Be careful of what you take for granted.
First, here are some things you should know about me. I’m eighteen years old, and I live with my parents out in the Piney Woods of Texas, a few miles from the closest town. My location is pretty remote, but I always loved the nature surrounding me and the thick forest that springs up above my home, a quaint, small cabin. I used to walk to school through the evergreens, enjoying the smell of fallen pine cones, and I had memorized the path to town by heart. I never felt scared of the woods, though maybe I should have been.
Back when I was fourteen, I met this girl in the eighth grade, let’s call her Jenny. She was beautiful, friendly, and the sweetest person I’d ever met. Most of all, I remember her laugh, a cute giggle that would grow into happy, uncontrollable laughter. It didn’t take me too long to ask her out, and pretty soon we were madly in love. She was the only person in my life who seemed to truly understand and care about me, and we would spend all of our time after schooldays together. We’d walk through those very same woods holding hands, just exploring, and doing what lovesick teens do. But our walks through the woods started eating into her studying, and her grades suffered as a result. We didn’t care though, too young and dumb to let anything like that come between us.
One night, her parents told her that she couldn’t be with me anymore, and that she would have to focus more on homework and less on boys. They had a huge argument, screaming and throwing things, and finally, Jenny stormed out of her house. She told her parents that they didn’t love her, and that she was going to live with me instead. She ran as fast as she could, away from home and past our middle school into the woods where I lived. Her parents began to plead with her, yelling for her to come back, chasing her on foot in hot pursuit. No matter how they tried, her parents just couldn’t keep up, and pretty soon she had disappeared into the woods. They searched through that forest until dawn, eventually calling the police to help. I’m choking back tears right now just typing this, but they never found her. She’d gotten lost.
The police showed up at my house the next day, to ask if she had made it to my place. I told them that she hadn’t, and panic set in. They began to tell me the story, and I broke down in tears. I kept thinking and hoping, day by day, that she would be found, and everything would be okay again. I’d have my love back in my arms, and her parents would have their daughter at home where she belonged. But I slowly began to realize that this would never happen, and after a few weeks, grief set in. I was never quite the same again, always angry, depressed, and so… hurt. I lost all of my friends, and stopped enjoying all the things I used to love. Insomnia started to affect me, and the charming woods around my home started to seem terrifying. My parents and I started to argue a lot ourselves, which had never happened before. I just felt so guilty, like I had caused her disappearance. Life just seemed pointless without Jenny.
Fast forward to six months ago. Even after four years, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. My dreams were always about her, and I’d have the same one every night. Just when we were about to kiss, I’d wake up in a cold sweat. One frosty fall evening, during one of my rage-fueled arguments with my parents (over something stupid, like cleaning my room), I marched out the back door of our house. My parents were still yelling at me as I stepped into the woods. Dusk was approaching, and though the forest was now scary to me, I decided I didn’t care. If I ended up like Jenny, that would just be alright, I couldn’t bear to go on anyway. I didn’t keep track of where I was going, I was purposely trying to get lost so that no one could find me.ever again. I just didn’t care about anything or anybody anymore, not even myself. The pain of losing Jenny was too great to make life worth living.
This was in my thoughts as I was walking briskly along, tripping over stumps and roots. As a matter of fact, I had just tripped for the hundredth time when I heard something that gave me goosebumps. In the distance, I heard a giggle. I said out loud, “It can’t be…” That same familiar giggle happened again, and I thought I saw the faint outline of a girl wearing a white dress in the moonlight. It looked like Jenny, but she was about fifty yards away, hiding behind a tree. I ran at full speed towards the tree, and the giggle began to grow into that sweet, contagious laughter that I knew so well. I didn’t understand at all what was happening, I thought I was hallucinating, but I was so desperate to see her face again. A big smile grew on my face. However, as I neared the tree, the laugh turned more sinister.
It began to sound less and less like her, and more like a demented version of the Joker, growing louder and echoing through the woods. I was determined to get to the bottom of this, despite my fear. I reached the tree, and suddenly, the figure of a girl disappeared into thin air, this was no hallucination. A demonic voice began to speak, seeming to emanate and pulsate from the chilling night air itself, “You humans, so gullible, so pathetic!”
What I am about to tell you will sound impossible, too horrific to believe, so you can imagine how I felt when it started to happen. The branches of this tree began to move like tentacles, grabbing ahold of my limbs and pulling me against the trunk of the tree. They were covering my entire body like a tangled mess of boa constrictors; the tree was about to “swallow” me. I felt like I was about to pass out when, all of a sudden, everything around me turned to ashes, and then into a vast white nothingness. I looked around me, to my left and to my right into this infinite emptiness, but when I looked straight in front of me, there she was.
Just as she was the last day I’d seen her, only about an arm length away stood Jenny. She looked up at me with a big smile, and all of the warm feelings rushed back to me. I began to stutter half sentences, “ How… I thought… What is happen…” but she pressed her forefinger to my lips and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
She whispered in my ear, “I sure have missed you.”
Gathering my wits, I mustered up enough courage to say, “Let me stay here with you, wherever this is.”
She said, now looking me in the eyes, “I can’t. You know, your parents love you, and they probably want you back home with them. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. Besides, we’ll be together again someday.” She turned and started to walk away, fading into the white.
I suddenly remembered the situation I was in before this strange vision. As if she knew my thoughts, she said as she disappeared from view, “This forest has a way of turning your deepest, darkest fears into reality. But the reason I fell in love with you is because you were never afraid of anything.”
Then, in an instant, I was back into my body, being held against the tree by some ungodly force controlling its branches. I was being crushed alive, and there was nothing I could do about it. Thoughts of Jenny, my parents, and my life flashed before my eyes. I felt like I was about to perish, the life being squeezed out of me by the tightening branches, when I remembered what she told me. I yelled at the top of my lungs, angrily and confidently, “I’m not afraid of you, whatever you are, I’m not afraid of anything!”
Using all of my strength, I tore myself loose as the branches wilted in place, and sprinted back home to my parents. I heard the crackling of a falling tree as I ran for my life out of those woods, along with the faint weeping from that demonic voice. Realizing that I had no idea where I was going, I tried to look for that old path through the pines, the one Jenny and I used to walk on. By some stroke of luck, I was able to find it, and I ran back to the cabin, its lights glowing in the distance. My parents had been crying and were worried sick about me, being in the woods by myself at night. I gave them a hug, and I told them that they had nothing to worry about, because I had a guardian angel. They looked a little confused, but their relief made them quickly forget what I had just said. I decided not to get into the details, they would think I was off my rocker.
Things have really turned around in my life since then. I feel so happy every day, always hopeful, and I’m starting to find new hobbies and make new friends. My parents and I have not argued again since that terrifying night. I still don’t know exactly what happened next to that tree. Was this a vision of Jenny I was talking to? Maybe it was a ghost. Or did I go to heaven for a while? What happened to her the night she disappeared? That same tree might have gotten to her. Deep down, I really don’t want to know. All I know is that it’s only a matter of time before I see my sweet Jenny again. I was given a second chance, so let this be a warning to you: always cherish the people you love, you don’t realize how important they are until they are gone.