting crack, a large tree had just fallen in the distance as if some unknown force was pulling it down to the ground. Squinting to see next to the tree, I swear I could make out a pair of white eyes and long blonde hair, but it was gone too fast for me to comfortably discern who it was.
“Ali, is that you?” I said. “Come now, we need to be going back to the fair, it’s going to be dark soon.” Ironic, I thought to myself as most sunlight in the woods was already blocked out from the thick canopy of trees that formed overhead. The owner of the white eyes did not respond, but I was inclined to follow them. The whine of the wind began to get louder and louder as I followed the pair of deathly white eyes, which had reappeared on a rock only about 20 yards away, then disappeared again. “C’mon Ali, this isn’t funny, we need to get home now.” I said firmly.
Making my way faster now in an effort to catch up with my daughter, I was treated to a surprise as the woods opened to a dimly lit clearing where the outline of the full moon was actually visible through the trees. Illuminated by sunlight, I turned around to see an old, worn Ford Mustang, as if it looked like it had been abandoned there years before. I loved Mustangs, as I used to own one back when I was a teen. I loved the feeling of freedom and effortlessness that came with them. Turning my attention to the side of the car, I realized it had the same decals that my old car use to have on it too. Strange, I thought this car seems incredibly familiar. Trying the door handle, I was surprised to find the car unlocked. Jumping inside the car gave me a sweeping feeling of nostalgia; all the good memories of driving along the beach with the top of the car down, the wind rushing all around came rushing to me all at once. All of a sudden, the whistling of the wind stopped dead to invite in a silence just as eerie as the noise that it had replaced. The white eyes had reappeared, but this time they were coming towards me instead of away. The pair of white eyes stepped out into the clearing just in front of the far oak tree and I could just barely make out the figure of a little girl standing still.
“Please...don’t hurt me.” she said in a soft whisper of a voice.
“It’s me, Walt. I’m here we can go home now don’t worry.”
“C’mon, let’s get out of here.” I said in a calming manner.
“Do you like the car? I had one just like it when I was in college.” She made no response except to keep staring forward with a terrified look that was fixated on the mustang sitting in the clearing. At that moment, the car started up on it’s own and began to rev it’s engines. The doors had locked suddenly and the car had started to accelerate towards Ali uncontrollably. “Ali, move!” I yelled to no response. The last I remember was a sickly crunch of metal against bone and I blacked out.
When I awoke I was still sitting in the car, trying to avoid light that seemed to emanate from everywhere at once, while the details of the past ten minutes still fresh in my mind.
“No, No, No...” I repeated to myself. She was dead. And it was my fault. All my fault. Why did I have to get into that mustang in the first place?
“How are you today?” said a voice that seemed to come from everywhere, very much like the whiteness of the space itself.
“Who are you? Reveal yourself, now. I don’t have time for anymore of these games, these tricks. What is going on?” I said forcefully.
“If you insist to see my form you won’t be pleased, because I have no form. I exist for you and you alone, very much like the woods you just came from exists for you, the car exists for you, and the pain exists for you.” said the voice
“Why, what am I doing here? Am I dead yet?”
“Not completely. You’re trapped, between existences. You have neither ascended or descended, but you are stuck in your own personal loop until you can forgive yourself.”
“Please leave me alone, I’ve just lost my daughter to a horrible freak accident and I don’t have the patience to beat around the bush.”
“You know why you’re here, you’ve been you here thousands of times, standing in that very same spot, listening to me tell you all about your existence. You just don’t remember because every time you wake up in those woods, you don’t remember anything.”
“What are you trying to say to me?”
“This is currently the six thousandth time that you have stood before me and asked those same questions. When I send you back for another cycle, you will forget everything about the previous cycle, but since I’m generous every thousandth cycle I offer you a gift, anything you desire.”
I thought for a moment, what is it that I most desire? Memories, I want to know what is going on here and why it is happening.
“I want a key that’s fits to the lockbox back in the forest, there has to be something in there to help me remember.”
“The key is now yours, when you go back you will feel it in your pocket, but it is up to you to find the lockbox again. Goodbye...Oh, one more thing before you go.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
I felt an instant sharp pain in my head and the world blacked out before me.
Green. Everything was green from the thick canopy of trees overhead, to the soft moss that I now laid upon. I sat up. My head was aching; I must have run into a branch while I was trying to catch up to Ali, my daughter. She’s a feisty one, always wanting to play hide and seek, but it’s getting past her bedtime and we really need to get going home. “Ali!” I said as I tried to stand up. Patting my pockets, all I had was my car keys and wallet with me. I couldn’t shake the most familiar feeling about these woods, almost like I been through them a thousand times before.
“Walt!!” I heard my daughter scream.
“ I’m coming Ali! Let’s get going home it’s freezing.” I started walking in the general direction of the sound of her voice, when I tripped over a miniature chest. The chest was perfectly square, and outlined by gold frills that seemed to sparkle in the little rays of moonlight that managed to leak through the ceiling canopy of trees. I noticed that the chest seemed to have room for one keyhole in the middle. Strangely, I felt compelled to know what was inside this box and I tried in desperation the only key which I had on me, my car keys, To my surprise, the lock fit perfectly to my car keys, and I was able to open it up.and look inside to find a piece of paper and my favorite brand of whiskey. I opened the letter to read the barely legible penciled in words that had faded with age.
I hope you can find the courage to remember, where
I know that denial and grief has replaced your memories. Look
around you and tell me that something is not right with this place.
Try to remember, because I know that night I died, the night you
killed me, was an accident. I was angry at first, but I now have
found the courage to forgive you. Now, the only way you can
get out of your own personal loop is if you forgive yourself. Oh
and one more word of advice. Don’t listen to the one in the woods,
she is a creation which is designed to keep you coming back
because you alone have the power to break your cycle.
Memories hit me like a freight train, I remembered everything about my cycle from the key to the Ford Mustang in the woods. But, I now remember the truth and the night of my greatest mistake. I was out at the bar with a couple of friends late in the afternoon when my wife called and told me to go pick up Ali from daycare, she was going to be working late. Half drunk at six in the afternoon, I got in my car and drove over there and picked her up. Everything was going smoothly and I was still feeling the extreme relaxation from all the alcohol circulating in my system when on the freeway, I dozed off for a second and next thing I knew I had run straight off of the road and into a tree trunk. The airbags had protected me but my daughter was not so lucky. Her airbag had misfired and she had hit the seat belt so hard that she had broken her neck from the sheer force of the impact.
Overcome with my own personal self-loathing, my knees buckled and I crashed to the ground, unable and unwilling to get up. There seemed no point anymore, no reason to continue this endless cycle where I relive the horrible memories that I try so hard to suppress. I feel like a mouse caught in a mouse trap, so close yet so inexhaustibly far from his cheese. Suddenly a thought occurred to me. There’s no way I can change Ali’s fate, nor my own, but I can only watch in horror as she dies over and over again, by my hand.
Suddenly, the world had morphed around me. I was standing in a hallway facing directly towards one door, while one more door was at the end of the hallway facing the opposite direction.
“You can’t save her you know, only yourself!.” said the mysterious voice which now seemed to emanate from only directly in front of me.
“All I’ve wanted, all I’ve ever wanted since that one night was for life to give me a chance to tell her just once how sorry I was to have robbed her of her childhood. That’s the reason I am here, there is no forgiveness for a father who is directly responsible for the death of a child.”
“I see that all you are left with is hope than, a powerful emotion on its own.”
I walked over to the door closest to me and opened it.
“There is no greater torment than to live with grief on the soul, but the past is the past, unchanging, and unforgiving only with time.”