There is this recurring dream I keep having.
I am a child again, back in my grandpa’s old town, playing with the local kids in the forest. It is your stereotypical old forest, with trees as tall as the sky, dark as a moonless night, and all the creatures big and small in the world.
A dangerous place, but one we could call ours: The townspeople ran us off their ceilings, backyards and streets. We lacked our own place. So, we played in the Old Forest.
Tag was our favorite game. And if you’ve ever played Tag in a Forest, you would know that the game feels more like a matter of life and death than simple child’s play. Hiding is easy, everything is a natural hiding spot; running is another business entirely, nature’s obstacle course, overgrown vines and roots at every turn, creepy and dangerous animals small and big, crawling, running, growling, flying, breathing, living. It’s a frightful game.
So, I’m back at the Old Forest, playing Tag with the town’s kids. I am It, looking for the other kids behind every rock, log and stump, up in the treetops, down in the mud pits, can’t find any of them. Ultimately, I just give up and wander around, pretending to be a spaceman exploring an alien planet.
It isn’t until I reach a clearing in the forest that I realize I have spent the entire day lost in my own games of pretend, and now the moon, full, illuminates this brief pocket of treeless forest.
I am not alone.
Another kid is standing at the other side of the clearing. Her skin almost transparent, barely sticking to her all-too-visible bones. She is looking at me, with wild eyes that seem to flicker like a brilliant blue flame and impossibly long crimson hair.
She begins to walk towards me. She intrigues me, and deep down it feels like she’s boring into my soul, invisible chains pulling me towards her.
She speaks, but her voice comes out grabled, as if spoken backwards. She extends her hands towards me, and I do the same. That’s when I notice her hands.
Her hands. Dirty with mud and dust. And behind all that, blood red.
I looked at her hands, then at the floor.
I take a step back.
Look back at the girl, the floor, the girl again.
The girl just stays there, staring in disbelief, arms extended with dirty, dusty, bloody hands.
“Help me”, I hear behind me, but I am no longer listening, overcome with horror.
“Help me”, fainter, but no less convincing.
“Help me!”, barely audible. Is it the girl, or…?
If the forest was a dark maze during the day, at night it had become a world of absolute darkness. Nevertheless I run, run with all my might, away from the confusion and the girl and the lifeless eyes of the children I used to play with.
That’s when I wake up.
And I always wake up feeling…
Sad. Nostalgic. Lonely.
I wonder why…