I don’t remember how I lost my skin. All I remembered was that I had to get as far away as possible.
The leafy road winds twisting and turning into the far horizon until it becomes concealed by a veil of crimson autumntime trees, casting a growing shadow over other parts of the trail under the setting sun.
A breath of air enters the area of my ribs where my lungs would be, whistling as it swiftly exits past a vertebrae. Another gust carried a brittle brown leaf into my right eye socket where it sits stubbornly. I inhale, expecting to breathe the sweet air of the woods, only to remember that I lack a nose. A fat, dusty pink earthworm coils itself around my sharp chalky toes before burrowing back into the loamy soil after reaching the end of my sparse foot.
I feel naked and vulnerable, but strangely optimistic about the journey. I feebly clutch my bindle, whose stick is thicker than my humerus, and hoist it over my right shoulder as the bulging blue polka-dotted cloth sack on the end nearly yanks me to the ground. I don’t even remember what I packed. My memories were in my brain. I wish I remembered where I’d left it.
Something sends some sort of electrical signal hurtling towards my lower body and I put one alabaster foot sloppily in front of the other, nearly collapsing under the weight of the bindle. The other foot follows suit, landing in front of the other at a ninety-degree angle as I lurch onwards, kicking up a tiny dust cloud in my wake. I continue this routine, feet landing at the same awkward angles as I look downward with my gaping black sockets to focus on their uncertain trajectory. The leafy trim of the dirt road remains in my vision and constantly reminds me which way I’m going.
I carry on stumbling after the road, losing count of the amount of times I fall completely to the ground and spend what seems like hours pulling myself back up, until the brown-green leafy trim suddenly overpowers the dry mud underneath an inconsistent veil of shadow. This doesn’t feel right. I pull my skinless face from my formerly red scarf and observe. I’m under some sort of dark forest canopy. Beams of light stab through the thick layer of leaves and branches overhead, revealing patches of dead leaves and grey stone brickwork. A larger area of light highlighted a large, hollow mossy log that lurked from some tall grass.
I swivel around on my right heel to consider the different, more open-air road that had lead me into this unsettling and unfamiliar copse.
No. This can’t be right,
The area that I’ve turned to see is just as dark and unfamiliar as the opposite direction, as if hundreds of large trees had suddenly sprouted up as my back was turned. As if my tracks had been covered completely. As if I’d been flung directly into this very spot, in this very forest.
I spin again and the weight of the bindle finally succeeds in it’s vicious attempt to yank me towards the Earth, where my body hits with a dull clatter and kicks up a few leaves that cover some of my dusty bones. I lie for a minute or so. There’s no hope for me anymore, and no point in trying to get back up.
My bindle lies a few feet away, semi-concealed by both the unrelenting darkness of the forest and the leaves on the ground, right in front of a patchy looking bush that towered above my pathetic bones sinking into the dirt. I stare at the traitorous blue weight and suddenly realise it’s in the same undignified position as I am. A tiny feeling of smug victory crawls across me and I chuckle.
Or, at least. I try to.
I tip myself over onto my front and start dragging myself in the general direction of the bindle, leaving a trail of separated and broken leaves in my wake. The friction from the hard dirt layer below also pulls off my scarf and I leave it behind.
After what seems like forever, I finally get close enough to the stick of the bindle to swing my skeletal arm over and grab onto it, and I do just that. My fingers slowly clasp around the end of the stick. Then I look into the bush above me.
And big, round, red eyes stare back at me.
I launch myself backwards and I fly head over heels, pulling the bindle behind me. I land in a heap a few yards away. The eyes still stare, and another pair of eyes open next to it. Then another pair and another pair. And it’s not only in the bush. Red eyes open all over the clearing around me; appearing in tops of trees and behind their trunks, every other ill-lit copse to every single opening in the branches. I sit up and shuffle backwards until my vertebrae hit a tree trunk. Then they emerge. They have the bodies of dogs, only bigger, and their blood-red grapefruit sized eyes are still a prominent feature even when their bodies are visible. The silence of the clearing is broken by the harmonious snarl of the dogs, and they close in from every angle. The closing circle passes my scarf. Unable to close my eyes, I turn my gaze to the ground. The snarling gets louder as the circle closes. And then they set upon me.
Ripping and tearing and biting and pulling and scratching and snapping and breaking. I try to struggle and push them away but they’re too strong and there’s too many. I curl into a ball to protect my belongings wrapped in the polka-dotted cloth even though I don’t remember what It is exactly that I’m protecting. A sharp-toothed muzzle lunges in and forcibly tears at the cloth. The contents of the bindle fly into the air and time seems to go by slowly as I discern what the objects are. A spool. A pen. A handkerchief. A book. A small box and a grey torn photo. Time goes back to it’s normal speed and the attack from the dogs returns to full force.
My right arm is bitten and pulled from me. It separates from my shoulder and disappears into the wall of fur and teeth. A wide maw clamps around my skull and tries to shake it loose. Then a sound comes from behind the pack and echoes through the clearing. Not the sound of snarling or growling, of even the scrape of teeth against bone. This sound was a very loud, low pitched drone. The dogs stopped, for even they were confused. They turned their heads to the direction from which the drone came and dispersed slightly. Their separation gave me somewhat of a view of where the drone came from. The mossy log I had seen earlier sitting in the long grass was creating the sound. One dog whined.
As the droning continued, a pair of thin green arms snaps and cracks from the mossy side of the log. They push against the rest of the log’s dead body and a skeletal green figure emerges, covered in the moss. It crawls off the log and stands upright, continuing to drone.
The pack of dogs simultaneously take a step backwards as the mossy skeleton turns around. It’s front side is black and withered, and it’s face considerably broken in places.
It takes a step further towards the dogs, and the dogs once again take a step back.
The droning stops and everything stands still. The skeleton stands in the centre of the clearing, arms hanging by his sides, silent. The circle of dogs that had been attacking me had dispersed into a shapeless mass to avoid the loud unknown monster. I lay at the base of the tree, broken, missing an arm and covered in deep set bite marks. A leaf blows past.
Then the skeleton begins droning again, this time even louder and at a shrill pitch. It lunges at the dogs with it’s incredibly long blackened arms and the dogs turn and sprint into the bushes, barking and yelping. The skeleton becomes silent again, and it’s arms droop down by it’s sides. Now that the action has ceased, I get a better look at it.
The creature standing before me appears otherworldly and loathsome. The structure of what seems to be the skull is incredibly deformed, such as how the left side of the cranium is somehow wider than the right, as well as it having an extremely short chin. The fragment of bone separating it’s right eye socket from the nose is missing completely and it’s counterpart on the left eye is significantly chipped, giving it a nearly cyclopean appearance. Most of the dingy teeth in it’s maw are broken, revealing the abyssal oily blackness behind them.
I turn my gaze to the haggard beast’s torso. Nothing but broken ribs, save for one or two that have withering branches coiled around them. The creature stands at overall, probably, a foot taller than myself. It’s elongated obsidian arms stretch all the way to it’s knees.
I take a step forward to examine it closer. It’s blank gaze falls on me and turns into a pained glare. It’s jaw falls open, then the screaming begins again, shriller than before.
Oh God, the screaming.
It’s sickening banshee-like yell rattles and rebounds through my head and dazes me. It doesn’t stop. It screams. It’s arms flail violently. The noise is maddening. It gets louder and louder.
And then, silence, as the beast crumbles into dust.
Hairy black caterpillars writhe around in the murky sludge where the skeleton once stood as I stumble around it and find my way through an opening between two trees. I’ve got to escape the forest. I swipe away with my one arm at gangly wooden limbs that try to block me and keep me contained, but there’s no way I’m staying in the clearing where that… thing… was. Anywhere’s better than there. One of the many hindering branches slips past my flailing arm and pierces my ribcage, gripping onto me and refusing to let go. I tear it out with such fury that the force throws me onto my spine. I sink into the leaves below as the earth consumes me.
A hedgerow spits me out onto a gravel road without a horizon. A short road up a hill leads to a moss-cloaked stone brick well emitting a dull column of azure light. I land gracelessly on the side of my face and my skull cracks. I slowly drag myself from the ground once again and readjust my skull with my one hand. I realise I left both my scarf and my bindle in the forest clearing. Air whistles through my bones once more, and a single crisp leaf gently lodges itself into my dirty and cracked eye socket. My memories were in my brain. I wish I remembered where I’d left it.
Transfixed by the perfect beauty of the blue light, I limp up the hill. It doesn’t take long until I am a foot away from the structure. Then I stop. I tilt my head back and observe how the beam climbs towards the solemn grey sky and loses it’s radiance at higher altitudes. Then I hesitate before looking straight back down. My one arm grips the ancient, crumbling stone rim of the well as I look into it.
I look inside the well and I see it.
It’s as magnificent as the light that escapes it. Wonderful and regal as anything that can be described, bursting with cosmic excellence and impossible enlightenment. So pure and breathtaking, tears stream down my cheekbones and wash away the layer of sepia coating my broken face (despite the fact that it should be impossible that I should expel tears).
The things I see, memories; faces that I recognise Places that I recognise. All that I have loved and lost floods back to me in an overwhelming torrent of lifelong experience.
And then, despite it all, it’s all gone.
I have lost all of this. I may have regained my memories, but I have not regained my life. I fall to my knees as the stunning sense of awe morphs itself into a devastating sense of melancholy. I turn and rest my spine against the well; I won’t get back up this time.
A blanket of moss grows over my damaged bones. Hairy black caterpillars writhe around in the murk.