The sky turned a gray he had never seen before, causing the forest to dim; something inside him whispered to find shelter. His eyes scanned the moss-covered trees. He paused. Fully turned in all directions.
He didn’t know this part of the woods.
An over-grown trail led west. He almost missed it, it hadn’t been used in so long. Moving branches and foliage out of his way, he traversed in silence. In fact, this whole region of the forest was quiet. Not a single animal or insect sounded their respective calls.
He stopped. A set of stone stairs lay before him, leading to a black doorway. His heart raced. Causing him to breathe in quicker. Moist earth permeated his nostrils. Putrid algae and decaying trees followed. Then…ash.
Studying the sky once more, he looked back at the door-less entry to a stone building forgotten in time. Left to the clutches of nature. So much so, he hadn’t noticed the rest of the structure at first. And as much as common sense screamed no, something pulled him inside.
His right foot mounted the first step. Dust, leaves, and ash being stirred in who knew how long. He wasn’t positive the staircase wouldn’t crumble beneath his weight. But he had to know what was inside.
He stepped on the second stair. Then the third, the fourth. Careful to avoid the jagged stone that somehow survived years of the tender care of the elements. Fifth, sixth, seventh. The toe of his hiking boot caught a thick root, sending him down onto the final two steps.
On hands and knees, he lifted his head. The darkness of the doorway was much closer now. He swallowed. Why did he feel so compelled to enter this dilapidated place? Yes, he sought shelter from what he assumed was a storm, but certainly, there was a better place than this.
However, he pushed himself off the wet stone. Wiped his bloody palms on his shorts. Mounted the eighth step. Then the ninth. Finally stood on the landing taken over by fungi and ivy. He still couldn’t determine the building, but he assumed it was an old home. Built so someone could find solace among the silent trees.
One deep breath prepared him to cross the threshold. Two paces, and he was enveloped by the inky blackness. It took three seconds for his eyes to adjust. And in the distance, he saw a light. Light that must’ve streamed through a gaped hole in the ceiling.
He held his breath. Slowly placed one foot in front of the other. The wooden floors creaked and moaned, clearly unhappy about being disturbed. He prayed there were no missing boards.
A wet, acidic stench clogged his throat.
The ray of light was within reach, and he paused. Thick particles floated in the air. What had he been breathing in? The ancient debris of this abandoned home? It seemed like something more. He coughed and choked, stepping into the light to see if he hawked anything up.
A surge pulsed from the stream of light.
This part of the forest returning to its undisturbed state.
The light had claimed another victim.
And added more ash to its home.