THE FOREST GUARDIAN
I need a break……
I love the forest at night. My feet stomped the dry leaves on the earth, feeling the moisture on the sides of my shoe. I entered a familiar path, populated with the familiar trees of my childhood. The forest had always been my playground. I would play hide and seek with my friends and pick some berries and take them home. Nowadays, I go to the forest for my hiking. I love being around nature. It calms me and helps me focus on my goals. Now, I need to hike and be around nature for this goal.
I have nothing left.
I walked on the natural path and felt the jagged rocks under the soles of my shoes. The route is coming up soon. I felt my heart race and my hands become clammy. Beads of cold sweat began to drop down my neck as I stifle a burp, warning me that I’m both exhausted and on the verge of vomiting. I’ve always felt like this whenever I was about to do something big, like when I left this town to go to college, or when I decided to drop out of college to follow my friend’s investment schemes. “That certainly was a smart move,” I murmur as I walked on further
I am pathetic.
Why did I even say yes to my friend? I should have listened to the others when they said it was a huge mistake. I shouldn’t have gambled my college savings. Hell, I shouldn’t have dropped out of college in the first place. I approached a large white sign. A familiar landmark. It’s here that the locals made a dirt path into the forest. I looked across the road from where I stood and I could see an old wooden gas station with a small mini-mart where my friends and I used to go to buy ice pops after rounds of hide and seek. I’m pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t replaced by a modern convenience store. I tear my eyes away and drop down to do some squats. I took a deep breath and started on the dirt path. There is a reason why I’m hiking right now.
I came here to die.
Going deeper plunges me into darkness. I pulled out my phone and turned on the flashlight. I weaved through the familiar forest path. I hear a whistling in the distance and wondered what type of animal makes that noise. The smell of wet earth and dried leaves fill my nostrils as my feet continue to crunch on the path. I’m dripping with sweat now, beads sliding down my back, my eyebrows drenched with perspiration. I blink once and suddenly the forest spins around. I drop to my knees and vomit hot, sour liquid. Panting, I steel myself. There’s nothing else I can do, no last-minute save, no contingency plan to fall back on. With my eyes still teary from vomiting and my body exhausted from all that hiking, I look up, and I see what looks like a white figure walking towards me. I hurriedly shine the flashlight forward and illuminate only the trunks of trees. I’m agitated; not thinking straight, and now I’m seeing things. I’m still not stable enough to stand properly, so I try to calm myself as I shine my light forward. Something long scurries up my knee and I quickly brush it aside, not daring to look down. After a few deep breaths, I stand up again and move onward.
As I walk forward, something comes in and out of my peripheral vision. Maybe there really was another person in the forest with me? If it was an animal, I hope that my footsteps scare it away. I considered the presence of wolves or bears in the forest, but don’t recall any incident of attacks in my childhood. Not that it would matter anyway. With what I came here to do. I’m near my destination and my heart thumps and bangs wildly in my chest. The trees around me are dark and imposing as I force myself to move forward, each step weighed down by the realization that I’m mere minutes from my last breath. A cold finality dawns as I reach a clearing which would play host to my suicide… I square my shoulders as I reach into my fanny pack and pulled out a small handgun.
Do it now.
I knelt on the forest ground and positioned the gun into my mouth. My whole hand began to shake violently as I lightly applied pressure to the trigger. In the distance, the clip-clop sound of hooves distracts me for a moment. I nervously chuckle at the thought of a goat or a horse in the forest at night.
Do it now.
Sweat began to sting my eyes so I shut them hard. I press the trigger a bit more, my open mouth now dry and cold. The leaves around me began to rustle as cold air blows loudly. I advanced the gun further in my mouth, trying to get the job done as I feel a familiar pain bubbling in my stomach.
DO IT NOW!
I ducked to the side as vomit projects out of my mouth. I heave again, retching hard as my stomach cramps and my throat burns. Suddenly, I hear a high pitched, maniacal laughter in front of me. I open my eyes and fumbled around for my phone’s flashlight. What I see makes me stumble backward in shock.
What the hell is that?!
A tall, wizened figure resembling a man was looming over me, his green eyes bulging out of his sockets and his mouth upturned in a yellow-fanged smile. Grayish saliva was dripping down into a white chest full of pulsating, blue veins. He stomps his feet and instead of the mushing sound of flesh and mud, I hear thunderous hooves. His head shakes with that eerie laughter as he crouches down, bringing his face inches from mine.
I heard him say in a raspy, guttural tone as his putrid breath invaded my nose. I continued to stare helplessly into his face, stringy hair strewn with twigs and leaves. Black-nailed fingers twirled and bent near my face. He gnashed his fangs and opened his mouth, revealing a shockingly red, reptilian tongue.
I don’t know what he means by that statement. But as soon as I move my gun he titters excitedly. I raise the gun, and he starts to grin. I opened my mouth wide, bringing the gun inside once more. He howls in anticipation as I slowly press the trigger. Once his glowing green eyes meet mine again, the first thought that began to race was that I didn’t want my last sight on earth to be of this…..monster.
I dropped the gun and I started to sprint as fast as my legs could carry me. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the strange man was now running towards me, maniacal screeching laughter echoing all over the forest. I ran past the trees and slipped across muddy tracks. I didn’t want to be around it. Why was it coming after me? What did it want from me? More importantly, what the hell was it?
I saw the white signpost and made my way across the street to the old gas station. I ran inside the mini-mart and shut the door behind me and fell to the floor. I spotted the old man behind the counter. He had a big white beard and a warm smile. He furrowed his eyes, walked out the counter, and knelt by my side. “Are you alright son?” he asked.
I panted heavily and leaned back against the door. The old man began to help me up and walked me towards the back of the counter, making me sit down as he handed me a cold bottle of beer. He began to ask what I was doing in the forest. I told him about my woes and my intention to kill myself. The old man berated me for a bit on the stupidity of ending one’s life just for a mistake or two. Then he asked. “You didn’t see anything in there, did you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, not sure where he was going with this question.”
“Just that face you’re making.” He studied me closely. I look to the side and massage my jaw. My heart is still beating frantically.
“Like a ghost or something?” I reply.
“I don’t know about ghosts…the locals here, they all talk about this creature called the ‘Leshy’. Have you heard about him?” When I shook my head, he continued. “He’s a forest spirit, something of a protector of sorts. Giant shapeshifter he is, with all sorts of leaves and branches for limbs, skin as white as milk and eyes as green as the slime on a pond. Sometimes he has antlers and hooves, sometimes he wears clothes like you and I.”
“A ‘Leshy’?” I repeat, not understanding exactly what he is saying.
“I haven’t seen him, of course. I just hear stories from lumberjacks and other hikers who come through this area. Doubt he’s real,” he continued. “And he apparently likes a laugh.”
My stomach started to twist into a knot. “La… laugh?” I stammered
“Loves a good laugh. Stories say he purposefully makes people lost just for the joy of seeing them run around in circles. Get him to laugh on your own, and you’ll be blessed with good luck. Get him mad and …well…” he doesn’t finish his sentence. The old man then set a plate of sandwiches in front of me. I discover that vomiting multiple times has made me ravenous.
“Listen,” the old man suddenly said “I’ve seen a lot of things in my years working at this store, seen them all. Bunch of kids going in the forest in daylight? Doesn’t bother me. Young guy like you hiking at night with the intention of killing himself? Doesn’t sit right with me. Promise me you won’t do something like that again.”
I nodded without saying a word as I ate my sandwich and drank my beer. The old man then decided he would take me back to town and I thanked him for it. As I got inside his old pick-up, I look towards the trees. A chill ran up my spine as I remembered the horrifying creature. I patted the fanny pack and felt something cold and hard. I reached in and pulled out the small handgun, wondering how it got back into my person. I was sure I dropped it on the forest grounds. Then, an idea clicks into my head.
Blessed with luck indeed.