| The Aatilli Forest had always been a home to me. The town I grew up in bordered it and I had spent many days playing in it with my little sister. While it had never been the safest place with its many cliffs and was easy to get lost in to those who didn’t know it well, for a long time it was my safe haven. But, that all changed, and I wish to tell you how. It started with all those suicides in it.
But at first, that wasn’t that big of a deal. I know, I know, that sounds really callous, right? Of course it was a big deal, of course there was news coverage, and of course the government did everything it could to prevent any more deaths. Signs were put up. There were constant patrols, and they even tried to install phones connected to a suicide hotline at various places. But none of that worked. Signs were ignored. The men hired to do the patrols quit or went missing, and the phones broke. And the numbers of deaths just kept rising and rising. But like I said, none of it really mattered to me. It was my freshman year of college, and I had tests to study for and parties to be at. I wasn’t even living there anymore; I was on campus at State.
But Mom cared. Since my father killed himself when I was ten, she had been into volunteering at hotlines and support groups, stuff like that. So when the bodies first began to be found, the summer before I left for college, she was one of the first to go and try to help people. When I left, Mom seemed fine. While she hadn’t managed to actually stop anyone, she was optimistic, and seemed happy to do what she could.
That changed quickly though. When I talked to her on the phone, she seemed distant, and eventually stopped answering her phone at all. Malory, my sister, told me that she had been acting strange at home, too. Malory was worried, and I promised that I would come home for a visit during the first week-end of October. I never got to see Mom, though. Two days before my planned visit, Mom went missing. I hurried home, and Malory and I searched for two weeks, terrified to have lost our mother as well as our father.
We ended up getting closure, but in the end, it would have been better to have never known. I might still have my sister with me then, at least.
My mother’s remains were found underneath one of the many trees, underneath a noose. Predictably, the death was determined to be a suicide, despite my sister’s and my protests. We knew that Mom would’ve never killed herself. Still, it could’ve been okay if it just ended there. It didn’t though. They also found Mom’s backpack. And in it, a single notebook.
The notebook was given to us, and we quickly found that it was a journal of sorts. The entries started when Mom began patrolling the forest. In the first entries, she sounded like herself, she described how sad the whole situation made her and how she hoped to be of help to anyone she could. The later the entries went though, the stranger they got. She started to mention all these voices she heard in the forest and by late September, she was talking about the forest as if it was a person, saying that “he” was lonely. The last entry was the worst. In it, she said that “he” had invited her to join him. And that she had accepted.
I felt guilt for having left my mother and for not having been able to help her, or at least notice the signs that she was sick. Malory, on the other hand, seemed to become obsessed with the suicides and the forest. I made her agree to go to therapy and headed back to school, knowing I was very behind in my work.
Despite the therapy, Malory’s obsession continued to grow. By the end of the semester, it made up her life. I learned that she had been skipping school, and our house was covered in her research. By this point, the town was flooded with reporters, officials, and scientists because of the suicides. I had once read that the Gold Gate Bridges had the most suicides per year, for a single location. The the Aatilli Forest had seen nearly triple as many deaths as the Bridge had that year. Fences were being erected around the entire forest, yet the numbers didn’t decrease. It was going weird to all out unbelievable.
By Christmas, I was completely lost on what to do. Malory wasn’t eating, wasn’t leaving the house except to go to the library occasionally, and would only talk about the forest. She was convinced that there was some sort of monster in the forest. Or that the forest was a monster. It was absolutely insane, and there was nothing I could do to stop her. I tried to get her hospitalized, but there was no room. Most of the town had moved away, to distance themselves from the deaths. I would’ve loved to do the same, but Malory refused. Even the government and reporters started sending less people, because the ones they sent would end up dead or missing themselves.
I hadn’t stepped foot in the forest since spring, but I wanted to. So badly that it scared me. It was in my dreams, my thoughts, everywhere. I knew we needed to leave, but by the time I got up the will to force Malory to, it was too late. Malory had left a note in her room, telling me that she had gone to the forest and to not follow. I’m ashamed to say how much I wanted to listen to her and not follow, but in the end I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go find her.
Like I said, the forest was big, but I had a pretty good idea of where she would have gone. After Dad’s death, we had found a little clearing, and had spent much of that following year there. We had played and talked and cried, and to us, it had been ours. I hoped that I was right, but it was deep within the forest. I would have to walk a while.
When I got to the fence, I saw that most of it had been torn down, and that the forest smelled horrible. They had stopped retrieving the bodies when most people had left, so the decaying bodies were everywhere. It was horrifying, but I felt urged to go in, and not just for my sister.
Once I was a few feet in, I began to hear the voices. They begged for help, for the pain to end, for warmth. By the time I was half way to my destination, the voices were becoming unbearable. I saw dark figures moving from the corners of my eyes, but I couldn’t stop. I told myself that I had to get to Malory, over and over again.
Finally, I got to the clearing, and over the stench of the decay, I could smell gasoline. But I was too late. In the middle of the clearing was Malory, her throat cut with a stick that was in her limp hand. I would have broken down then, but I saw what her plan had been. Beside her in the dead grass were empty gasoline cans and a box of matches. I ran for them, doing my best to ignore the voices. I lit a match and dropped it and then repeated it again and again, all the while running to get out of the forest. The voices screamed for me to stop, and it seemed like the trees themselves were moving to stop me. But by some miracle, I made it out of the forest, and got in my car, the voices screaming at me the entire time.
I drove until the voices stopped, until I could no longer see smoke in my rear view mirror, and then until I was out of gas. Not much was done to stop the fire, and the whole forest along with the town burned down. The suicides stopped, and for a while, I thought that was the end of it, the end of the strange “phenomenon” and the end of the deaths. I went back to college, and tried to come to terms with my guilt and sadness. I returned to the forest every night in my nightmares, but I don’t think that will ever stop.
I never learned what was causing all those people to commit suicide, but I never wanted to. There are some things better left unknown. I only wish the people who insisted on rebuilding the town had known that.