The damp soil and rotting twigs gave way under the weight of her boots. The sky was barely visible from under the canopy of the tall trees, and it was grey and lifeless. It would rain again soon. The trees gave off the familiar nutty scent and the wind carried it around everywhere, till it finally lingered above the black soil underneath her.
It wasn’t the first time she was here in the woods. She had frequented them as a child. The mystery surrounding this isolated place had always intrigued her. Whether through her foolishness or courage, she had ventured deep into the woods, clearing her way through the thick undergrowth, finding new pathways and secret spots.
The rain fell in huge drops now. The sound it made against her suit stood out like a sore thumb against the natural sounds around her, the pitter-patter of rain drops on the leaves and the crunching of dry twigs under her feet. She walked briskly, in a futile attempt to stay dry.
When she was 13, she had found a clearing on the eastern edge of the woods. It looked like a stream ran there, but had dried up to a trickle in the summer heat. The black soil had given way to smooth, round pebbles that were impossibly flat. She took one of those pebbles home, but not before she enjoyed the lush greenery around her. Flowers of all kinds, spread out in the morning sun, faint drops of dew still on them. It seemed like the perfect spot for a picnic on a lazy summer afternoon, with friends and family.
All this was in the past. She made her way through the familiar woods, trying not to let old memories distract her from the tricky terrain. She followed the route she had taken hundreds of times before, to the eastern edge of the forest, to the picnic spot she had discovered.
She rubbed off the water droplets from the visor of her Hazmat suit. 7 years after she had first been to this spot, the bombs had dropped. Nothing grew there anymore and nothing died, it was as if someone had paused time there. Now, nearly two decades after the bombing, she was one of the few selected to examine the woods. A crater in the distance, a gentle reminder of where the bomb had kissed the ground.
The trees and shrubs were covered in a dark metallic ash, something two decades of rains couldn’t wash away. The costant rains and residual radiation turned the woods she knew into a steaming couldron that could kill without warning. Everything around her was in a state of decay, but never completely decaying, a strange effect no one could explain.
As the rains ceased momentarily, the wind picked up, raising the metallic ash on the ground into the air and then dropping them, as if even the wind knew how dangerous it was. She remembered how it had been during the war. A constant fear loomed over her family every single day, as they scurried around the edge of cities for sustenance and survival. Her family had managed to limp by, just like their country that managed to make it out of the war barely alive. The woods were just one of the many sacrifices her country had made and she knew it meant something.
The woods were now a part of her past, a reminder of happy times that would never come again. It was like her childhood, one of the better times of her life, but something that would never happen again. For years, she had tried to console herself with this. And now, here she was, gazing down into the rotting body of her own secret part of the forest. The spot was barely recognizable, but she knew. She bent down and pored over the pebbles that had lined the area, now fused into a single gigantic mass from the heat of the explosion.
In her mind’s vision, she remembered how the place had been. Beautiful, warm and hidden like a secret. It was no longer warm or beautiful, but hidden just the same.
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