Friday, November 1, 2013

Entering the black sea of trees

I struggled over porous volcanic boulders as I lit out from the trail. Sharp edges and shooting sticks tore my clothes, and the wet rocks rubbed my hands raw as I tried to steady myself over the mossy patches that hid in shadows and found their way under my boots. My hands stung as I wiped them on my shirt, and I noticed the dots of bloody mud they left behind.

It was the early afternoon when I entered the forest. Under the dense canopy with the shadows it cast down, it might as well have been twilight. The seemingly permanent cloud cover made it even darker, and I found myself squinting and trying to make out the way forward. The trees also failed to hold back the drizzle that continued to fall. Instead of hitting me directly, water wormed its way along, sliding down wood and vine, clinging to everything it touched until it hit the forest floor, transforming the patches between volcanic rock into muddy bogs that made a sucking noise under my boots as I stepped in them.

The tent was hidden under a stately tree surrounded by a copse of spindly trunks, pitched at the bottom where roots bigger than I am pushed out of the ground and formed a small hollow. Despite its bright tangerine color with blue accents, I would have missed it if I walked ten feet farther left or right. I lowered myself down a slick slide of wood and vine until I faced the tent and the higher ground was level with my head.

Debris littered the crater under the roots. A tattered, overturned backpack covered in dirt and half-eaten by mold sat before the tent; its pulped contents of papers and clothing emptied on the ground were still visible, but long-decayed from their original shapes. I pushed at a brown mass next to the bag with my foot, which caused it to spread open and revealed that it used to be a leather wallet.

I picked up the wallet and cringed because it was sticky between my fingers. Inside was more of the same rotted paper, old green and blue Yen notes mashed together so they would never matter again. Only one object within was intact, a white plastic Mizuho Bank card from 1999 in the name of Shouta Doi. I pocketed the card and dropped the wallet.

"Shouta?" I asked of the tent. "Anyone home?

The tent's front flaps were only partially zipped. I crept closer and took out my flashlight, pushing it awkwardly ahead like a weapon. I grabbed the zipper and held my breath as I slowly threaded it down. Condensation gathered on the nylon fabric jumped to my hand and wet my sweater sleeve as they passed. I parted the flap and stuck my flashlight and head inside.

A sunflower-colored sleeping bag dominated the tent's interior. Around it was a collection of half-full water bottles, foil food wrappers that reflected my flashlight's beam back at me, opaque and empty medicine bottles, and more musty clothing stained brown with dirt and green with mold. A folded piece of paper was placed on the middle of the sleeping bag. I snapped it up and shook it open; inside were a few scrawled characters written lightly in ink.

The note read: "Times are done. This is the only option. If you have found me, I am sorry."

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