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Adventure Fantasy Fiction

“We’re running out of time. We have to hurry,” said the man rushing me through the woods to safety. My friend had told me he could help me, that if I got myself to the edge of the forest before dawn, he would arrange for someone named Michael to meet me there who could help me escape. I had run out of choices and time. I couldn’t ask what he knew of this man, or why he had the skills to escape the law. The government had issued me a warning after my last art exhibit, and after the show I performed last night, they weren’t going to let me walk free after that. All I could do now was run. Michael stopped suddenly, in the middle of the forest, and pulled a pouch out from his bag. He poured out a small handful of stones onto the ground, chose one, and tossed it towards the base of the nearby tree. I was dumbfounded. What could he be doing right now that was more important than running? I looked up at the tree he placed the stone by and was so taken aback by its enormity and beauty that I just stood there mouth agape, only faintly registering his command to follow him. It took me a minute to snap out of it and run to meet up with him.

“What’d you do that for?”

“What?”

“The stone. I saw you place a stone by that tree.” 

“We have to keep going.” 

“But that tree…it was…incredible. It was, I don’t know, otherworldly.” 

He looked back at me. I could see in his eyes what I said held some bearing. Something was different about that tree. But we had to press on. We breezed through the forest, running at a quick clip to get away from the people following us. I expected to get stopped often, from overgrown, dense areas or massive boulders blocking our path, even from falling or tiredness. But I had never felt as alive or graceful as I did in that moment. All I could see was that tree illuminated in my mind’s eye; my entire focus was directed at it. I could feel its energy pulsing through the forest, keeping up with us, somehow. As if its roots stretched out for miles, and it recognized us now and would keep track of us until we reached beyond its borders. Then, Michael stopped running. 

“What’s happening now? Are they gaining on us?”

“No.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Our tracks are covered.” 

I looked back to find that where there should have been clear footprints disturbing the earth and leaf matter, the forest looked completely untouched, as if we had never set a foot on it. I could see that the forest had filled in behind us, as if we hadn’t taken hours but days, weeks, or even months trekking through the forest. And time had done what it always does and kept going. 

As I looked down at the forest floor behind us, an eerie feeling jolted through me. I had the sensation that the reason the forest looked like months had passed was because months had in fact passed. I looked over my body and Michael’s, hoping to find any signs of what I felt. But our clothes were as fresh as when we had left, not even a single piece of clothing had ripped on either of us after running through the forest for hours. And the forest offered no additional hints - it was humming with the sounds of many creatures, as it had been from the beginning. 

I looked at Michael. Did he know what I was just discovering already? Was it even remotely possible that the two of us had entered a dimension where time did not keep going? Suddenly his lack of conversation skills took on a new meaning, as I realized his silence spoke volumes. He knew exactly what was going on. Whether he wanted to keep it from me to not frighten me or for frightening reasons, I do not yet know. But there is not much I can do, even running away seems futile if we’re stuck together in time. Regardless, I was ill-prepared to travel alone through this dense forest. 

“When will we make it out of the forest?” Silence. “I said, when will we make it out of the forest?”

“Depends.” 

“Okay, but how close are we?”

“Hard to say. Let’s keep going.”

For all I know, the ‘when’ is not so easy to answer, because I don’t even know when we are. I can imagine this forest and its unusual tree extending out indefinitely. Or getting forever lost in dizzying circles around it. Perhaps we traveled through the tree, or got flipped out on the other side of it, inside out, into another dimension. Of course there was no way they could find us now, because no one could find us. We were here now, one way or the other, an extension of the tree that saved us. I kept walking, keeping pace with this man I really did not know. 

After a long while, he finally spoke. “Remember that tree where I left a stone? That tree is knotted up with time. If you show up with a true need and a true offering, the tree will wrap you in safety. But when that happens, you may also get caught up in her roots and limbs, warped in time. There is a way out, but we will have to hurry. We can’t stay here too long.” 

“What happens if we stay too long?”

“I’d rather not say.” 

“Okay…what happens when we leave?” 

“I’m not sure.”

“You haven’t been here before?” 

“No. I’ve heard stories about this place though.”

“How did you know it was the right tree?”

“I didn’t.” 

“How do we get out of here?”

“I don’t know.” 

“So what’s the plan then?!”

Again, silence. Neither one of us had a way out. Clearly, the longer we stayed, the less likely we’d find our way out and we were running out of time. And without having so much as a clue as to how to get out, we were trapped. My mind couldn’t latch onto the concept of being knotted up with time. All I knew now was panic. 

Michael kept forging ahead, embodying a sureness he did not have. In the monotony of his steadiness, I calmed down. My mind returned to the tree who had absorbed us, but not with fear or anger. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to find a doorway, whatever that meant here. 

Soon I felt certain that we would never be able to walk our way out of the forest. It would extend so long as we were in it, tied to the roots of that tree. We were inexorably tied to this forest now, but that did not mean that there was not a way to untether from it. What it meant is that the ‘doorway’ would not be found at the edge of the forest; it would come from within.  

I stopped right there and then and sat down. Michael looked back at me, exasperated. 

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Laughing albeit maniacally, I said, “Well, clearly, I know as much about how to get out of here as you do. And I don’t think walking will get us anywhere, so, we might as well sit down.” 

“Are you kidding me right now, Dominique? We don’t have time for this!” 

“Actually, I think we have all the time in the world. We might be stuck here forever, so we better get used to it.” 

“Jesus. This is why I didn’t tell you what was going on earlier. You’re going to lose your mind and we’ll never get out of here.” 

“On the contrary, I think I’m thinking about this more sanely than you.” In response to a snort and eye roll, I continued. “Look, we’ve been traveling for hours and time seems to be looping in on itself. Whatever we’ve been doing is not working. It’s time to shift gears.” 

“To just sitting here?” 

“No. Not just sitting here. Taking, opening up. Just listen for a minute. Sit down, please. I think we have to approach this more spiritually than physically. I think we have to face the blockages within ourselves to find a way out.” 

“Why? Where’d you get that from?”

“I have been thinking about it for a while. It popped up so prominently and clearly in my mind that it’s a gut instinct I’m not willing to ignore.” 

“How do you know this place isn’t messing with your mind? Convincing you to stay so it can keep you here indefinitely?” 

“Well, I don’t. But it’s worth a try.” 

“What do you suggest?” 

They sat together, and they talked. She asked him questions about himself, and he asked her questions in turn. Hours passed and nothing changed. They were getting delirious and finally leaning in towards accepting their fates. In doing so, they each started pulling up from deep within their psyches the things they regret the most about their lives. The things they wished they could have changed, had they been able to leave the forest. They admit to awful mistakes they had made, and to times they had pushed away the people they loved the most. They wept for all they would have to leave behind and all they couldn’t change. They acknowledged the ways they had refused to forgive themselves, until even that softened and they could hold themselves in compassion. And they apologized to one another for the assumptions they had made about each other, the unspoken judgments. They forgot about the ‘doorway’ and fell deeply into the present moment. After all, that was all they had. They had grown so comfortable sharing their hearts with one another that they eventually fell asleep side by side. 

They met in their dreams and laughed together there, grateful for the peace and ease of having removed all their masks. In this version of themselves, they were both children again. They caught a spark in one another’s eyes, of remembering what their adult selves look and act like, and then Michael ran. Dominique was left standing alone, and from many years of experience she knew exactly what happens next. Hide-and-seek. She searched for him behind trees and boulders, until eventually she found him, and then it was his turn to find her. He found her within a cave, where they sat together looking out at the light shining in until they were two adults again sitting together. At that instant, they both woke up. And without speaking, they stood up and walked. The roots receded and the vines parted, and underneath their feet the forest floor turned into a road. And on it, they walked home. 

July 15, 2022 19:47

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2 comments

Marilyn Briant
18:30 Jul 21, 2022

Hello Nina, I love the concept of 'no time' you explored in this story. Liked the descriptions of the forest and the magic that happened within it. I think you could have used less 'hads' and 'thats' and the story would have flowed better. I also felt the tense changes were a little confusing. I really did like how these two strangers got so comfortable with each other that they were able to share such spiritual awareness concepts, even though I was unsure how that happened!

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Kbk Miller
13:56 Jul 21, 2022

Hi Nina- Your plot was fabulous-great storyline. The magic of the spirit, in the end, was such a good twist. What I missed were some feeling details, if that makes sense? When you work with your characters, remember to touch on all 5 senses- that may give some more grit detail. I think that would help the reader connect more with your characters. Excellent read, happy writing :) -Kelsey

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