I loved walking. I loved walking in the woods in particular. Some people found this weird, but there was something soothing and intellectually boasting for me from this experience. Soothing in the sense that it liberated me from my many stresses and I learnt that I did some of my best thinking when I took these walks.
For as long as I can remember, I had enjoyed ambling about aimlessly in the woods. When I moved out of my parents’ house, I found a flat in a suburb which was close to the edge of a city, six hours away from my hometown. This suburb is quite close to a wooden area filled with innumerable teak trees and tall brown grass.
These woods aren’t like the creepy woods you often hear about in horror stories. There are no roaming vengeful spirits, no wandering murders and no tarrying wild animals. It’s been over three years I have lived in this area and I have never heard of anyone who was robbed, assaulted, murdered or attacked by a wild animal in these woods. Teenagers often smoke weed, drink beer or have sexual encounters in that forest. In fact a number of families often go camping in those woods and nothing uncanny ever happens.
This was the reason I loved this forest. I say loved because my perception of those woods have since changed because of something that happened to me a while back.
I had taken a leave of absence from work for a couple of days. I work for an advertising company. I love my job but it is often stressful. One of our biggest clients wanted a commercial that could get people excited about shopping in their stores for the upcoming holidays. I was put in charge of coming up with this commercial. I had come up with several ideas which were all rejected by the client.
“They don’t have any spark,” were the exact words the client used to berate my ideas. My boss was giving me one more shot before he found someone else to work the commercial. That had me worked up, so I asked for a couple of days off work to clear my head and think of new ideas. I figured a couple of walks in the woods will help me get the imagination I needed to come up with something to knock the socks off this client. As I said, walks in the woods helped me think better.
I only had two off days, so I knew I had to make the most of them. It was on the first day of my leave when I had an experience that would turn my life upside down.
I woke up early in the morning, prepared and ate breakfast before heading out for my walk. I enjoyed walking in the morning when it’s not too hot to make me sweat or too cold to make me consider going back to my flat with every step I take. I also noticed most people enjoyed jogging in the woods during this time. Of course I could have joined them, but I am the type of guy who only runs if I am being chased.
I never changed routes when I took my walks, so on that particular day I took the same dusty foot path I always take. This was to ensure that I don’t end up getting lost since this commercial idea was stressing me out and I was afraid I may lose track of where I was going. I remember that morning like it was yesterday, the sun shined bright, the sky was a clear blue, birds chirped from tree tops and there was an idyllic peacefulness in the forest which warmed my heart. It was a perfect morning unlike other days I would dump into the Jehovah witnesses. I didn’t care much for religion but these people always wanted to shove it down my throat.
I walked deeper into the woods with the commercial on my mind until I realized the number of joggers who passed me dwindled. I remember the last jogger to pass me was a tall beautiful blonde woman who had her long hair tied into a tight ponytail. She had green eyes, high cheek bones, thin lips and gorgeous smooth skin on her face which was unfortunately draped with sweat at the time. I had seen her before in my apartment building. She lived a floor above mine, if I am not mistaken.
“Oh hi,” she said as she surprisingly stopped next to me. “We live in the same flat, right?”
“Hello. Yes we do. I am Stanford,” I bashfully replied as I extended my hand to greet her. I was also very eager to have physical contact with her.
“I am Candice, nice to meet you. I like your haircut. It really brings out your eyes,” she giggled as she shook my hand.
I blushed as I thought of a compliment to give her as well. “Thank you. Uhm, I like your tight sweatpants they really bring out your b**t.” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth.
Candice frowned and said, “Uhm okay. I will see you around.” Which I assumed was a nice way of saying, ‘talking to you was a mistake because you are perverted as hell, I am out of here.’ With those words she resumed her jog.
As you can guess from that encounter, I was not good with women. That was why I was single, lived alone and hadn’t had a girlfriend in ages. It wasn’t because I am hideous or anything but it was down to the fact that I was awkward around the fairer s*x. I first noticed it in high school because a lot of girls used to keep me at arm’s length. When I cornered one of the girls to tell me why, she said it’s because of my grotesque conversations and actions. I somehow always said and did inappropriate things when around girls and this repelled them. My one and only friend back then, Craig, used to joke with me that when I grow up, I could be hired by celebrities to fend off their groupies with my awkwardness. (I am still not sure if this is a real job). However, during college I brushed up a bit on my charm and I got into a few relationships but they all ended quicker than they started. As an adult my curse of being strange around women returned to haunt me.
Anyway, when Candice ran off I began pondering on my anathema with women. I had all but forgotten about work and the commercial. That was when a foul stench snapped me out of my thoughts. The mephitis was so revolting it turned my stomach. My eyes darted around where I was standing because I was curious on what could be giving off such an unpleasant smell.
Just off the foot path and deep in the midst of a copse of brown grass, I noticed a sparkle then another and another. I moved towards the sparks and the smell just got worse. If you can imagine the farts of a group of people who just ate one too many boiled eggs, then you have got a pretty good idea of the pong which offended my nostrils at the time.
I soon realized the sparkling came from a bed of roses which was somehow planted deep in the forest surrounded by weeds and tall brown grass. The roses were very peculiar but beautiful. I thought they were artificial. They all had bright red stems with matching thorns and ebony black petals. The petals glistened as if they were sprayed with glitter. The rose garden was at least ten meters wide and fifteen meters long. I had never seen roses like that before. Even though they reeked to high heaven, they were a treat for the eyes.
I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Who planted the roses there?’
I never heard of anyone who lives in these woods. There was also not a house or any form of residence in sight. ‘Could it be a hobo who has a passion for gardening?’ I thought.
Before I knew it, I was reaching out for the petals of one of the roses with my right hand. I felt a sharp pierce on my index finger as soon as I made contact with it and I snatched my hand back. I took two steps back and looked down at my hand. Blood was exuding out of my finger. The pain of the prick was unbelievable. It felt like a hundred bees had stung me on the same spot.
I sucked on my finger to stop the bleeding and walked away from the roses. My finger hurt so bad that I decided to go back home and put some ice on it. But the pain receded before I reached my flat. The bleeding had also stopped so I decided to just spend the rest of the day at home. I convinced myself that I would think about the commercial during my tomorrow walk and I spent the whole day relaxing, watching TV, playing video games and browsing the internet.
It was only when the sun went down, that the pain returned to my finger. I was seated on my couch, drinking beer and watching TV, when I felt that sharp sting on my index finger just like when I was initially pricked. I looked down at my finger and realized it had swollen.
A small but visible black circle had formed on the exact spot I was punctured. I placed an ice bag on the finger but the pain only got worse. I went to my bedroom to get my first aid kit box but things became weirder. As I sat on my bed scouring the first aid box for something to alleviate my pain, I noticed black lines began to flow from the small circle to the rest of my palm.
The pain was unbearable. I could feel these black veins course their way through whatever muscles, nerves and tissue which lay beneath the skin of my palm. The lines were vibrating with every movement causing my hand to twitch uncomfortably. Within a few seconds, my entire palm was black as gunpowder.
These strange black lines snaked their way to the other side of my hand and flowed all the way to my fingertips causing all five of my finger nails to pop off and clatter to the floor leaving a layer of red exposed bleeding skin. I shrilled in pain and could hear my neighbor banging on the wall for me to keep it down.
The veiny lines slithered up my arm and it felt like the offspring of barbed wire and shards of glass was moving under my skin. My whole hand had turned black as coal when the lines reached my shoulder and my entire body felt scorching hot.
I pushed away the first aid kit box from my bed and screamed some more as I felt the lines make their way to my chest. Sweat was cascading from my head like a waterfall and my heart was beating wildly against my chest as I realized I may be about to die.
I jumped up from my bed when I felt a cold hand touch my rapidly throbbing heart. I tore off my shirt and noticed the black veins had engulfed my chest. I slammed my body against my six foot tall mahogany book shelf as I felt the hand squeeze my heart.
I then noticed only one book fell from the book shelf, it was the Bible.
Dust wafted up from the holy book as it hit the floor. As I said, I was not big on religion and the only reason I had this book was because my mother forced me to take her Bible with me when I moved out of the house. I fell to the ground and clutched the book with my right hand so I can say a prayer and hopefully gatecrash my way to heaven. There is something about being on the verge of dying that makes you a believer.
I shrieked like a mountain lion when I touched the Bible. It felt like I touched a hot stove plate. Worse of all, I couldn’t let go. My hand was stuck on the Bible. A loud screeching noise erupted from God knows where. It sounded like the rasping cry of an old woman who is a chronic smoker. It was so loud that I feared my ears will start bleeding. It was as if the screaming was coming from within my ears.
From the noise of the screams to the pain on my hand and chest, my body finally gave out and my vision became blurry before I closed my eyes expecting that the next time I open them, I will be at the pale gates being waved into heaven by St Peter. Of which this was crazy thinking because I never ended up saying that prayer.
When I did open my eyes, I was still in my room. Streaks of sunlight pierced through my silky dark blue curtains. After recovering from my grogginess, I sat up and realized it was three o’clock in the afternoon, the next day.
I was almost happy that it was all a dream, until I saw my fingernails scattered on the floor. I gasped and stood up as I stared in horror at the dried blood on the edge of my fingers where my nails should be.
The black veins had disappeared from my hand and chest. My right hand felt limp but at least the swelling on my index finger had gone down.
I also noticed the Bible on the floor next to my plucked out fingernails. The red New King James Version Bible was covered with a black slime which was wobbling like jelly. The odor which oozed out from the gunk was the same as the fetor from the roses I saw in the woods.
After throwing up several times in my toilet, I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What the hell pricked me?”
I went back to the woods looking for that garden of roses, but I never found it.