Short Story – The Forest
This week’s story is a very brief little horror piece. In a rare occurrence, the entire narrative came to me all at once. I knew the beginning, middle, and end. Often, I know only the end or the beginning when I start writing.
When I think about horror, sometimes what I’m looking for is an object that isn’t particularly dangerous but has a hidden feature that makes it dangerous. In this story, I picked something that often ignite people’s imaginations but aren’t inherently dangerous outside of your own fears.
Then I asked myself “what if there was a really good reason to be afraid?”
As always, I hope you enjoy and please comment and share if you are so inclined!
The forest didn’t have a name. Villagers just called it “The Forest” and that was enough. Everyone knew.
The copse of trees was crowded the village’s western edge. Hobbes stream ran right through it but even the fish seemed unwilling to venture into the densely packed woods. Sunlight touched the leaves of the trees but never appeared to find it’s way to the ground. The trunks were dark and strong and twisted into strangely disturbing shapes. Even so, they appeared just as unmoving as any other tree.
Yet, they did move.
At least everyone who looked at them insisted the trees moved. Not the way other trees moved, their branches gently swaying in the breeze. If you ventured too close to the edge of The Forest, you would feel certain the trees were leaning towards you. You could stare at them and your eyes would tell you the trees were standing still. Your brain would disagree and you would run away sweating, even on the coldest day of winter.
The footprint of The Forest never grew though no axe had touched even one trunk. It stood aloof, alone, beautiful, and hungry.
There were stories. Stories of townsfolk who ventured into The Forest and never returned. Stories of children lost. Stories of the trees drinking the blood in the soil.
Lindsay had heard the stories and she had looked at the trees but had never felt scared. Instead, she felt excited. The Forest called to her. And she wanted to go.
One day, she picked up her favorite doll and walked to the edge of The Forest. She ran her fingers over the bark of one of the trees and it felt warm. It was almost as if the tree shivered at her touch. She ran her fingers across another tree. And another. And they all reacted to her fingers in the same way. Soon, she found herself deep in The Forest. So deep she couldn’t see a way out.
An adult might have been scared. She felt strangely safe. The wind made the leaves whisper and she thought she could hear them speaking to her.
“Yes,” she answered,”I do.”
As soon as she uttered the words, her doll dropped to the forest floor. She could no longer hold it for she no longer had hands. Her feet began to burrow into the cool dirt and search for moisture. She reached her arms towards the sky to feel the touch of the sun. Her skin hardened and cracked and pulled her legs together.
Her perception of time changed almost immediately. She would see glimpses of people moving through The Forest looking for her. Frightened people who were more concerned with their own safety than the were with their own. Her parents both grieving and terrified. Some walked right past her and failed to notice her.
When you are trying so hard to avoid looking at any of the trees, you aren’t likely to notice one of them bears a strange resemblance to the girl you are trying to find.
After a short time, the people went away and nobody came looking for her. Rain and snow began to break down the doll lying on the ground next to her.
Day and night began to bleed into each other. Rather than light and darkness, she lived in a perpetual twilight in which it was both day and night at the same time.
She didn’t notice days or weeks or even months. She noticed seasons. She noticed when the spring came and her leaves began to grow. Their endless chatter was both a welcome relief from the comparative loneliness of winter as well as a tiresome bore by the time fall arrived.
She enjoyed choking them off and letting them fall to the ground, dead, their voices silenced for a season. And yet she would miss them almost as soon as the last of them was gone.
Sometimes, people would wander into The Forest. Most would pass almost without notice. Lindsay looked forward to the feeling of a child’s fingers brushing across her bark. The sensation would give her almost intolerable pleasure because she had grown to miss the sensation of touch.
The Forest left the children alone. In fact, it left most humans alone. If an adult was foolish enough to enter at night, however, they wouldn’t leave. The trees would close in around them until there was no escape. If the villagers heard the cries for help, they had long since been trained to ignore them.
After they had crushed their prey to death, the bodies would decompose on the forest floor.
Slowly, their blood and bones would mingle with the soil and Lindsay would finally be able to taste it through her roots. It was so delicious, she had a hard time containing her excitement when some poor fool wandered in. The other trees had to stop her from killing without discretion.
From the moment she joined them, the trees would speak to her. They would ask her questions about what it was to be human.
In the language of trees, it could take hours or even days to ask a question. Her answers could take weeks or sometimes months. The questions kept coming. Impatient for information, they would speak over each other, leading to delays that could last entire seasons.
As the seasons wore on and she lost the ability to perceive the passage of even years, she began to forget what it had been like to be human. It became harder to answer the questions and as her answers became more vague and distant, the questions stopped.
For a time – none of them could tell how long – The Forest was silent.
Eventually, Lindsay found herself wondering what it was like to be human.
Then one day, a little girl walked into the forest. She ran her fingers over Lindsay’s bark and it made her shiver with excitement. It made her long to know how the human world had changed. So she whispered ever so gently – so as not to scare the girl away – in the little girls ear.
“Do you want to know what it’s like to be a tree?” she asked.
“Yes,” said the little girl, “yes I do.”