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Marcus had grown tired of walking in circles through the forest. The patterns of the leaves seemed to repeat themselves throughout the floor. The bright green color had begun taking its toll on his eyes. They burned as he opened them after every blink. His skin grew sore and red around the root that tied him to Fatima.
He ran his fingers through the bark of a tree. It felt exactly like the others he had passed. “We haven’t moved in hours.” He pulled on the root.
Fatima stopped and turned to face him. “Of course we have,” she replied, “Look around.”
“All I’m seeing are the same trees over and over.” He stated.
“Then you are not seeing the forest through my eyes.” She whispered, “Quiet, sir. Listen.”
Marcus held silent for a moment. The forest was quiet. Still. It sent shivers down his spine. Nothing dared move but the wind and the leaves. The air passed by his neck and ran through his skin. He could not hear a single animal or a single breath.
“What do you hear?” She asked.
“Nothing.” He murmured, “No animals, no people, not anything.”
Fatima nodded, “Yes, but there’s something else. Something behind the nothing. Listen closely.”
Marcus focused on any sound he could hear. He listened to Fatima´s slow breathing for a moment. He passed on to his own breathing. He felt every movement his chest made. He watched as the movements fell into synchrony with the breathing of the girl. They inhaled together and then exhaled.
His arm burned and everything went quiet. The wind grew and blew his hair to his face. It passed through him as if he weren’t there. Then he heard it. It was soft, almost unnoticeable. It was a cry. He could not distinguish who it came from, but he could hear it. It was uncontrolled. Desperate. His hand shook. He gasped and the sound was gone. “I heard it.” He sighed.
“I know we’ve been moving because the sound keeps getting closer.” She explained, “There is a lake nearby where we can rest for the night.”
“Night?” He asked. Fatima ran her fingers through the root. A chill passed through his veins as the root grew black and fell dead onto the floor.
Marcus blinked and darkness hit him. He could not see more than a few steps in front of him. Fatima´s face was hidden in darkness. Her black eyes were the only thing reflecting light. “It’s been harder telling the day away from the night since the child started crying and scared the owls away, but I know that when I get tired, it must be night.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him, “Follow me, sir.”
Marcus walked slowly behind Fatima. He felt the terrain with the sole of his shoe before he took a step. Dripping water echoed in the distance. He listened as the trickling got louder and louder. He took a step and water soaked into his shoe.
He jumped back. “Be careful, sir.” Fatima pulled on his hand as she sat down on dry land. “Try to sleep for we have a long way to go.” Marcus shook off Fatima’s grasps and sat down. Leaves rustled as Fatima laid down and closed her eyes.
Marcus did not move. His hands jittered although there was no wind. He closed his eyes and focused on the sounds of the forest. He heard nothing, not even Fatima’s breathing. He wasn’t sure if it was the nothing or what was behind the nothing that made him uneasy. He didn’t even want to lay down.
He heard something and opened his eyes. He thought for a second it has just been a voice in his head. It was brief and he couldn’t remember how it sounded the second it disappeared. He tried to look around but he saw nothing but darkness.
The sound appeared again. It was a soft, deep laugh that ended just as quickly as it appeared. White light fell onto the lake. It painted a white path over the waves that seemed to be made of fallen stars. Marcus’ eyes widened. He leaned back but could not take his eyes off the light.
A woman stepped onto the path. She walked over the water, light radiating from her body. Golden hair fell to her waist and a white dress covered her body. She reached the edge of the lake and smiled at Marcus. The instant he saw her eyes, he felt breathless. “Evelyn?” He whispered.
“Hello, my love.” Her voice was harmonious.
A thousand thoughts rushed to his head at the same time but he could not make out a single one. “How?” he muttered.
“I heard my child crying and I had to come.” She replied, “She misses you. I miss you.”
“I miss you too.” He stood up, “What did you think of her?”
She nodded, “She’s beautiful.”
“She has your eyes.” He commented, “I thought you’d never get to see her.”
“Those who are torn apart by death will be reunited through death.” She said, “Now we’re finally together.”
“And I’m stuck here.”
She shook her head, “You don’t have to be.” She reached out and grabbed his hand, “Dying is not that bad. It pinches for a second, but it’s over soon. Life seems a small price to pay to spend eternity with those you love. And who love you.” He stepped closer and stared into her eyes once more. He could not feel his body. Senseless thoughts fogged his mind.
She kissed his lips and his thoughts ceased. “Come with us.” She whispered. She let herself sink into the water, “We miss you.” She stepped back and the path of light disappeared. She was the only light in the darkness.
She pulled him into the water. He didn’t fight. He stepped in and felt the cold splash onto skin. He didn’t mind it. She pulled him in farther. The waves climbed up to this knees, then to his waist, and then to his elbows. He didn’t feel fear. He was calm.
The water shook and a large wave crashed onto Marcus’ head. He slipped and fell under. Panic invaded him. Adrenaline rushed through his body. He clawed the water but could not find the surface. His lungs burned.
A hand grasped his ankle and pulled him down. He opened his eyes and looked down. The creature had skin dark like coal and teeth like knives. Its claws dug themselves into his skin until they drew blood. It had the same eyes he had been staring into. He kicked but the creature would not let go. He opened his mouth and swallowed water.
A hand grabbed his wrist and pulled him up onto the surface. He did not have time to react as a wave pushed on him and threw him onto the shore. He fell onto the ground and coughed out water.
Fatima sat next to Marcus and dug her shivering hands onto the earth. Ivy crawled onto them and covered them like gloves.
“What was that?” Marcus coughed.
Fatima stared into the dark lake, “Most creatures go away when a child is crying, but there are some that are enticed by it. That want it. They are creatures that feed on fear, sorrow, life. It seems this is one of those creatures.” She stood up and offered Marcus his hand, “It was a bad idea to sleep here. I apologize, sir. We’ll move for the night and I’ll keep a watch.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
She dug her fingers into her skin and pulled him through the darkness, “I listen to the forest so the forest listens to me. I protect the forest so it protects me. I can keep both of us safe. It would not be my first time.”
Marcus followed Fatima until the sound of water was far behind. She sat on the ground in between roots and twigs and watched as Marcus laid down on the dirt. “Please, try to sleep this time, sir.” Fatima begged.
Marcus closed his eyes but sleep eluded him. He shivered through the night. He wasn’t sure why or if he’d ever stop
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