Short Story: Atropa Belladonna

By D Visser

He took a deep breath and the scent of fresh leaves filled his lungs. That forest was still surprising him after all those days. He was surrounded by trees frozen in an ancient dance, and the red sun rays were filtering through the fronds; berries were peeking from the bushes. Even the big eyes of a squirrel on a branch were thrilling, were real. His eyes were exactly the same, wide open, to grasp every detail, every drop of resin that the woods were crying. He was finally getting traction.

He was getting so drunk on reality he had stopped walking. He had no road and pursued no path. Like a moth attracted to the candlelight, he was just following his instinct, a snail on a leaf, a soft sound. His steps filled again the silence of the forest. Despite being spring already, he had chills running down his spine—besides the need for proper food. He had started with cabbage, carrots and some tomatoes, and ended up eating berries.

He looked around. There was a rock on the small hill nearby, and it looked squared, how strange. He reached the top of the slope breathing heavily. Yes, that stone was cut by human hands. It was covered in musk, thick and dark, but he could still recognize the edges. How old could it be? And why was it in the middle of the forest? He sat on it and the hunger pangs made him grimace. He was tempted to retrace his footsteps and eat the berries he had seen in that clearing, but it was already twilight. What if he couldn’t find the stone anymore?


He jumped, eyes wide open and heart racing.

A boy was lying with his back on a tree. He chuckled and shoved his palms with a weird smile. His eyes were like slits, of a very intense blue.

“Who are you?”

The boy flipped his wavy, blond hair. “My name is Peter,” he answered, almost singing.  “And who are you?”

“I’m Justin,” he answered. His knees were still bent, so he relaxed and sat again on the stone. Peter was dressed in rags, and from the holes in his dirty trousers, Justin could see a bloody knee. He himself wasn’t any better: he hadn’t showered for days, so his black hair was almost glued to his forehead; his t-shirt had a rainbow of berry juice stains and the knees of his jeans were green. “What are you doing here?”

The other giggled and tapped his finger on his lips. “I travel through forests and fields, and I just happened to find you.”

That was exactly Justin’s plan, wandering to discover, not to search. Had he found a companion?

“But I’m not only that, you know?” Peter smirked and started to dance on the spot. “I like you. I’ll introduce you to my dream.” Peter put his hands behind his own neck and pulled a thin leather string out of his dirty shirt. “I am a deacon of the Emerald Church, and I have a gift for you.” There was a key hanging from the string. It looked pretty old and the gold was not shiny anymore.

“Emerald Church?”

“Here you are.” Peter let the key fall on a tree root and flipped his blond curls again. “Enjoy your surprise.”

Justin scratched his cheek. He looked around, but Peter had disappeared. And he wasn’t even surprised by it… maybe that encounter was caused by the lack of proper food? Carrots were a thousand fold better than just berries. But the key was still there. He stood, took a few steps and grabbed it. It was cold in his hand and pretty big. What could he use that for? As an exchange good, maybe, it was pretty—he had no doors to open, after all.

“Not yet, you mean.”

Justin turned around. He had not seen the statue that now was in front of him; it was a person made of rock, with the sculpted muscles covered in musk and yellow lichens.

“Yes, you are right, I am a person.” The statue was moving! His jaw, at least.

“Why…” Justin wasn’t too surprised—and that was surprising. He was still talking with a rock, after all. “How come do you speak?”

“I am a guardian.” Yes, there was no mistake; the statue had a deep husky voice, different from Peter’s humming. “My duty is to allow to the Emerald Path only those who have merit. And how do you think I am supposed to do it, if I cannot ask them questions?”

“Usually guardians fight, don’t they?”

“I do not care about physical strength, boy.”

He felt a bit relieved. “I understand. It’s because of the key, right?” He showed the guardian the old key.

“You have been chosen by that silly boy. I am the one who will test you.”

“I have a question.” Justin tilted his head. “What is the Path you’re talking about?”

“Boy, you live now in that gangrenous prison of yours. The Path will lead you to more, because I know it, you want more from your breaths. My question is,” continued the guardian, “why did you abandon your old life to wander in tatters?”

Justin started to play with the key in his hand.

“Yes, I want more. I want to surrender and be amazed, just like a little child—but I can’t anymore. Why?” There were no further questions, and the statue was still staring at him in the shadows, so he explained. “I have… well, had everything, or almost everything. A decent job, decent friends, I was in a relationship, but I couldn’t feel the magic anymore. The void, that giant black hole that was haunting my dreams, it was impossible to forget about it.” He smiled. “But now I don’t feel it anymore. This forest is healing me.”

“So you left them.”

Justin looked down. “And I hurt Sophia and my friends, yes, but they are amazing people. I think they understood my reasons, and they never dragged me down. Maybe I’ll come back, who knows? I just need to appreciate again the fact that I have teeth, toes, that I’m alive and so is the Earth.” He had delivered that short speech three days before, first to his girlfriend and then to his friends, after the usual small talk in front of a drink—his friends loved to schmooze away the tension.

The statue crossed his arms. “Your loved ones did not try to stop you?”

The wind made him cross his arms, too. It was getting darker and darker, colder and colder. “Sophia cried, but understood. I still love her; I just… want to make her feel special. I need to deserve her, because her love for me is so great I need at least to match her.” The thought of Sophia made him smile.

“What a dreamer.” The statue slowly raised his arm and covered his forehead. When he lifted his hand, a golden keyhole above his rock nose was capturing the moonlight.

“Wow…” Justin uncrossed his arms and gave a look at the key in his hand. It looked like it could fit.

“Boy, you now have to make a choice.” The guardian took the key from his hand, and the rough musk tickled his palm. “You could either turn the key right and see the Path, or turn it left and walk away.”

That wasn’t too hard, actually. He had accepted Peter and the guardian. He wanted to see more, accept even more, harvest those experiences inside and go back to his loved ones really changed.

“Can I ask you a question, before I turn the key?” he asked.

“You may.”

He tried to formulate it in a way it didn’t sound rude. “What is the Emerald—Faith?—Church that Peter was talking about?”

“That is only one manifestation of something that you hopefully will know soon. The Emerald Path is your own vision.”

“Thank you.” Justin reached the statue and turned the key right.

“As you wish.”

Justin blinked. The sun was shining in the sky, and a boy was sitting on the ground, with his back against a tree. He was twisting and hit the wood with his head. He ran to the boy, but stopped halfway. It was him. Purple saliva was dripping from his mouth and his eyes were empty. He didn’t feel urgency anymore, even if his flushed face was lost in convulsions. He was witnessing every wrack of his own body, but wasn’t bothered. That was just a body, after all. His true self was still alive, standing few steps away. He was ready to go back to Sophia and his friends.

He gave a last look to his death and walked away. A handful of berries were lying in the grass near his hands.

Atropa Belladonna was the winning piece of the Spring 2013 LitCo Writing Competition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website Protected by Spam Master

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

Social profiles