Updated: Jun 27, 2020
Every night for weeks, I’ve had the same dream. Deep in a mountain valley, at the base of a waterfall, I’m standing covered in moss. Cold, dense, ancient. Seasons come and go like days, a year is like a minute, time means nothing.
All the local creatures pass by, ignoring me and going about their lives. From ferocious tiny shrews to anxious rabbits, from timid deer stealing a quick drink, to a mother bear and her cubs who play in the pool. Everyone has a part in a steady cycle, and for centuries the only change I feel is the roots of a billion trees, creeping deep inside my smallest cracks, prying me open and making me new.
One summer I begin to shiver and cough. The waterfall becomes a trickle, the pool stagnant and buzzing with flies and mosquitoes. The air is heavy, oppressively humid. It seems to distort reality itself, bending the images I see. The forest’s residents no longer come here to drink clean water. I see shadows of them, at the edges of my vision, sometimes appearing or disappearing suddenly. I can hear them crying.
Then the water trickling over the cliff turns a deep purplish red, which diffuses throughout the pool, and in the murk I can see a moving figure of a man. He rises from the water, walking toward me with a stony face as the dark liquid streams in droplets off his unstained white suit. It seems to ooze from his skin, trickling endlessly from his fingers and face.
He stops in front of me and clamps one powerful hand over my mouth. I scream, silently, immobile and helpless. His hands touch every part of me, inside and out, groping for my most sacred places and staining them forever. His fluid burns me like acid long after he has gone, and the pain is unbearable.
But I was inside him too, and I know his path. He will burn everyone alive, and there is nothing I can do.
That’s when I wake up in terror.