By Caleb Keith –
At one point or another, everybody makes their way to the edge of town. Past busy streets and crowded buildings lie an ominous wood. The woods are densely packed with foliage filling the space between trees both great and small. Squeezed between the packed greenery sit three paths. The paths were carved long ago; to this day, nobody knows who took the first steps. However, everybody knows that anybody who entered the woods never came back into town. The myth says that all who enter will die while some say at the end of the wood lies a paradise unlike any other.
I don’t know why, but the woods call to me. Most days I am driven mad yearning to know where those mysterious paths lead. For years I never had the courage to take the perilous steps into the woods, that was until last Friday. Early that morning I packed a small bag, got, in my car, and drove to the head of the trails. Leaving the keys in my car, I shut the door and headed toward the centermost trail. When I was about to start walking, I felt a voice come over me, calling me onto the rightmost trail. I changed my course and began walking, and a cloud of dust trailed my steps along the soft dry dirt.
After only a few minutes, the light that guided me faded as the sun was blotted out by the tree canopy. In only an hour of walking, I hit my first dilemma. The singular road upon which I marched now split into two. I paused for several minutes and debated what I should do when I noticed a sign hanging in a tree. It read, “TURN LEFT!” Whoever wrote that sign certainly knew more than me, and I Immediately began following the leftward fork. My new road was much rougher filled with roots and rocks rather than the soft dirt that had previously padded my feet. Upon one particularly tall rock, I hoisted myself into a tree to get a bearing on my progress.
When I got to the top, my worst fear had been realized. When I looked around me I saw no end to the forest in any direction; I could not even see the town that I had just left behind. The only glimmer of hope was that I could see three paths, the same three paths I was forced to choose from earlier, and I was now traveling on the center one. Since I wasn’t getting out by the end of the day, I decided to set up camp before night set. I hadn’t brought much with me, but I had been wise enough to bring matches. I lit a fire, ate some food, and went to sleep.
At the sight of the sun and after a miserable nights sleep I sprung up hoping to make a good deal of progress by the end of the day. After an entire morning of walking, I began to feel like I was being followed. The eerie sense didn’t leave me until I once again came to a fork in the road. It was the same story as before, either continue straight or turn left. However, this time, I heard a whisper, like the one that first called me into the woods. The voice was neither distinct nor clear, but it was calling me pulling me to the left. Mesmerized I began down the road.
As I walked what I knew to be the leftmost path the bushes on my right began to rustle. I had heard animals the night before but nothing as large as what was shaking them at that moment. Before I could even blink, I was thrown onto my back by a large mountain lion. My heart raced, and in my mind, I knew I was surely dead. The ferocious beast took his paws off me and began pacing back and forth along the trail. For minutes, we locked eyes while he growled with a low rumble. All of a sudden I got the crazy thought to get up and run, after all, I was as dead on my back as I was on my feet. To my amazement, the lion did not give chase and soon I was back on the center path.
Then I heard a voice yell, “No! You must not stay on the center path or you will surely die.” At that moment, a large serpent descended from a tree on my left and spoke, “I am the voice of the woods! Do not question my wisdom.” I thought it must be a hallucination that or I had already died at the hands of the lion. The snake continued to speak and poured out a wealth of knowledge concerning the woods.
The snake first told me that of the three paths the center one leads to a gruesome death. A trap that had been set by the lion, so that he could corner and devour weary travelers. He then described to me a shining paradise to which I would be delivered if I followed him to the end of the woods. The paradise he described is what my heart cried out for living in the city all those years. After his stories, the snake and I began to walk now following the rightmost path. I was lead to a cave in which I could spend the night safely tucked away from the lion.
Soon I found out that trusting the snake was a grave mistake. After sleeping most of the night, I woke up to find my right leg had gone completely numb. I then felt the snakes twisted tongue along my neck as he hissed, “Now, now, my dear morsel do not fear. You won’t feel a thing while I eat you; my venom is already fast at work.” I cried out in desperation, weeping. The serpent’s lessons were true but twisted, it was not the lion who preyed on travelers but the snake; the two outside paths were his cleverly devised traps.
I was helplessly coiled in the serpent’s grasp slowly dyeing from his venom when suddenly I heard the low growl of the mountain lion. The beast charged the serpent biting him below the head. The serpent immediately released me, and I fell to the floor. The two animals struggled above me attempting to claim me as their prize. The lion then pinned the snake firmly to the ground and lifting his right paw cut open the belly of the beast leaving him lifeless on the floor.
The venom had now taken over most of my body, and I couldn’t feel a thing, but I saw the roof of the cave begin to move. I was being dragged out of the cave by the lion, and I began to see the rising of the sun. For such a ferocious beast the lion was gentle but firm as he carried me. The lion carried me all the way to the end of the woods into paradise; the place my heart was longing for all along.