The gigantic signpost, brilliantly yellow with that typical black triangle locking in the message, was the first sign of civilization in this forsaken place. Someone had scraped off the last word, though, so it simply read, “Warning, Lost.”
“Well,” ARC muttered dryly. “That certainly does reflect the current situation.”
For, you see, ARC had been wandering the woods for quite a while, now, searching for that hint of civilization he had thought he had seen a while back; having been raised in a contained world beyond civilized society, he had, quite unfortunately, not recognized the ship for what it was. Accidentally boarding it while running from the scientists meant that now that the ship has crashed, he had no idea where he was, and, to make matters worse, when he walked off to follow the faint outline of skyscrapers, he no longer has any idea where the others were anymore.
At least things does appear to be looking up. Signposts such as this was a sure sign of civilization; humans were the only creatures with a tendency to erect them wherever they go. The lamppost next to it illuminating the words in the darkness was likely the little spot of light he had seen earlier on, too.
As he observed the lamppost, ARC frowned. The carvings on it were thick and elaborate, beautiful vines crawling up from the ground and devouring the post, blooming into a flower that carries the light gently. Unlike the signpost, however, there was no sign of rust or wear and tear, no actual vines creeping all over it, nothing to show the mark nature tends to leave on even the most resilient items humans could create.
In fact, it was so well-maintained that…
Was that vine shifting?
No, no it was not. That was just a trick of the eye, caused by the uncertain light. A little more unsettled now, ARC took a step back, glancing up at the signpost once more. Briefly, he wondered what the last word actually was, before deciding that he better head back to the little shelter he had built earlier on in anticipation of nightfall.
Turning around, he halted.
Where there once was a beaten path, there was now only a thick undergrowth. The tree canopies were lower than he remembered them being, the branches almost brushing the ground. The foliage all around him were denser, darker – there was no longer any hints of light seeping through them, no uncertainty regarding how packed everything was.
Uncertainly frightened, now, ARC stepped back; his back bumped into the lamppost. He froze there, too – through the thin fabric of what was left of his shirt, he felt something move. Minutely, carefully, but something was – it was creeping over his back. And there, there – somewhere in the peripheral of his vision, there was something, someone walking along the edge of the minute clearing.
Something brushed his arm, and it broke him from the strange trance. He stumbled forward, away and turned around, morbid curiosity spurring him on. Molten silver branches reached out, spreading into a web-like net, beautiful and –
The world disappeared, then, a flood of dizzying scenes and scents and feelings replacing it, blue and yellow and crowded, coloured with warm maple and faint jasmine and biting citrus and tinted with contentment and resentment and love and hatred and distress and joy and sorrow and fear, until –
It all stopped, and he found himself sitting on the floor. The soft, muddy grass patch was mushy under his hand, the signpost solid besides his patch, and everything was as he remembers it, just darker – and he looked up.
The lamppost was gone; only the giant yellow sign remained.
And oh, look, it said –
Hakyo trekked down the familiar path, carrying the loot from the crashed container. It was sunrise, now, and, for some inexplicable reason, there was a set of footprints half-immortalized in the path, there to stay till the next storm washes it all out.
At the fork, he was tempted, for a minute, to take the longer route to avoid the clearings, but laziness won out and he stepped onto the shortcut. Almost immediately, he could feel the air closing in on him, denser and colder and altogether almost-choking. Knowing that there can be no looking back from here on, he focused on taking one step at a time. At times, there would be a shrill chirping from behind, and sometimes he would feel something brush against his shoulders, but anyone raised in this parts can tell you that the woods were dangerous – they always, always try to swallow you.
That’s why, when walking through it, you never look anywhere but ahead, because looking back means that when you turn back around, you would find so many tracks you would be lost until eventually you set foot off the path, and that’s the point where the lost souls of the woods would claim you, making you one of their numbers for all of eternity.
Hakyo did quite well, if he could say so himself, and he was almost at the edge of the woods where he saw, straight ahead, sprawled out just a bit off the path, to the left, a boy – not quite older than him, younger, in fact.
As he neared, he noticed the doll hanging from the tree sheltering him, one button and one marble staring dully unfocused at nothing, limbs hanging limply.
It rose slightly as he closed, though, and he picked up his pace. It followed, he knew – he could sense its presence, always hovering right there behind his left shoulder, but he did not look at it. He would not become its companion, because, well.
“Hakyo!” Mariangela greeted excitedly as he crossed the boarders marking the boundaries of their village. Her glance flickered briefly over his left shoulder, and she took hold of his hand as she led him home, where mother was waiting for his findings.
Entering his room, he noticed that the little statuette he had on his desk had started blooming.
The petals opened, revealing a luminous little bulb.