On what I could only assume was the eighth day of being lost in a never-ending forest, storm clouds started brewing. They were dark and fierce and I knew I had to stop following the river and try to build a shelter.
Yes, I had been following the river for eight freaking days with no end in sight. I started feeling like I was just spinning around in circles. There was something weird about this forest – or else it might have been some kind of paranoia creeping in. I could swear that the forest wasn’t letting me leave, though.
Anyway, so I quickly grabbed as many sticks as I could find and started propping them up diagonally by a big tree. I took my knife and started stabbing the tree until some sap came out and I used the sap as a kind of adhesive to try and make the sticks not fall over. It was the best that I had and it was working until the first big gust of wind came by and knocked them all over (while I was lying under them, I might add).
Then it was time for plan B: I stayed crouched under a big tree with low branches and held my backpack over my head. It started pouring down hard and I started crying. I hate to admit it, but my luck became so shitty that I just couldn’t hold it back anymore. Tear after tear after tear, it just wouldn’t stop. Neither would the rain.
It rained all day and it rained all night. I didn’t get any sleep. It eventually stopped when the sun should have risen. I say “should have” because it was still an overcast. And then the fog rolled in.
Hungry, cold, wet, and tired is not a good combination. The fog started playing with me. The voices in my head started to trick me. I could see in the distance a very hazy figure wandering slowly. A good instinct would have been to assume it was a zombie, but at this stage of my isolation I was so relieved to see somebody that I jumped up, put my soaked backpack over my soaked back and started running towards it…or sloshing towards it.
I kept running and running and running, but the figure wasn’t getting any closer. That’s when the voice started…
Nathan, it called, Nathan! Where are you?
It sounded…well, it sounded like my mother. Tears started to well up in my eyes again.
“I’m coming mom!” I shouted.
Where are you, Nathan?
I started laughing, even though the figure never got any closer to me, I actually started laughing. I hadn’t even realised that I was running perpendicular to the river and not parallel to it anymore.
Nathan, help me! I’m trapped, Nathan. Where are you, Nathan?
The voice wouldn’t stop. And to hear my mom calling me for help made me run even faster.
“MOM!” I screamed. “I’M COMING FOR YOU!”
My mom’s face suddenly appeared in front of me. And when I say her face, I mean just her face. No head. No body. Nothing. Just her face.
I tried to stop running, but I ended up tripping over a branch instead. I fell to the ground and then scrambled to turn around and face my mom’s…face.
You couldn’t save me, Nathan.
“No!” I screamed. “Mom, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
You’re a failure, Nathan.
“No! Mom, please,” I started to cry again. “I’m so sorry, mom.”
Her eyes started glowing and then she made a high-pitched scream and then she was gone. Was that my mom? Am I crazy? Probably the latter.
I got up and turned around and that figure was still standing there, just as far away from me as it was back by the river. That’s when I noticed that I was no longer anywhere near the river. I probably should have just headed back the way I came from, but instead I started spinning around in circles looking for the river and ended up confusing myself. I had no idea which way I came from. Even the branch that I had tripped on seemed to vanish. The figure was no longer there, either. What happened to it? Hell if I know.
I heard a growl sound and quickly pulled out my knife. I started backing up, more scared now than I was with the other zombies I had killed. It didn’t take long before I bumped into something, the thing was: what did I bump into?
I precipitously turned around and…I could see my own reflection. Not like in water or anything, but as if I were standing in front of a mirror. But it was only my reflection, nothing behind me was reflected. I reached out to touch it, but my hand didn’t make contact with anything, it went right through my own reflection’s hand.
However, it was no reflection. I heard the growl again and my mind snapped back to reality. My “reflection” was another fucking zombie and when I reached out, it grabbed my arm. As soon as I got back into reality, I stabbed the fucker in the face. I keep getting these lucky streaks. Somehow I’m still alive.
Who are these zombies that found their way into this forest? It’s not like this has been going on for years…has it? That thought never even entered my head before. What if the zombie apocalypse has been happening in tiny communities and various small towns for a while before it struck my city? Obviously if it had happened in major cities like Los Angeles or New York or Toronto or London (England, not Ontario) we would have known about it back then. Wouldn’t we have?
This is all so confusing. I just wish it had never happened to my city. And to go and bomb it almost immediately after it happened. But, the other city we came across had already been blown up. So had they blown it up just before they blew up my city? Or had it been blown up a while ago? If it’s the latter, they should have known it doesn’t prevent it from spreading.
Maybe I should go back to being ignorant about the rest of the world and focus only on the facts that I have. A zombie apocalypse has started, my city is gone, I’m alone. I don’t much like my facts now that I think about it.
So another voice started shortly after I took care of that zombie. It, too, called out Nathan. And my first thought was, Again? Really?
That was until I realised that it wasn’t my mom’s voice this time, it was Jason’s. And it wasn’t a voice in my head, it was actually him.
“Nathan!” A figure emerged through the fog and it was Jason. “Thank God! I can’t believe you’re still alive!”
“Me?” I said to him, “What about you? How did you make it? Is everyone still alive?”
He stopped and looked at the ground almost immediately after I asked that question. I then knew the answer.
“It’s a long story,” he said. “Why don’t we get out of this forest and I’ll tell you about it?”
“Out?” I asked. “I’ve been trying to get out for like a week and a half. This forest won’t let me leave.”
“It’s not the forest,” he said, “you just suck at tracking.”
“No,” I protested. “I followed the river back the way I came for over a week and never found the bridge. Then this fog started and I got side tracked when I heard my mom’s voice and I lost the river.”
“Just follow me.”
As we were heading out he began to tell me everything.
After I was flung out of the windshield, Markus slammed on the brakes and got out of the car wielding the guns. He was the one whose gunshots I had heard before being sucked into the forest of death and illusions. So those gunshots attracted a lot of zombies, which is why I barely came across any in my time in the forest.
Almost immediately after those goons were killed, Jason went to go look for me in the forest, followed by my mom. Markus told them to wait, but they didn’t listen. So then Markus had to go running off after him and my mom, leaving his parents sitting in the car.
It only took about five minutes of running in the forest before a herd of zombies started closing in on them. Markus fired off his guns and managed to kill a few of them but then he quickly ran out of bullets. He hadn’t taken his sledgehammer with him, but Jason had his, so Markus grabbed it out of Jason’s hands and told him and my mom to get back to the bridge.
Jason didn’t want to go back to the bridge but told my mom to go back. My mom listened, but apparently she couldn’t get away fast enough and got trapped. Jason ran over to her to try to save her, but he was too late. Markus told Jason to get back to the bridge and make sure that their parents were okay, so he did. He hasn’t seen Markus since then so he just assumes his brother didn’t make it either.
After several days of waiting for either his brother’s return, my return or for zombies to show up, he figured it was safe enough to go through the forest and try to look for me or his brother and told his parents to stay in the car. Then he started travelling through the forest. He started following different sounds and started wandering away from the river and several days later he found me.
His camping and survival skills are much better than mine. Just by looking at my compass on the multi-tool thing, he was able to find our way back to the bridge. I never thought I’d be so happy to see a concrete road in all my life.
His parents are still alive, so I guess that’s something. They seemed really happy to see me.
As Jason started driving off I whispered, “I’m sorry mom. I’m so sorry for everything.”