It was already late afternoon, as Joanne and Charles ventured into the pine forest. They were on a wide sun-lit track, but on either side, the pines had been planted closely together and no sunlight penetrated the dense foliage.
It wasn’t the most inviting walk, but they didn’t know the area well and thought they could venture in a little way to have their picnic, before heading on their way. They were en route to a holiday cottage, up in the peak district, which was again a new direction for them. They usually went south to Cornwall when holidaying in the UK.
They’d walked maybe half a mile, not far, when they met a fork. They decided to bear left. They were looking for a suitable spot to lay out their rug and eat their meal. This new track was narrower and hence less well lit. These trees were a crop, not a wood that welcomed visitors and they felt like intruders.
As they trudged on, the path became more uneven and they had to watch their step carefully. Finding somewhere to have their picnic was looking less and less likely, so reluctantly they decided to head back to their car, which they’d left parked in a layby. It should have been simple. They’d only been walking for twenty minutes or so.
But, as they turned, the path they’d just walked was there no longer. They both rubbed their eyes. A path couldn’t simply vanish. But it had. Joanne thought they had no choice but to keep walking onwards, where the path continued and hope to take a turning to get back to where they’d started from further up.
Charles disagreed. ‘We’ve only made one turn so, let’s try to go back the way we came, even though the path has disappeared’, he ventured. Neither could grasp the weirdness of the path they’d been on disappearing.
As they proceeded, the light began to change, and thunder clouds gathered overhead. The downpour took them by surprise and soaked them. The picnic blanket, with its waterproof underside did little to protect them from the rain lashing down. By now they were becoming anxious. The forest seemed to have become malevolent and be gobbling them up. The wind picked up and whistled through the pines, making an eerie sound. By now they were thoroughly spooked.
The gloom in the forest didn’t abate. The wind and rain combined to make the forest shiver and Joanne and Charles shivered, too and turned on each other.
‘This is your fault’ said Joanne. ‘We’re lost, and no one is going to miss us. They’ll think we’re having a lovely holiday’.
Charles got out his phone, only to find the battery dead. Hers was still in the car. They’d been using it as a sat nav device.
‘It had 80% when we set out’ said Charles. ‘The forest has drained my battery.’ They were both incredulous. How could this be happening to two sane, normal individuals.
They realised they were disorientated and lost, that what little light remained was fading and that they needed to find their way out.
The forest continued to shiver and shudder, shedding large water drops long after the downpour stopped. They stumbled on, the idea being that moving will help keep them warm and may lead them somewhere.
Meanwhile, Dick, the forest ranger had noticed their car parked in the layby and was wondering where its inhabitants were. He set out on his quad bike for his evening inspection along the wide path Joanne and Charles had trodden earlier in the afternoon. Charles and Joanne heard the noise of his quad bike and began to aim for it. They saw the lights. They shouted out. He didn’t hear them, above his engine noise. But, as he reached the fork, he stopped and then he could hear their calls.
It took less than ten minutes for Charles and Joanne to reach Dick. He could see how distressed they were. The main path was as it had always been. No changes there.
Dick asked, ‘Why on earth did you leave the path?’ They didn’t mention the disappearing path in case he thought they were mad. They mumbled something. He said, ‘This forest’s been planted in such a way as to keep people and animals out. The trees don’t like intruders. Especially those that enter further in, as you did. Let that be a lesson to you.’
It was, but not one they would ever talk about. Not an auspicious start to their holiday, either.