The woods are not a place for playing.
Not at night.
I tell every one of them that. Every one of them that comes by my hut. I do everything possible to make it clear to them:
Be home by sundown.
Don’t stick around.
Don’t wait for night.
Because the night is waiting too.
Shadows are shapes, nothing more. Smudges to our eyes. They shift and move.
You’ve seen them before, haven’t you?
From the corner of your eye. They shift, don’t they? You see them glide impossibly smoothly, impossibly fast, across the ground. Just in the moment your eyes are about to snatch their forms. Jumping out of sight, causing you to doubt your instincts. To doubt your senses.
They lurk in those shadows. The ones that move.
Night is their home. Yes, you can see them occasionally in the day, but that’s quite rare. They can’t survive if they can’t move, and they can’t move in light.
The woods wait for night.
They wait for night.
And they’ll certainly wait for you.
When I first moved into my hut, I didn’t believe it. Felt that the old legends were just that: legends. Tales told by worrying mothers to keep their children in check. To ensure that they come home. That they don’t become lost in the woods.
Haven’t you ever wondered why they don’t come back?
Wolves. Big bad wolves, specifically, were always the cause in the minds of the people. Lions. Maybe bears. Something horrible, but natural. Something conceivable. Because one cannot fight what one cannot see. And you certainly can’t fight what you don’t understand.
Blame every clawed creature. Every fang, and ever fiber of every predator’s muscle. Blame the maw, and the howl, of hungering beasts. Blame everything else. Anything else.
But don’t go looking at night.
It’s taken a while, but I know now. And I believe. Unfortunately, the proof that lead to belief cost me much. So much more than generic faith would have, that’s for sure.
I’ve seen the dark.
I’ve seen the endless night.
I’ve seen them.
In flesh and in bones.
I’ve seen them.
I’d describe them to you, but I can’t. How I survived seeing the dark for myself is beyond me. In all honesty, I shouldn’t have survived. I should’ve died. Been consumed. Driven mad, just like all the others.
But I wasn’t.
I stepped into the black plane. Saw the creatures for what they were. Took a tour around that forbidden hell. Peeked around the building corpses, the house of bones, the fields of eyes and blood. Explored that unknown until it dug in me something deep. Something wild. A truth that sits madly in the steeple of the dark. That eats away at the ebbing days. That stirs the pot until vapors are left. A wisp of what was. That’s what the darkness has dug in me.
Wisps. Vapors. Mist.
But something that clots. Something that clouds.
They’ll blame me if more go missing, I’m sure.
I just seem like the type, you know?
That’s why I tell them.
I always tell them.
Be home before dark.
Be home before night.
Be home before the sun gives out.
They can’t stand the dark.
And the dark can’t stand them either.
Madness. Blood. Darkness.
The shadows swallow only what it can destroy.
Do you think that you stand a chance?
It’s a slow process. An agonizing one. That madness roots up in every mind the darkness consumes. It nibbles the edges until they’re frayed. Then you unwind. Slowly, but surely.
Do you have fears? Do you lack understanding? Do you fear your mortality?
There is reason, I’m sure.
I have seen what the darkness does.
I know it breathes into fear. Eats away your understanding. Stirs every instinct you have. It bends you into something without reason. It leaves you weak. Confused. An animal cornered in a dark room.
That is how darkness thrives.
Madness breeds chaos, and the dark consumes both greedily. Fat bellies full of frantic minds.
That is why you shouldn’t go into the woods at night.
I’ve explained all this, and still, I can see it:
You don’t believe me.
Do as you will.
Whittle away your reason. Allow your logic to spill through your fingers. Walk into the seventh circle. I’m sure you’ll find your answers there. Belief will kill those who reject it. That’s all I’ve seen. Be the next to wander into an endless death. There’s an hourglass spilling fine sand somewhere, I’m sure.
I’ll be waiting.