It was a dream. It had to be. The terror she felt could only be imagined. The sense of dread stemming from such darkness could only be a figment of her imagination, or so Felicia thought. She continues to replay the sequence of events over and over in her mind.
Just beyond dusk, her footsteps crackle over dead leaves on an abandoned footpath. Felicia walks uneasily, although rather quickly, over the uneven and broken surface of the ground. The blood curdling noise that led her down this path must’ve all been in her mind. It’s eerily quiet now, with the exception of stepping on broken pieces of the dark pathway. The trees are tall and narrow, and many surround her blocking most of the remaining light from the sky. Before long, even a clear night like tonight won’t matter because the moonlight will not break through the swarming tree line.
As she continues along the path, trying to forget the sound of that poor man’s scream, she seems to notice another faint sound. At first, she thought it was just the soles of her shoes, but now she’s quite uncertain. She doesn’t even consider stopping to check, but she thought for the briefest of moments that she heard footsteps that weren’t her own.
A brush of air touches her neck causing her to jump off the path and swat away the fear. As she settles herself, and takes her first step back onto the splintered pavement, it happens again – the sound that forced her down this path.
The dread she’s tried to forget since hearing it. The terrifying scream of a man echoes throughout the nightmarish woods. Felicia covers her ears and hurries her pace down the narrowing path. She never worries about her endurance. She never questions that she will get tired or even remotely fatigued. She always jokes with her friends that she runs for a living.
Now, it seems that her joke has come to life. Her feet seem somehow steady over this uneven walkway. The scream was much longer this time. There wasn’t any doubt on whether she had imagined it. There wasn’t any wind strong enough to resemble such a tortuous, garbled breath. What could make a person scream so horrifically? Again, a light touch of wind strokes her neck, instantly makes her veer off to the side and hide behind one of the endless number of trees.
This time it felt like the wind came in the form of a hand looking to pull her back. As she shutters, the unmistakable sound of light footsteps can be heard in the distance. Almost as soon as the realization hits her, the sound disappears and she’s alone again with her fear. Her feet seem planted to the somewhat firm soil despite wanting to leave.
Her courage leaps her forward and she sprints even faster over the cracked walkway. The trees seem to be closing around her as she moves further into the woods. The path seems to be disappearing, not only from lack of light, but now there only seems enough hard surface to span the width of her two feet.
Felicia’s memory of this place never resembled anything quite like she’s experiencing now. Her childhood involved long walks with her family through these very woods, where her father would lead and her mother would take the back, while she and her brother would be nestled in the middle. They would walk from home to town many times to grocery shop or grab lunch.
It’s seemed like many years since such happy memories traced through these petrifying woods. The tall trees seem to bend down causing her to duck so they can’t reach her. As she bends over slightly, a gust of wind grabs her neck and pulls her into the narrowing, dark thicket.
The trees begin to straighten. The pathway begins to widen. The nightmare is just beginning.
Felicia, terrified to open her eyes, curls up against a few entangled trees on the opposite side of the path. This time, the hand on her neck hasn’t disappeared. The constant feeling of an icy grip hasn’t left since being pulled into the darkness. In that moment, with her eyes still closed as she cradles her legs, the blood curdling scream returns.
It’s even louder. It’s even longer. It’s on the other side of the very trees she lies next to.
The pitch of his agonizing scream changes as well. It’s even higher, creature-like, causing her to cover her ears as they begin to ache. The shriek finally ends leaving such disorientation that she has to control herself from throwing up. She would’ve done so if she wasn’t afraid of this thing hearing the resulting noise from her gag.
Silence creeps upon her and whatever else is on the other side. The lack of noise seems to have provoked something as the jostling wind begins to sway the tops of the trees. Felicia takes a breath to try to calm herself, but the darkness and the unknown are overwhelmingly daunting. Ever so faintly, she hears these footsteps moving further down the path.
Her mind races as she contemplates her next move; wait, go back, or go forward. As the footsteps seem to become fainter, the trees she lies next to seem to bend toward her. She looks upward as the entire forest seems to be bending away from the path causing the moon to creep into view. A trickle of light starts to come through onto the pathway.
Footsteps scamper back to her location as the malevolent scream pierces through the open air. The tortured scream rushes by her hidden nook and scurries back to the terrifying depths. In that moment, the cold hand releases its grip on her neck.
Felicia bursts to her feet and races back onto the broken path. The widened path shows her old town, the original destination, but the trees seem to weaken and the wind jostles her even more causing her to sprint like she had in high school. Then, she sprinted to win. Now, she sprints to live.
The scream races behind her as the trees begin to narrow back down around the path. The view of the town becomes almost blocked, but her feet remain steady despite the quickening footsteps behind her. In one last spurt toward the edge of hell’s path, a brush of wind pushes back against the tree line as they sway back one more time gleaming light down onto her.
The scream of the tortured soul, as well as his footsteps, disappear instantly with the light as she reaches the edge of the woods, stepping off the broken path and onto a lush field of grass.
After rushing far enough away from the tree line, she looks back to see there aren’t any signs of a path or something following her. The dread begins to fade as well. It’s when she turns to face the town she’s running toward when her old home slams down right in front of her.
It was that moment, jolting backward to avoid slamming into the hard door, which awoke her from the nightmare.
Felicia lies in bed with her knees curled into her chest. She closes her eyes trying to ignore the terrifying imagery in her dream, but each vivid moment keeps replaying in her mind. The sense of that dreadful shriek bursting through her closet door keeps her buried under covers. Her desire to hide behind those entangled trees heightens as the fear builds, and that’s when it happens.
A hollow brush of air touches her neck.