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Something Wicked

Warning: This is a horror story. There will be quite a bit of unpleasantness.

Remember all those year ago

when mummy tucked you into bed,

when she turned off all the lights

And planted a kiss upon your head

 

You would ask to hear of magic,

Of heroes young and old.

You still remember fondly

all the tales your mummy told.

 

And the one that wasn’t quite so nice,

one you never understood.

A story mummy told you

of something wicked in the wood.

 

 

 

     “Dale! Hey, Dale! Come on we have to go!”

Dale grunted as he rolled the final, freshly cut log into place. This particular tree had proven harder to fell than the others and they were running late. The load would have to be left behind for the night to be collected tomorrow morning. Dale waved a dismissive hand in the air in the direction of his friends.

     “I’m comin’, I’m comin’.” He could see his breath rising in a mist before him. The bitterly cold air was beginning to bite at the exposed skin of his face and neck. This winter had been harsh, crops had the life frozen from them, animals had been blighted by the freezing temperatures, and some of the older residents of town had been found dead in their chilly beds. More than ever, his town needed this wood. Their fires were the only thing keeping them going.

     “Dale!”

     “Alright!” he shouted back, snatching up his axe and turning to follow. “I’m coming Ash calm down,” but he was shouting at an empty clearing. He huffed, sending a cloud of white breath curling through the evening air as he began to stomp moodily after them.

     “It wouldn’t kill them to hang around for a few minutes,” he muttered “they’re going to drink all the beer without me, selfish pricks.” He shifted his pack on his shoulders, thinking of the long trek home alone.

     As the light faded Dale searched the trees ahead, trying to spot the figure of one of his friends. He strained his ears, hoping to hear a shout of laughter or the chatter of voices. Nothing. He made a note to clap each of them on the back of the head for leaving him behind. They could buy him a pint at the pub for good measure seeing as how they’d decided to leave him behind. They knew troubled spirits walked these lands. The things that stalked these woods and still they’d seen fit to bugger off.

     Leaves crunched under Dale’s heavy boots, the leaves long since fallen from the dense branches overhead. But you could still make out pockets of sky here and there. At least you could earlier. The branches seemed to be reaching for each other, twisting and interlocking like many long, thin fingers leaving the forest floor in a sort of twilight. There was no choice but to go this deep into the forest as they had already felled many of the trees at the edge and the young trees they had planted were still too small to do much good. Here the trees grew thick and strong, warming their homes for many weeks. It could save them all. It made Dale proud to do his job, he was essentially saving the town. He pondered this as he walked along the path. Perhaps they would reward him. Celebrations in honor of the woodcutters that kept the village alive through this unforgiving winter. Those brave few that faced the ancient places to bring back fuel for their wives and children. Dale smiled, pondering these thoughts. His mind so full of music and light, he did not notice as his feet left the path.

***

     An owl hooted amongst the thickening shadows. Dale jumped and looked around cursing himself for not paying attention. If only he could find the path again. Everything seemed to press down on him. The faint light existing only so the shadows could claim it, devouring it as the hour grew later. His stride grew longer and longer and soon he began to pant with the effort.

     “Ash?!” he called, “Rowan?! Al?!” A lead weight had settled itself in his belly, pulling him down, pushing his organs to the sides until they flattened and spread, stretching themselves to the point of ripping. An answering call, a familiar voice, was all he needed to ease the pressure of the ever-growing darkness. An old song drifted to the forefront of his mind, one of the morbid little rhymes children used to sing in the playground.

You watch the sun begin to set

Smell something rotten on the breeze

Shivers crawling on your back

Something’s watching through the trees

     A bird shrieked in the distance as Dale let out a weak moan. God, he sounded like a child, frail and vulnerable but he couldn’t help it. “Ash!” he called again, the threatening tears choking his voice. He stumbled over roots and into tree trunks, shouting for his friends, the words mangled by sobs that seemed to force their way up his throat, wriggling and pushing their way up his windpipe. Soon his face was covered in snot and tears, his voice hoarse with the effort.

     CRACK! He crashed to the ground as his foot connected with something that snapped under his weight. His hands scrabbled at the earth around him only to recoil as something squelched under his touch. His stomach churned and he retched as he breathed in a foul, rotten stench. It was clammy, it squished as he tried to push away. It was under his nails; he could feel it soft and slick. Dale yelped as his hand was sliced open. Something hard and sharp was protruding from the cold rubbery patch of…something. He began to cry again, bawling like a babe as he slipped and slid on the ground trying to free himself. His skin grew sticky with sweat. The slimy, slippery something that seeped into the cracks of his skin, his fresh, weeping wounds. His pushed himself up cringing all the while. Before he could will his feet to move his arm gave way and he fell once more, mouth open in a startled cry. A rotten, rancid taste coated his tongue, reaching to the back of his throat. Dale coughed once, then he spasmed and emptied his stomach down the front of his shirt. He stopped long enough to draw breath before he was vomiting again.

     He crouched like that, panting and retching with his eyes screwed up. When he opened his eyes again the last of the light had abandoned him. He made them as wide as they would go, looked up into large, liquid eyes.

A stag, as tall as Dale himself, white as virgin snow. It almost glowed, a source of purest moonlight amongst the black. Beautiful, haunting, but cold.

     Everything came to halt. The night seemed to hold its breath at the sight of such a creature. Dale wanted to bow or pray to this strange spirit, this ethereal being that had come to him when he was crawling like some primitive speck in the primordial ooze. He was so very far from home.

     Dale, reached out a trembling hand.

     “Please,” he wheezed. The stag huffed “Please.” The stag did nothing. It didn’t even blink. Suddenly Dale felt anger rise in his chest.

     “WHY? WHY ARE YOU HERE?” Dale struggled to his feet spitting and screaming. “WHY?” The presence of this spirit, this god, surely meant something. Surely it was here to help him. Surely.

     The stag didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. Its dark eyes fixed behind him. Dale’s breath hitched as he felt something crawling up his back roving over his skin. Softly, so much so that Dale could’ve almost imagined it, was a gentle, creeping footstep.

At last the stag looked at him. Dale was almost certain that there was pity in its eyes. Again, a tender footfall followed by a soft, malicious laugh.

     A bugling shriek split the air as the stag was yanked out of sight, snatched by the darkness. Dale wanted to move, needed to move. But something seemed to have frozen him to the spot. His muscles wouldn’t respond, they wouldn’t even twitch.

     As a child he had huddled under the covers of his bed watching as a spider scuttled across the ceiling above him, absolutely horrified at the sight of the tiny creature. He had called for his mother, unable to move, his body paralyzed with terror. That’s all he was: a little boy that wanted his mummy to come and rescue him from the monsters. But he wanted her. He wanted his mummy to tell him that it was alright, that she was going to protect him.

     “I want…I want her. I want my mummy,” he mouthed. “I…I…”  Something giggled directly into his ear. He spun around, the bones in his neck cracking audibly. Nothing. Trees stood still and silent. Dale stumbled backward as if suddenly released from a tight grip.

     A puff of air, smoky and white. Hot breath in cold air. A wet warmth spread between Dale’s legs cooling rapidly, leaving him shivering and sweating at the same time.

     He ran, sprinting faster than he had ever thought it was possible to run. Soon his shoulders were aching as he bounced off tree trunks left and right. A heavy pounding followed close behind him, reaching for him like physical blows. Every so often he glanced back. Perhaps if he just saw it then it would go away, like a bad dream. A nightmare that vanished as soon as you realized that it couldn’t be true, that there was nothing, he was imagining the thing hunting him in the dark. That it was the shadows that sniggered and snapped at him as he ran. His breath seared his chest, legs burning with each step. Yet it was a fire that meant he was alive. A single candle sputtering in a devouring wind.

Then he was there. The lights of the town glittering gold below him. Dale screamed at them, as if the houses themselves would turn to look.

     Dale’s mouth formed a small ‘o’ of surprise as he heard a sickening wet plop. A soft almost animal whine escaped him as he looked down. His intestines were paler than he had imagined, steam rising in waves from the stinking pile splattered all over his boots.

     “Shh,” said a silky, hissing voice as a hand closed gently, almost lovingly over his face.

***

     “Father!” Ian shouted through the thickening trees. It had been three days. The rest of his crew had returned to their own homes, hugged their children, kissed their wives, but not him. His father had never come home. Again and again they questioned Ash, Rowan, and Al. Each of them had hung their heads, shamefaced. He was lagging behind, so he was left behind.

     “You know the stories,” they had said “You don’t want to be there at night. That’s a place for gods and demons. We got no business being in there in the dark.”

     “Father?!” he called again, desperate for something, anything.

     His mother had not slept, at least not without the help of a few bottles. No one would talk to them and if they did it was in the hushed tones used beside a sickbed. Even his friends couldn’t bear to look in their direction.

     Ian clenched his fists. He would find him. Dead or alive, he had to know what happened. He walked around and around, yelling all the while. He did not notice as his feet left the path.

The End

 

See the full poem below

 

Remember all those year ago

when mummy tucked you into bed,

when she turned off all the lights

And planted a kiss upon your head

 

You would ask to hear of magic,

Of heroes young and old.

You still remember fondly

all the tales your mummy told.

 

And the one that wasn’t quite so nice,

one you never understood.

A story mummy told you

of something wicked in the wood.

 

You watch the sun begin to set

Smell something rotten on the breeze

Shivers crawling on your back

Something’s watching through the trees

 

You struggle through the roots to find

The path from whence you came

But North or East or South or West?

Each one looks the same!

 

Shadows laugh and snatch at you

As you weep and moan in fear,

And that thing that has been watching you

Is creeping, crawling near.

 

You hear a raucous, pealing laugh.

You let out one last scream,

And through the cold, wet shadows

You see its dark eyes gleam.

 

Now you’re in its sharp, red jaws.

You see the end of your existence.

You can spit and punch and scream and kick

And it will not make a difference.

 

Now you’ve reached a bloody end,

you’ve finally understood

the warnings mummy gave you:

“There’s something wicked in the wood.”

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