The man woke up lost in the forest, just as he had done for countless days before. His legs were stiff as he rose.
He wondered how many miles had they carried him trying to get out of the forest? Hundreds? Thousands? He knew exactly where they had taken him. Nowhere.
It was winter and the trees around him were as cold toward him as the weather. They stood silent, sneering at him. They wanted to be here.
The dead leaves rustling in the wind were the only sound. In all his time here the only blessed relief from the silence and the emptiness of his own thoughts had been the occasional bird song.
Today there was not even that. He would give everything to see another person.
He began walking, it was all he could do. So much walking. All he wanted was to get out, to find people. Every time he had looked out from high ground all he would see were treetops.
If he followed a stream it would end in a fetid bog, ringed by mocking trees.
The wind through the trees made a strange noise. It took him several moments to realise it was laughter. He spun around trying to locate it.
He charged in the direction of the laughter, desperate, calling out all the while. Branches clawed at his face, and roots tripped him. He ran heedlessly. He had to find whoever was laughing.
He needed to.
The man fell. He was so focussed he did not see the cliff edge and bounced down its side. He forced himself up, ignoring the pain in his leg for now. He would feel it for years to come.
But the laughter was gone. He cried out. The echo of the silence haunted him.