A Hike Through the Woods
Another completed prompt for January, huzzah! This was also from that prompt book I received as a Christmas gift. It too came with ten words I had to use, and this time, I didn’t miss half the prompt in writing it. And here are the words I had to use:
I had fun incorporating magic into this little prompt. I hope you enjoy it!
I adjust the straps of my backpack, tugging it more firmly against my back. The wind is brisk, and I hope that once I step into the woods that the trees will help serve as a bit of a buffer against the wind. I wonder if I should have worn a thicker jacket but I know, after hiking for a bit, that I will grow warm. I always do. I run hot.
I like to take these hikes alone. I like the quiet, even though quiet isn’t really the right word to use. The woods aren’t quiet. Creatures are moving around underfoot and overhead, the breeze blows through the leaves causing them to rustle. Occasionally, an animal will sound the alarm, or maybe yell at another. But it feels quieter than the sounds that I am used to. It isn’t the loudness that I equate to a city. It isn’t the honking of horns and the curses of fellow humans. I would much rather deal with animals cursing than humans.
Everyone tells me I do not need to make these treks alone. Especially this one. I can see the pity in their eyes, hear it in their voices. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I remember how it made me feel so angry, and I still don’t know if I was angrier with myself or with those who wore pity in their eyes like their life depended on it. It was not like it ever led to action on their parts, no true action at any rate. They do not deserve my anger or even annoyance. I do my best to push it down. It shouldn’t — and it doesn’t — bother me these days.
My shoulders relax as I make my way further in the woods. My boots making tracks in the mud. There will be no hiding that I have been here, at least not today. There is no rain in the forecast, nothing to wash away the evidence of me. That bothers me, and I’m not sure why. I tug the collar of my shirt up higher around my ears. I’m not cold. I just have a sudden urge to hide as much as I can. To tuck into myself. It’s the thoughts rolling around in my brain that are making me act like this. It is not like I’m on some sort of covert mission.
Huffing out a sigh, I tell myself to snap out of it. I hike ever onward.
I remember when I was a child, when I used to snoop in my grandmother’s office. It was a room that we grandkids were not allowed in. I never heeded that warning, never thought that it really applied to me. There was a black-and-white picture on her desk that I was obsessed with. The photo was of a young woman, smiling shyly at the camera. She wore a witch’s hat, cocked lopsidedly over one eye. There was a large wart on the tip of her nose. The photo fascinated me. I always wanted to ask my grandmother who that woman was.
I never did because that would give away the fact I had been in her office.
But I always wondered. Wondered who she was and why she looked like a witch. At least, like a witch told in stories to children to make them behave. She looked friendly, though. I couldn’t imagine her trying to eat children or whatever outlandish lies the story books told.
I am playing with a fireball in my hand as I take a brief rest. I know I should eat, especially since I am needlessly using my magic. I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, telling me to not waste my abilities. But playing with fire has always been how I calm myself. I like having control over something that can destroy. I like how hot it makes my hands feel. I like how dangerous it is.
“Still playing with fire?” A voice asks somewhere to my right.
I recognize the voice. I don’t look up, or acknowledge the leprechaun as he takes a seat on the fallen log that I have claimed as my chair for my rest. I don’t know how old he is. He has looked the same throughout the years that I have known him. Always offering more of a hindrance than any genuine help. Though my grandmother originally sent him to keep an eye on me, I think he cares, too, that I succeed.
“You know I’ll never stop,” I say, after a silence has lapsed between us.
“You should eat,” he says, and he says it gentler than I have ever heard him. I don’t think that I knew his voice could sound like that. It makes my stomach hurt.
“I’m not very hungry,” I say. Maybe I was a few minutes ago, but that hunger has gone away now.
The leprechaun sighs and I feel him get off the log. I finally look at him, and he is watching me. Eyes gleamed over with that look of pity that I have gotten used to. I had hoped he wouldn’t waste that look on me.
“Be careful. Do not do anything foolish,” he says.
I grunt a reply, dropping my gaze to look at the fireball in my hand. I toss it lazily to my other hand.
The leprechaun doesn’t say goodbye. He just vanishes with a loud cracking noise. I stay on the log for a little while longer. I don’t eat even when my stomach grumbles for food.
Nausea hits me a few hours later. I am still hiking in the woods, knowing my destination won’t be reached for another hour at the least. I regret not eating during my rest earlier, and I am forced to stop. I shrug my pack off my shoulder and reach inside of it for a granola bar when a memory hits me like a punch to the gut.
Suddenly, I feel like I am thirteen years old again, on my first hike. I didn’t eat then, either. I was too excited. I could hardly make myself take a break, but it caught up to me and I reached into my pack, and pulled out homemade trail mix from my grandmother.
I feel twenty again, still eating the same trail mix. Desperate to prove just how much of an adult I thought I was.
This is the first year that my hand comes back with something else. I can’t tell anymore if my stomach hurts from not eating, or because of something else.
I eat the granola bar even though it tastes like cardboard in my mouth.
I reach my destination little over an hour later. My legs burn from the exertion. I’m out of shape. I ponder, like I have the last few years that I have done this trek, about getting in shape. Taking walks outside of this hike. Somehow, I doubt I will. In the day’s light, out of these woods, that kind of work seems pointless.
I am in a clearing with a small river that runs to an edge of a cliff. The water doesn’t flow down the edge of a cliff; it doesn’t pour down it like a waterfall; it doesn’t drip-drip-drop. It is like gravity has stopped. An invisible wall halts the flow of the water.
The air is thick with magic.
I remember feeling like the surrounding air was suffocating me the first time I came here. I panicked. The leprechaun had appeared then and reminded me to relax. I did, just barely. I struggled to remember the breathing exercises that my grandma and others had taught me. But eventually, I did. And then I had realized the beauty of the place. The majesty of the magic.
Each year I must make a pilgrimage to this spot. I must absorb the magic placed here by my ancestors and leech some of mine out. It has taken a lot of practice to do so. I am fairly certain that in the first few years that I didn’t exactly take or give any magic. Everyone told me not to worry, that I would figure it out, eventually.
And I did.
I sit down at the edge of the cliff, ignoring the steep drop. I can’t look down or else I will panic. I don’t like heights. I feel like I was made short for a reason. I close my eyes and I concentrate. I can feel the air grab at me. I let the air, or magic, or whatever it is, pull some of my magic out of me. I do not panic, even when it hurts. I lose track of time. I don’t know how long I let the flow of magic leave me. But, eventually, I stop and then stand up, legs wobbly. I feel weaker than I have in years of doing this.
I should have eaten more.
I move to the stream, and I dip my hands into the water. It is cold. I bring it to my lips, and I open myself up again. I drink the water; it is thicker than water should be. I feel a sudden burst of fear that it won’t go down my throat. That I will choke on the thick-water and die. But I don’t. The water goes down, and I open myself up to it, allowing that magic that has infused in it long ago, to replenish what I let seep out of me at the cliff’s edge. I drink and drink until I feel uncomfortably full. Then I stop.
I feel stronger.
I feel ready to take on the world again.
I feel ready to face it without my grandmother.