It was a small, peaceful, and flat glade amid the deciduous hills, not a valley really, but a small depression, an acre or maybe even less. It was pretty if not grand. The dappled sunlight touched the forest floor with sufficient light to sustain a few native grasses and shrubs. The water oaks and poplars and beech showed red and yellow and orange in the fall. I never passed this place without stopping and surveying the view. Sometimes I even briefly reclined and rested against the only conifer in the glade, a thick and soaring yellow pine.
Despite its tranquility and beauty, this place made me sick. I could neither avoid it nor explain it. As soon as my feet touched its sod, I began to feel vaguely nauseous and dizzy, not such that I might swoon or vomit but sufficient for notice. I attempted to attribute the sensation to some common terrestrial origin. Perhaps, I hypothesized, there was some plant or herb flourishing nearby that elicited an allergic response. I carefully surveyed each and every growth in the glade and found no species with which I was not familiar.
I contemplated avoiding the region entirely, but God abhors a coward. Surely, I had experienced a natural affliction when I first found the glade and my mind began to associate the location with that first sickness. I know the mind is capable of such chicanery. A man can’t always trust his senses. The smallest thing disturbs them. I soon began to force myself to endure if not enjoy my visits, and I must admit that the sensation was somewhat diminished, though not entirely absent. Yesterday I came to my glade for the last time, and I shall never return. As I approached, I again felt that familiar though diminished wave, but persevered. I reclined against my pine and the sickness began to pass, completely, and I found myself in a state of what I can only describe as complete bliss, as if I had consumed a hypnotic potion of some sort. I lingered in this state for what must have been an hour or more before falling into a deep and absolute sleep.
I began to dream of my childhood and of all the seasons and of all my revelry in all of those seasons. I saw all of these things through my very eyes, as if I were living them again through my own perspective. I have never been so consoled by the past.
And then the consolation waned and my dream sky began to darken and a cold mist began to descend upon my vision. I found myself running through the very forest in the hills near where I now slept, and yet the trees and mountains lacked real color and showed only shades of gray. I ran very fast indeed. I knew that I was in pursuit of something with an absolute urgency, and yet I wasn’t sure what that something was. I sensed an overwhelming dread that the object of my chase might escape. And then I saw her for the first time. She ran fast before me and then stopped and turned and looked over her shoulder, and I knew with certainty that she was beautiful and I knew with certainty that she was running from me. I have never seen such pure terror as I saw on her stunning face and dark eyes. Her plain and thin white gown was torn and hung from only one shoulder, exposing her in a most embarrassing manner. Her bare feet, ankles, and calves leaked crimson from a hundred cuts and scratches. She turned away and began to run again, and still I followed. She soon began to tire and I began to close the distance between us. I could hear her gasping for what little air she could capture.
She ran into the glade where I now slept and dreamed. In utter breathless exhaustion, she fell to the ground beneath the thick, soaring, yellow pine. She knelt before me in complete supplication. Her race was over.
I looked down upon her in a disgust I can’t now name, justify, or explain. I procured a large intrusive plutonic rock forced to the surface from the basement of time by tectonic pressures. I hoisted the ancient Paleozoic stone and brought it down hard on the top of her skull. The impact awoke me from my nightmare. I became sick, very sick this time. I began to weep over the now-evinced memory of what I may have done.
Alan Caldwell has been teaching in Georgia since 1994 but only began submitting writing in May 2022. He has since been published in Southern Gothic Creations, Level: Deepsouth, oc87 Recovery Diaries, Black Poppy Review, The Backwoodsman, You Might Need To Hear This, The Chamber, Biostories, Heartwood Literary Journal, American Diversity Report, and Rural Fiction Magazine.