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This is a prose piece inspired by the Winter competition prompt. In this piece, I try to explore the concept of fear, how it can be towards the unknown and the supposedly scary (a dilapidated house in the middle of a forest), fear of an abuser, or even fear of the loss of something that one holds dear. I find it fascinating how fear can be both crippling, rendering one immobile while simultaneously spurring one to take action.

This was a terrible mistake.

With every crunch of leaf under my sole, I am further plagued by the sense that something terrible was about to happen— a feeling so palpable that it is almost a physical pain.

“Wooh.” I hear a sudden rustle of branches behind me and stifle a scream. At the whip of my head, an owl flies past my head, brushing the top of my head with a caress horrible enough to shock the hairs on my neck. My heart pounds against my ribcage, a prisoner begging to be let out, and it takes every working nerve in my body to stifle my flight instincts. No, Kaz, you promised yourself you would not turn back.

Watching the silhouettes of vines and lichens sway in a dance of their own, I could feel my anxiety strangling me with tendrils of their own, each one tighter and more suffocating than the last. As the house slowly comes into sight, the tendrils worm their way into my brain, draining the thoughts within.

I could still turn back… But then the image of my father hurling his beer bottle toward me resurfaces amidst the mind fog, and an involuntary spasm shudders through me. I’m doubled over, hugging both knees. It feels like I’m 7 years old, skinning my knee on the pavement and bawling my eyes out for my mother. But my mother is no longer here.

I turn around, biting back the tears, trying to pry their way out of my eyes. This is where the path ends, and my decision begins. Do I leap into this abyss of wilderness, praying for a safety net? Or do I turn back on the path I know all too well, into the Venus fly trap just for it to suck the life out of me, little by little, until I’m nothing but a soulless, hollow shell?

I take a deep breath and step forward into the house.

As nightfall approaches, the chirping of the crickets intensifies. As the forest descends into darkness, the symphony crescendoes. A cacophony of insects and the percussion of trees; a backdrop to my thoughts. It’s surprisingly calming. I feel enveloped in a small pocket of time, where only the forest and I exist. Perhaps because this is where Mother used to take me hiking, on her good days.

There was a bed frame in the house. Lying upon the hardwood, I could watch the aluminum\ roof above tremble under the pressure of the winds. It was rickety too, like a wooden tent that would collapse if the wind got strong. But ironically it felt safer than the bricked square I had escaped from. A low whoosh sweeps across the undergrowth, and the trees bow at the beckoning of the wind, bestowing their foliage as offerings. As the first few raindrops land, I realized that I was not alone in my trepidation. The storm was a mirror to my soul, reflecting my inner turmoil. And at that moment, I found a strange solace in knowing that even the elements were subject to the same emotions as I. There’s something blissful about peaceful sleep as a storm rages on outside. For far too long, I had been caught in the storm.

I awake to the buzz of mosquitoes in my ear. The little buggers must have had the feast of their lives last night; my arms and legs were flecked with red spots. I run my fingers gently across my face, the only part of me the mosquitoes had deemed too worthless to eat. My left eye still feels tender, and my nose still sore. Was this my father’s way of telling me I could never get away from his clutches?

“Screw you,” I whisper, relishing in its reverberation in the empty house. “Screw you!” I scream. Faint light-headedness seizes me and all of a sudden, it feels funny to be screaming at an empty house. The house feels different now, as though miffed at me bringing my personal drama into their quiet space.

It feels strange to stay so I escape into the forest, basking in the mix of warmth and green. If I stand still enough, could I dissolve into the ecosystem? Could I crawl into the mud and kneel at the roots of the flowers, or would they deem me unworthy? Oh dear forest, it would be an understatement to say I fear you as much as I love you. Your trees stand solemn, housing the secrets of the planet and now I feel safe in knowing, that they can house me too. But O Revered forest, what is it that you think of me?

Alas, it seems the forest has many more important things to think about. The birds chirp, the creek bubbles and the trees sway to some mysterious melody that only they can decipher. Perhaps the day I can sing the same tune as them, is the day I can truly call this place home.

It must be History class by now. Would the school call? Would they even care? Probably not any more than they would care about a tree collapsing. I’d be a small headline in a newspaper, a passing remark, and little else more.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The crisp air greets my nostrils like a long-lost friend, an escape from the air at home, polluted with the stench of cigarette smoke and stale beer. It wasn’t always like that; There was a time when the thought of going home did not drench me in dread. There was a time when the house was a home, the kind that enveloped you in a hug that you never want to get out of. There was a time when Mother was still alive and Father was not an abusive alcoholic. There was a time when the water running in these creeks was clear as crystal, unpolluted by the factory-flushed chemicals. There was a time when the forest could go on with its symphony day in and day out, without the roar of the bulldozer in the distance, slowly peeling back the floors to reveal tidy porches and perfectly grazed front lawns.

All this while I have been escaping, from one home to another, watching them crumble as I lie helplessly next to them, a coward unable to save anything out of fear. But not this time. I walk on, far beyond the trees, far beyond the houses, all the way to the police station. Home is not just someplace that protects you, it’s a place you protect.

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