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Out of the Woods

Short Fiction

By KJ AartilaPublished 2 months ago 5 min read
Out of the Woods
Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

In all my eighteen years growing up here, I had never been this deep into the forest at the edge of my backyard, especially in the dark.

With only my backpack to carry a change of clothes a couple sandwiches, some chips and a flashlight, I set out on foot, following this described shortcut to get to the town next over. No one knew I was leaving, but it was time. I snuck away in the dark to avoid the bitter tears and arguments intended to convince me to stay. It was time to make a life of my own, and I knew the way. It was only a seven mile walk this way.

The moon filled a cloudless sky when I left, but it got darker the deeper I went into the woods. I pulled out my flashlight in order to light the strait trail in front of me so it would be easier to stay on.

I walked a good distance, eyes focused on the path, when I came upon a startling vision. I noticed the path had vaguely started to twist and turn.

I stopped in my tracks, wiping my hands over my eyes. I surmised I was tired and seeing things. I took my hands from my eyes and shone the flashlight up again, the beam reflecting the golden eyes of a boy on a black unicorn. I don’t have golden eyes or a unicorn, but I’m sure the boy is me. His face looked just like mine, except for the color of our eyes. I stared at him through the hazel of my own.

The boy spoke. “I live in these woods and I know where you’re going. Follow me and I’ll take you there.”

Dumbfounded, I shook my head and stuttered. “No. No, thanks - I’ll just keep following this path.”

“Okay,” said the golden-eyed me, “call when you need me. You know my name.” And with that, he, upon the unicorn, disappeared Into the shadows. I sat for a minute to get my bearings. I told myself it must have been just a shadow, then started off again, walking along the trail, led by the beam of my flashlight.

An owl hooted in the distance. I turned my head in the direction of the far-off sound and stumbled over a rock. I cursed as I picked myself up from the ground, rubbing a bruised knee. I needed to stay focused, especially as this path became twistier and rockier than I expected. I trained my light back on the trail and continued hiking.

My legs were weary. It felt like I had been following this trail for miles and would soon near the end, but I could see no end, nor hear any traffic from the road it approached. According to the map I had studied before embarking on this journey, the trail was a straight shot, only about seven miles before meeting the road I intended to come out on.

I kept walking, trying to keep a steady pace forward, but the trail kept twisting and turning around trees and rocks and roots obstructed my path.

My flashlight went out, the beam refusing to return with my attempts to stop, and shake and beg it to come back. I decided I needed to sit and rest. I could re-assess the situation of the woods by daylight, and most likely head back home to try again when I felt more prepared.

I fished a sandwich from my pack and bit into the PB&J eagerly. I didn’t realize how hungry I had grown! Just then, an idea popped into my head.

Feeling silly, I whispered my name, “Jacob?” No answer. I called louder. “Jacob!”

In front of me, the boy and the unicorn appeared from the shadows.

“Yes, young Jacob? How can I help?”

I started stammering to myself. ”H-How do I get where I’m going in this darkness? Or do I just go home?”

“Basically, you want to get to the other side of these woods, right?”

“Yes. Then I can begin my life.”

“You have already begun. You’ve come this far; do you really want to turn back now?”

“Well, not really, but I see no other option.”

“I know these woods well. If you hop on with me, Jupiter and I can take you where you want to go. The decision is yours.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt confused, my mouth agape.

The unicorn snorted and pawed the ground.

“Okay. We must move along. If you decide to continue, just call our name and we’ll be back. If not now, maybe we’ll cross paths in the future.”

Again, I stared after them as they were swallowed up in the darkness. I couldn’t speak or move for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to do!

I thought for a bit, then I heard shuffling and grunting noises coming from the darkness around me. With no light to pick them out, the noises made me nervous and restless. I needed to move.

“Jacob?!” I called. “Jacob and Jupiter! I need help!”

At once, they appeared in front of me, the golden-eyed boy upon the woolen-horned horse, walking without a stumble in the blackness.

Jacob and the unicorn stopped beside me. Golden-eyed Jacob reached his hand down to help me onto Jupiter’s back. Jacob asked “Which way?” As he helped me find my seat behind him. “Home or forward?”

“Forward, though the woods to the other side.”

“I thought so,” replied Jacob. Jupiter started forward.

We proceeded through the darkness for what seemed an eternity, but I’m sure it wasn’t. The trees were starting to thin and I could see a bit of sunlight starting to streak the sky.

“This is where we must part,” said Golden-eyed Jacob as Jupiter stopped and the boy who wasn’t really me, helped me to the ground. “Good-bye and good-luck, Young Jacob. Just call our name if you need help through the woods again.”

I waved as they drifted away back into the forest. I surveyed where we had come out of the woods. It was not quite where I expected, but I could see where I wanted to go from here.

This story was written and submitted to Reedsy in reference to the following prompt:

Write a story inspired by this quote from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy: “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.

Young AdultShort StoryAdventure

About the Creator

KJ Aartila

A writer of words in northern WI with a small family and a large menagerie.

You can also find my Author page here

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  4. Compelling and original writing

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Comments (27)

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  • JD Pernoste and Anneliese Dahl2 months ago

    Nice story, very evocative! I would have liked a little more of the inner ruminations (spread throuhout) as well as more build-up/suspense before meeting the boy/unicorn with some more elaborate description of them. You clearly hooked me in, and I want more!!! - Anneliese❤️

  • Great read

  • Gerald Holmes2 months ago

    Very well done. I think you hit the prompt perfectly.

  • Muhammad Ali2 months ago

    Why didn't the protagonist just ask the old man for help in the first place instead of going through the dangerous forest alone?

  • Great Story ❤️

  • Loryne Andawey2 months ago

    I love Dante's Inferno! Thank you for sharing this story and where to find cool prompts. I'll definately check it out :).

  • Charlotte Flores2 months ago

    Well written story. The scenes are well described. The dark and somewhat scary atmosphere of the forest is easily felt. But it could have continued. I think the ending of the story is not appropriate. Jacob’s life on the other side of the forest should have been mentioned.

  • Sweet, simple, unpretentious & gratifying. Beautiful work.

  • Gina C.2 months ago

    Oh!! I LOVE how you did this!! 😍 This was such a beautiful, wonderfully writtern, symbolic story!! Awesome job and congrats on Top Story!! 😍

  • Heather Hubler2 months ago

    Oh, I loved how I was trying to figure this it was him but not him! It's hard to even trust yourself sometimes. Really enjoyable story, well done :)

  • Mark Graham2 months ago

    Quite the story to make one think. Great work.

  • Madison Newton2 months ago

    Awesome job, subscribed!

  • Denise Larkin2 months ago

    Beautifully crafted story. It drew me in from the beginning. Congrats on your top story.

  • Syed Asim Ali2 months ago

    Your ability to turn a quote into a work of fiction is impressive! I would appreciate it if you could take a moment to read my fiction, which you can find on my profile using the provided link, and share your candid feedback with me:

  • dinu2 months ago

    Very engaging! Great work✍🏼👏

  • Golden-eyed Jacob and Jupiter were so mysterious! Your story was such an excellent take on the prompt. I loved it! Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    I enjoyed this fabulous fantasy. Greasy work! Congratulations 🎉 on top story!

  • JANE AYU2 months ago

    A beautiful story . Congratulations on top Story

  • Kristen Balyeat2 months ago

    Great story! Congratulations on the top! 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

  • The Dani Writer2 months ago

    A smooth read! Well done to a seasoned Top Story-an!

  • Congratulations on your Top Story

  • JBaz2 months ago

    Great take on the prompt. And a fascinating tale told like a story from a folklore.

  • Mariann Carroll2 months ago

    It’s a beautiful story , Congratulations on top Story . The Mystery that surround the older Jacob and the unicorn . ❤️🦄

  • Dana Stewart2 months ago

    What a great TOP story! Congratulations! Totally met the prompt! (What a cool contest!)

  • Quincy.V2 months ago

    Well-written and engaging, with a good balance of description and dialogue.

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