I tried to open my eyes, but my body was fighting me. I knew something was different, something wasn’t right. I forced my eyes open until the blurred surroundings came into focus. I was in woods. It was unrecognizable and indistinct. But, how had I gotten here? I thought for a few moments sifting through every corner of my memory, but it was gone. All recollection of any events prior to my awaking were gone.
I can’t recall how long I sat… hours maybe, I don’t know. But I sat there in the middle of the woods with my arms hugging my knees. I looked around at this world, and as I stared, I realized this place was odd. Through the canopy of trees, I looked into the sky, and although it appeared to be the waning moments of light before dusk, there was absolutely nothing discernible: no sun, no moon, no stars. There was also a disturbing lack of life. I didn’t hear rustling of animals, there were no chirps of birds, and there were no creeping and buzzing of insects. There was just dreadful, eerie silence. I stood and my movements announced themselves throughout the entirety of the woods.
I had no idea which direction I was facing, so I began to walk. I walked in a straight line until I came across a stump. Normally, I wouldn’t question a stump in the woods, but this stump was different in the fact that it was a stump. I glanced around and noticed that there wasn’t a single damaged or downed tree. This stump was an anomaly in such a perfect woods. With care I approached the stump and saw a small axe embedded in it.
“What are you doing here?” I asked the axe.
How had I not noticed this until just now? It was in plain view, and it was stuck directly in the middle. I glanced around again futilely and said, “Hello?”
No answer, of course.
I stopped thinking about it and tried to pull the axe from its resting place. It was wedged in there pretty tightly, and when I jerked on it my grip slipped. The loose leaves caused my feet to stumble, and I fell face first into the stump. I felt a trickle of blood running down my forehead, and when I opened my eyes I saw letters crudely carved into the stump. It read, “Remember Andy”.
"Remember Andy? What does that mean? Who's Andy" I asked myself.
I grasped and grasped at my memories to try and remember why I knew this, but I couldn't. It didn't make any sense; however, there was something in my mind that made me think it was important... or that I knew it from somewhere.
As I lay face first in the leaves next the stump I noticed that I was wearing a backpack. Slightly shocked at this revelation, I quickly sat up and removed the backpack.
It was a hiking backpack. In one zipper pocket there was a bladder that was filled with water and there was a tube coming from the side of it to suck out the water. Attached to one side was 10 feet of cotton rope and a few leather straps. I unzipped all the pockets to see what else I could find.
“Was I going hiking or something?” I asked myself.
In the backpack was an assortment of items: a large survival knife that was about 12 inches, a sharpening stone, three BIC Lighters, a flint stone, a digital wristwatch with and a few extra watch batteries, a dozen jingle bells, a compass, a multi-tool, a small LED flashlight, a twelve pack of lithium AAA batteries, work gloves, 100 yards of 15 pound test fishing line, a pack of fishing hooks, two pens, a notebook, a dozen or so energy bars, a canteen, and a skinning knife.
“Why can't I remember packing any of this? Was I going camping? And, where is my phone? Did I not pack a phone? Or, a GPS? Ugh.”
I looked again at the notebook, and a sudden burst of thought hit me, “Maybe I wrote something down,” I whispered.
I thumbed through the blank pages of the notebook. I grunted in frustration, put on the wristwatch, and carefully placed all the items back into pack; but not before writing down the odd message carved into the stump. I stood again with axe in hand. My compass said I was going south, so I continued my aimless route forward.
I hated how loud I was being. The crunching of leaves and the snapping of twigs under my feet would certainly alert anyone within earshot. These sounds were so painfully loud I cringed with each step. Paranoia began to encase me, and I stumbled forward with haste almost slipping several times.
I don't know why but I began to hum Darth Vader's “Imperial March”.
Doo doo doo do-da-doo do-da-doo doo doo doo do-DA-do doo-DA-do doo doo doo dah dah da-da-da
My heart started to beat faster and I knew something was following me. Maybe, just maybe, if whatever was following knew that I wasn't scared it would leave me alone. I began to hum faster.
Duh dah dah duh-da-da-dah
It had gotten closer, and I felt it behind me. It was there. I stopped running and became completely frozen. It was as if I could not control my actions. I wanted to turn around – I wanted to keep running, but I couldn’t. I felt it get closer and closer, and in those next few moments that seemed to drag out into eternity, I knew it was breathing down the back of my neck. I gripped the axe tightly and took in a deep breath.
With all my strength, I turned and whipped the axe toward this horror. The force of the swing twisted me off me feet and spun me to the ground. The axe ripped through the air. There was nothing behind me.
I landed hard on the ground and twisted my ankle. I flipped over on my back and stared into the trees. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing – just trees. I slowly stood again and put weight on my ankle. It hurt, but it wasn't bad as I could still walk.
After walking for about two hours, I came upon a small clearing in the woods. It was a camp.
“HELLO?” I yelled.
The only answer I got was my echo.
“Hey! Anybody there? Hello?”
I walked closer, and I noticed that this camp looked abandoned. There were no signs of recent activity – no smoldering fire, no trash, no food remains – nothing.
“Wonderful.” I sarcastically said out loud.
I've seen enough movies and played enough survival video games to know that you never leave anything behind that may help you in the future. I sifted through the camp for whatever may be put to good use. I found a cooking tin that I tied to my pack, a hammer which I crammed inside my pack, and I rolled the tent and the bedroll together with the stakes and attached them to the top of my pack. Also, before leaving the campsite, I found a sturdy branch and began to fashion it into a walking stick.
I was sitting on the ground carving and chipping pieces of the branch when I noticed a soft glow in the ashes of the long extinct fire. I studied them for a few seconds and noticed that flames began to lick the air.
I was unable to tear my gaze from the fire, and soon, the flicker began to roar and the yellow-red aura gripped my entire body. Abruptly, I was jerked to the ground and the fire’s flames lassoed my arms and legs tying me to the forest floor. I felt the pain of the fire as it cut down to my bones; however, no marks were being made on my body. From the flames came creatures; disgusting, melting creatures with hunched backs, long arms and claws, no eyes, and a gaping mouth filled with dagger-like teeth. They were about the size of a large dog, and they slowly sauntered toward my helpless body and climbed on top of me.
Their melting flesh burned my own, and their putrid stench of sulfur was making me gag. They began clawing and ripping at my flesh and digging into my torso. I felt every ounce of pain, and I saw every drop of blood and piece of flesh that was rend from my body.
I gasped for air and my eyes opened as I sat up.
“Did I pass out?” I asked aloud.
I checked my body and there were no marks; no evidence of any clawing or burning. I looked to my right and saw that my walking stick was right where I left it.
“A dream?” I said.
I shook my head and finished chipping the last pieces of the walking stick so that it would be just right for me. Finally, I was leaving this dreadful campsite, but I noticed something that scared the very core of my being. The old fire pit; the old ashes were smoking.
“No.” I shook my head, “No, it was a dream. Just a dream. No. I won’t believe it. I must have messed up my head when I hit the stump.”
I started sprint further south. I wanted to leave that campsite and forget it happened.
I must have ran a mile before I stopped to catch my breath.
“Wha... what's going on?” I asked.
I really didn't know what to make of my situation. None of this made any sense. After my breathing had calmed, I listened to the sounds around me and heard something familiar.
“Is... is that what I think it is?”
I followed it, and I began to hear it clearer and clearer. I was right. I heard moving water.
“That's gotta be a river or a creek.”
I used my ears to guide me, and soon, I saw the beautiful sight. It was a small, slow moving creek that was about two feet deep and filled with fish. I hadn't eaten the entire day – mostly because of shock; however, the sight of the fish reminded my stomach that I needed something.
I dropped my pack and removed my fishing equipment. I evaluated the situation of the creek and the fish and decided that fishing with a hook was going to be wasted effort. I decided to dam the current with several large rocks which caused the fish to collect in a basin at which I could practically scoop out the fish.
Once I completed the dam, the only things I needed for it to work were time and fish. While my trap was taking effect, I scoured the bank and nearby woods for firewood. I noticed something that I hadn't seen all day. I could see the sun, and it was beginning to set.
“I guess I might was well set up camp here tonight.”
After I had gathered more than enough firewood, I checked my fishing trap. It had worked. I made a spear with my survival knife, walking stick, leather straps, and rope, and speared six large trout from the basin. I used the multi-tool to skin and clean the fish and the cooking tin to cook them. While eating, I mapped what I had traveled that day in the woods; including my waking, the stump, the abandoned campsite, and the creek. I knew if I was going to get out of this place I was going to need a reliable map.
After I ate, I buried the remains, cleaned the tin, and boiled water from the river in it to replace what I had drunk from my canteen throughout the day. I also filled the bladder in my backpack with fresh water. I realized something strange as I was pitching the tent.
“How do I know all of this?”
I guess it was a legitimate question. How did I know how to do these things? I can't even remember how I got into the woods much less anything that happened prior to my waking. I was a little too tired to give it much thought. It was now dark, and I could see the moon and stars in the clear sky. It was a comforting feeling because I knew that I was somewhere on Earth. Earlier that day I wasn't so sure.
Before I went to sleep, I used the fishing line to make a 30 foot perimeter around my camp and placed the jingle bells on it.
I laughed to myself and said, “Ahhh, I was wondering why I had those.”
I placed more wood on the fire to last the night, retreated to my tent, and went to sleep.