The Forest That Takes

The Forest That Takes

“Dow Hill, eh? Not planning to go inside the forest, are you?”

The words from my fellow passenger on the bus nettled me. Because they foretold about the barrage of unwanted advice that would follow next.

“Yeah. I’ve been to the forest before… Last winter… it’s beautiful!”

“Uh-uh… Not in the rains, you haven’t. And you shouldn’t.”

“Why?” 

I turned to have a better look at her. An elderly woman, her face had a few untimely wrinkles, but her eyes hadn’t lost her youthful vigour yet. She must have been beautiful when she was young

“Well,” she lowered her voice to a whisper… for the theatrics, I figured, “the forest… It takes people. You know why it’s evergreen?”

“Because of the rain?”  She was mad.

“The rain brings a mist, the mist messes with your head… And once you are lost, the forest takes you in… It devours your youth… Feasts on it! No wonder no animal lives there.”

A snort escaped my lips. “Sorry,” I turned my face. Definitely mad.

I heard her sigh. 

“You may laugh, young lady… But I was there, camping with my friends in the forest in August, two years back,” eyes closed, she shuddered twice. When she opened them next, they were tearful. 

“What happened?” 

She looked at me long and hard, and then smiled, “Sorry… That’s my stop. Will tell you next time… if you listen to my advice.” She got down. 

I fumed. Stupid old git!

***

The forest uncoiled before me. The mist wasn’t too bad… I passed an RV parked by the trail, in the middle of the woods, engine dead, headlights on. It had a blue sticker on its windshield that read “YOLO!”. I imagined happy campers inside. It had been ages since I had gone camping with friends. But I needed this solo trip to unwind. 

The deodars stood silent like sentinels, as if guarding some grave secret… The mist added generous dollops of white here and there, lending an earthy flavour to the woods. I could smell it… So enthralled was I in its verdant charm, that I almost walked past the campers’ truck again. Almost. 

Yes… the same one… the same blue sticker, headlights still on. It hadn’t driven past me. Which meant… Was I walking in circles? Was I lost? 

“Helloo… ooo!” I knocked on its door. 

No one answered. The door was locked from inside! 

“Hello! Anybody here?” I pressed against the glass window. It was dark within. 

And then, a young woman’s face suddenly appeared against the window. I shrieked and fell to the ground. The woman shrieked too, her face contorted in excruciating pain, her lips puckered up into a dreadful ‘O’… Only there was no sound. 

To my horror, I realized I knew this woman. Why she had been lecturing me on the bus yesterday… telling me that I shouldn’t be here! Only… Only this face was much younger! 

I screamed and fainted. 

***

I met her again on the bus as I was returning. 

“I see you didn’t take my warning,” she sighed. 

I touched the wrinkles on my face. Tears welled up in my eyes. 
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