Another story that I wrote for school! The prompt was to write about refusing a million dollars. I thought this was a rather silly prompt, because quite honestly I WOULD accept a million dollars, and I think most people would. A lot of people would then go on to donate half or more of it to charity, but the fact remains that I couldn't think of a realistic scenario.
Thus, I wrote this... Let me know if you feel it drags on!
The trees stand bent and gnarled and tangled in thorny mats. They contort rigidly on the dry ground, stiff like the fur of a dead cat. The forest floor is cracked and grey, littered with ashen shreds of bark and leaves. The air in the thicket is stale and stagnant, holding its breath.
I walk on a soft path of brown dust. The trees have been dying forever. They have always been dying, since infinity began. I have also been dying. Dying since infinity. Every day I walk over the steps of my future from the past. Every day memories spiral back to where it began. I do not have a memory for the beginning. At a certain point, the memories just stop.
The sky is deep with approaching dusk. The last tinge of sunlight taints the horizon like a bruise, blending an ugly squash color into the dull purple of the sky. The sky has always been that color. I think once I did something, to stop the sky. I did something, and it was bad. Because of that thing that I will never remember, I will always retrace my steps, until I find what I did wrong.
Sometimes I wonder if I didn't do anything wrong. Maybe I was just born into insanity, and my brain is constantly punishing me without reason. Maybe somewhere, people who love me are calling me to wake up. Maybe I am just a figment of someone else's imagination. But I do not think those are the case.
I am reaching the top of a hill, and I already know what will await me at the crest. I am never surprised, but my brain is shocked every time. I have been programmed that way. I once tried to fight the shock, anticipating it all, but nothing changed. Right after the burst of horror, I would be brought right back to the beginning of the forest, as if the world was telling me to behave.
On the hill, there is a large tree in my path. The front of the tree is blackened and shriveled, as if struck by electricity. Dead ferns lie scattered in a mound against the thick roots. My feet drag me towards the roots. I brace myself.
Beneath the ferns, bleached and dirtied, is a corpse. Nothing more than bones now. A human skeleton lies on the ashy ground. I bend to my knees and bow my head, my heart thumping. The bones are long and thing. One shattered hand clutches a slip of paper. The paper is tattered and warn, bearing a ghostly greenish-white color on the decomposing surface.
This corpse is I. It always has been. This body was the first to appear, my first memory, when the shock was real. I do not remember how it got there. I do however have the misfortune to remember the cause of each skeleton since that one.
My next body is several yards away, under a thorny bush. It seems more tired. The bones are thinner, but not older. The skull is grey, the eye holes tinged black with ash. This one too clutches a slip of paper. They all will. Every time there is another one. Sometimes I hope that the forest will run out of the room and block my path, but that will never happen. The path just gets longer.
The longer I walk, the more frequently the corpses appear, until they are piled against the edges of the path. The skulls stare jeeringly at me. Haha! They are saying. I have escaped. I have died. I am done. Now it's your problem.
It's not fair, I think. The skulls can escape, but I am still here. Soon I myself will be a skull, but it will bring me no relief.
The end is near, now. The path is thinning, and I reach the base of one final hill. The sky is still on the verge of dusk. I have been here for hours. The path is steep and rough, clumping off the hill in chunks and leaving me to stumble. I see the scuffed marks of my previous falls, my previous footprints. They never leave. There is no wind.
Maybe I can win this time, I think. Maybe this time I can stop. Say no. Walk away. My thoughts are false. I have long given up on hope. This weak optimism has been programmed into me, just like every other movement. It always happens at this point, half way up the hill. Back in the beginning it was real. Back in the beginning I would actually hope. Now hope is a cruel joke. I have no will power.
The stump sits on an empty grassy bald.
There are no more trees. Beyond the hill is a valley, to dark to see. Light purple grasses whisper against themselves despondently. There are now three stars in the sky. I glare at them.
The stump is small and plain, with jagged edges. It looks like the soft wood will fall apart at any moment, but the bark is stiff. On top of the stump is a slip of paper. I am about to take it.
It isn't just a piece of paper. It is money. Lots of money. Why I want it I have no idea. What would I use it for? What good does it do me? Like there is anything for me to buy. Already my heart rate is speeding at the thought of that power. I hate myself.
It is a million dollars. That means a lot to me, apparently.
Please no, I think. Just let me walk away.
I reach out, smiling with relief.
No! Please. I don't want it. Really. I just want to walk away. Please.
I kneel against the stump.
I never wanted it. I don't. Please.
My fingers are reaching…
The money is papery and soft, dusty with the ash floating on the hill. I stroke it gently. The corners crinkle softly. I feel a floating sensation in my ankle. At first it is dreamy and pleasant, but it begins to sting and peel and ache. I cry out. The floaty feeling spreads up my legs, and tingles in my fingers. I feel dizzy.
In the pain and disorientation, I forget where I'm coming from and what I know.
I forget about the money.
I forget the journey through the woods.
But I will remember tomorrow. I will remember today and every day before. I will remember it all. It never stops.