There were tracks sprouting off in various directions. The man chose one and made his way along it, shining his torch into the dense undergrowth. There was a rustling sound like something moving; he stopped and stared towards where the sound was coming from.
The noise stopped. He stood still and shone the light around him. There was almost complete silence apart from the trees stretching their limbs.
The damp from the sodden leaves on the ground penetrated his shoes. His body was now protesting against the cold – shaking uncontrollably.
He turned around and went back the way he came.
After a while, he was aware that he had been walking longer this time. He stopped and shone his torch in a sweeping movement.
‘Where the hell is the road!’
He continued walking, increasing his pace.
It seemed like another ten minutes had past and he stood still again. His heart was pounding in his chest; tight pressure sat in his forehead. He took a long deep breath.
He continued scrambling through the ancient forest – long gnarled hands tugged at his shirt and scratched his exposed flesh. He stopped and rubbed his head; he desperately wanted his brain to work.
He shone the torch on to his watch, and blew into his hands and stamped his feet.
He continued slowly and carefully along the track. His shoes were caked in mud.
Something moved in the leaves. He turned around quickly and shone the torch in the direction of the noise.
He was shaking uncontrollably and the end of his nose was being nibbled by the sharp teeth of the prevalent frost.
His jaw ached and he felt like he could just lay down and go to sleep.
I could die here and be found dead in the snow, my limbs as stiff as boughs, he thought to himself, ‘Come on, keep moving!’ he forced the words out of his mouth.
The trees played games with him, shape-shifting into various forms. He was mesmerised by one that looked like a giant stag. He opened his eyes as wide as he could to try to see more clearly and then –
He slipped and tumbled down a bank, hitting his head on a log.
He shakily pulled himself up and rubbed his throbbing head.
‘Where’s the bloody torch!’ he fumbled around trying to feel for it.
There was a full moon which shone some light through the maze of trees, so he carefully felt his way through the thicket. He felt exposed without the torch and sensed something or someone behind him. He stopped every few minutes and squinted his eyes trying to focus on the dark shapes that appeared to move.
He continued slowly, his head turning with every sound.
The mud and branches kept up their harrying, slowly wearing down his body like a pack of wild dogs on a wildebeest.
Every step required huge effort; his feet, now heavy weights, stretched his sinews; the tops of his legs burning and longing to stop.
‘I don’t want to die here!
He started to run.
He ran as fast as the mud and the branches would allow; his every tendon and muscle at breaking point; large plumes of breath bellowed from his mouth.