Flight from Kafka Forest
Once a creature of superior strength gives chase, it makes little difference what provoked it. The critical thing then becomes not getting caught. This, at least, is one lesson I learned in Kafka Forest.
There's no telling how I ever arrived so disconcertingly deep within such dense unregulated wilderness. One night, I was in bed beside my fiancé in our thirty-ninth floor apartment, dreading the few shifts of feigning enthusiasm and updating spreadsheets wedged inconveniently between me and a weekend of categorical binge drinking. And then, the next thing I knew, I was lying naked and alone on damp moss and mud, desperately lost and shivering in paranoid confusion.
My intuition immediately alerted me of being followed, triggering a disturbing stomach-sinking sensation unlike I'd ever experienced. Don't get me wrong, the feeling of being hopelessly lost is already of horrifically high day-ruining potential. But it's a damned Biblical paradise compared to the added realization of being hunted by any creature with even remote determination.
Still, as awful as confronting this hellish new reality was, I had to accept that no well-dressed judge would miraculously appear and convict my pursuer of its crimes. That is only how things work in the chaos-opposed confines of human society. Everywhere else, potential prey has but three paths to self-preservation: fight, flight, or freeze.
Alas, knowing nothing regarding my pursuer's innate strengths and weaknesses rendered reaching an informed decision concerning my next move firmly out of the question. And so, naturally, I commenced sprinting in my best guess of the opposite direction. Then, quickly encountering a shallow stream, I switched strategies and ran through it instead. I knew, of course, this was no more than a shot in the dark at limiting my likelihood of being tracked but ultimately felt the most important thing was still to be shooting.
I ran with progressively more labored and uncoordinated movements for nearly three hours until pain and fatigue finally overwhelmed my body with the fact it could endure only a short distance further. Then, fresh out of better options, I searched hectically about the woods for somewhere safe to recover my strength, eventually spotting a large hollow in the trunk of a mature weeping willow perhaps forty feet from the stream. It was far from inconspicuous but undoubtedly preferable to collapsing unconscious and drowning in less than knee-deep water. So, without hesitation, I hurried over and entered the tree's shadowy depths before indifferently displacing numerous cobwebs with my naked body and abruptly falling into something vaguely resembling the fetal position.
Probably several hours later, I jolted awake to the most menacing footsteps I'd ever heard nearing my poor hiding place. They splashed and thudded down the same stream I had somehow with greater force than an elephant and more speed than a cheetah. Frankly, I would have already betrayed about anyone for a cyanide capsule at that moment. But then precisely what I most dreaded happening happened.
The creature entered my immediate area and slowed ominously to an investigative pace. This prompted me to briefly ponder with sincere hatred how it located my position with such mechanical efficiency before accepting it made no difference and praying for God's forgiveness. A god that - in fact - until precisely that instant, I'd done little else but disputed the existence of.
That's when everything took a psychosis - like nosedive for the physically absurd. First, the creature's earth-shaking steps transitioned seamlessly to those of something a fraction of the size. Then, tightly shutting my eyes and trembling in terror, I listened reluctantly as it departed the stream and started unmistakably in my direction. Finally, it stopped nearby a neighboring cherry tree and spoke in the voice of my fiancé: "Henry, my darling, how could you ever leave me for anywhere so dreadful as this?"
I said nothing in reply. Instead, I merely gritted my teeth, struggling to comprehend why anything would go to such impractical lengths to inflict suffering. Clearly, it knew where I was hiding and was fully capable of quieting my frantically beating heart whenever it wanted. So why the torturous song and dance? Was I simply food it felt like psychologically playing with beforehand?
The deceptively light footsteps again approached, all but joining me in the hollow. And seeing no benefit in opening my eyes, I prayed only for a painless conclusion. Nevertheless, the steps moved no closer to bridging the immaterial distance between us.
Suddenly, I felt convinced that, for whatever reason, the creature was attempting to coax me into a game of hard to get. But then I considered that maybe it was restricted by some off-brand vampire ruleset yet to be recorded. Finally, however, I concluded its actions were likely motivated by forces beyond my feeble human comprehension. And as it hadn't yet mercilessly torn into my flesh, I maintained my current shut-eyed and silent cowering position.
That's when my seventh-grade math teacher's shrill voice startled me: "For crying out loud, Henry. Haven't you already wasted enough time in la-la land for one lifetime?"
I couldn't decide just what evil angle this shape-shifting creature was trying to work on me. It had to know that fascist instructor of introductory algebra would have been the last bastard on earth I would allow the satisfaction of eliciting an emotional response from me. But then again, it also had to know that I'd know it knew.
Before burrowing any deeper down this nightmarish rabbit hole, however, I heard my brother say, "Hey, deputy dipshit. Think fast!"
Then, involuntarily reacting to a distant memory of a basketball bloodying my nose, I opened my eyes and glimpsed perhaps the entirety of all that has been or will be. Or I might have seen nothing at all. I'm honestly as uncertain of that now as I was then.
About the Author
Chester Holden is from Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in A Door is a Jar, Across the Margin, The Helix, Lit Camp, Primeval Monster, On the Run, Potato Soup, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @ChesterHolden9.