Fearful, We Looked On
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The Journal of the Walk, Monday, July 19th

It was midday when I reached the edge of the forest. There was not a single cloud in the sky; the sun shone unopposed on the endless blue, warm but not too warm. A soft, cool wind caressed my face as I traversed the green plains, leaving behind the hills that had been my hosts for the last day and a half.

The day could not have been more perfect.

As my feet took me closer to the forest, I noticed something odd: birds circled over the trees in strange patterns, chaotic, aimless. At times it seemed as if they wished to land on the verdant titan, to rest amidst the jagged branches that stretched towards them in a welcoming embrace, but at the last moment they balked, flapping their wings as fast as they could, their chirping and cawing carried by the wind as they again took flight.

Flight.

I pondered upon the word's meaning.

On one hand, it was that which birds did: to traverse the heavens, to lift oneself from the ground and travel unimpeded through the air, untethered to the earth and its problems, the ultimate freedom.

But it also meant to escape, to get away from danger, to retreat in fear.

Fear.

Was that what the birds felt as they tried landing on the forest? Why? What could the trees hide that scared away those that should have been most at home amidst their branches?

The shadow came upon me as I wondered, unnoticeable at first, but growing bigger, darker as I acknowledged its presence. I could not see it, yet somehow I knew it was there, heavy, suffocating, like a thick blanket cast over an unsuspecting sleeper. I felt it in every fiber of my being, and I realized why the birds kept away from the treetops.

A man sat on a grey monolith, clothes filthy and tattered, beard long and unkempt, sunken eyes fixed on the edge of the forest. I somehow knew he could see it all, even from this far distance: the rugged bark coursed by sap, the lines of ants marching on the soft earth, the very growth of trunks and branches… And the thing that cast the shadow over us.

"That is the domain of Fear," he said without turning.

I glanced at him, though his eyes did not meet mine: they remained fixed on the green horizon, heavy bags betraying their owner's weariness. The man was young, barely out of adolescence, and still his eyes and his voice were those of an elder.

"The forest can be a scary place, indeed," I responded, trying to be polite. Something told me this man had not talked to anyone in a long time. "Getting lost is easy if you do not know your way through it, and some beasts are–"

"No, not like that," he interrupted me. His voice was raspy, as if he had trouble forming words – or as if he had screamed for a very long time. "This is Fear. And the forest is Fear's domain."

He seemed to drift off, the shadow growing thicker as he did so. I noticed then that the man had not blinked a single time since our dialogue had begun. He simply gazed, unmoving, unblinking, at the trees beyond.

"You can feel it too, can't you?" he then said. "You sense it, the shadow. But… you do not see it. You do not see Fear. Not like I do… Not like Fear sees me…"

"No," I said.

"Good. That means Fear cannot see you either."

"But it sees you?"

"We see each other," the man hissed. Resentment tinged his voice. "We lock eyes always, prisoners of each other's gaze. I cannot leave this field, and Fear cannot leave the forest. So it has been, so it will be."

"Will it harm me?" I warily asked, already planning on finding a way around the forest.

"It will sense you. Its shadow will grow heavier as you enter its domain. But you know not the true shape of the other, so you cannot be touched. I remain, remain watching, until my being gives in."

"Why?" I asked. "Why stay here, in the shadow of Fear?"

"Years ago I came to the edge of this forest, seeking something I have long forgotten. Here I met Fear. It was small at first, but still mighty, mighty enough that I would not face it. We stood firm against the other, unable to strike, before retreating back the way we came. Every day I returned to this place, and every day I gazed at it, dancing in circles, always as near as we were far. Still I could not snuff it out, and still it could not break me. So we just stared at each other. With the passing of time, it grew bigger, stronger. Our dance was interrupted as I became paralyzed. Now I sit unmoving, while Fear prances around its forest, mocking me, but knowing it cannot escape my gaze. I am trapped, Fear's prisoner, but I am also its jailer, and so I shall remain."

The wind and the cawing of birds faded in our minds and ears as we both looked at the forest, where the shadow of Fear still reached beyond the frontiers of its domain, of its prison.

"This is my duty, my punishment for failing to slay Fear. Now it is too late; its might is too great."

His voice became a whisper as he uttered these words.

"I need not eat, or sleep, but still I age. I can feel my body changing as we speak. One day I will be old and feeble. One day I will die. And my gaze shall meet Fear's no longer."

"And what then?" I asked. "What happens after you die?"

"Then let us pray Fear dies with me."

Then even his mouth stopped moving, and we were silent.

I left him as I found him, dutiful watcher of the woods, cursed keeper of the shadow.

Then I ventured onwards, towards the forest where, at the cover of my blindness, Fear roamed free.


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Art by Piesol - PL

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