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A red flame burns in the distance. It’s an enhanced glow, providing the surrounding redwood trees of the forest with a prepossessing radiant. They laugh, followed by high-pitched chatters, then more laughter, louder, softer. The flame caught on the stack of wood; it gives warmth, a blanket of heat in the frosty breezes of midnight. The moon is covered by a sheet of chilling fog. Nothing can get through the thick layer of haze.
They seem to be enjoying their time in the forest. Because they have the vibrance of the flame. It grows; so does the vibrance, the life, the joyous bundles of chatter, followed by the shivers and clacking of teeth defending the cold.
The forest trees tower above them. There is no escape, one boy, seventeen, realizes. The realization strikes him, a piercing arrow. A scream rises in his throat. He keeps it enclosed, attempting to hold in what would be an agonizing shriek of devastating horror. The others cackle like they have been.
So he holds it in. His Adam’s apple rises up and down as if he was choking down something too big to handle. A drop of hot sweat begins to drip down his pale cheek, sparkling in the firelight. He teeth clack together like before. The others do not notice his actions but continue talking about something the boy has been distracted from. All he ponders about is what will happen when the flame burns out, when it dies and they are left with the silence and the disturbance of darkness. Another drop of sweat trickles down his face. He wipes it away.
He begins to tremble. His knees knock, his hands gyrate rapidly, his heart thumps and his head throbs. His blood circulates, coursing through his veins, steaming. He feels numbness. Is it a relation to the approaching darkness? No answer appears, but he begins to fear it more. The sense of nothingness, the painting of a decrepit forest surrounding him, it makes his eyes tear up and become bloodshot. Confidence and feelings of safety rush out of his body.
A strong breeze rushes by. The flame whirls around like an initiating tornado, a threat.
More sweat. More fear.
The darkness approaches when another breeze flings the flame around. The boy bites his lower lip, squirting the taste of blood down his throat. Blood. The taste of blood haunts him, the disgust of it, the bland taste he doesn’t understand. Then, finally, the breeze so strong kills the flame like a flick of a switch, shifting the group from life to death, guiding them through that passageway. The winds rushing through the forest whistle. The crickets start up. Then the sound of silence.
He screams. It comes up, the wail, and it echoes throughout the rows of redwoods. Laughter breaks out from across the boy. His eyes are wide, his mind is boggled, and his stomach has been turned into a mush. His grips his stomach, a tight hold. A constant ringing in his ears.
He hears the tone of his friend’s voice, deep and accusatory with a sense of sarcasm. More laughter. He mumbles gibberish, his breath appearing as smoke.
“Stop!” the boy screams. Everyone quiets. He looks around, twirling, his vision covered by blackness.
Black. The color of lifeless souls wandering about.
He screams again. No one speaks, other than the forest and the whispers of demons, roaming in the dark. Is he insane? Perhaps. But he swears he can hear the voices of souls: You’re in the dark now, child. It’s time to sleep.