Writers (in order): Surya Saraf, Eman Hussain, Brennan Sandora, Eileen Hung, Marcus Warts, Annabel Chia, Maya Ma, Alyssa Tang, Irene Tsen, Blueberry, Keiss Chan, and Langston Wu. Editor: Ms. Ja.

Three years ago, I was sitting against a tree, reading my favorite book. Various insects crawled on the tree trunks around me, but I didn’t mind. A large piece of bread lay on the forest floor, one I had left out for the ants. Hundreds of ants marched in a line, each one carrying a small bread crumb, ready to feast. As I blissfully sat reading, I suddenly felt something staring at me. I swiftly looked up, locking eyes with an ant in the line. Its beady, black eyes seemed to stare into my soul, and I immediately felt a connection, as if we had been related in a past life. It was slightly plumper than the other ants, its round, black stomach protruding almost five centimeters. It crawled over to me and perched on my wrist. I smiled.

I’m going to name you Bartholomew, I thought.

I had a feeling we would be friends for a long time.

That first day we spent together was lovely. I moved my hand upwards and let Bartholomew crawl onto my shoulder, making sure to move my hair so he wouldn’t get swept up in it by accident. After quickly explaining the beginning of the book, I began to read out loud from where I had left off.

I’m not sure how long we read, but once my voice began to feel scratchy, I decided to take a short nap. As I shut the book, Bartholomew, who was still resting on my shoulder, moved down my arm until he reached the crook of my elbow. I guess he’s just moving places. I closed my eyes.

When I woke up, the sun had just set and Bartholomew was gone.

The hour of ants and books had long passed, giving way to the hour of shadow and darkness, where blackness settled like a blanket over the forest canopy. Some quake in fear at the thought of such enveloping dark, the embrace of the moonlight whisked away by the interloping branches of the looming foliage. I could never understand that. I only understood the longing for the warmth of such a blanket, where one is safe beneath the trees standing as sentinels over soil only they can see. Now, I remember not the gentle, forlorn cries of the summer breeze or the earthy scent of the woods on that day three years ago. I can only remember the silence, as if even the smallest ants held their breath. Perhaps I should have known then that something was utterly, horrifyingly wrong. The forest is never silent: even the shadows whisper in answer to the rustling of the leaves and the flowing of the streams.

The forest was silent that night.

Until it wasn’t.

Until I heard a vicious roar.

My legs began to move before my mind did. I should have realized that the forest was trying to warn me, the way I kept stumbling over ill-placed branches and the way the nearby deer stared intently, stone still. The leaves were still unmoving, even as I raced past them, breathing hard. Every step I took, I could feel the tension hanging in the air, the sense of wrong.

Another roar echoed through the forest. I knew these woods. There were no wolves here. The forest still refused to move. Squirrels hung still in their branches, as if that would hide and protect them. Even my footsteps grew quieter as the leaves beneath my feet refused to crackle with their normal, chipper volume.

I came upon a clearing and saw the reason for the scream and for the frozen forest.

It was large. A bulky figure that towered over the dark trees. Its shadow was visible—darker than the surroundings—but I couldn’t identify what type of animal it was. Two scarlet orbs pierced through the darkness and were staring right at me, never blinking.

I stopped in my tracks, my feet becoming roots in the forest floor. One more step and I would fall to the ground.

Something chirped above but my eyes were fixated on the monstrosity in front of me. Suddenly, a feathered creature appeared in my vision. I heard one innocent chirp, then silence.

The beast rounded on me next, roaring loudly. Not a tree moved in the forest as blue feathers stained red fell to the ground.

What was that*?* I squinted my eyes as the flurry of feathers flew before me. Suddenly, what emerged was a being I would have only thought existed in movies—the kind of movies where fantasy mashes with reality and the whole world turns unclear, to be specific.

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