It's always a dangerous season. The walk into the forest happens at roughly the same time each year, when tall spindly giants shed their golden, auburn, and scarlet locks to form a crisp, cushioned and comforting welcome mat under your feet. And so, you may enter with a spring in your step.
Gradually, you acclimatise to the slumber that is setting in around you as you become part of the spell that is being cast. Squirrels hoard their stock. Deciduous trees shut down their growth. Darkness falls earlier and days go minimal. Black meanders through, just a few minutes earlier with each turn of the planet. And daylight, in an inversion of long, endless, summer, scuttles away, half-ashamed, after briefly punctuating the dusk.
"How far can you walk into the forest?" The child grins as you stumble manfully over his brainteaser, before eventually giving in.
"Halfway-because after that you’re walking out of the forest."
Not strictly true. There’s always another option...
Fear comes from uncertainty, and in the weeks before you enter the forest, you begin to wonder whether you will walk straight through this year. Or, whether, as in years gone by, you will lose your way in the endless turnings of oak, pine and briar. Will you be retracing lost steps over and over with vanished memory of where you once began and where you are headed? Helplessly etching imprints on tree trunks in the hope that if you happen to return this way, you will recognise your hand amongst the many, scratched in bark by the others who have lost their way too?
In the forest, you may wander like a lost child, but the panic is felt in palpable, tangible heart-hammering technocolour and it is very possible that there will be no happy reunions. Until, that is, a silence begins to set in, like the icicles that form and hang from the branches of every tree, beautifully isolated and untouchable.
Wandering the increasingly cold, bleak landscape, wind can begin to chill the bones. Turning to look for help, it is possible that darkness can fall unawares and there is only the sound of breaking twigs beneath your feet as you tread and retread familiar yet uncharted territory.
How long will the darkness of the innermost labyrinth last? In the forest, time can seem interminable. Days can seem to lead to months and on into years. Memories of past excursions can surface without warning, sending you spiralling towards colourless mornings and greying, dusky afternoons. You are walking in mist, and you are wishing that you would arrive at a clearing: a cool breeze, a blue sky, a motionless, mirrored pool of water…