You enter the forests at Fontainebleau, thick settled woods of oak and scots pine, branches tilting upwards, as if seeking the grace of God. Their nettles snap under your feet, each step crackling like a fire, bringing your further from the world you know, and into the strange. You wonder: here will you finally discover what it is you seek?
“Welcome1” The voice shocks you. You expected to be alone on this shadowed path. Who else would enter the woods as the sun sinks below the horizon? Who else would enter the darkness, fleeing the dying orange glow?
“Welcome to the Forests at Fontainebleau...” You realize the voice comes from ahead, and slowly the speaker reveals himself. An old, dark man with sand-paper skin and sallow, sad eyes, yellow and filmy. Eyes of one accustomed to a life in darkness.
Yours is not a journey one wishes to make with company, so, uncertain, you ask: “Who… who are you? Will you leave me to my path?”
He does not answer either question, instead repeating himself. “Welcome to the Forests at Fontainebleau. You have come, as all do who come here, for one of two reasons. To seek death… or to flee it.”
How could he know?
You do not reply out loud, but with a wink and knowing smile he disappears back into the shadows and does not bother you any further. It appears the strange man makes this forest his home. You wonder, albeit briefly, which one he sought when first he arrived: death or its opposite. But as you continue further into the wood, the trees growing taller, their branches more gnarled, he leaves your thoughts entirely.
These are strange forests here are Fontainebleau. Their depths as unknowable as the truth to the legends that surround them. They say that men drawn here, and women, come with heavy hearts, with little to live for. They say that none who find their center ever leave, that they belong to the forests and the forests belong to them. That many wander from the path are lost forever, to deaths at their own hand. That those who survive their despair become stewards, and guides and… whatever else they may be is unknown.
The boughs of passing trees scrape and scratch at you as you wander past, following the winding path deeper in the darkening night. Soon you are lost entirely, not able to see much but your feet beneath and your hands in front, trusting that the path remains before you, and that you remain true to your goal: the embrace of death or its obliteration, immortality or oblivion, whichever comes first.
The sun rises, and then falls, and does so again and again, and you are no closer to your destination, merely becoming more and more lost. How much time passes in that wood, you cannot say, but you do know you wander in circles. Growing old, these trees become your only friends. Like them, you wander arms outstretched, begging the Lord that may or may not be for mercy. Years in darkness wear on you, draining your skin of its moisture. Your palms, your face, they become rough and patchy.
You do not find its center, but eventually, now an old man, you happen back upon the Forests’ edge. Once again you face a dying sun. You sigh, frustrated, knowing that you must start your journey anew, but—what’s this? You hear other footsteps, another presence enters the wood. Perhaps his purposes match your own. Either way, it is a journey you both will make alone.
First, you go to greet him. The old hand welcoming the new. He is a young man, with a familiar fresh face set seriously, grimly, like one who seeks his own end. Like you once looked.
“Welcome!” You call out, smiling as you startle him. The grin reveals a bright white smile beneath sallow, yellowed eyes, those of one accustomed to the thick forest darkness. “Welcome to the Forests at Fontainebleau!”