"Very funny, SPOT."
"I... I'm scared..." Dennis shuddered sarcastically. "Not!"
"I mean look!" He turned to his surroundings. The perimeter was abundant with lush greens and brimming with all sorts of plant life. "It's all just great. I'm gonna take lots of photos of this place!"
But SPOT's warning replayed once again in his head as he took his camera in his hands, warning him of potential dangers ahead. There's no such thing as monsters. He insisted. It's all in the head.
"We're definitely going to get through this... right, mom, dad?" Dennis felt a sense of security as he held his lucky charm in right hand. His parents had never failed him before, and he was certain that they wouldn't let him down this time.
He continued deeper into the forest, admiring the natural environment untouched, or rather, avoided, by man. The cool breeze was pleasant on his bare arms, and the warm rays of the sun made him feel at ease.
The boy sat down and rested under a nearby tree, like how he enjoyed doing on an idle afternoon, and scanned through the snapshots that he took during his walk. Majority of them were vivid photos of plants and flowers shot in distinct angles, while the rest had himself showing off in various stunts and complicated freezes.
"I thought I'd get to see some action." Dennis sighed. Evergrowth proved to be the opposite of what it was rumored to be. He searched around for a few more minutes, only to confirm that he was the only living creature amidst acres and acres of wood.
The lad spent the next few minutes visiting the few remaining unexplored parts of the forest, but nothing of interest was to be found. It wasn't long after that Dennis reluctantly decided to call it a day. "Oh well, Time to head back."
His journey took a turn of events when the distant sound of a flute broke the silence. The ground shook for a second, and mist started to form around him. "Tsk, perfect timing." Dennis said sarcastically. The sky was already getting dark, but he wasn't going to let this chance slip away.
The sound stopped halfway, but a bright flash guided Dennis to his destination. He knew he had just come from the same direction minutes ago, but everything seemed different as he passed by.
"Where... am I?"
It was all he could say when he reached the last few patches of grass in the area. In front of him was an empty field, a barren area where the grass, plants, trees,and soil were all were dry and dead. From where Dennis was standing, it seemed like a brand new world was waiting for him, ready to be explored.
Razor-sharp fangs and bloodshot eyes were the first thing that greeted Dennis as he took his first step into the other side. Startled, he retracted his steps and quickly assumed a fighting stance. And when he was just about to defend himself, all traces of hostility was gone.
Dennis shook his head. It's just my mind playing tricks on me. Just my imagination...
He stepped forward. The same image recurred to him, the same terror-filled image.
O...k... this is not cool. Dennis felt the hair on his back stand on end. He thought about how he had gotten himself into this sticky situation, and what he had hoped to achieve by going further.
No, rumors like that can't be true. He tried to convince himself as SPOT's warning looped in his head, but at the back of his mind there were already a lot of 'what if' questions. What if the forest was really haunted? What if there were really monsters out there waiting to devour him? What if...
Dennis took a deep breath.
"It's do or die. No turning back now!" He declared aloud.
Determined to face his fears, Dennis pressed on forward. He could feel that his goal was getting closer and closer with his every step. True enough, a faint silhouette became visible amidst the obscuring mist.
Dennis's eyes widened as he cautiously approached the mysterious structure ahead of him.
It reminded him of various video game titles, where guardians of stone stood watch over the elusive treasures of decrepit dungeons and treacherous labyrinths. And the valiant explorers who manage to push on until the end become part of something grand.
"Mission accomplished!" There was a smug in Dennis's face. He had braved the haunted woods, overcome its perilous trials, and now he was standing face to face with his prize.
Dennis brushed his hand against the lizard-like figure, which felt dry and scaly in his fingertips. "Everyone's scared of you... you know." He said, looking deeply at its facial features. He thought that he saw the creature's eyes move ever so slightly, but shook his head and chuckled. "Nah."
Dennis knelt down and positioned himself in front of the reptile. "You and I are gonna make the headlines tonight!" He held his camera in his arms, ready to take a shot of his game.
His heart skipped a beat when his subject disappeared in front of his very eyes. Before he could react, a strong force sent him flying. He crashed to the ground, falling on his behind.
"Oof!" What the hell just happened? He had a hunch, and he hoped that what he was thinking wasn't right.
Anticipation turned into dread when he located his camera dropping down from above, several meters away from his reach. Dennis struggled to get up, but the damage from the impact he received from a while ago only made him scream in agony.
He could only watch helplessly as his most valued treasure dropped to the ground in slow motion. The final gift he had received from his parents was no more than shattered glass and steel after the crash.
Dennis lay on the ground, dumbfounded. Memories from the past flooded his mind. He remembered asking for something special for his sixteenth birthday in an overseas call with his parents. It was the last conversation they had.
Dennis laughed nervously as the worst of his fears entered his line of sight. It then dawned on him SPOT's warning and his visions that the tales of the forest weren't mere rumors to begin with.
"So you came to life after all."
The giant reptile let out a loud roar, shaking the ground below. Its glowing eyes transfixed on Dennis, and like a famished beast, it lunged forward, destroying everything in its path.
"Oh, shit!" Dennis's eyes widened as the monster charged straight towards him. Move, body! GET UP!!
Dennis barely evaded the hit at the final second.
Shit! That was a close one! His body was already at its limits, and he didn't know how much longer he can hold out.
Face it, kid. It's the end of the line. Dennis heard his conscience speak.
"I- I'm not going down without a fight!" He cried.
What can you do? You can't even stand properly.
Dennis became silent. His pride was hurt. He had a background in martial arts, and he could easily take down neighborhood bullies in his hometown. But now all he could do is run away...
"Gah!" Dennis choked. The monster had landed a sharp blow on his left rib, and an upward flick of its tail threw him into the air. The creature opened its mouth wide, ready to catch its prey as it fell from the sky.
It's over. Dennis closed his eyes bitterly and clenched his fists. I was careless...
What are you spacing out for, kid?! Get back to the fight! His inner voice told him.
There was no response from the boy.
Whatsa matter, kid? You don't think this match is over already, do you?
You were right. I was powerless. Dennis admitted.
Tsk. Where did your confidence go?
Ahem! Need a helping hand? The voice commanded his attention.
What can you do? Dennis asked quite indifferently.
A sharp cry pierced the air.
It came from the beast. The creature was thrashing on the ground wildly as it suffered the pains of a chopped off tail.
"Did I just do that?" Dennis asked in disbelief. His hands wielded a pair of crystalline swords, each one glowing against the darkness of the night. He closed his eyes and tried to embrace the situation. Everything seemed to defy common sense and logic. "Where did these come from?"
Don't think, kid. Use your heart!
His instincts told him to march forward and claim his victory. And he did so. Dennis never had any experience with the sword, but the way he handled the blades was so natural that it looked as if the weapon was designed specifically for his use.
"It's payback time!" Dennis declared as he dashed towards the struggling monster.
"This is for the all damage you gave me"
His right arm swung downward, slicing through the creature's thick skin and taking out one eye in the process. His opponent roared violently and retaliated with a high pitched shock wave, but Dennis was able to block it easily. He raised his left arm and prepared for the next attack.
"This is revenge for my camera!"
He chopped off one of its four legs, causing it to lose balance and crash to the ground with a loud thud.
"And this... is for all the lives you took!"
He leapt into the air and swung his weapon down with all his might, stabbing the monster brutally on the head. Roar! It let out a weak cry and slowly ceased all movement as it breathed its last.
Dennis stared at the creature's lifeless body for a moment. "It's... over." He panted.
You ain't too shabby after all, kid.
"Who... what are you?"
Eurid. Remember it well.
"Eurid." Dennis nodded in agreement. "Thanks for saving me."
Eurid gave out a quick "hmph" of satisfaction. Pretty soon it will take effect, and everything... saw until now... be nothing... lost... memory... The gruff voice slowly trailed off into silence.
"Wait... what?" But no sound came out of his lips. "What's happening?!" Dennis felt even more agitated when he realized that he couldn't move his lips this time. He was still bleeding, and slowly losing his senses. His body began to feel cold and numb. Scared and disoriented, Dennis used every last bit of his strength to pull himself toward the exit.
Am I dying..?
"It's no use. He's sound asleep." A familiar voice spoke.
"And I was looking forward to his reaction when he finds out we're home." Another voice said.
Is that you... mom?
"We've been trying since an hour ago. He must really be exhausted."
Dennis immediately recognized his father's voice. Dad! I knew it! I knew you guys were alive!
"But it's strange. He's never asleep at this hour." Mr. Blake continued.
Dennis was fully conscious now, but he pretended to be asleep so he could eavesdrop on his parents' conversation.
"What about this?" He heard his mom say.
"Just place it on the table. He won't miss it." His dad replied.
What are they talking about? Dennis tried to take a peek at what was happening, but his body wouldn't respond. It was as if a heavy weight was pushing him down, taking from him any means of communication with his loved-ones. He was terrified.
"I hate to say this, but..."
"I know. We'll miss the plane if we don't hurry."
"Well then, shall we?"
He felt a soft kiss touch his forehead.
"Happy birthday, honey! Sorry we couldn't stay longer, it was a surprise visit, after all." His mom said.
"Always remember that we love you..." She continued in a teary voice as he gave her son a long, warm hug.
A tear trickled down Dennis's cheek as the torture continued. It was the longest episode of sleep paralysis he had ever experienced.
"Let's go, dear." His dad called out softly.
"Sorry... I just..."
"I know. You did your best."
"Be a good boy while we're gone, Dennis!" His dad left him with those words.
Don't go! Please! I don't want to be alone anymore! Dennis screamed, but nobody came to his aid. Instead, he heard the most painful word, "Goodbye..."
Dennis woke up with a start, shaken and covered with sweat.
"It happened again." He vented in exasperation.
Dennis took a deep breath, reassuring himself that it was only a dream. Glancing nervously around, he found himself back in his room, straight up in bed. Sitting in the table close by was his camera, undamaged. Down on the floor was his hoverboard, lying beside baggage, like nothing had happened.
The clock read three-o-five. The sun was already high up in the sky, shining brightly through the windowpanes. Outside, the wind was stirring gently in the treetops, swaying the branches in flowing rhythm.
It was February 29, 2016.