“Are you okay?” Elizabeth exclaims as I approach Josh and her. She hurries forward to help steady me. My blood coats my shoulder and runs down my arm and side.
“I’m all right,” I say, removing my weight off of her and standing erect. I notice Josh regarding me, dumbfounded.
“You killed that thing?” he asks, his surprise and awe evident.
“Yes,” I reply, sitting down with my back to a boulder, “he’s dead.”
“Is there anything we can do to help you?” Elizabeth asks, glancing at my shoulder.
“That would be wonderful,” I say, genuinely thankful.
While Elizabeth and Josh bandage my shoulder, I breathe slowly, focused and determined. To them, it would appear as if I’m only trying to stay calm, as if I’m patiently registering my pain. Yet, staring ahead at the ground, my thoughts wander elsewhere. The weight of fate is bearing down heavily on me. Something evil and unearthly is knocking at the door. Everything changed so suddenly; the shift in the air, the shade of the light, the silent and yet bizarrely loud groan and watchfulness of the world around us. The couple senses nothing.
But I do.
This is the part where things get tricky. Where the souls of the Passageway need to come through. When they need to grow. When they need to become who they need to be. Or be killed. And die. And become Evil themselves.
∗ ∗ ∗
We keep on heading through the forest of pointed boulders. The vegetation begins to appear slowly. First, a few clumps of grass, then a few weeds. Then a bush, sparse, dry and bleak. Then a tree, tall and strong, and yet still, like the bush, withered and lacking in life and radiance. Then everything slowly becomes combined. We are nearing the forest. I feel as if I can already hear it hissing, moaning, croaking, creeping. We come to the tip of a slope that declines downwards, granting us a view of what we are approaching.
The forest below immediately changes the otherwise pleasant countenance of this region of the Passageway. Dark, shadowy, bizarre, unearthly, fumes rising from this section, animals croaking from that section—Josh and Elizabeth both shift uneasily. They don’t want to ask, because they fear that they already know the answer; but yes, we are going into the forest. Not just because it’s the only way to reach the end of the Passageway, but because Josh and Elizabeth need to face whatever lies within the trees.
The Passageway is a reflection of reality. Reality is a dark, twisted thing.
We come to a halt at the edge of the forest, the trees thick, knotted and stretching out their boughs like bony hands. The depths of the forest are drenched in shadow, and they seem to twist and turn as you stare at them. “What’s in there?” Josh asks.
“Nothing we can’t handle,” I reply. My words seem to calm them. But I don’t think they understand that I just said, “we”.
We go a little ways into the forest. Initially, the couple clings closely to me. The darkness, combined with the eerie noises, give the forest an intimidating, unearthly impression. But gradually, both Josh and Elizabeth grow more relaxed, and they walk steadily along, following where I lead them. We have to stop eventually, as I grow weary, and I’d prefer to stay closer to the edge of the woods for the night.
We don’t make a fire. Not that we necessarily could. The shadows grow deeper, and the forest silent. I peer into the forest, my eyes flicking back and forth in each direction, waiting and watching. Things won’t remain so calm forever. The light overhead scarcely breaks through the opaque ceiling of tree branches, and what light does fall through is pale, eerie, and possessed of a strange, bluish tint.
Josh and Elizabeth are beginning to grow tired. I see their eye-lids drooping, though they try to stay awake. I wish this didn’t have to happen in the night. But it is. It’s coming. But I’m growing frustrated; they’re being so patient, so careful, I’m tempted to provoke them.
I decide, rather, to see them. I slowly raise my head and turn halfway in the direction that I feel their presence. Though it’s barely perceptible, my eyes burn brighter with charis. And I see them. Right before they attack.