In the Woods Somewhere
by Daniel A. Lagergren
Inspired by “In The Woods Somewhere” by Hozier
A sound woke me. I remember not what. Startled and confused, I tried to open my eyes. My eyelids felt like lead. Cemented shut by viscous fluid and pus. Weary and weak I wiped with my feeble hand and clawed at the dried and crusted mass. Like sea-salt or fine breadcrumbs. As the veil lifted from my eyes, I could see the light. A pale, white orb gazing in through the vapour streaked window glass. A full moon. A winter's moon. The light bit into my irises, and I retreated into darkness as I rested my hand on my brow. The cold of the room tugged at my skin. I let out a breath and could see faint wisps of warm steam in front of my face. I was burning, hot coal in a room made of ice, and darkness. Spikes of pain shot through my head. Like a vice crushing at my temples. I let out a groan. Time. This was the first thought that made it through my fevered mind. What hour was this? What day, what month, what year had me awaken alone in the dark and cold? The night outside revealed nothing of passage or season. The dark, blue sky, riddled with stars. Only the obscene moon, hinted at winter. I touched my chin and felt the stubble turned beard. With my fingernails, I grasped at my face and felt weeks of uncut and sharp negligence claw at me. Time was elusive, but ever present. As I tried to turn my head and felt the sandpaper of the cotton pillow against my raw skin. I felt flayed and burnt. Like something dragged through the black deserts and then a river of knives. I bit back the sensation and took in the room.
Small. Dark. No light except for what the windows allowed. But for my bed, the room was spartan and sparsely furnished. A chamber pot, another bed, a small stove and a table and chair. The furnace had burned out. It’s dead, cold metal almost a source of cold. The other bed was empty. No signs of it being used. A feeling jolted in my mind, and I could feel my chest clenching. That bed, where someone should have laid beside me. Empty. Horrid. Cold. I looked away. On the wall above my head, hanging about a meter up was a mounted stag's skull. The points of the antlers too many to count in the dim light. Its fangs ominously pointed down towards my head. Something about the fang struck me as unusual, and altogether unseemly. Stags don’t usually have fangs. Fangs. A smile of knives, like a leering skull. Something was so familiar about this skull. A sudden urge filled me. To rip down the absurd decoration and smash it into pieces. A white, burning rage that came from a corner of my mind still reeling with the dizziness of sleep. I felt nauseous and tried to sit up.
The cold struck my wet, clammy body as I placed my feet on the hard, wooden floor. I could hear something scatter from underneath my bed. A musty, sickly stench rose from the damp sheepskin that made up my bed. It filled my nostrils, and I felt a wave of memories and nausea strike me. I fought against my body as it tried to expunge the contents of my stomach, and I felt the aching of my bones. Once the coughing and dry heaving stopped, I took a deep breath and stood up. I prayed my mind be good to me. My legs were weak. As I steadied myself on the bed-knob, I felt the darkness envelop my naked body. So thick were the shadows, they could be cut with a knife. I stumbled towards the table. The rickety thing could hardly bear my weight, so I sat down on the chair. I then noticed the sack. Hiding in the dark between the chair and the bed. It looked familiar. I grabbed it and opened its contents on the table before me. The sweet scent of a woman's perfume clung to the shirt and trousers. The coat was a dirty, thick mantle made of cotton and animal pelts. It bore the look, and smell, of something worn by a woodsman. A faint smell of firewood and smoke. Thoughts of memories ran like thick sap through my mind. I could only make out fragments of images and feelings. I felt sorrow. Deep, hard, and unrelenting longing for something. Someone. The feeling only stronger for the lack of context. Who was I missing? And more pressing, who was I? And this room, somehow I knew this to be a cabin. Something about the draft coming off the walls, the furniture and the layout that revealed a careful plan to fit all the necessities of a home into the one room.
I rose from the seat and began dressing. The clothes were a perfect fit. These were mine. One last look into the sack revealed a pocket. Inside it, I found a flintlock pistol. I took it out and examined it by the soft light from the window. It was a beautiful piece. Well worn, but the master craftsmanship shone through the heavy usage. The elegant oak hilt had initials engraved. T.O. This. I remembered now. Before I knew it, I had pressed the muzzle against my temple. Cold, metal and unrelenting. The promise of relief. The promise of joining you. I squeezed the trigger. The dull clicking of the cock striking the pan. The gun was not loaded. I let out a breath and felt pain wash over me. My head hurt so bad. I just wanted it all to end. Then, a noise. A scream. In the woods somewhere. A woman's voice. Shrill and panicked. I uttered your name as if it had been on my lips this entire time. I lowered the pistol, grabbed the coat, and ran towards the door.
Outside, the world was contrasting in black and white. The night so black, that the darkness hummed. The trees around the cabin made out only a shade darker than the sky. A sheet of white snow covered the ground, and the light of the moon made it shine like a white lake spreading out between me and the edge of the forest. Again I heard the soft cry, coming from the forest. I ran towards it. The untouched snow crunched underneath my bare feet. The sensation of cold all but a nuisance on my skin. With the flintlock in my right hand, I fled into the pitch black of the woods.
Disorientation hit me like a battering ram. The small, patches where the moon’s light met the ground was not nearly enough to guide me. I stopped mid-flight. Halfway to nowhere. I stood still and listened. The only sound, my shallow breaths. A branch broke somewhere. I spun around, but darker, trees greeted me. Then, another scream. Closer. That direction. I ran. My feet, stepping on sharp stones and gnarly twigs, were numb to the sensation. I could feel the blood pounding in my ears. A faint taste of metal found it’s way onto my tongue. Another yell. I could see a clearing in the distance. My pace quickened.
The woods opened up. About the size of a banquet hall, trees surrounded the almost round opening in the forest. Small, timid flakes of snow had begun falling on the meadow below. Everything was still. The carnage, the blood streaks and the exposed ground, was a scene as frozen as the world around me. In the middle of all that dirt and blood lay a small body. I could hear soft whimpering and make out subtle movements. As I drew closer, I noticed how the red fur was torn. How bones laid bare in a mess of ripped flesh and blood. A small, wounded fox. He shock, so afraid. Steam rose from the open wounds, and from his ragged breaths. I walked as close as I dared. Then a little closer. The fox made no attempt to flee. It just laid there. Breathing. His head was resting on the snowy ground. I could not tell if he even noticed me. Sudden sorrow and compassion for the creature gripped me. I looked towards the ground. The snow-flecked mud had been pressed firmly by footprints and heavy dragging. It seemed like the dirt streets of the town centre, where the gallows stood. My foot hit something. A rock the size of a grown man's clenched fist. I picked it up and positioned it in my hand. The fox, weary and dying, looked up at me with one last pleading look. I raised the rock and ended his pain. The thump of rock crushing skull made me flinch. As I sat beside the fox, my hand stroking his wet fur, I began examining the wounds. Teeth-marks. Fangs so large. And deep claw-marks. Shredding claws that dug into tissue and ripped meat from bone. I stood up, suddenly aware of the quiet. Something had happened then. I could not put my finger on it, but as I looked around, I felt the forest draw nearer. Like a monster stalking. Then I felt it. Eyes. Watching me. My heart grew cold. I felt the prickling of sweat breaking on my skin. My heartbeat throbbed and hammered against my chest. Twigs cracked. I turned in time to see branches snap and break as the creature entered the clearing. I saw a crown of antlers. A gleaming maw of fangs, a smile of knives. And pinprick eyes like red, burning coal. I lunged and ran. Into the woods.
The flight was a mad scramble through thickets and bushes. Rounding trees and jumping over fallen branches. All in the dimly lit dark of the forest. I ran and ran. Until I could only hear the blood in my veins screaming. I felt perspiration and steam through my beard, and sweat stinging in my eyes. Still clutching the pistol, I thought of turning and facing my pursuer. But I had neither gunpowder nor courage to prevent me from running. I needed to hide. Finally, a stone. As big as a house. And ran around it and slid down at its base. My breath was loud and wheezing. I covered my mouth with my hand and listened. Nothing. No pursuit. The woods were still. Not a sound. Not wind nor animals. The world was frozen. Had I escaped the beast? Was its appetite for blood sated with the small fox, or had it not seen me as it entered the clearing? I let out a relieved breath. Then it came. A wall of sound. Breaking branches and falling trees. And in there, a roar. Like the guttural cries of a bear, or the scraping of a shovel against hard rock. It was coming closer. Fast. I stood up and ran.
In the distance, I saw the cabin, and the small yard before it. With a cacophony of breaking worlds behind me, I steered towards it. I could feel the beast closing in. All of a sudden it came to me. The rush of knowledge. Knowing that life still mattered. I wished it kept. This horrid life. This life without you. Empty. Black. But life still. If only to keep your memory alive. Just a few more steps. The snow flew around me like a hurricane. Closer. I reached the porch, threw myself against the door and staggered into the dark room. I threw the door closed behind me in time to see a tree falling down, flat into the small yard. The room seemed to have shrunk since I left it. I grabbed the table and pushed it hard against the door, barring it. I threw all my weight against it. I whispered your name and asked for forgiveness. I closed my eyes, and braced myself.