The night settles in, wrapping the forest in a loving embrace, warm and familiar. Vines tangle and tighten as they close their ranks for the dark hours. Trees sway gently in an evening breeze that brushes away the triumphs of the day. Water drips from outstretched leaves to fall noiselessly into the soft ground. The moon and stars flare over the canopy and tendrils slip through to twist and dance in the gloom below.
Padded feet carry the hunters secretively down worn paths. Beacon eyes, green and split by pools of chaos, blaze despite the lack of light and sway in rhythm to the unheard movements. Those lethal orbs are the only evidence of the beasts’ passing and those who share the jungle hope and pray they never pause and take notice when journeys of survival cross.
Only the foolish and the mad venture away from the villages at night, when all else agree the thirsty eyes hold dominion. The occasional fool thinks it will be an act of bravery to prove their worth and defy the odds, even though the screams of previous fools must still echo in their memory. There is no accounting for the mad, who perhaps have simply lost the will to wake and struggle.
So, why, it might be asked, was I among the trees and stars that night all those moons ago, lost and not lost while the hours continued to slip further away from daylight? I wasn’t one to boast, to beat my chest and demand attention. I wasn’t so sure of my strength, speed, and cunning to pit my mortal body against the hunters of the night. I was not one of the foolish, which means I must have been mad.
I was mad.
And the beasts felt it when they found me, held me within their green stares of death, sniffed out my worth to them, and released me unharmed. My particular brand of madness was nothing they wanted to waste their time on. There was better prey, healthier for their souls, to track and devour. Though the eyes haunt me always, even during the bright days of long summer, they blinked out that night and left me alone with my thoughts and frailties.
I waited for morning, frozen equally from the cold, the terror, the joy, and the madness, before stumbling through the grasping vines and branches back to the safety of the village. There I was met by friends and family wielding spears. They turned me back into the forest for only the son of a devil, a witch, or a demon could survive a night isolated among the ravages of the forest’s heart. They wanted nothing to do with any of the possibilities, cursed me for mad, and exiled me.
I found a home among the beasts, not as an equal, and not as a threat or ally. I just existed. After a time, life grew easy again. Things were simpler. Truths were clearer. I began to enjoy the wild life under the canopy with the dance of the moon and stars. Perhaps that is fitting…
The madness remained.