We never left the woods. I was amazed. This whole time, this whole world, like a bubble in the ocean, a daydream, a slowly sinking island. I thought I had escaped, but memories flooded back as I stood before the tree. The darkness there, the castle, the library—it was all fuzzy, indistinguishable. My beautiful wife, I reminded myself, her raven hair tied up in a wispy bun above her head, waiting for me. I pictured it, pictured her, trying to hold onto this world, this life.
That was real, I assured myself, it was all real. But she was just a memory, the devilish tree was here and now. I turned away, closing my eyes. I don’t have to look, I told myself. My foot strikes a hollow chord as I try to walk away. Had I stumbled over a rock? I kick at the stone again. Faint echoes play in my ears. No!
Falling to my knees I begin brushing away the leaves and fallen twigs—it’s my armor, left out in the rain, rusted and useless. My life, wasted, forever cursed—I would never leave the woods.
I turned to the tree. I had to go. I was banished. The king was dead, and I—What had I done? I left the boy, let the invaders kill him. I abandoned my king. I had to go into the shadows, banished.
But this world, it was real too, real and dying, and she, a part of it, alive, she loved me.
“She loves me, she loves me, she loves me,” I whisper, holding onto that truth. “She loves me.”