Tera didn't remember the woods being so dark. When she'd arrived it was morning and now the shadows cast by the copious surrounding pines were all-encompassing. She stood in a tiny house, a shed, and watched as it alighted from nothing into fire. Every wall and window went up at once and burned for only seconds before dying and leaving nothing but the charred bones of the building.
She saw it as if in fast forward. The smoke dying and the burnt wood cooling. The trees grew taller and their needled branches slowly penetrated the outer wood and foundation. The sky churned in yellow then blue then black. Yellow then blue then black. Over and over as time raced forward faster than she could follow. Was she time traveling? How had this started? What did it mean?
The paths of the shadows on the trees got shorter and shorter as the days flew by. Animals made homes in the nooks and crannies of the structure. Bugs made nests in the rotting wood, splitting it open through the short generations and swarming in sickening waves through the floorboards. Tera jumped up onto the chair with a shudder and a scream. Everything was happening quickly but she could tell everything that was happening as if in slow motion.
Every spider web that was built and then knocked down carelessly by some inconsiderate squirrel. Every dandelion and fern grew and wilted in the light of the broken windows. Every raccoon seeking shelter in the dilapidated walls only to succumb to whatever wound or illness infected it. Every maggot hatched from microscopic eggs in the flesh of such animals as they decomposed one by one, unfound and untouched in the small burnt shack.
This was not a happy place.
Time marched in infuriatingly equal portions onward and though time is a force without bias, this place only brought harm and sadness to those who stumbled across it.
She felt herself sink into the chair farther as she watched it all. Slowly becoming desensitized to the endless parade of tragedy. She watched as the shack filled with snow and killed the chipmunks that had made it their home. She watched as the leaves fell and scattered over the floorboards, scraping away the remnants of a rug and the stray cat that finally starved in the corner.
She watched the seasons change and counted as the snows came and wiped clean everything that dared to live upon the ground. A brutal and complete clean slate.
She felt herself being drawn into the monotony and cyclical nature of it. She was dying. Every day she was alive she was dying. Every time her feet touched the ground it took a few pieces of her, sure to take her back wholly someday. Why not today? She did not flinch at the thought. In a timeless expanse where everything becomes the ground eventually, why not today?
But she doesn't touch the ground, she's on a chair. She may one day sleep forever but that day is not today and that person...isn't...her…
She wasn't the one in the chair.
Suddenly she was standing, and understanding more clearly than anything she'd ever known or learned. She didn't belong to this ground. Whoever saw this building die didn't die with it.
Something was attracting this misery, pulling the wounded and finishing them off, but why?
Was that why she was drawn here?
Her mind flashed with visions, the sleek shape of an unusually large weasel, as it escaped out the door.
Her eyes shot open in the dim light of evening. When she looked around she saw the same shed and the same chair she must've fallen asleep on. as she looked around she noticed the walls of the shed were charred.
She felt drained, so much so that for a moment she didn't move from the cheap, folding chair she'd fallen asleep on. She couldn't bring herself to move her weary bones and muscles. How had she slept in a chair, outside, all day? On a more freaky note she wondered; if she had slept all day, why did she feel like she'd just run ten miles? Or worked a twelve-hour shift?
She shook the memories of dreams from her hair and stood, confidently striding with an aching body to the door. She was done with this shed and she just wanted to go home.
She couldn't remember where she was for the longest time. Walking around and coming back to the same shed. The sun sank ever lower as she tried and failed to find the path back out. She walked towards a light she thought might be the light post she'd seen when a horrible cry made her turn tail quite quickly. She wasn't usually such a wuss in the dark, but the dream had put her on edge.
Was it real? Did it mean something?
Her fleeing brought her not back to the shed, but to a stream. It babbled through the fallen pine logs and mossy boulders like a ribbon that had been twisted in the wind. She resolved to follow it, and find her way back to the civilization she recognized.
Her walk wasn't long, the pull, like gravity, that the shed had on her dissipated. She walked along the creek and felt the mud seep into her sneakers and soak her socks. There was an instant where she didn't care, they'd all return to the mud one day.
She could see the light trickling through the distant tree branches was artificial and yellow. She walked a bit faster. Where she once found the woods charming and full of life, she was now only eager to leave it and its frightening showcase of inevitability.
She surged forward, reaching for the end, and met instead the near-impact of another body. She stumbled as she almost ran headlong into someone else in the woods she hadn't noticed. She shook off the encounter and continued, only focused on getting home.
She emerged in a clearing just behind a familiar house. Her house, she acknowledged in confusion.
They didn't have a creek in their backyard. She'd been playing in these woods for as long as she could remember, never once had she seen a creek or any body of water. Her trailer looked small, so far away across the damp grassy field of a backyard.