“Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move,” Milo told himself over and over standing at the window. For fifty-one nights he stood this post, whispering his chant and staring out into the dark void of the woods surrounding the cabin. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.” Fifty-one nights of pounding heartbeats and moist, nervous hands gripping the slick steel of the shotgun he held close to his chest. He didn’t dare sit, fearing even the slightest bit of comfort would make him vulnerable. Milo needed to be alert for the fight of his life. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.”
The descent into madness can be slight. So, much that one could begin that slow decline into mental turmoil and fail to realize the shift until it is too late to seek help. For days, Milo worked in the cabin, with a firm hold on his sanity, stippling leaves on his canvas of seaweed green acrylic landscapes. That was before the crazed anxiety and paranoia stalked him, begging him to come and join them in the dark corners of his mind. He was sure he wasn’t going mad, for fifty days he convinced himself of it. But on the fifty-first night of the fifty-first day, his certainty wavered, and he wondered if the fear that kept him at his post every night was coming from madness corroding his mind or a true threat from beyond the cold glass that separated him from the night air.
Milo wondered if his constant solitude created a fertile bed for insanity to grow. If hour after hour with only the sound of his breathing to comfort him had lulled him into this state. He had come to the cabin to be alone, truly alone far from civilization and distractions. When he left the busy city encouraged by his agent to reacquaint himself with his artistic talent, this had been the goal. He wanted to find a space to create uninhibited. The cabin was to be the birthplace of his renewed dedication to his painting. And, it had worked. The cabin gave him room to let his imagination stretch and crack its joints in satisfaction. In the 427 days he lived in the cabin, he had managed to create some of the most astounding pieces he ever saw. For 427 days he lived and worked in the forest surrounded by beauty and the sweet silence of nature punctured only by the sounds of the living earth.
It could be that 427 days of solitude is the limit for a healthy mind to survive on its own. That this is the threshold one shouldn’t cross to avoid the threat of losing the leverage of rational thought. Maybe this is the number of days a mind can exist without any companionship before the imagination takes over and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Maybe 427 days was Milo’s personal breaking point, and his psyche could take no more of the seclusion. But on the 427th night of the 427th day, he saw something that held him at the window for 51 nights to follow.
He had developed a routine in his time in the cabin, slowly breaking the time restrictions of the rapidly moving city and the constant fear of being late for everything. That routine placed him in a rocking chair with lemon tea, reading as the skies darkened in the evening. He liked the way the smell of turpentine mixed with the scent of the pine walls as the air grew humid at night. He spent his days trying to capture the soul of the verdant grass and thick patches of moss in the woodlands but at night when he rested his relationship with the forest was purely platonic. Milo only wished to admire from a distance. Taking a moment to rest his eyes he stared out at the treetops just below the stars. He sat there with his book resting on his chest, doused in his comfort and mused about the success of his decision to come to the woods when his world changed. Very slowly, like someone standing with a stiff back after sitting too long, a few of the tree tops began to bend from side to side. His sane mind told him it was a strong wind causing the trees to move that way. But in the fringe, those dark corners where madness and doubt go to play, his inner voice spoke and reminded him that the wind would disturb all the trees, not a sporadically selected few.