This story is by Shanna Adams and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Often, Layla took a shortcut through the forest next to her apartment complex. It was a narrow path, but it got her downtown faster than walking on the sidewalk. Tonight felt different as she made her way down the trail. She spied a small light coming from a clearing to her left. She had heard stories as a child about a glow that comes from an abandoned mine at the edge of the wood. She was too afraid to question the tale as a child but knew that it was just a story to scare children. Mostly, life was dull with an occasional interesting conversation. The origin of the light peaked her curiosity. Maybe someday she would be brave enough to investigate such things, but for now, she was behind schedule.
The light itself wasn’t particularly bright, and it had a slight green tinge as if it belonged in a cheesy horror film. Layla knew a curious person never discovered anything of a mythical nature, but at heart, she was a very inquisitive person. She shook the thought in her mind about the origin of such an otherworldly glow. She decided it was best if she kept walking. She was overdue for yet another blind date that her meddling roommate had set up. She didn’t really want to date, but she would rather not incur her friend’s wrath.
As usual, Layla arrived fashionably late. It’s not that she was trying to make her date think she wasn’t going to show, and if he left before she arrived, even better. Unfortunately, he was waiting at a table. After the initial greeting, she sat down and was able to take a good look at him. She noticed he was quite unusual looking. His hair was blacker than night contrasted by the most striking green eyes she had ever seen. The movements he made were fluid and hinted that he could be supernatural. His huge smile spoke of insincerity and could be perceived as if he never learned proper human mannerisms. To her, it felt like he was pretending to be a man. Of course, that couldn’t be, and she felt silly at the thought as his eyes caught her attention. They began to mesmerize Layla even as he spoke of trivial things. Her ears began to fail her, his mouth buzzing an incoherent mess of words.
As they left the restaurant, he held out his hand. Layla took it without looking, still staring into his devilish green eyes. She knew that it was a bad idea to follow him, she should run straight home. She wasn’t attracted to him, yet she was under his spell. Her body deceived her as she began to walk with him. Inside she was panicking as the man lead her toward the woods. Under his control, her body strode along the trail beside the man. Her awareness was now along for the ride as they ventured further down the once familiar path. She noticed that the woods appeared different than they had prior to her body’s hijacking.
The light she had seen earlier was more surreal as it grew in intensity. Her heart began to beat faster, as the woods around her came alive in a much more human-like way. The trees around them seemed to be staring at her with mocking eyes. Layla told herself that none of this was real, and she must be dreaming. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention as if to let her know how wrong she was. No way she was following a man she had just met into a dark wood toward a glowing green light. Yet, she was indeed doing that very thing.
They arrived at the old mine she had been warned about as a child. If Layla’s legs were working properly, she would have run away. Her ever increasing anxiety was denied a release as her body continued to carry her closer to the mouth of the cave. Layla’s eyes searched for an escape only to notice that they had just walked between a pile of rocks. The rocks appeared to be placed there in a purposeful fashion. As soon as they passed them, the air waved and thickened. The expressions of the trees defined themselves further. The mouths moved on these wooden faces, whispering in a long-forgotten tongue. Small ladies hid among the trees, giggling and pointing at her as she passed. Her beautiful captor now had a visible aura about him that glowed with a fairylike essence, urging her into the cavern. More frightened than she had ever been in her life, she began to pray that her body started following orders.
As if she had been drugged, Layla began to slip into a more relaxed state as they entered the cave. She started to feel like a child again as he lured her deeper underground. Trying to keep her wits about her, she began to think that she no longer had any common sense left. Looking at her with a coy smile, he released her hand. His finger motioned her to follow him down a torch lit path. Layla followed his lead. The intensifying radiance of a green glow slowly snapped her back to reality. She was deathly afraid of that light.
A lady holding a cup of liquid approached to offer her a drink. She felt no need for a drink and shook her head violently. Layla knocked the glass away from her spilling it all over the earthen floor. The lady’s eyes blackened with anger as she slapped Layla square across the cheek. The world around her sharpened, even though it was also still within the paradox of the dreamlike state. Her legs moved, finally responding to her brain’s commands. The man approached her looking concerned, but she pushed him away. As he fell backward, she quickly turned towards the comforting embrace of reality.
She ran back toward the mouth of the cave, and life became more coherent. The walls around her began to crumble as she furthered her ascent. Somehow Layla had traveled quite far into the cavern. Under the trance, it seemed like only a few short steps. She felt the presence of the man trying to stop her flight. She pushed herself faster, working as hard as she could to escape her pursuer. Rocks were tumbling around her as she arrived at the entrance. She jumped out just in time before it all fell down around her.
Her eyes slowly opened, and she heard the familiar mechanical beep of a heart monitor. Sighing with relief, Layla knew that it was just a bad dream. People in blue scrubs wandered around the hallway. To her right, a lady in a white coat was looking at her chart. She must have had an accident and hallucinated the whole encounter. Reality still existed in the proper way, where trees did not have faces and black-eyed ladies didn’t offer drinks to people. Relaxing further, she closed her eyes. She was fine, and a strange man was no longer enticing her into a green-lit cavernous void.
The doctor told her what had happened. She was found at the mouth of the old mine after it had collapsed. She had been badly battered by the rocks as some had fallen on top of her. One rock had hit her on the back of the head pretty hard. She felt the blood rush from her face as she learned about her accident. One thing she was certain of, she was not brave enough to explore a cave on her own. Was it real? Did she just imagine it? She didn’t think she ever wanted to know.