“You know, there are some superstitious people in town who say this forest is cursed,” Adam said to his brother.
“Cursed?” his brother Andy asked.
“They say people have disappeared in this forest without a trace,” Adam replied, “the locals say there’s some kind of portal to another dimension in this forest.”
“What a crazy idea,” Andy said, laughing at his brother’s comment, “How could people believe something like that?”
“People have believed crazier,” Adam replied, as he finished putting up their tent.
The two brothers finished setting up their camp site. After the tent was set up, they sat around on old logs, next to a lantern. They watched the stars, and drank a bottle of whisky they brought, while chatting for a while. They chatted, laughed, and enjoyed the wilderness until they were too tired. Then, they got into their sleeping bags, and went to sleep.
They slept peacefully for a couple hours, until, in the middle of the night, Andy heard a noise and woke, startled.
He got up, and peeked out of the tent, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. He figured it must have been the wind, so he headed back to his sleeping bag. However, when he approached his bag, he noticed Adam wasn’t in his.
He figured Adam must have gone for a walk, but decided to check on him. He slipped on his shoes, and left the tent.
“Adam,” he cried, unsure of where Adam went.
He started to walk off into the woods, to try to find where his brother went, but he didn’t get far before figuring that Adam must have just gone for a walk. If he went for a walk too, he might make Adam worried or confused when he returns. Andy decided to just head back to camp and turned back.
He had not gone far, so he knew the way back easily. Despite that, when he followed the path back, he did not arrive at the camp. There were just more trees where the tent was supposed to be.
Though he was unsure how, Andy figured he must have made a wrong turn, so he turned around, and went back down the trail. As he walked down the trail, it began to curve to the right. He was confused as the trail was straight when he went down it before.
Not knowing what else to do, he continued down the trail, until it reached a fork. He felt lost, and didn’t know which way the trail was supposed to go. He turned to the left, and kept walking.
As he walked, he remembered his conversation with Adam last night. He remembered what Adam told him about the superstitious locals, and how some of them believed that the forest had a portal to another dimension inside it, causing people to disappear. The paths Andy took since leaving the camp were inconsistent. When he turned back, he found the path leading elsewhere than where it should.
Though the idea seemed ridiculous earlier, it started to seem more plausible to him with every step he took. The trail he was on led to a dead end, so he turned back, yet the trail seemed to be following a completely different path on the way back. He never reached the fork and just continued down a long, straight path.
Thoughts raced in his mind. Did he really wander into another dimension, and is he still stumbling through different dimensions? Did Adam wander off and meet the same fate? Will he ever get back to the campsite, or some kind of civilization?
All he could do was wander down the path and hope for the best. But he was wandering with fear. If he was in another dimension, there’s no telling how far away from civilization he was. As he realized that he could be doomed, he continued to get increasingly more anxious and panicky.
The path he was following eventually led him to the shore of a large lake. He looked across the lake, and saw trees and the forest in every direction.
He considered walking around the lake, but with all the forests looking the same, he didn’t have a clue where he would be going. Of course, the way the paths went tonight, he didn’t have a clue where he would be going regardless of which direction he went.
Then, he heard a voice. It sounded like Adam’s, but it was too distant to hear what Adam was saying. However, Andy could tell where Adam was crying from. He looked behind him, and saw a path was leading right in the direction of Adam’s voice.
He had nothing to lose, so he followed the voice. As he approached the voice, it became clearer. Adam was crying his name.
“I’m coming, Adam,” Andy cried, rushing towards the voice.
He soon arrived at the campsite, though he approached it from the opposite direction he left. Adam was standing outside the tent, looking at him.
“There you are,” Adam said, “I went out to use the bathroom, and when I got back, you weren’t there. I was a bit worried.”
“Thank goodness,” Andy said, “those paths out there. It’s almost like they were shifting, and those crazy locals weren’t as crazy as we thought.”
“You felt like you wandered into another dimension?” Adam asked, obviously questioning his brother’s sanity.
“Yeah,” Andy said, but then he paused, thinking of how crazy he sounded making such an outrageous claim, “Well, it sure felt like it for a moment, at least.”
“You must have had too much whisky last night,” Adam said with a sigh.
“I suppose so,” Andy said, thinking about the whisky, “but I tell you, if it wasn’t for the fact that I heard you crying for me when I was at the lake, I’d really be losing it.”
“The lake?” Adam said.
“Yeah,” Andy said, “I was at the lake when I heard you.”
“But Andy,” Adam said, “There isn’t a lake anywhere near here.”
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
With this one, I tried to go back to the type of mystery leaving what happened ambiguous, like I did in “The Warehouse” or “The Sapphire Skull”. It had been a while since I’d written a story like that, so I wanted to do something similar with “Lost in the Woods”.
This time, I tried to make it unclear if the shifting paths were the hallucination of a sleep-deprived drunk, or if Andy actually had gone into another dimension. Was he just lost in the woods, or sent somewhere far away? At the end, I brought up the idea that it was a hallucination, but left the inconsistency about the lake there to make it a bit unclear. Though looking back, the way I ended it does very much suggest that he really was travelling through dimensions, so I guess it wasn’t as unclear as I wanted. Though I suppose you could make a case that he hallucinated the lake too.
I originally wanted the lake to be a river, and a bridge he crossed was the landmark Adam claimed didn’t exist, but I felt that not crossing the bridge twice would make it a bit too clear that he was dimension-jumping. I thought of making it just a river, but felt that they’d camp near some body of water anyway. I eventually settled on the lake, after considering the image of the large lake being surrounded by trees on all sides, with no idea where any of the trails around the lake lead.