The night was dark; that special kind of dark that it gets when it’s really late – when even the nocturnal animals have gone to sleep – in the still, calm hours before dawn.
The stifling heat of the day was long gone; the air was cool now, almost to the point of being chilly, and neither the ground nor the rocks nor the trees had any more of their daytime heat to radiate. The world had that special stillness, holding its breath in anticipation of the start of the next day.
It was in this special darkness that she found herself; shaken, sore, and shivering slightly. The pain in her head had settled into a dull ache now, just enough to keep her awake and alert.
The sharp crack of twigs breaking under her feet seemed to reverberate throughout the entire forest each time she took another tentative step. Tired and stunned as she was, she still somehow found herself able to be thankful that she still had her shoes. Several times now her feet stubbed on protruding rocks, or stumbled into small dips in the uneven ground.
She rested for a moment, pressing her hand against the trunk of a tree to steady herself, but she’d hardly been still for more than a few seconds when the fear of being lost and alone surged back to the front of her awareness.
She fought her panic, gulping deep breaths to calm herself, refusing to give in to hysteria. Gritting her teeth, she took another step forward.
The darkness was oppressive – though she could see virtually nothing, her other senses seemed painfully alert. The sound of each step she took seemed to echo endlessly, turning into the sound of footsteps behind her, and several times she whirled around – only to see the same nothing behind her each time.
Each time a twig from a low branch touched her arm, she felt like a strong hand was trying to grab her, and she whirled to grasp back – only to find her hand clutching a thin and brittle twig.
Step by step she kept moving in this way, fearful for what lay ahead, terrified of what was behind.
But slowly – though she hardly noticed it at first, and then almost refused to believe it – dawn was creeping its way across the sky. Shapes began to resolve before her eyes – a tree here, a rock there. The world around her went from deep black, to deep blue, to pale gray, and finally to the colors of the normal waking world.
And when the suns first rays touched the tips of the trees, she thought she would go blind from the brightness – the golden glow of a thousand candles, all ignited at once.
With each passing moment, as daylight returned, the terror melted away – although not completely. Where was she? What had happened to her? At least now, in the warm light of day, these were questions that she could finally face.
She had passed through the dark night and made it into the light.
Now, she had hope.