The Reflected Forest is a series told in parts as posts in this blog, if you haven’t read the parts before this one, you can check them out here:
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1.10 The Reflected Forest – The Dark Truth
I sat across from him at the table in the formal dining room. Over his head, the largest boar glared down at me. I was unnerved by the beast’s baleful gaze, but equally glad my uncle hadn’t suggested we sit at the kitchen table, where I would have been blinded by the preternatural brightness.
He had his hands together, fingers interlaced with the index fingers extended and pressed against his thin lips. He was trying not to smile, I could tell by the way his eyes were twinkling. I was digging my nails into my thighs and the pain was the only thing keeping the loss of control at bay.
“What is this place?” I asked.
My uncle lowered his hands to the table.
“Excellent question. Those of a religious disposition would call what you see purgatory, maybe Gehenna. In truth, it has no name. It is something that exists between the very atoms of our world. If our Earth is a picture, then this is a piece of tracing paper over top. Some aspects of Earth might show through… or at least, outlines of places or things with strong enough energy will be reflected into this world. And in those places, there is a connection between Earth and this reflection, where people like you and me can enter.”
“That doesn’t make sense, if that were true then we would know about it, it would have been reported, controlled, probably monetized or something,” I said.
Uncle Anthony smiled at me, unfazed.
“People see what they want to see – or in this case, they are blind to what they don’t want to see. Unexplained phenomenon happens every day around the world. People go missing, people go mad, creatures are sighted, and things disappear. None of that matters, what matters is the potential of what this place means,” he said.
“How. Do. I. Get. Back?” I spat through gritted teeth.
“You don’t, Tony. You’ll die here and turn to the ash that feeds the forest. I wanted you here for a reason. You have a purpose, Tony, that should make you proud. Most people waste their days slaving away in cubicle farms, eating themselves fat on burgers and fries, or going numb in front of a television screen. You are – you were special. I made sure of that.”
White noise in my ears, in my head, crowded out all reason. Static-distorted images of my wife, of my dead daughter. I pulled my fist back, struck. I fell over the width of the table, my knuckles colliding against his chin, knocking him back and off his chair.
“You’re wrong, you crazy asshole. She’s waiting for me, she’s waiting for our second chance, and I won’t let you steal it from me!”
I pushed away from the table, blood on my knuckles. My uncle was prone on the floor, blood on his lips. Something was different. The dynamic was cleaner. I could do this. Every atom in my body was screaming out the same wish: let me go home, let me go home, let me go home.
Because in a way, my uncle was right.
Lots of people waste their chances in life, lots of people lack purpose. I had had purpose, I had had a life and family. A man took my daughter and peace of mind from me, but I had lost my purpose on my own. I begged, I pleaded with anyone who might be listening to give me a second chance so I could do right by it.
I needed a second chance.
My feet pounded down the cellar steps, raining dust onto the cobwebs under the stairs. The cellar room door was still open. I could see the paintings – the mirrors – the pictures – the doors – the way to freedom. I didn’t stop. I would get through or I would bash myself to pieces trying. I strained, pushing off my feet, hands reaching out. Inches away from the glass of the thirteenth picture, because it had to be that one, I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew. Fingers touched the glass, hot as cement in the summer heat, palms touched, and fingers passed through. I plunged forward, carried by my momentum through the frame, tripping as I went, falling eternities in mere seconds. I slammed to the reflective floor, clipping my chin, and skinning my elbows.
Up on my feet and I’m running. Dashing up the stairs, through the kitchen – now dim – and into the hall. The front door was open and I could smell the rain. Then I was outside and I could feel the rain, it had eased to a bare drizzle. I almost fell down the two steps from the porch. I could see my car in the darkness. My heart swelled to bursting, my mind contracted into a tiny, bright point of hope as it screamed: I’m going home, I’m going home, I’m going home!
My keys squealed against the car door before I found the keyhole. I scrambled into the car and jammed the key into the ignition. Gravel sprayed as I ground the gas pedal into the floor mat, twisting the wheel all the way to the right. I sped down the driveway, my whole car jolting up as the tires hit the raised asphalt of the road. I kept the gas pedal pinned, racing through the night.
The rain ceased entirely and a faint fog rose from the road, from the fields. The sky lightened with the hint of dawn and I urged my car to go faster, faster, faster. The relief I felt, the triumph, the joy, was so overwhelming that I felt tipsy, but I had no intentions of stopping. My thoughts were racing along with my car – the key had been the blood, the blood on my hand had re-opened the door.
I turned into my driveway, I could see my two-story house shrouded in the thin mist. There it was. I was home. I jammed on the brakes and put the car into park. I got out, leaving the door open, because who cared? – in the end, all that mattered was that I had made it. I forced myself to slow to a quick walk, I didn’t want to freak Andrea out. On the ground-level porch, I reached for the front door. The wind rattled chimes that hung to the right of the door, which was unlocked – why was it unlocked?
I was inside now. That smell, the warm scent of home. My sneakers were silent on the carpeted stairs as I ascended. Past the study, the spare bedroom, the half bath, to the end of the hall where our bedroom was. Inside the bedroom and there was Andrea with her back toward me, her upper body slightly turned as she looked back at me, her face caught in a half smile – pleasantly surprised at seeing me, earlier than I had said. There she was, my love, my life. I reached out and wrapped my arms around her body – straight and stiff, unrelenting – and pressed my face against the curve of her neck – smooth and cold, the smell of bark, sap. I squeezed her tight – her flesh like stone, her skin cold – so happy – so desperately happy – to have her back. I wanted to tell her I love her, I meant to kiss her softly on her lips. I raised my head and saw the tree.
All around me were the soft mists of the reflected forest.
I fell back with a cry, landing hard on my back, and knocking the wind from my lungs. My uncle stood a few feet away. He was smiling.
“Interesting, isn’t it? Once you’re inside, it has the ability to manipulate your perceptions. Not mind control, of course, but very realistic visual, auditory, and olfactory hallucinations.”
I made my way to my feet, clasping my knees, gasping for breath. I looked up at him.
“Why aren’t people looking for you? If you didn’t actually die, why wasn’t there news about it? Why did they treat you as dead?” I asked.
His smile only deepened.
“You’ve noticed the trees, how they all look the same? Yes? You must realize that they aren’t real trees, just like how the house behind us is just a faded mimicry of the old Coates house that had existed in our world. Like the hallucination you experienced just minutes ago, the entity created this world and maintains it.”
“Maybe maintains is the wrong word. More like grew. You see, Tony, we are – quite literally – in the belly of the beast,” Anthony raised both his arms, stretching them outward.
The back of my neck and scalp prickled.
“Inside… we’re inside of an animal?”
“Calling it an animal is oversimplifying the nature of the behemoth. This entity is older, more powerful, greater than any animal. It’s better than any animal, it’s better than any human. It. Is. A. God,” Anthony clenched his fists, bringing them up, and pressing them against the sides of his head.
I was so tired. All I wanted to do was sleep. My hope had died hard, withering away like a rotten apple.
“Why, why did you bring me here?”
I didn’t expect him to answer, after all he hasn’t answered my other question.
“You? I never wanted you. You were necessary, but you were just a tool. You see, this Gehenna Giant, this Purgatory Parasite, exists solely outside our world. Something about our reality is toxic to it, so it can only draw people in for sustenance. However, if it can be this powerful with so little food, imagine what it could do with access to a whole planet!”
All around me the chimes rang cheerfully. I was missing something. He had willed me the house for a reason, but he had said that I wasn’t the one he wanted. What was I missing?
“I told it that and it understood. Its desires became my desires, my desires became its desires. It welcomed me here, let me come and go. It shared its memories with me and I thought I found a way to help it spread to our world,” he said. “You see, each one of those mirrors is a connection to another reality, another version of the world we know. If ours is the main world then the twelve others are warped reflections of our world, changed ever so slightly. Our world is the real one, those twelve are simulated realities, created by the creature as it dreams its dreams.”
“You can leave? You can get out of here?” I asked.
“You’ve heard of the Nephilim – those creatures born from human women inseminated by the angels of God? All fantasy and nonsense, but with a root of truth.”
“Stop this, stop talking ridiculous shit, and answer me!”
“Your mother wanted a child so badly, Tony. She was barren, as fertile as a piece of salted earth. Pitiful thing to have based so much of her own self-worth in the idea of a child,” he shook his head.
“Stop, please,” I said.
“So, I gave her a child. A very special child. She wanted to name you after me, you know, but your father wouldn’t allow it. You were the first step, Tony, but not the final one.”
He went silent, letting it sink in. My eyes were wide, stinging with dryness, as I stared at his shoes, my mouth slightly agape. I clutched my sides. I was falling to pieces. Nothing made sense. I wanted to wake up or to fall asleep and never wake up in this nightmare again.
“Who am I?” I whispered to the ground, but it was Anthony who answered.
“You’re my son.”
“No,” I said. “Please, stop. Just let me go home.”
“Not my son from the real world, no, that would have defeated the purpose of my experiment. Just putting you in the real world made a difference. As you grew into the man you are now, so did the forest grow. As you planted your seed, so too did the forest.”
I clutched my ears, it didn’t matter. If I had been struck deaf in that very moment, it wouldn’t have mattered. I already knew. I already knew.
“She’s dead. She’s dead. That man, he killed her, so she’s dead, she’s safe from you!”
“That was definitely a set-back, I will admit. It was … unfortunate. However, while it delayed my plan, it didn’t stop it.”
“How could you know that? You’re wrong! You’re so full of shit!” I said.
My mind scrambled furiously, pulling me back into my memories, counting the days, placing events into a timeline, and felt my belly drop.
“I pulled a version of me from the tenth mirror Earth, killed him, and left him for Christian to find. I was assuming you’d bring your wife to help you inventory my house though.”
“Not her, you leave her alone!”
I lunged forward, but Anthony dodged my shaky attempt to grapple and I fell, catching myself with my hands and knees.
“Not her, not her, leave Andrea out of this!”
“She will come looking for you. She will come to this house, bringing your unborn child with her.”
I tried to stand and was trapped. My arms straining, I looked over my left shoulder and saw those albino roots bursting up from the ground and twisting around my legs. Constricting, the roots bulged and pulled me partially into the ash-soft dirt.
“Anthony! ANTHONY!” I screamed.
My uncle looked down at me.
“Thank you, Tony, for everything you’ve done for me – whether you knew it or not. I hope you find the peace here that you never knew on Earth,” he said, smiling.
He turned his back to me and began walking back to the house.
“Anthony! Anthony!” I begged, clawing at the ground.
I dug my fingers in, pulling against the strength of the roots. I felt the fine grit under my nails and bright, sharp pain as those nails were torn away from my nailbeds as I strained. I screamed but reached out farther, digging my fingers in again, and feeling the raw tips scream with me as the dirt ground into the wounds. I was up to my waist in the dirt and the roots had crept up to my chest and over my shoulders.
Anthony stopped at the front door and looked back at me.
“Well met, Tony. Well met.”
The roots were around my neck, choking out my reply as I was pulled into the deep, dark, otherworldly earth.
Andrea lowered her cell and touched her thumb to the 7 briefly to replay the message. Putting the phone back to her ear, she listened to the voicemail again. It was full of static and strange silences, it didn’t sound like Tony at all. He sounded … scared.
“Come here… Andrea, please… I … trees, all the trees … Andrea, please… help me.”
Hanging up, Andrea opened her map app and typed in “Belham” with one hand, while the other rested on her lower belly.
End of The Reflected Forest: Chapter One.