Heart of the Woods

Mist and Forbidden Fruit

Jeremy woke up in a state of confusion. He knew it was not so early that it would be dark in the tent, yet it was. A cloud covered his eyes that he tried to rub away. Realizing it was not going away, he woke up fully. Was he going blind? No, something was going on outside.

“There’s a fog,” Amy said in a hushed voice. He could hardly make out her silhouette kneeling by the front of the tent. As he scooted over to the entrance, she lifted up the flap so he could see for himself.

The mist was strong, was what first entered Jeremy’s mind. That was, of course, an understatement. It was so foggy that he could not make out the other tent. Placing a hand out to test the depth, Jeremy found that he was unable to see his finger tips as the mist engulfed it.

“Close it!” Amy exclaimed. He hastily zipped the flap shut as the inside of the tent began to swirl with the hazy condensation. His forehead began to acquire beads of water droplets as he sat in the cloudy grey darkness.

“We’ll just have to wait this out. I don’t want to risk going over to Merrick and Samuel’s tent if we can’t even see a foot in front of us,” Jeremy said. Stumbling off of the path would be a pathetic way of getting lost forever. “Are you okay over there, Jamie?”

Silence was her response. “Jamie?” Jeremy asked again. Nothing. Breathing hard, he made his way over to where she fell asleep the night before to find her sleeping bag was empty. “She’s not here!”

“What?” Amy cried out, making her way over to pat the sleeping bag down. “It’s cool, like she hasn’t been here for a while.”

Jamie was gone. Jeremy’s thoughts began to race: where could she be, why didn’t he watch her more closely? But the biggest thought that voiced its unwanted opinion into his mind was failure, for he had failed his sister. Tossing out the contents of his backpack, Jeremy pulled out his flashlight. He didn’t care if he’d get lost in the fog; he was going to search for her.

“Jeremy, don’t go out there! You and her both could get lost,” Amy yelled, grabbing his arm.

He glared at her, unable to control himself. “My SISTER is somewhere out there, Amy. I have to find her.” With that, he yanked his arm out of her grasp and spun around on his heel. The zip to the entrance of the gate shrieked as he roughly opened it and stepped out into a sea of fog.

The beam of the flashlight did little to pierce the mist; it became absorbed as if the hue sucked away all ability to see. “Jamie!” he hollered, squinting into the impenetrable surroundings. “Can you hear me?” There was no reply.

Keeping his hand on the tent, Jeremy made his way around it, screaming his sister’s name over and over, but to no avail. Throat aching, he had no choice but to return inside the tent and wait out the fog. If he went off now, he could not find her without losing himself.

Pulling his dismayed self back inside the tent was perhaps one of the most difficult things Jeremy had ever done. He was wrought with remorse for the loss of his sister. How could he wait out this mist when Jamie was nowhere to be found? He betrayed Jamie’s confidence in knowing her big brother would always be there for her, he betrayed her trust, and he betrayed his love for his sister. Shaking, he sat down on the ground.

“It’ll be okay, Jeremy,” Amy consoled, tentatively patting his back. She left her hand there when she felt the tremors of anguish racing through his body. “Once the fog goes away, we’ll find her. I bet she probably went to get some fresh air and then noticed she couldn’t see where she was going or where the tent is. I’ll open the tent flap so we can see when it starts to clear.”

The waiting was an eternity as Jeremy agonizingly watched the scene outside the tent for signs of visibility. Confusion invaded his vision as he imagined forms moving in the fog. Jamie? No. It was not Jamie- it was not anyone. He tore his eyes off of the hypnotizing blankness that tried to enshroud not just his vision, but his mind. Lying back, he closed them for a moment. Upon opening, he felt an overwhelming flood of relief. The fog was clearing!

Scrambling off of the ground, Jeremy told Amy they should get ready to search for his sister. He organized the contents that he had scattered out of his backpack, rolled up his and Jamie’s sleeping bags, and nimbly slid out of the flap door.

The forest off of the path was just visible in the distance. He knew they’d have to wait a bit longer before covering the entire area. “Let’s go see if she’s in the guys’ tent first.”

Optimism and Jeremy never were the best of friends, and their quarrel started as he numbly walked through the thin mist that receded around the two tents. The dark cloud which constantly threatened to overcome him was lurking just beneath the surface. He could feel it. If only Optimism would lend him a hand to tug him away.

He got to his friends’ tent before Amy did and was quick to open the entrance. Peering in, Jeremy was met with two hellos. Only two. “Have you seen Jamie?” he questioned abruptly.

“No man, she’s not in your tent?” Merrick’s voice replied back.

“We haven’t seen her since we woke up.”

“That fog was pretty blinding. If she went out in it, she’s probably too frightened to move off of the path. We’ll find her, don’t worry,” Samuel said. Jeremy was not the religious type, but he found himself praying for his sister to be safe and sound.

Samuel and Merrick collected their things before the four of them set off in search of Jamie. They agreed on leaving the tents up in case Jamie somehow managed to get back without crossing paths with the group.

“Should we go backwards in case she decided to go to the restroom behind that fern we saw a bit back or do you think she might have gone forward on her own little adventure?” Merrick asked, checking is journal for notes that could possibly give them a clue to where she could be.

“She would have been too scared to go off in the unknowns by herself, so I’d say she went to that fern to get some privacy,” Jeremy replied, already heading off in that direction. He had his flashlight out again, shining it uselessly in every direction that was too foggy to see.

“Wait a minute,” Amy said. “I think I’m going to stay behind and watch the tents in case something happens to them when unattended.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Amy?” Jeremy asked, worriedly. He couldn’t imagine petite Amy fending off some unknown horror by herself.

“Good idea or not, it’s definitely better than leaving it unattended.”

He nodded, casting one last glance behind as she retreated before turning around to hunt for Jamie. Samuel did most of the calling out, Jeremy, the searching, and Merrick the observations of where Jamie could be before they heard a faint response back.

“Jamie?” Jeremy yelled, heading down the pathway. There she was all huddled up next to the very ferns that Merrick had suggested. “You scared us to death, Jamie,” he started to scold before seeing the tears rushing down her face. He embraced her in a hug holding her bony body closely. “We thought you were gone forever, Jame. I am so happy you are okay and well.”

“I was so scared! It was bright and sunny out when I left to go to the bathroom, but when I turned to go back, this muggy fog was suddenly all around me. I was so scared,” she sobbed, tears seeping through Jeremy’s shirt.

“You’re fine now. Let’s go back to the tent, okay Jamie?” He stood up with her still clinging to him like a life-saver. Nudging her a bit, Jeremy helped her start to walk before she trembled and leaned heavily on his left side.

“I’ll give you one of my famous piggy back rides, Jamie,” Samuel said gently, lifting the girl up and onto his strong shoulders.

It was a bitter-sweet moment for Jeremy to have his sister back. He felt the sting of unshed tears in his eyes from the joy of her being safe and alive, and he also was battered by the worries he continued to feel for all of his friends’ and sister’s safety.

The process of collecting the tents had become a skill any boy scout would brag about. In no time, the parts were neatly put into the backpacks. It was almost too easy. “We’re running out of food,” Jeremy stated, not willing to fully believe that they would starve on this pathway. Wouldn’t Puck get his entertainment more out of the way they handled his conniving tests? Watching people slowly get thinner seemed low, even for him.

“I’m hoping,” Amy said slowly, “We get out of here before it comes down to that.” No one was foolish enough to ignore the growing crisis, nor were they brave enough to point out that there was a chance they weren’t going to get out before then.

Though the thickness of the fog had dispersed, a light blanket continued to surround them as they carefully made up for the time spent searching for Jamie. It was ominous the way the film laid hazily in the distilled and humid air. Straining to see what lay in store for him and his friends, Jeremy struggled to make out anything but the off white mystery threatening to take over his vision. Anything- anything at all- could be before them, and they wouldn’t know until it was too late.

“Stop.” Merrick halted, nearly causing a dazed Jamie to topple over. “Do you hear that?” They paused- ears open for a hint of a sound. Jeremy nearly held his breath as the unbroken silence pounded against his ear drums. Then, he heard it. A faint whisper- its touch light as a feather- tickled the hairs on his arms. The pounding of his heart thudded as a drum, getting progressively faster as he struggled to breathe evenly. It was not just any whisper; it was the same one that had woken him in a paralyzing state of terror a few mornings before.

Enticingly, it spoke his name. Jeremy. He found his eyes to be completely clouded as he looked to see if anyone else had heard it, and once again, Jeremy could not move. He could not shake, even as his body struggled to react to fear. He could not cry out, hoping his friends could save him. He could not free himself from the sinister spell which had wrapped itself around his mind and body.

You’ve made it so far, Jeremy, it crooned. The pretense of adoration chilled his bones to the core as he detected the cruelty behind it. Your father would be proud if he were here. His father. In fact, you could see him and your mother right now. All you have to do is take one step- one little step- and your freedom is ensured. He didn’t feel that his dad would be proud of him, yet the voice was lulling. To be free of this mess…It felt like a dream come true and probably was. Yet… Yet he knew something was wrong.

The voice continued soothingly, sensing Jeremy’s suspicion. If you choose to step off the path, your friends and sister will be saved. You will be the hero, Jeremy- a wise and noble leader. Would they be safe because of him? Could he save them all? Racing thoughts had retarded in speed as the voice counseled him. You can win the games once and for all.

No. No, Jeremy shouted in his mind. He felt the voice shrink before it bristled menacingly. If you do not comply, your friends will die. The coldness of the words made his heart drop. He knew that stepping off of the path would not save him or anyone else, but would refusing this monster make his loved ones’ deaths become set in stone? Reeling, he pondered. This had to be a test. If guessed wrong, Jeremy would either be sacrificing his life or his friends’.

The spark of truth lit up his mind in an instant. Neither answer was right. Temptation was at its worst and it was using threats to instill power. Concentrating, Jeremy clenched his fists. Shrieking, the voice began to fade and his eye sight returned to him. What replaced the emptiness caused him to flinch in surprise.

All four of the others were surrounding him. Jamie was crying his name frantically, Samuel and Merrick knelt by his side, and Amy was trying to calm his sister. Taking in the scene he realized he had not been standing at all and was lying flat on his back, bag being used as an uncomfortable pillow.

“What the Hell just happened?” Jeremy demanded more to himself than anyone else. He tried to sit up, but was met with a dizzy feeling and leaned back.

“He’s okay!” Samuel exclaimed to Jamie, completely ignoring Jeremy’s harsh tone. Removing her hands from her face, his sister peaked out. Squealing with thankfulness, she fell to the ground and gave him a death-lock hug. Amy eventually pried her away, much to Jeremy’s relief. His snot covered shirt, however, caused him to frown.

“Why don’t you tell us what happened?” Amy asked after they had all calmed down.

Jeremy shook his head in reply, glaring her down until Merrick spoke up. “When I told everyone to stop it was because I heard an unusual sound and couldn’t figure out where its location was. That’s when we all paused and you collapsed. I thought maybe you feinted, but your eyes were wide open and frantically moving around. That’s when you started saying ‘no’ repetitively.”

Running fingers through his damp hair, Jeremy groaned. It just had to be him who went through the weird exorcism. Start calling me Emily Rose, he chuckled darkly to himself. He was not sure if the recent situations had made him go crazy or if he was finding a new way to cope with the absurd events, but laughter was better than dark thoughts, he decided.

Speaking of dark thoughts, what actually HAD happened? His mind swayed onto a serious perspective as the troubles of what he had decided weighed in. Jeremy had no idea when he would see if he passed the test or not.

Slowly, he lifted himself off of the ground and stood, surveying his friends. They were tired; hair tangled, dark circles under red eyes, clothing hung limp. “Basically, some voice tried to persuade me to step off the path,” frantic hand motions accompanied his words. “It promised that it would free us all from the games, but I didn’t trust it. Puck told us the rules, and I think he’s the only guide we can really listen to.” Jeremy left out the do or die part, not wanting to add to the stress which drained them all.

“Are you okay now?” Amy asked.

His response was to nod and pick up his backpack. “I’m good to go,” he grinned, pushing his hair out of his face. “I knew I should have gotten that haircut before going camping. Who knew mothers actually gave us good advice?” He had scared them all and felt it was his responsibility to keep the group’s spirit alive.

“Hey! Don’t talk like that about Mom,” Jamie wiggled her nose distastefully. Putting his hands in the air, Jeremy lifted his eyebrows. Jamie’s expression eased, recognizing the exchange her sibling always did when she disapproved of something he said.

As they walked, Jeremy felt relief in each passing minute. Shadows played off the trees as the sun began to say its farewell, and no horrible deaths had happened after nearly an hour of endless traveling. Taking a sip of his water bottle, however, a crushing blow slammed into the pit of his stomach; the bottle was nearly empty, and he only had one left.

Hating to break the silence with stressful problems, Jeremy tentatively said, “Guys, how much water do you have left?”

Slowing to a halt, everyone peered into their backpacks. Most were either down to the last bottle, or finishing up the second to last. Supplies were waning.

“I only have enough to last me another day at most. I’m nearly out of fruit, beef jerky, and bread, and can’t rely on them as liquids either,” Samuel evenly said. Signs of worry could only be seen through the faint lines in his furrowed forehead.

An uneasy silence stilled the air. There was nothing more to say- no half-hearted words of encouragement with thin-lipped smiles. Without water none could survive. Averting eye contact, Jeremy sealed his pack.

It was not long before a new scene emerged off the path. The gloomy fog had long lifted, and in its place divinity feasted; nobbly trees spidered over the path, rubies of fruit hanging within reach. A dark tree leaned towards Jeremy holding a perfectly sculpted apple. He could feel the saliva building like uncomfortable sweat on his tongue as his eyes trailed the succulent adversity. He was hungry.

Peering at Samuel, he could see his friend’s pupils zoomed in in captivation. So set on grabbing the fruit was his mind that his hand, in instinct, jerked upward in hesitation before slowly lowering. The growl of someone’s stomach could be heard in amplification as a soundtrack to their desires. Amy rubbed her stomach to quiet its treacherous grumbles.

“We can’t touch these plants,” Merrick told himself more than anyone else.

“Maybe we can…” Amy ruminated. Looks of disbelief pierced her sentence.

“Hear her out, guys,” Samuel raised his voice to quiet them.

She nodded her appreciation to him before staring down the others. “As I was saying, Puck said we couldn’t touch the plants. Do you think trees fall into this category? He also said nothing about us not being able to eat the fruit.”

Merrick wiggled his nose to adjust his glasses. “Trees are still plants. I wouldn’t take this chance of bending rules. I don’t think you should either, Amy.”

Jeremy had to agree with Merrick. His book smart logic was rarely fallacious. “Besides,” he added sheepishly, “We don’t want another incident like the rain Jamie and I tasted.” Jamie blushed at the vacuous action she had made.

“I suppose you’re right…” Amy unwillingly complied.

Relief swept over Jeremy as she came to her senses. He couldn’t help but ruminate on how tiring it was to deal with four other people every waking second. It was like every decision was in need of a council meeting, and Jeremy had no desire to be part of the elusive head power. The sword he carried, however, had ‘president’ written all over it. “So it’s settled. No eating or even touching the fruit,” he said to play the part.

Yet, the longer they walked, the more types of trees appeared; oranges, ripe to the point of a deep red tinge, starkly stood out against the dark leaves and branches holding them up; vines wrapped around ground floor shrubs and trees, contained plump blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries; grape vines hung as curtains off the branches of apple and orange trees. And there were more.

Jeremy couldn’t grasp how many types of fruit plants surrounded him. He chose to ignore each as he passed by in hopes to ignore the craving for sugar in his blood, but his nose betrayed the attempts as his nostrils fully consumed the flaunting scents; it was impossible to ignore.

“Can we stop now?” Jamie faintly asked from a distance. Jeremy was surprised to see how far back she was from the rest of the group. She was so tired that her untied shoe laces dragged across the ground, accumulating dirt and tangled thorns. Everyone paused to wait as she caught up.

“I think that’d be a good idea,” Amy sympathetically agreed.

“It’s starting to get dark anyway,” Merrick stated.

Samuel and Jeremy got to setting up the tents while Jamie and Amy sat on both sides of Merrick to see the notes he had taken during the past day. Jeremy’s eyes ached as he squinted to see where to connect the tent in the fading light. They had waited way too long to set up camp. It was a good thing Jamie had spoken up when she had.

Triumphantly, Jeremy unzipped the tent flap for the two girls to come in. Merrick finished explaining all the types of trees he had scribbled about in sloppy handwriting before closing up the book and saying goodnight to Jamie and Amy. He called out a “sleep well” to Jeremy before getting in his own tent.

Jeremy was quick to follow his sister and friend into their tent. Tiredness had ravished his body, leaving his head to feel clouded as if it were floating somewhere above the rest of his deadweight body. His sleeping bag swished as it rolled out in welcome arms, and the moment his head hit the flimsy excuse for a pillow, sleep took over.
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