Samuel pushed the twisted sheet from his shoulder and let the makeshift noose coil on the ground like a dead snake. He stepped out of the rope and looked up at the decaying branch overhead, shaking his head. His eyes darted about the empty forest as his heart raced.
He drew a breath, wincing at the pain in his throat as his lungs tried to pull in more oxygen. He smiled at the joy of being alive until the memory of his prison cell surfaced. Like a leaf at the mercy of the wind, the image of the bars floated from Samuel’s reach. Worry rushed back in as he struggled to find a connection, a reason for being here.
He stepped over the jagged rocks and closed his eyes. Silence. It could have been midsummer. It could have been the dead of winter. He could no longer tell and even if he could, Samuel struggled to remember what those seasons meant. The wind was still. The creek in the distance murmured like the whispers at a funeral procession. The insects, the animals–the creatures of the wood were silent. Again, Samuel fought to recall hearing any sound. A leather string holding an amulet lay on the ground at his feet and he picked it up. The charm was silver, three triple spirals connected and curling in on each other. He slid the leather string over his head until the amulet lay on his chest.
He walked in silence over branches sprawled on the ground and onto a rough path that wound itself farther into the forest. Samuel heard a slight rustle of leaves underneath his feet and yet his canvas sneakers did not make as much noise as they should have. The sun hung at an odd angle, tossing a bland shaft of light ahead, with most of the rays never reaching the ground. Samuel looked to the right and saw tattered, yellow caution tape dangling from the trunks of ancient oaks.
What is this?
The tape ran from trunk to trunk in tattered, random shreds like an abandoned crime scene. He reached out and tore a shred of tape from the tree while looking for the human remains that should have been there.
Samuel looked up into the canopy of branches, which hovered overhead like a worried mother. As far as he could see, ropes and nooses hung empty and cold. Piles of clothing, personal items, and other artifacts lay beneath some.
He tossed the scrap of tape to the ground and continued down the path, knocking aside a shoe, a sport coat, a backpack. He stopped and bent down to grab the backpack, the aching in his neck causing him to wince. The backpack was made of nylon, the zipper long gone and its teeth forever in a black grin. He reached into it, his fingers brushing against a few leaves that rustled inside. Nothing. He turned it over to reveal three characters embroidered on the front: BCD. He rubbed his head and stared at them until he recognized the letters of the alphabet, and a thin smile spread over his lips. He was not sure if those letters mattered anymore, and he could not recall why they ever would. Samuel dug through a few of the mounds beneath the hanging trees, shoving articles of clothing into the backpack.
He threw the only remaining strap over one shoulder and shuffled farther down the path on instinct. He kept the pack to store items that might keep him alive. The creek moved closer with each step, and he was happy to hear its meanderings. The natural noise brought a brief sense of normalcy, a memory from childhood: long summer days in a valley and a creek that cut a ragged line through the forest. Some days he would spend hours in solitude, overturning rocks in a search of salamanders. On other days, he would throw stones across the bank with his brothers in a friendly competition that would end when his mother’s voice echoed through the trees, calling them home for the evening meal.
He saw more items strewn across the path and kicked a pair of shoes to the side. So many shoes. He wondered why the shoes remained and the bodies did not.
Samuel looked down at his sneakers with Velcro instead of laces. A faded denim shirt hung open revealing a plain grey T-shirt underneath. His khakis sat loose on his hips. The guards did not care how well they fit the inmates.
The path curved as it approached the stream, turning right into a grove of high pines, their needles covering the ground. Samuel drew a deep breath through his nose, catching the faintest odor of pine, and it made him smile. He savored the distant aroma for as long as he could. It did not last.
He sat on the ground next to an abandoned, blue shopping bag and reached inside, pulled out the contents and arranged them in a circle over the pine needles. He remembered the names for most of them. Lighter. Pen. Nickel. A few he could not recognize, but his brain assured him he would. Samuel picked up the lighter with his right hand, pinched between a thumb and finger. Muscle memory snapped into place as his thumb struck down on the flint. The lighter sparked, and Samuel smiled. He could almost taste the burnt, woody smoke of a hand-rolled cigarette. He could almost feel the airy buzz with each puff of the tobacco. He struck the lighter again and again, but each time it failed to ignite, and each time it reminded him of the temporary satisfaction delivered by the nicotine. Another item returned to his expanding repertoire of old words as he opened a supple leather wallet.
Samuel removed the paper sticking out from its fold. As with the pine needles, he caught a faint whiff of the earthy, organic scent of the rawhide.
He looked up and noticed the sun had dropped closer to the horizon, as if touching the tops of the trees to ignite them. Darkness crept closer, surrounding the far edges of his vision. Samuel’s toes became numb from the cold and he realized his exposure could kill him.
With the chill of the approaching night, the undoing of the universe tightened its stranglehold on this place, slowly crushing the life from it. Each universe exists infinitely close to one other much like grains of sand on a beach. The collection of universes is known as the multiverse. In this place, the reversion started on the edges where sounds disappeared and colors dulled, draining it all of rich, sensory perceptions. The physical world began to fold in upon itself and threatened to swallow everything into the eternal void. Not every universe was cursed with a reversion that held souls in transition, but this one was.
Using the reversion as his tool, Deva snatched those in need of salvation and dropped them into a dying world to find the path to redemption and release from the cycle: Should the soul fail to make a lifetime of wrongs right, it would reawaken in another place, in another reversion. Spirit demands a resolution for all souls and Deva orchestrates it. Deva, the gatekeeper of the reversion, spent eons keeping the great cycle intact and would do so for as long as Spirit required it.
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