Although not quite as famous as Mount Fuji’s sea of trees, there is another mountain forest that people often get lost in. This particular mountain is ripe with edible mushrooms, and many people go up there to collect and sell them. This is a story I heard from one of those people.
When he arrived at the mountain, all of the mushrooms near the entrance had already been picked, and the pickers had gone home. But thinking that there might still be some further in, he started walking through the forest. Carelessly, he didn’t take note of any landmarks, however, and was soon unable to find his way back.
The trees grew thick, making the forest dark. He wanted to get out before the sun set, so he picked a direction and kept walking. He walked and walked, but everything looked the same and he couldn’t find an exit anywhere.
Before long, he saw a figure walking towards him. Thinking that person must have been lost as well, he called out. The figure stopped, as though surprised, and looking in his direction.
“If you’re lost too, why don’t we try to find the exit together?” he yelled out.
“If I follow you, I’ll never get out!” the figure said and disappeared into the trees.
He gave up and continued walking, but before long he ran into another person. This person seemed much older. Yet when he called out, they replied, “I hate this, let me out!” and ran off.
No idea what was going on, he continued walking and then ran into another person. This person was quiet elderly, and this time he approached him first.
“If we go one of these ways we should be able to get out. Which way are you going to go?”
He looked at the paths splitting off through the trees and chose the path leading right.
“That’s probably the correct answer. Good,” the old man said and then disappeared into the trees.
As he walked along the path, it miraculously led him back to where he began. But strangely, not a lot of time had passed. When he got back to the inn, he told one of the employees what had happened. Apparently they were worried about him.
“Thank god you’re safe! Normally once people go into those woods, they don’t come back out,” they said. He thought they were being a little over-dramatic, but lots of people really did go missing there, and he remembered those he’d come across while lost himself.
“I need to go back and find them!” he said, but the employee shook his head.
“They’re no doubt already gone.”
He found that phrase odd. How could they be already gone?
“I fear they were future versions of you, lost forever in the forest,” the employee said.
It was true, in the darkness he couldn’t see their faces very well, and all of them were wearing clothes similar to his as well. Running into a younger version of themselves over and over, and being unable to find a way out must have driven them mad.
When he ran into the oldest version of himself and made the opposite choice that he had when he was younger, he must have been satisfied knowing that this time he would get out.
It seemed that while time stopped in the forest, and nobody ever got hungry, it was on the other hand difficult to die, and people still continued to age regardless.
And because he was able to find his way out finally, the older versions of him were no longer stuck and thus disappeared.
A chill ran down his spine as he considered the possibility that he may have ended up suffering the same fate as them…