A foggy October morning. A chill in the air as the world stirs to life in the sleepy pale of the morning light. Colors muted by a dim haze that sits silently upon the ground. As you walk along your usual path, the ground is firm and crunches softly underfoot, bitten by a light frost that hints at the coming winter. The air nips at your nose and fingertips, as if warning you to proceed with caution — questioning whether you ought to be out on a morning like this.
Inspired by a strange feeling that hangs in the air this day, mixed in with the morning fog, you decide to take the path less traveled by. There’s not another soul around; the world is silent except for your footsteps and the sound of your own breaths, which billow out in barely visible clouds, only to be swallowed up promptly by the mist. The dark mass of trees is almost completely obscured from view at first, but it grows steadily clearer and deeper as you draw closer. Finally, the beaten path vanishes into the dark of the forest that opens up before you.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. You have always felt at peace here, you think to yourself with a smile as you take your first steps inside. The sense of oneness with nature that you get from being here always brings you back to your roots, making you feel like your most primal self. But the smile fades as you travel deeper. Today the woods feel different — more ancient, somehow. All of a sudden, the lost and hidden truths of this place are startlingly palpable. It feels as though a thousand stories have lived and died here. Secrets whisper through the trees. There’s a peculiar type of energy pervading the air, the same feeling that was mixed in with the fog, a feeling that grew a little bit stronger with every step until you arrived here in the woods: it almost feels like this place isn’t quite real. Like you’ve stepped out of your own world and into a fantasy one.
It becomes clear to you now: there is magic here.
The Swedes would call this place trolsk: magical, bewitching, enchanted. There was always something special to you about places like this, something sacred about the undisturbed beauty that lies hidden within them, and today that feeling is magnified tenfold. Venturing farther, you begin to discover tiny doors in the hollows of trees, and equally tiny gardens of moss adorning the knobbly roots poking through the ground, decorated with pebbles and shiny trinkets like the charms from a bracelet. You picture fairies dancing across these grounds, delicate as the fallen leaves. The sound of trickling water leads you to a winding creek, barely more than a foot across. Constructed out of twigs is a bridge crossing over it, too large for a fairy but far too small for a human. Elves, perhaps? You can imagine them scurrying to and fro through the underbrush. In the distance, you can make out the mere silhouette of what looks like some kind of hut, definitely human-sized — but you glance quickly over your shoulder before deciding to head over to it, and when you turn back to look for it again, the shape is gone.
You’re not sure how far you’ve traveled, but the entrance to the forest is well out of sight. And though you’re certain that this is the same path you’ve traveled a great many times, you suddenly realize that you do not recognize this part of the forest. You are lost. Not sure whether the magic that lurks among these trees is benevolent, a vague feeling of unease begins to gnaw at you as you turn back the way you came, sure that you must be retracing your steps exactly — but even after several minutes of a brisk walking pace, the woods are unfamiliar.
How long have you been here? Is the sky growing dark, or are the woods merely thicker? You turn in every direction, searching for some familiar landmark, some clue as to where you are and how to leave. But to no avail. Even the path is gone. Surely you must have passed through here earlier, but you recognize nothing. The trees hold their tongues.
A light breeze blows through, causing some of the trees to creak and dip their branches. Scattered leaves flutter to the ground. You draw your jacket tighter around you, wondering if the direction of the wind might at least tell you which way you’re facing. But the breeze grows stronger, and changes direction. You begin to look around frantically, trying to decipher what is happening. Stronger and stronger still the wind blows, surrounding you, prying the edges of your jacket from your fingers. A vortex of leaves swirls wildly around you. Branches crash together in the background as the wind howls in your ears. You squeeze your eyes shut, heart racing, wondering if this is how it ends.
And suddenly, the wind stops.
You stand frozen for a moment, then slowly open your eyes. Everything is still. Not a leaf or twig seems out of place. These are the woods you remember — and the edge of the trees lies before you.
You look around. Everything is familiar again. There’s not a stange hut or fairy door to be seen. Relief and confusion both wash over you at once, and you’re already beginning to question if what just happened was real. Strangely, it feels to you as if the whole day has passed, though you know you can’t possibly have been gone more than an hour or two.
You look to the forest entrance. The sun is setting now. You can hear birdsong. The fog is lifting, catching in the golden light whose beams filter through the trees, setting the forest aglow. Every shadow is larger than life. With careful steps, you press forward until the trees are behind you, and the way ahead is clear. You pause, casting one last long look over your shoulder, as if an answer will have appeared. But the deep darkness of the woods betrays nothing.
A thousand and one stories have lived and died here. The trees have one more secret to keep. The mysteries that hide within the forest have come out to play, only to retreat whence they came without a trace.