Jeremy had a basic life. In elementary he fit in, nothing special about him. But once he got in middle school, everyone started developing crushes or started dating people. What about Jeremy? Never had a single crush. Many friends yes, but never anything further.
He started having this strange fixation with the concept of romance and love. He asked all his friends with crushes or partners how they knew. He wanted to know what it felt like to ‘be in love.’ His friends were all patient with him, and described to him how they felt. He couldn’t relate to any of it. He’s never felt nervous around someone ‘hot,’ or anything with that.
This unknown feeling towards romance and attraction followed him into high school. When he started working, his coworker’s girlfriend, Avery would come in every few days. Constantly swooning over her girlfriend, talking about how pretty she is and how Jeremy’s coworker is just so perfect. Avery, a nice gal, the coworker, not so much.
On one of the common slow days in the restaurant in which they worked, Jeremy and Avery started up a conversation to pass the time. Eventually, the topic of romance came up.
“Hey Jeremy, why have you never had a girlfriend? Or a boyfriend if you’re into that.”
“I dunno. I’ve just never felt anything like that. Never had ‘butterflies,’ or whatever they are. Nothing.”
“You know, If you want to learn, I heard there’s a tree up north, a tree that shows you your true love.” With that, Jeremy rolled his eyes. He’s heard that myth before. Everyone has. As a child, the legend of the so called ‘love tree’ is common and commonly loved among the youngsters.
“I’ve heard of the tree, but its only a myth. A legend to tell children. A fairy tale.”
“To some, yes. But to others, it is their life. They’ve found the tree, Jeremy. They’ve found their soulmate.”
“But where’s the proof? I can’t just go on a mission to something I don’t know exists!”
“What is love but blind faith?”
With a smile on his face, he shakes his fist at her and says: “Darn you, poets!”
With that, she smiles and walks away to find her girlfriend. She gives him one last knowing look, then turns her back.
After their shift is done, he walks home, still thinking about the childhood story. Could it really be true? He decides to do some research when he gets home. And he does. He stays up until just before midnight researching about the tree.
At first, he only sees different versions of the same story. A few people trying to prove it true, but they are only theories. Later, though, as he gets farther into the rabbit hole, he starts to find a small group of people. A group who swear on their lives that they’ve gone to the tree and seen their soulmate.
The only thing that made him believe is a single grainy at photograph. It looks like a brown old oak tree surround by a large canopy of leaves. This alone wouldn’t convince him, but then he notices the shadowy figure in the corner of the photo. It looks like one of those photos of ghosts. No matter how much he zooms in or enhances the photo, its still as blurry. He can’t find any tell-tale signs of it being fake or photoshopped. Nothing. He even asks his dad, who is a professional photographer. He agrees that it must be real.
After that exchange, he talks to his parents about going on a trip. He doesn’t give many details, just that it might take a while. His father must have an idea about what the true nature of this trip is, but he doesn’t try to stop him. They agree to let him go the next week, when he has extra days off school and work. He starts preparing.
In a backpack, he pack extra clothes, layers and shoes. Who knows what will be in the forest. He packs food, mainly in the form of protein bars and stuff. He also packs water. A lot of it. Most of his backpack is just water bottles. He packs a sleeping bag and an extra blanket as well. With all this, he also packs a first aid kits. Even with all this, his backpack is still fairly light.
After a long week of waiting, the day finally arrived for him to start on his journey. He texted all his friends that he’s be out of contact during the long weekend, and rode a bus to the start of the forest in which the tree was supposedly located.
For the first day in the forest, the weather was surprisingly. Nice. The weathermen had been forecasting heavy rain for the whole day. It didn’t come during the day, though, it came during the night.
He sheltered under a tree in his sleeping bag for the whole night, although he got little sleep. He woke in the morning after a measly two hours of sleep to bright light streaming in through the the tree canopy.
He packed up all his stuff and ate one of his protein bars. Another day of pure, hard hiking. On and on throughout the day with only a few breaks for water and another protein bar when the sun hits it’s peak.
As the sun dipped below the tree canopy and Jeremy’s sight began to dim, he decides to try and find a good place to sleep.
Soon he spots what looks like a spruce tree with many leaves. He rolls out his sleeping bag and eats one more protein bar. Just as he was about to go to sleep, he hears something that sends a shiver up his spine.
Jeremy immediately jumps up from his comfortable position, stuffs everything into his bag, and begins to sprint away from the howling of the wolves.
He remembers learning about wolves in third grade. They work as a pack, wearing down their prey by letting them tire themselves out. He begins to slow his breathing, but keeps the same pace. He starts to tire, however, and as his pace slows, the pounding of paws on hard packed ground grows louder. He keeps running nevertheless.
As he runs farther into the dark forest, the air of the place begins to change. It goes from someplace known but comfortable to someplace unknown and scary.
The trees seem to be turning twisted and menacing. The sky almost disappears over the thick mass of leaves. He keeps running.
The trees sway in a wind that Jeremy can’t feel. The swaying of low hanging branches in the shadow of the forest makes them look like they’re reaching out for him; trying to trip him. Jeremy doesn’t stop running.
He reaches a speed at which the trees are now but a blur. He hears a muffles owl call. A bat zips past his face. He doesn’t care about the wolves anymore. He just needs to do something, he needs to keep running. After almost two days in the forest, he’s started to miss his family and friends. In his mind, he feels bad to be complaining after only two days, that’s nothing compared to what other people have done.
As he runs and runs, the forest once again begins to change. From the unknown to someplace you think you’ve visited before. If you’ve ever been in a forest, this now feels like all of them combined. It changes from scary to comforting, welcoming even. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees a black splotch in his vision.
As he runs, he doesn’t notice the wolves slow to a stop and turn around, seemingly losing interest in the prey just in front of them. What Jeremy does notice is the black splotches becoming more and more frequent in his peripheral vision.
Jeremy slows his pace as well, thinking that the figures are brought on by his tiredness. As he slows, the figures don’t just stay in his peripheral vision, they come close to his face, then back away. When he gets a good look at them, his pace returns to a sprint.
As he runs, his mind tries to decode what he’s just seen. It looked like a human, but severely deformed. They all had either coal black or snow whet skin. No inbetween. Their features were all the same: slightly open mouth and wide eyes. The eyes were like a tar pit. None of them had clothes on, but there was nothing to see.
As he sprints on and on through the forest, he begins to see a clearing come into view. He quickens his pace even more. His mind goes on autopilot, letting him think about what he’s seeing.
His first thought are that these figures are the sound of the dead. This doesn’t seem right though. If they were the should of the dead, why were they in the forest that supposedly held the tree of love.
His immediate second thought was that these were the souls of the matched, or possibly the souls that will be matched. When he was researching for the trip, he remembered reading about one person’s experience with the tree.
The article explained it like this: ‘A figure of pure black ink stepped out from the tree line. The figure then materialized into a beautiful lady. We embraced, then she disappeared. This was my soulmate.
This must be all the souls of people yet to be matched. When Jeremy finally reached the tree, he had tears in his eyes. He was scared, so scared. Inn his mind, he was wondering why he decided to go on this trip in the first place. He was stupid.
As he lays down on the hard roots of the tree in the center of the clearing, he sees a single figure, one who is coal black step out from the tree line. It comes toward him, but it disappears as it goes into the sun. Jeremy faints.
Once he woke up, he’s on his feet again. He wants to find his soulmate. That’s why he came all this way. He remembers the figure who was walking toward him before he blacked out, and calls out, begging for them to return. When none of the figures steps out of the tree line, he sinks to the soft grass, defeated.
He turns to the tree, begging for it to show him his love. A single leaf falls from the tree and brushes his cheek, like a kiss. It blows past his face and sits on the ground behind him. He turns around. Where the figure was is now a dark gray tomb. A subtle wind pushes him towards the stone structure.
As Jeremy slowly approaches the tomb, writing seems to materialize on the front of it. Soft, curling handwriting flows from an invisible pen. It says: “Sal Mercury 1988-2004” A voice from behind him seems to whisper his name. Jeremy turns. The whisper repeats. Jeremy slowly realizes that the tree seems to be speaking to him.
“Sal is here with the souls after thecar crash. Live your life Jeremy, Sal will be waiting here for you.”