My steps were well-practiced as I meandered through the forest, brushing past the bristly branches and stepping over jagged rocks. The sun's rays filtered through the tree canopies and warmed my exposed skin. I leaned back on the trunk of a tree, the bark rough against me, and closed my eyes to bask in the residual sun.
I felt a light tickle on my shoulder and I swatted it away without even a backwards glance. I nestled further against the tree as I listened to the forest sing. Birds chanted freely, animals scurried through the fallen leaves, wings flapped mechanically, and water trickled in a distant stream.
My eyes shot opened when I heard the clearing of a throat.
"Who's there?" I spoke to evidentially no one.
There was a rustle of leaves and a groan of weathered wood before someone replied, "I thought you were going to fall asleep on me."
The voice was low and garbled, but I couldn't find the person to match it.
"Where are you?" I searched the vicinity, turning in circles until I became dizzy and fell back against the familiar tree.
"Oomph! Watch where you're going, will ya?" The strange voice was muffled and reverberated through my fingertips.
I stumbled backwards as a scream caught in my throat.
"But you can't... but you... you're...," I stuttered unintelligibly.
"A tree? Wow, you must be one of the smart ones," the voice muttered.
I took a cautious step forward to inspect the tree more closely. His bark was a dark brown and mottled with cracks and divots. He had two sunken eyes gouged into the top of the trunk and a mouth crater below them. He studied me just as much as I studied him.
"Like what you see?" He asked, waving a few branches around as one would do with their arms.
I blinked in response, unsure how to answer this strange creature.
"What? Never seen a talking tree before?" He mocked after my long silence.
I shook my head.
"Well, don't do anything rash. There's a whole bunch of us in these woods, and I don't want to have to find a new home just because one spooked girl couldn't handle her emotions."
"If there are so many of you, how come you're the only one I've ever seen? I run through these woods almost every day and no other talking tree has ever graced me with their presence," I countered.
"That's because we don't typically want humans to know we exist. Could you imagine the spectacle we would be? And the experiments they would do on us? No. No way. You better not tell anyone about me. Swear on it."
He bent forward until he was inches away from my face. His eyes were stygian pits as they bore into mine.
"I won't say anything," I promised.
"Good, now go. Forget that you ever met me."
I nodded but still asked, unable to stop myself, "Can you at least tell me your name?"
He straightened out and settled his tree limbs in their rightful place before answering, "Alberomedis."
I took a few slow steps back and turned to leave, taking one final glance over my shoulder. I saw that his human-like features were once again camouflaged into that of a normal tree.
"I don't think I could ever forget that I met you, Alberomedis."
Then I left, continuing on the routine path that suddenly felt anything but familiar.