Imagine wandering through a forest. The sun is about to dip below the horizon, but evening walks are always the best: not too hot, not too cold, bright enough to see but free from pesky insects. It’s a comforting, centering experience, to lope down these old well-trodden trails that you know so well. You almost know these paths by memory. Each winding root, each low-hanging branch, each pothole in the road. True, there’s no replacing the sense of wonder and mystery you first found this place, but the comfort of having such a vast expanse of nature you know well enough to almost call it your own is a good trade-off. Curiosity and adventure are wonderful things, true, but… there’s something equally wonderful about familiarity. Coming here again and again, tracing back and forth along these old paths, gives you that much more opportunity to appreciate the place.
So imagine your surprise when, out of the evening gloom, looms something you’ve certainly never seen before on this forest trail. A flower unlike any you’ve seen before; bright blue, seeming to glow just a little in the darkness. Bioluminescence, maybe? The petals arc much in the same way as a bluebell, but both the flower and the full plant are much larger; the top of the bell comes up past your elbows. You brush the petals with your fingertips, and gasp – it’s unbelievably soft, like the finest silk, yet you can almost feel the life pulsing through it. Perhaps it’s that it’s ever so slightly warmer than the surrounding air, perhaps it’s a tiny bit of moisture or oil coating the surface of the leaves. Whatever it is, the seemingly delicate flower pulses with life.
As you retract your hand, the flower sways slightly, almost as if it’s chasing the warmth of your touch. On the edge of your hearing, you can just barely detect a low, pleasant hum, like that of a bell reverberating long after it has been struck. It only lasts for a few seconds. You tap your fingertips against the flower once again, and the sound resumes, a little louder than before – is the plant glowing just a little bit brighter than it was before? Your eyes catch a second glow, several paces away; as the sound reverberates through the forest, it’s lighting up other flowers just like the first, separated by several paces each, like a trail of slightly glowing, softly ringing breadcrumbs.
You glance back to the familiar trail, wondering if you should simply continue on with the path you know, rather than rambling through the underbrush, chasing the pretty lights. You could stick to the familiar, of course, take comfort in the world you know, safe and unperturbed. But your curiosity tells you otherwise. It’s like an itch in the back in your mind, nothing as coherent as a thought, more of a deep, primal itch to discover new things. It’s that primal itch which drove your ancestors to roam the world as nomads, that burning instinct which drew them out of the relative safety of their caves.
You plunge into the undergrowth, following the combination of the gentle ringing sound and the soft blue glow. Each time you pass a new flower, your fingertips brush it again, a comforting rhythm which keeps you safe, keeps you on track, illuminates the path ahead. Your worries about losing your way quickly become quieter and quieter, drowned out by the sweet sound of the little floral bells. You could always turn back, if you wanted to. The flowers would keep you safe, guide you back to the path you knew. But of course, you didn’t want to turn back. You wanted to explore, to dive deeper into the wild, indulge yourself in the mystery of these curious little plants. And besides, the feeling of your fingers brushing against that wonderfully soft surface was more than enough reward to motivate you to move further, deeper, closer to the next one, and the next, and the next.
The flowers come one by one at first, but now that you’ve been following them for a few minutes now, you notice that the gaps between them are getting smaller and smaller, they’re getting closer and closer together. Or is it simply that you’re plunging deeper and deeper into the forest, so inexhaustibly curious that you’d throw caution to the winds and speed up your hunt for… what? What are you hunting for? What are you searching for? Why do you feel that need, that itch, that craving to go deeper and deeper into the forest? The bells have started curving towards you, even before you touch them; can they sense your presence somehow? Are they somehow aware that they’re pulling you further into the forest by a yoke of your own curiosity?
And not only are they coming closer and closer together, they’re beginning to come in small clusters. Just two at a time, at first, but then three, then five, more and more. Little families of bell-like flowers, all singing their strange, otherworldly song. The ringing is quite distinct now, but it’s far from overpowering; in fact, it’s quite pleasant on the ears, a little chorus of bells cheering you on your way as you plunge ever deeper into the woods. The increased numbers of petals brushing against your hands is blissful; at times, it feels like your whole hand is enveloped in satin, as though the petals are deliberately curving to almost suckle on your fingers.
You stumble for a moment, your foot getting caught on some root you’d failed to see beneath the ferns. Your cheek brushes up against an outstretched bell, just for an instant, and a warm tingle of pleasure bursts out from your face. Pausing, you bend down again, and the flower rises up to greet you, caressing your lips. It’s so soft, so wonderfully pleasant.
You get down on your knees to get a better feel of it. You’re not sure if you’re moving yourself, moving it, or it’s moving entirely of it’s own volition, but it continues exploring across your cheeks, stroking your face so wonderfully softly. It’s such an enthralling sensation you almost forget about the flowers still suckling at your fingers, brushing up against any bit of exposed skin they can find. The ringing is so loud now. There must be flowers curled up right next to your ears. It’s drowning out any thought you attempt to have, the music of the forest overpowering any sense you try to make of this situation. You roll over onto your back, and the flowers follow. There must be… ten? Twelve? Fifteen? Are more and more coming? You’re rapidly losing count. It’s so hard to keep track of them all while any exposed skin is being tenderly caressed by those satin-smooth petals. Nose, lips, cheeks, neck, fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, stroked and kissed and sucked by these bizarre petals. The glow is so bright it illuminates the whole glade you’ve found yourself in, a glade entirely unfamiliar to you.
Some reasonable corner of your consciousness realises that you’re lost, deep in the forest, lost to the sound, lost to the light, lost to the feeling. Your body is lost to the forest. And you’re slowly losing your mind to these flowers, too. Perhaps they’ll release you, once they’ve had their fun. Perhaps you’ll be able to wake up, find your way back to the well-trodden trails you know. But will you ever be really sure all of you has returned? Will you ever be sure that, when you leave, if you leave, you’ll ever find every piece of your mind to bring back to the world you know? And you’ll know, deep in your subconscious, that you know exactly where those parts of your mind, those parts of yourself are kept. They’ll be kept here, safe, by the flowers of the forest. And if you want them back, well, of course that just means you’ll have to come back here again. And again. And again…