Category A: Highly Commended (2021) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Smaran Singh
I woke up to a strange prickling sensation on my back. Still half asleep, I wondered if this was a dream. I stretched my arms and my knuckles slammed into something rough and scaly. The pain forced me awake. As I sat up, I shuddered, slowly recalling the events of the previous night. I peered around, my eyes straining to make out the silhouettes of trees encompassing me in every direction. Stumbling here and there, I attempted to familiarise myself with my surroundings.
It had been a few hours since I had started to aimlessly wander, and the sun had started to climb. The new light illuminated the trees, which seemed to go on forever, like two mirrors opposite each other. The vastness of the forest stressed my solitude, and I found myself missing home. I decided to attempt to find the end of the woodlands, and get a sense of where I was. Picking a direction, I set off.
The sun was high in the sky, relentlessly beating down on me. My legs were aching but I kept walking. Sweat soaked my pyjamas and they clung to my body. Suddenly, I burst out of the woodlands and onto a trail. Glancing in both directions, I saw that the path rapidly curved away. I decided to go left, but as soon as I rounded the first corner I froze. A snake hung from a tree branch, dangling in the middle of the path. Whirling around, I bolted away. I screamed at the top of my voice, over and over again. My shoes crunched loudly on the gravel, and as I stopped to take a breath, I heard a slithering behind me. Not bothering to look back, I forced my exhausted self to keep running and shrieking.
At last I couldn’t continue and collapsed onto a faded sign. The singular wood post holding it up creaked. Slowly turning around, I sighed in relief. The snake was gone. Exhausted, I decided to read the sign while I caught my breath. I froze, refusing to believe what the sign indicated. The faint letters read Doongalla Forest. Below it read nine kilometres to Olinda, my hometown. The woods seemed to still with me.
In the sudden absence of noise, I heard some distant sirens and voices. Straining my ears, and as the sounds grew clearer, I realised that I could hear my brother’s screeching voice calling out my name. A burst of hope gave me newfound energy. I rose on shaky legs and called back, my voice hoarse from screaming. I picked my way through the vegetation in the direction of the voices, and they grew steadily louder. Without warning, my brother exploded from the trees and hugged me. Sobbing, I squeezed him back, and soon, my parents joined us. As I broke the embrace, I saw that all of their eyes were red and puffy.
“I’m sorry,” was all I could rasp before I burst into tears again.