The crackling leaves and snapping twigs beneath my boots were the only sounds in the forest. The path was outlined by silver fingers of light and long, unwelcome shadows. My neck hair stood on end; as much from the blustery chill as from the encompassing isolation. Instinct and logic dictated for me to keep moving, rather than to become an easy target for the unknown creatures of the woods.
I walked for many miles in the moonlit wilderness. Only my rational mind remained to keep me company and hold my overactive imagination at bay. Every rustle of tree branches was a stalking predator and every whistle in the wind was an evil spirit, taunting me. Even a defenseless child at my side would have been a welcome comfort against the eerie unknown. Regardless, I was a singular soul in the darkness.
In the distance, I saw the faint outline of a derelict cottage. As my progress toward the long-forgotten structure increased, I recognized the unmistakable flickering of candlelight as it teased the windowsill. Amazingly, the old shack wasn’t vacant at all. I wondered why anyone would want to dwell so far from civilization, deep in the woods.
For a brief moment I was relieved to know my solitude would soon be over. Then I considered the lengths that the occupant went to be undisturbed in such a desolate place. In that context, it wasn’t so reassuring. Clearly they wanted to be unmolested. I surmised that there would be no ‘welcome mat’ at the front door to greet me.
I slowed my pace considerably through the layers of fallen leaves and branches. Each step went from a thunderous cacophony of crackles, to the insignificant din of a single note. I crept cautiously up to the side of the house; certain that my benign intrusion was undetected. My pounding heartbeat and controlled breathing were the only sounds in my ears. What I saw when I peered into the window made me question my sanity.
An old man sat with his back to the window. He was focused intently on the flickering tongues of flame as they danced in the fireplace. Initially I couldn’t see his expression but I had an intangible suspicion that he was smiling. With no hint of surprise on his aged features, he turned to peer directly at me with a chilling, toothless grin. The sanguine river in my veins coursed through my body so intensely that I felt my eardrums would explode.
Instantly I saw there was something frighteningly familiar about the decrepit old man’s features. The truth was almost too much to fathom. On the other side of the window, I was staring into the unmistakable watery eyes of myself as a much older man. He was I; and clearly I had been expected.