Updated: Mar 8, 2021
I really love this picture. There is so much scope for imagination in it, as Anne Shirley would say. Check out the stories below to see where we all went with it. I think the best part about writing with this group is the different perspectives everyone has after looking at the exact same image!
Amanda "Vorsicht vor dem Wald" (Beware of the Forest)
“Hurry up, Lani. You are so slow. It’s bad enough that your dad is making us bring you along on our camping trip with our friends, but if you make us late, I swear we will leave you stranded in the woods when we get to the campsite.”
Talk about an overreaction. It’s not like I asked to come along. I actively tried to get out of being forced to come along on this trip. “I am sorry Ethan. I just need to grab my sleeping bag.”
“HURRY UP!” Mallory shouts from the bottom of the steps.
The worst thing that ever happened was my dad marrying the evil shrew and making me “be friends” with the fraternal demon twins. Now is really not the time for my inner snark to make itself known. I'm too tempted to voice the actual thoughts and that would be bad. They make my life horrible enough. I just have to get through this weekend. I love camping and being in nature. I will stay as invisible as possible and just enjoy being in the woods. They will probably be too drunk with their friends to even remember I'm there.
“Bye kids. Have a great time!” my dad says as we load up the car.
“It will be such a great time!” Mallory says with an overly saccharine tone. Ethan rolls his eyes and I hide my grimace.
This will be about as enjoyable as being waterboarded. I think I would actually have more fun being waterboarded. I look at Ethan as he drives. "Which campground are we going to?”
“We are going to the Black Forest. Amber is on this ghost spirit kick and as she is my girlfriend, that is where we are going. She wants to see if she can find the Waldgeist.”
Oh boy, doesn’t that sound delightful. Let’s all participate in a Blair Witch Project outing. Hooray, because that worked out so well in the movie. “Oh, well that sounds interesting,” is how I actually respond.
Mallory looks at her twin. “Girlfriend? Really Ethan? Did she force you to commit before she would let you do anything or are you hoping she gives it up on this trip after you get her drunk?”
“Shut-up Mal! Like you are any better!” Ethan shouts while smacking Mallory in the back of the head.
Aren’t your step siblings so delightful? They are such polite and responsible young adults. Yeah, polite and responsible were definitely the opposite of what my step siblings are, I just hope to survive the weekend. We arrive at the Black Forest campground and begin hiking to our campsite.
“It looks like we are the first here,” says Mallory. She turns to look at me. “You can set up under that tree. We don’t have enough room for you to be over here at the site.”
I just nod and begin setting up my small tent and sleeping bag. The rest of the crew, Amber, Ethan’s girlfriend, Brad, Bennet, and Shane all arrive shortly after I finish setting up the tent.
“Who brought the runt?” Shane shouts. Ethan rolls his eyes and says, “Her dad made us bring her. He feels it would be a great sibling bonding moment,” he says in a mocking tone. Bennet guffaws loudly while Amber sneers at me. Oh Joy. So much for being invisible.
“I want to start on a hike soon. We should get set-up,” Amber says to Ethan.
“Sure babe, whatever you want.” Ethan looks at me. “Lani, you stay here and get the fire started.” They head off into the woods.
Good riddance. I hope they fall into a deep hole. Well, this fire won’t start itself. It takes me a few tries with the fire starter, but I manage to make a decent fire. The sun is just starting to set when the group returns from their hike.
“That was a complete waste of time” Bennet grumbles at Shane.
“Tell me about it”, he responds. I look at Shane.
"Did you not find the Waldgeist? Such a shame, I was sure you would be lucky and stumble on a mythical creature. I hear they are very open and welcoming of inconsiderate jerks.” Well, that went well. Way to go, inner snark, for finally overcoming my brain-to-mouth filter.
“No one asked your opinion, runt. Maybe it just needs bait. How do you feel about being the sacrificial lamb, huh?” Shane says as both he and Bennet glare at me.
“I am going to turn in for the night. You all have fun.” I say to Ethan and Mallory. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I hear their laughter as they carry on. I guess they started drinking early. It sounds like a rave out there. People come camping to appreciate nature, not defile it. City folk should not be allowed here. I must have drifted off to sleep. The next thing I know a black hood is placed over my head and my hands and feet are bound.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING! Put me down.” I shout.
“We have voted, and you are the weakest link, goodbye,” someone slurs.
“This is not funny!” I cry.
“You are right, this is hilarious,” giggles Mallory. “Enjoy the forest: maybe you will see the Waldgeist.”
Suddenly, I am airborne and come crashing down on the forest floor and everything goes dark.
I wake up to a soft feather light twig brushing over my face. It is weird: you wouldn’t think a twig would be smooth.
“Vake up little one.” Uh…are we dreaming…what is happening. “Vake up.” I feel the tape being cut from my hands and feet. I am lifted and carefully placed sitting on the rock that knocked me out. I look up, and up, until my neck is craned back. This creature has to be at least 10 feet tall and looks like a spruce tree with antlers. Dude! It is so an Ent. They are real! Not the time to go all Lord of the Rings fan. “Do not be afraid, Blume. I will not hurt you. I do not hurt the innocent, but tell me. Who did this to you?” he says as he points to my head.
“M…y…my sss…step-siblings and their friends.” I stuttered. “Wh..who are you?” At least I think it’s a who, right? I mean a what wouldn’t speak. Now is not the time.
“I am the Waldgeist, protector of this forest and all those who walk with nature. It seems I have some trash to clean up. Come Blume, I will see you returned to your camp.” He bends to pick me up and sets me on his wide shoulder. Oh! I’m a hobbit riding on an Ent. This is awesome!
“Uh…not to be rude, but what do you mean about cleaning up the trash?”
He lets out a long sigh and replies, “Those who desecrate my forest, Blume, must pay. They will pay their debt to the forest.”
Well, that sounds ominous. “What do you mean, pay?”
“They will pay their debt to the forest, but you, you will have a choice. Stay with me, Blume, or return home.” He sets me down on the edge of camp. He bends down so we are face-to-face. “Do not watch, Blume, this is not something you should see. But if you watch, the choice will be made, and you will stay here with me in the forest. No one can know I exist.”
As he makes his way to camp, I close my eyes. The only sounds I hear are rustling leaves, although it is louder than normal. Would looking really be so bad? We could stay in the forest! There are Ents! Fair point, I would always side with the trees. I open my eyes as the Waldgeist enters the camp. With a defining roar he tears the tents in half. He grabs Ethan and Amber, one in each hand, squeezes down. The crunch is sickening. He steps on Brad and Bennet, crushing their skulls. Shane and Mallory scream as they are lifted into the air and smashed together. The sounds stop and the forest is quiet. The Waldgeist turns to me and shakes his head, “Blume, you were not supposed to look. Come now, we have work to do.” I shakily stand up and move closer. Uh…maybe I was wrong, I didn’t think Ents would be like this. Too late now, and really, it wasn’t so bad, other than the mass murder that just happened. Okay, it was pretty bad.
The Waldgeist begins digging 6 holes in the ground, one for each body. He lays them with care into the ground. He turns to me and reaches out his hand “Here, Blume, place the seeds. One for each body. For all their wickedness, they will now be used to grow beautiful trees.” I placed the seeds on each body and helped him cover the bodies. After making sure the campsite was completely removed, he picks me up and places me on his shoulder once again. “Come, Blume, let’s go home.” He begins walking deeper into the forest.
Andrea "Just Playin'"
“Come on, Peyton,” Eric said begrudgingly. “Would you hurry up? Jake and Morgan won’t wait that long.”
He looked behind, shifting his pack to the other shoulder. A never-used, aluminum camping cup banged against the zipper of his brand new backpack, swollen with a surplus of camping gear.
Peyton had dropped her own Hello Kitty backpack and was dragging it behind her by the top strap. She hadn’t packed nearly as much, although she wasn’t trying to prove anything, unlike her brother.
“Why is it so far?” she asked. “I thought it was close.”
Eric rolled his eyes. “It’s not that far. Besides, I told you it wouldn’t be fun. This is serious.”
Peyton only huffed and forced Hello Kitty’s face over a jutting rock. When she had heard Eric talk about the dare to meet some high schoolers on the forest’s edge, she was ecstatic. After all, with being a somewhat lonely middle schooler with her closest friend being an older brother who wanted nothing to do with her, the chance to befriend older, popular kids was a dream come true.
However, this was possibly turning into more work than she thought it was worth. But after she had threatened to tell their parents their nighttime plans, Eric let her go along. And she certainly couldn’t back out now.
“We have to be getting close,” Eric said as he took out a flashlight and began scanning the thicket ahead.
They were leaving the safety of the small town’s glow and entering a shadowy wood full of swamp, bog, and trees. The sun had completely dipped behind the horizon and left a ripple of dark purples and blues in its wake.
Eric’s flashlight glanced across trees and brush as they hesitantly entered the forest. Peyton looked behind her briefly to see the moon claiming the sky with an army of darkness, driving the world into shadow. Eric, on the other hand, ground his teeth and stared straight ahead, determined not to show fear.
“Here!” he suddenly said, his voice unnecessarily hushed. His flashlight leveled on an orange flag, like one used in construction, hanging down from a tree. The plastic looked faded and old with bits of mold growing, as if it had been there for a long time. The sight put neither child to ease.
Peyton looked around the area. It was sparse with trees, leaving room for tents to be put up, but nothing about the landscape showed signs of human life.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Jake and Morgan are going to meet us here?”
“Of course,” Eric replied quickly, while dropping his pack to the ground. “They said they would. Now help me set up the tent.”
The tent, along with the rest of Eric’s supplies, belonged to his dad. After years of interest in outdoor activities, the man had collected a wide array of camping gear. However, collecting was different from using and the gear had sat in their basement for years on end. Eric didn’t consider this stealing, but a refusal to waste perfectly fine supplies.
He was securing the next to last tent peg into the soft ground when his flashlight glimmered on something in the grass below.
“You see?” he said once he identified the object as a letterman’s jacket that had been folded up and set on a rock. “They had to be here at some point. Maybe they forgot something and went back to get it.”
Peyton looked at the jacket suspiciously but didn’t argue. A cold feeling had settled in her gut and, at this point, she was too afraid to name the cause.
“Can we get inside now?” she asked.
“Are you scared?” Eric teased.
She hesitated to long to be honest. “I’m just tired.”
It was pitch black outside when the two kids unrolled their sleeping bags inside the tent. Eric also turned on an LED lantern that brightly lit the inside of the tent, much to Peyton’s relief.
While Peyton wrapped herself into her own sleeping bag, Eric sat on his knees at the zipper door and constantly peered outside with his flashlight in hand.
Finally, Peyton spoke up.
“They’re not coming, you know,” she said.
“What?” he asked with a confused sneer. “What are you talking about?”
“Just face it, Eric,” she said. “They brought you out here as a joke. They think this kind of stuff is funny.”
“No, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eric insisted, shaking his head. “They wouldn’t do that.”
Peyton tightened her lips and realized that he would never admit that she was right, even if he knew the truth. Slowly, he stopped checking outside less and less until they were both inside, waiting for nothing.
“I’m sorry,” Eric finally said.
He said it so softly, Peyton thought she was dreaming.
“Huh?” she asked, leaning in animatedly.
He smirked and pushed her over, making her laugh.
“Those kids are stupid anyway, right?”
She nodded. “Right.”
Eric was tucking himself into his own sleeping bag and vacillating over turning off the lantern when a rustling outside caught his attention.
“You hear that?”
“Hear what?” Peyton asked, trying to sleep in order to get the night over with.
Eric sat upright and listened. A long stretch of silence lulled him into a sense of security.
“I guess it was nothing.”
He laid down and zipped up the side of the sleeping bag.
With eyes closed and fears distant, both kids were nearly asleep. Until a violent force punched the one side of the tent. Another punch and another beat into the tent like hurricane winds, causing the tent to rock back and forth.
Peyton screamed while Eric picked up the flashlight in a fist, as if it could be used as a weapon.
The tent rocked and flapped until it suddenly stopped.
Peyton held both hands over her mouth as tears streamed down her face. She looked to Eric with unspoken horror and watched as he crawled towards the zipper that was keeping them separated from the evil darkness outside.
Without thinking, she lunged after him and grabbed his arm. “W-wait,” she said in a shivering voice. “You don’t know…”
“It’s Jake and Morgan,” Eric replied confidently. “They’re just trying to scare us.”
“Just be quiet,” he commanded as he cautiously unzipped the tent and poked his head and flashlight outside.
“Jake? Morgan?” he called. “This isn’t freaking funny. You’re idiots, you know that?”
Peyton held her breath as Eric stepped out of the tent completely and disappeared into the night beyond. She felt a scream build up in her chest but she couldn’t bring herself to release it. She simply sat back, far away from the entrance, and held a hand over her mouth. Fresh tears filled her eyes.
Outside, Eric scanned the area around the tent, letting his flashlight seek out the perpetrators.
“Jake! Morgan!” he shouted again. “Where are you?”
At this, an answer came, in the form of a distant cry. “Over here!” followed by gleeful snickering.
Eric couldn’t be sure, but it sounded too much like Morgan to be otherwise.
“Morgan? What are you doing?” he asked, stepping towards the source of the voice. He used his flashlight and strained his eyes but didn’t see anyone beyond the trees and brush.
“Playing!” the same voice said, only this time, it was to his left and sounded closer than before.
He whipped towards the new direction, feeling his heart pound against his rib cage.
“Hello?” he asked, less confident than before.
“Hello!” shouted a new voice. It sounded so much like Jake that Eric felt his knees go weak. Only, it couldn’t be Jake. How could Jake be so far up a tree?
“We’re just playing!” both voices said, each coming from a drastically new direction. “It’s just a joke! We’re just playing!”
Without waiting to see what it was, Eric turned back towards the tent and sprinted towards its fragile safety. The flashlight light bounced across the dark drenched forest, catching glimpses of trees and sharp shadows, occasionally clipping across the tent itself.
Peyton’s eyes were wide as she watched her brother’s flashlight bound her way. Her whole body was tense with fear. And then finally, the flashlight disappeared altogether.
She couldn’t hear and couldn’t feel. Her eyes remained completely fastened on the entrance of the tent, waiting – hoping for Eric to miraculously come through. But the moment never came.
She wanted to speak or shout for him, but she couldn’t force herself to do it. She simply sat frozen in place in the very center of the tent. The fabric tent and a cheap lantern being her only sense of safety.
Her heart skipped a beat when she heard her brother’s voice, directly outside the tent, “We’re just playing!”
The trees lay tall; sticks attached themselves to the ground nicely, leaves likewise. Haze drifted up, passing the tall clouds of evening. Pink leaked out of the horizon, eagerly reaching forward to greet the dawn soon coming. All was right. All was still.
Passing my way through my forest, I savored the new air, the time just before I eased out of being for the Light Time. But then - what was that? I made my way up through the sticks and leaves and ground, passing the trees and clouds that were ever straining toward one another. There was another Light, one I had not tasted before. The color was strange, the heat was strange; all of it emanated strange. Disquiet colored me. There, just there: it moved so oddly as well. Like a stricken beast clinging to the ground, it was translucent, and inside its belly was another shape moving, flickering. Baffled, I rooted myself to the ground as well, watching.
I had just awakened from a restless slumber in my not-quite leakproof tent and realized it was almost morning when a strange shadow on one side of the canvas made my heart begin to thump rapidly. What was it? Having camped in the Rockies, I recognized the antlers of a moose, but surely this was no moose. It had great tall limbs and the proportions of a human - but what human is over ten feet tall and has claw-like branches for fingers? For that is what I swear I saw. I slowly raised my own veined hands and rubbed my eyes. I'd come as a lone botanist to study the moss on the trees in this unexplored forest. Nothing had indicated that this forest was any different than the dozens of others I'd wandered. Whatever was outside my tent proved that thought plainly wrong. One question stood stark in my mind: what now?
The shape was still for a moment; I had the distinct sense it was watching me as I was watching it. Then the beast rumbled to and fro, opened his maw, and the shape emerged: changed in color and size now. We swayed, seeing one another.
It was certainly not a moose. My mind refused to create any other thought.
I felt the urge to taste it, discover for myself what it was, find its purpose. As I inclined towards the ground, it shied away, crawling up. I leaned back again. It did not want to be experienced.
Did the thing eat humans? I wondered. Fear was making a tight knot in my belly. It had certainly come at me, but when I stepped back, it stopped. Perhaps it was not predatory: wouldn't it have come right for me otherwise? I'm not a zoologist, my stunned mind wailed. I'd come here to collect moss, nots to ogle strange creatures! But this thing was not exactly animal-like either, the practical side of my mind inserted reasonably. Perhaps it was more my type of species after all: and by that, I may have meant human or plant. At the moment, I wasn't sure which I meant: I had not a clue what this thing was.
I felt disquiet rising again. If it would not be tasted, what must I do? My time for un-being was soon upon me, but I could not leave without making sure all would stay well. My purpose must be fulfilled before Full Light. As I wavered in indecision, the thing reached up with one limb. I decided to do likewise.
Exhilaration filled me as I ignored all that was happening in my brain and took a direct approach, holding out my hand to see what it would do. Somehow, I was unsurprised, only awe-filled, as it, too, leant down and took my hand in one of its own. The long fingers, or claws, looked like bark in the pre-dawn light, but they felt like nothing I have experienced or could ever describe. I lifted my eyes to its face, which I had failed to do thus far, and that was when I realized that I was in the presence of something - or someone - Other.
My taster felt its limb, and I was numb. Joy filled me. It was indeed of the world I guarded, of the realm of ground and leaves. Its purpose was not Wrong; it was a being of curiosity and inspection. I would leave it here, knowing I had tasted a New and an Other when I had not done so in a very long time. A gift indeed.
I remember being riveted to the spot, the wonder swelling inside me. Just as I was opening my mouth to speak (I knew not what words would emerge) the dawn light burst over the horizon, filtering through the trees, and the creature was gone. Just gone. The wonder was still there; I was full to the brim with it. My arm still extended, I stumbled a few steps forward to a tree and laid my hand upon the moss that covered it, aching with happiness.
Perhaps it will still be there when I return. I hope so.
Maybe it'll come back tonight. I hope so.
“This is very well drawn, Damien. Do you want to tell me about it?”
Damien sat still staring unblinking at a blank spot on the office wall.
“He gets like this sometimes,” his mother explained in response to Dr. Scholtz’s look of concern. “He’ll stare at the same spot sometimes for hours.”
“Is he active the rest of the time?”
“Not particularly. He spends his time eating, sleeping, drawing, and staring. That’s really about it.”
Dr. Scholtz stroked his beard, deep in thought. “Damien, was this,” he pointed to the picture, “a dream you had?”
Damien continued to stare.
“Was it a story from a book or something one of your friends told you?”
“He doesn’t spend much time reading. And unfortunately, he didn’t make really any friends at school this last year.”
“You said you just moved here recently?”
“Yes. My husband’s work brought us here last fall. He had to transfer into his new school halfway through the year.” She glanced at her son with a pained mix of compassion and concern. “He’s taken it all pretty hard. He had a few friends at his old school, but he hasn’t been able to talk to them since we moved.”
“You said he spends time drawing. Do you happen to have other pictures of his?”
“Yes, actually I do. Hold on.” The only sound in the room was the clattering of small objects and the soft crunching of loose-leaf paper.
“Damien, do you mind if I look at some of the other pictures you’ve drawn?”
Damien continued to stare.
“Here are a few.” She handed over nearly a dozen pieces of paper. “There are a lot of them.” She choked an involuntary laugh. “He has quite a few of them.”
Dr. Scholtz fingered through the pages, closely examining each one. Several minutes passed in silence.
“So, what do you think, Doctor?”
Dr. Scholtz considered a moment more before answering. “There is a similar pattern in each of these. You might have noticed.” He set the pieces out on the hardwood coffee table between them. His finger moved methodically from one image to the next. “I’m noticing three things,” he narrated. “The most obvious is the minimal use of colors - fairly normal for someone going through intense emotional distress - except for these strong uses of red.” He indicated a section on each piece of paper. “Each of these has some moment of red.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed that in the others at home too. They’re mostly black and grey, but there’s always red somewhere in them.”
Without a word, Damien stood up from his chair and made his way to a bookshelf lining one side of the office.
“Honey, please don’t touch the Doctor’s things. We don’t…”
“No, no, it’s fine. Nothing in here is priceless.” Dr. Scholtz raised his voice enough for it to carry across the room. “Did you see something interesting, Damien?”
Damien didn’t respond. He stood still for a brief moment before taking hold of a snow capped mountain range portrait. He ran his hand gingerly over the deep-red frame. His mother drew a breath, but Dr. Scholtz gestured for her to wait. Damien took the frame over and placed it on the floor just in front of the door. He sat down, his back to the room, and stared silently at the picture.
Dr. Scholtz did not take his eye off Damien. “Another similarity was a small figure placed somewhere near, often inside the red areas.”
Damien stood and crossed the room again.
“The figure is always small, childlike.” Dr. Scholtz lowered his voice and directed it toward Damien’s mother. “I wonder if it might be some kind of representation of Damien himself.”
Damien placed a small, red coaster next to the picture frame.
“The third thing I find most intriguing.”
Damien grabbed and arranged a red desk paperweight.
“The pictures you gave me have dates on them. I’m assuming you put the dates of when he drew them?
Damien’s mother nodded.
Damien arranged a book with a red cover.
“It’s harder to make out in the older pictures, but it gets clearer in more recent ones. Particularly this first one you showed me of the forest with the tent.”
Damien tugged on a scarlet scarf hanging from the coat rack.
“There’s a figure that appears in all these pictures that grows more and more prominent. It used to be ambiguous shapes in the background: lines, shades, blocks. But it has become a fully realized figure.”
Damien continued to collect and arrange.
His mother looked over the collection of pictures. “I don’t really see it in these earliest ones, but I see what you mean from here on,” she pointed.
Damien stood arms crossed and frowned at the collection of items by the door. A gently arranged half-circle of distinctly red objects.
“I wonder…” Dr. Scholtz spoke out again. “Damien, I think I see you in these pictures, but can you tell me who this is?”
For the first time Damien acknowledged Dr. Scholtz. He approached the adults and tugged on his mother’s sleeve. “Mommy, do you have your handkerchief?”
“Yes, of course. Why? Do you need it?” She dug again through her purse.
Damien looked at, into, past Dr. Scholtz’s eyes and answered his question. “Azrael.”
His mother paused, hand still in her purse. Both adults watched stunned as Damien stepped over to Dr. Scholtz’s desk. He grabbed a letter opener and violently drove it through his hand.
His mother screamed and nearly tripped over the coffee table reaching for him. She pulled out the handkerchief and squeezed his hand in hers.
Dr. Scholtz clutched at a small silver crucifix hanging under his sweater. “Azrael,” he repeated.
Panicked, Damien’s mother tried to call someone, but the blood on her fingers made it difficult to manage her phone.
Damien walked back to the front door.
Dr. Scholtz’s heart raced. “Damien, this wasn’t a dream, was it?” He pointed to the picture of a little boy sitting in a red tent before a giant humanoid with long limbs and antlers.
Damien shook his head.
“And it wasn’t from a story either?”
Damien shook his head.
“Damien…was this something that happened to you?”
Damien unwrapped the blood-soaked handkerchief and placed it over the white and earth-brown colors of the snowy mountain picture completing the red ensemble. He then sat down cross-legged and covered his eyes with his hands. “No. It happened to someone else.”
The room fell silent except for the gently creaking of the door which opened on its own. On the other side were two gnarled legs stretching beyond the top of the door frame. Something hissed and a disfigured form with twisted antlers peered down into the room.
Finally, a life of contentment, a corner of solace. A camp to call my own and a new purpose before me. What joy must this life bring! To stop and take in the wonders before me. To breathe the new, fresh air. To see new things and explore new places. I pause and take a breath. I breathe in the possibility. My soul thirsts for joy. The icy fingers of a cold wind part the safety of my warm home. It rakes its frigid talons up my spine and whispers malice in my ear. “You will never find joy. You will never find purpose. There is nothing for you here.” The light I had lit wavers with the breeze and a chill sets into my skin. I begin to shiver and shake as the cold permeates my flesh. Grasping the light, I move to secure my comfortable home from the unforgiving wind. As I gaze through the door, I see a figure. Small with antlers no bigger than those of a young buck. “Who are you?” I say into the night. Discordant whispers meet my ears: “You are nothing.” “He does not care for you.” “Your life is meaningless.” Hastily, I return inside and attempt to shut out the malice and cold. But the whispers have already done their work. I close my eyes, clutch my legs to my chest like a small child and rock to and fro, trying to acquire the peace I had but moments ago; trying to shut out the lies. But they seep in, one by one. “No one will ever love you.” “There is nothing for you here.” “This is a waste of time.” “If he truly cared for you, he would not make you suffer.” I open my eyes and the creature is closer, its shadow looming outside of my tent larger than it was minutes before. And still it grows. And still the whispers come in, louder and louder. “You’re a failure.” “You can’t do this job.” “Surely this is not what he has for you.” “You were better off before.” “Everyone else’s lives are so much better.” “They are happy; why can’t you be?” The monster grows larger and larger and larger until I can no longer deny the shadow that has cast its menacing shape upon the peace and comfort of my soul. And I cannot shut out the lies. I am finished; what little joy I had is gone. And all that is left is fear and shame and the whispers that snake their way in and out of my ears and nest comfortably in the chinks of my mind. I am overwhelmed by darkness, the light long snuffed out. The words eat my flesh and devour my hope. Like a wendigo gluttonous for flesh, it satiates itself on my suffering. All truth now appears as drivel. The light is gone. I am blind and deaf to reason. The voices scream louder, but now they sound like my voice: “Is this to be my end?” “Where is my joy?” “How long will his blessings choke out my light?” “Where is my reward?” “Haven’t I done everything right?” “Don’t I deserve more?” The liar creeps closer, stalking its prey. And I am frozen, my peace now gone and replaced with anxiety. I can do nothing but succumb. I can do nothing but wallow. Tears stream down my face. How can I escape this desolation? How do I resist the noise? How do I escape the anxiety? How do I defeat this monster? And for a moment I wonder, am I the monster? Do I cannibalize my own joy? Do I kill and devour hope? I pray for the return of the light. I pray for relief from this sorrow. All the while the monster grows and my soul diminishes into the long, dark night.