I was walking a solitary path through a deep, dark forest. There were no sounds around me. I glanced left and right as I walked, but there was nothing to see except the trunks of trees so thick and tall no light broke through from the sky above, their bark so rough I thought my skin would be sliced open if I reached out to touch them. Despite the darkness, I was not frightened. I did not wonder why the leaves did not crunch under my feet nor did I ask myself where I was going. The path narrowed and curved suddenly but the forest barely seemed to change, no matter how far I progressed.
On a whim, I glanced back over my shoulder and was certain I could make out a lone dark figure following behind me, just coming around the bend in the path. Even though I could not discern any distinguishing features, I felt a deep aversion to that dark figure. It did not matter what it was or why it was following behind me. I dared not look back again, somehow sure that were I to do so, that figure would be even closer.
I looked down at my feet, overcome with the desire to walk faster, but they kept moving at a steady pace, and I was carried ever farther along that forest path. The ground grew suddenly steep, and the path widened enough for two people to walk side by side through the trees. I felt a surge of panic, as I could not quicken my pace as I started up the incline. Try as I might, I could not force myself to move faster and, even as my fear of the dark figure intensified, I tried to resist the urge to look over my shoulder again. The need to know what was coming overcame me, however, and I stole a fast glance behind me.
The dark figure that had been almost one hundred yards behind had gained on me by more than half that distance.
A certainty that I must quicken my pace gripped me like an icy fist. But try as I might, I could not force myself to move faster, although I did not grow weary or lose my breath as I climbed up that forest hill. I felt a chill run down my spine and I knew the dark figure was closing in on me. I lowered my head and pumped my arms desperately, but my feet stubbornly continued to move at the same pace. The silence around me was as the thickest liquid through which I attempted to push my legs, pressing on me from all sides.
It was at that moment that I heard the unmistakable sound of a footfall.
My heart beat faster and faster but my legs continued to walk with the same maddeningly slow stride. Another footfall, and then another, echoed in the dense forest of trees and my eyes rolled frantically from side to side as I searched for any route of escape from the path and the figure that pursued me. I stole one more glance back over my shoulder and saw the dark figure just ten feet behind me. It, too, seemed to be walking at the same, ever unchanging pace, yet it had gained on me so quickly. It was tall, but with no distinguishing features other than the long, long legs that carried it ever closer. When I turned back to the path in front of me, I saw that I had almost reached the top of the slope. More footfalls rang out, and I suddenly realized that the steps were not coming from the dark figure behind me.
They were coming from the hilltop in front of me.
Slowly, as though rising from inside the earth, you approached me from over the crest of the hill. At the very top of the path, you stopped and waited for me to meet you, your arms outstretched. Your face seemed to glow with a heavenly light that banished the darkness deep into the trees. Your smile brought hope to the lonely, never ending forest and you regarded me with eyes so full of kindness. I reached out my hands to embrace you just as the chilly breath of the dark figure gently grazed the back of my neck. It was then that your gaze shifted ever so slightly and I knew that you caught a glimpse of the dark figure that was practically upon me. Your arms dropped to your sides and your expression changed to one of such horror, your eyes wide, mouth straining to scream, your entire visage twisted into a grotesque parody of human emotion.
And then I woke up.
Upon awaking, I cried bitter tears, only not because of my fear of the dark figure in my nightmare or the eerie forest from which I could not escape. Not even because of the look of abject terror on your face that was the last thing I saw before emerging from a fitful sleep.
I cried because I longed to return to that nightmare forest and walk that path again. For it is only in the dream that I can remember your face.