The following story will likely be the start of a new novel. I decided to share it, to see what people think of it before I commit the time to dive deeper into this idea.
Tall, dark trees surrounded Emily as she woke. Their bare branches seemed to be reaching down towards her, grasping, flailing. She did not know where she was. It was dark and the forest that surrounded her was unfamiliar; there seemed to be nothing but trees wherever she looked. The light by which she could see seemed to be coming from nowhere. Emily had vague memories of going to bed in her home in the city; but out here, her only bed was a soft mound of moss. It was strangely warm, in this empty, silent place. This unnatural silence and the strange darkness hiding behind the trees scared her. Emily was afraid to move from where she had been sleeping; but the longer she waited, the more vulnerable she felt. She was naked. She remembered taking off her clothes before going to bed; another vague memory that did not align with her current situation.
An eerie, deep voice suddenly broke the silence. “It is okay. You can come out now.” It said. Emily blushed and covered her naked body with her hands; but there was nowhere to hide from this strong, masculine voice. “Don’t be afraid, nothing can hurt you here.” It appealed. Emily turned around, facing the direction the voice seemed to come from. The trees seemed less menacing there; their branches lush and covered with leafs. She chose to follow the warm, welcoming voice rather than fleeing into the dark row of trees. The forest lost some of its warmth as Emily left the mound of moss and strode towards the greener part of the woods. “That’s it.” The voice said. “Come to me.” A silhouette appeared between the trees ahead of her.
Emily stopped. With one arm, she covered her breasts, the hand on the other her crotch. “Who are you?” She asked. “Where am I?”
“Don’t be ashamed.” The voice said. “I am here to help you.” The silhouette moved towards her through the trees. It was a man of indistinguishable age; broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hips. His hair was long and black as the night sky, his eyes nearly as dark. He was as naked as she was, his skin was dark and stretched taut across his muscles. A tuft of dark black hair grew above his member; it was as large as only the most well-endowed of men could boast. He stepped towards her, unashamed of his nudity.
“Please.” Emily said; still frantically trying to cover her own nudity. “What’s going on?”
The man reached her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay.” He said. “I know this must be confusing for you; but you can trust me.” He looked down into her eyes. His hands were warm and welcoming.
Looking up at this man, his naked body so close to hers, Emily felt oddly comforted. She relaxed, her arms slipping down as she gave up her effort in hiding her body from sight. It felt hypocritical to hide her nudity while he flaunted his. “What’s your name?” She asked him.
The man let go of her arms. “My name can be whatever you want it to be.” He said. “I am here only for you. I came to guide you to the other side.”
“The other side of what?” Emily asked. The man moved away from her, expecting her to follow him. “Do you really not have a name? What shall I call you then?” She called after him.
“Call me whatever you like.” The man said as he looked over his shoulder. “I am here to serve you after all.”
The man moved silently through the forest. Emily followed him hesitantly. He was the only thing she knew was real, she had felt his warm hands on her shoulders. The rest: the trees, the ground, the dark sky; it all seemed far away, somehow disconnected from the two of them and their short journey. She did not give him a name, not until she knew what he was.
The darkness changed. Light was shining somewhere up ahead. There were voices too, people moving between the trees, for now still too far for them to see her. Emily slowed, afraid of these strangers. The man she followed had led her to a dark, deep river. “They can’t see you.” The man said. “They don’t know where you are.” Emily approached the river. The others turned to watch her, but they did not come closer. She wondered if they were naked like her, but she could not see them clearly in the darkness. “You must swim across.” The man told her. “It’s the only way you can reach the other side.”
Emily reached out to touch the water. It was cold, very cold. “The other side of what?” She asked.
“The other side of everything.” The man said.
Emily was sweating. “Am I dead?” She asked the man. “Is this the way to the other side of life? What happens if I don’t cross this river?”
“You will remain her forever.” The man said. “Trapped in the darkness, wandering the forest between past and future. You need to cross the river and let its water clean the sins of your past.”
Emily bit her lip. The man only answered half her questions, but she could guess the answer to the others. If she really was dead, she could not remember how it had happened. She felt a tang of regret for the things that could have been, the plans that would forever be unfulfilled, the people she’d miss. But if she were to believe this man, there was no turning back; only eternal torment in the dark. “Are you an angel?” She asked the man.
“I will protect you.” He answered. “I will guard you with my life so you may reach the other side.
Emily decided what this man’s name was: ‘Angel’. For that is what she believed he must be, her guardian-angel. She only wished he could be more straight-forward in his answers. “Very well.” She said. “I trust you.” She stepped out into the river.
The water was cold; Emily was submerged in seconds. There seemed to be no current and she swam easily to the other side. The light came closer the further she swam. It was a large glowing sphere, floating in the air just beyond the bank. Angel was standing below it, reaching out his hand. Emily took it and he pulled her out of the river. He guided her towards the light; but it did not warm her. Water kept streaming down her body, blocking the heat from touching her skin.
“It’s not enough.” Angel said. “You need to atone for your sins before being welcomed by the light.”
Emily nodded. She understood. She had not been perfect in life, no-one was. If there was a final judgement when your life was over, it could not be washed away by the cold water of even the clearest river.
“Will you accept your penance before being granted the mercy of the light?” Angel asked.
“Yes.” Emily said. “I will accept what is my due.”
“Raise your hands towards the light.” Angel said before he walked away from her.
Emily raised her hands; water was still streaming down her arms, seemingly coming out of nowhere. There were still people around and she blushed that these strangers would be witnesses of her final judgement. There is no shame, she told herself, in submitting to the light and confessing your sins.
When Angel returned, he carried a switch, carved from the trees in the forest. Emily’s breath caught at the sight of the sharp, wicked implement. She had not believed her punishment could have been physical, not in this after-life, a world beyond the physical realm. With her hands raised towards the light, her naked body was vulnerable and exposed as Angel switched her across her backside. She bit back a yelp of surprise. “Do not stray from the light.” Angel said. “You must accept this punishment and reach for the light.”
Emily strained to keep her hands up in the air, almost able to grasp the light. As she did, Angel switched her behind, again and again. The sting in her bottom grew sharply as the switch left long red stripes across her pale buttocks. The pain felt wrong, like part of the world she had left behind, how could pain like this be part of the beautiful light she was trying to find? Tears ran down her cheeks as the pain became almost unbearable; but still the cold water streamed down her skin, enhancing the sting of her burning, red bottom. It was more than she could take. She knew she was not without sin, but this seemed too much, too unfair. She turned away from the light, tried to move her hands to protect her tortured backside. She could not, she could not move her hands from where they were enveloped by the light. “What’s going on?” She shrieked. “What are you doing?”
“I am only helping you.” Angel said as he relentlessly switched her bottom. “Years of sin cannot be erased in just a few moments of pain.”
“No!” Emily screamed. “No, this can’t be real! You can’t be an angel.”
“I never said I was.” Angel said. He hit her again, the sharp switch biting deeply into her bottom.
Emily noticed a tree on the bank of the river, one she hadn’t noticed before. Its branches reached towards the light. From one of them a length of rope extended downwards towards her hands, tied tightly around her wrists. “No!” She cried. “Why are you doing this to me?” The man – he was no angel – did not answer. He never touched her, only used the switch to make her beg and plead. “This can’t be real.” Emily said in-between sobbing cries. “You can’t be real.”
“I am real.” The man said. “As real as the light, the trees and the river.”
Emily looked behind her. The river, how could that be real; with the water still streaming down her body long after she had climbed out of it. There was no river, the water fell from the sky, like rain, continuously soaking her skin with its wet cold. The tree, was it real or not? Emily looked up at its branches, biting back the pain of the switch, fighting to see what was really there. Its bark was smooth and it had only one branch, the one to which she was tied. The branch reached out for the light, cupping it, carrying it. It was a lantern, the light nothing more than a streetlamp beside the road outside her home. None of it was real. The cold rain streamed down her naked body and the pain in her bottom abated as the merciless whipping of the switch stopped. Emily looked around her, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
It had not all been a dream. The red welts on her bottom were painfully real. Her skin was cold and sensitive as she stood naked in the rain. The rope was real as well, it tied her hands to the lantern, mere feet from her front door. The door was open, she must have wandered through it in a trance, woken from her bed by the man who had done this to her. The street was empty, devoid of strangers. She wondered if anyone had seen what had happened, if the people in her dream had been real or not. Emily struggled in her restraints. She feared that if she did not escape, daylight would come soon. How long until people would come out in the rain and find her like this? Naked and tied to a pole, her bottom covered in red marks from the switch. She blushed furiously, the shame she had forgotten in the forest, returning in full effect.
“How did you escape?”
Emily screamed, afraid that the man had returned.
“Please, I will not hurt you.” A man said as he approached her, a different man. He was fully dressed; the rain ran down his long, wet coat. He looked real, like part of this world.
Emily struggled in her bonds as he came closer, ashamed of her nudity, unable to hide herself. “No, please.” She said.
“You don’t know how lucky you were.” The man said. “I’ve never seen anyone…” Emily turned her back to him as he came closer. “Never mind.” The man said, his warm breath right by her neck as he reached for the rope. “This is not the time.” There was a sudden tug and suddenly her hands were freed. Blood rushed back through her wrists, her numb hands burning with returned sensations. “I will find you again.” The man said. “We’ll talk when you’re ready.”
Emily turned around again, her hands instinctively covering her body even though the man had already seen all there was to see. He was gone. She stood shivering, alone in the cold, dark rain. It took her a moment to realise she was free. With a squeal, she turned and ran to her front door; she slammed it shut behind her.
There was no sign in her home of a forced entrance. The short walk from the front door to her bedroom showed no signs of her passing. The blankets on her bed were thrown aside from where she had lain, but there was no sign of a struggle. It all seemed like she had walked out into the cold on her own. The only remaining signs of what had happened were the marks of rope on her wrists and the long, red welts on her bottom. Afraid to fall asleep again, Emily locked all the doors and then turned on all the lights in her house. When all was done, she locked herself in the bathroom and waited for the sun to rise.