I’m participating in the Story A Day Challenge. You can read my previous post here, which takes place in the same world as this one.
Prompt: Dark, Gloomy Forest
Your character is alone in the woods and finds blighted trees, drooping plants…rot and slime everywhere. It once was beautiful but overnight is turning into a swamp–its not natural. Your character must get to the bottom of this and stop it before something they love very much is threatened also. Extra points if your character actually doesn’t know this forest and ends up getting lost. Maybe the trees have turned evil and… *gulp* developed something of an appetite?
Gloomy Forest Lullaby
Oliver Gray awoke beneath the canopy of softly blowing trees, watching pinecones fall and leaves drift in the breeze. He smiled. It was rare for him to smile in the morning, but today was special. It was the second day of his camping trip with his girlfriend, and he planned to make the most of it.
He rolled out of the sleeping bag that was placed on the hill above the campsite, water splashing on impact. Huh? His clothes were soaked with the murky water, slime and goop sticking to his skin. It didn’t rain overnight. He stood up and looked around the dark trees, their bark surrounded by moss and vines. No one else was around, and that worried him the most.
“Shelley? Shelley, where are you?” He hollered, stepped back to higher ground.
Nothing was right. He had gone to sleep in the Gifford Pinchot Forest, a place of tall firs and hemlocks, not swamp lands. And he had slept with Shelley by his side and now, she was gone. No, he corrected himself. She probably just went back to the truck to get something.
He pulled himself away from the campsite, following the flooded trail back to the forest road. He climbed up the steep hill and gasped. The forest road had turned into a stagnant river overnight, his truck stuck amidst lilly pads and algae. “Shelley!”
His heart jumped. She was alive. “Where are you?”
Shelley emerged from the trees, out of breath and dirtied. Her hair was mangled and caked with dirt and weeds, and her clothes were ripped.
Oliver embraced Shelley, feeling her warm body, her smooth skin. “We have to get out of here. This isn’t right. It has to be someone from Verabrar, trying to steal me away to that prison again.”
“No, Oliver.” Shelley let go and backed away. “It isn’t someone from Verabrar. It’s me. I’m special too.”
“That’s good!” Oliver assured her, reaching for her again. Shelley pushed him away, tears starting to drop from her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Me.” Shelley wiped the tears away. “I can’t control it, Oliver. I didn’t want any of this to happen. I could hurt you.”
“I can get you help,” Oliver offered. “I have friends who deal with abilities. They can teach you how to control the urge. Before I got help, I would freeze everything I touched. Now, I don’t even think about my abilities. This can be you too.”
Oliver grabbed her hand and led her away from the truck, following the river towards civilization. Neither of them said a word as they walked. Minutes seemed like hours, but they still seemed to be heading nowhere. “We didn’t drive that far in from the forest highway,” Oliver said. “We should have reached it by now.”
“It’s me again,” Shelley admitted. “The river, it keeps changing course. We’re going nowhere and everywhere at once.” She let go of Oliver. “You’ll make it out of here if you leave without me.”
“No! I’m not going to do that.”
“Goodbye, Oliver.” Shelley turned and fled, rushing into the darkness under the trees.
“Wait!” Oliver ran after her, falling down the bank and nearly rolling into a tree. And he would have, had he not thrown this hands up, freezing the tree and causing it to shatter like glass. He stood up, dizzy and disoriented. He had no idea which direction Shelley had gone. Paths led through the growing swamp in every direction, grasses and flowers growing and growing before his eyes, covering any footprints that may have been left. Frogs croaked all around and insects closed in on him by the dozen. She doesn’t want me to find her.
He chose the path in front of him, knowing it was best not to overthink her course. He stepped carefully between the plants, not knowing what may lie ahead. He took another step, his foot slipping into a small hole, water once again filling his boots, and it was cold. Not that the cold bothered him much, he could freeze things after all. He lifted his foot and kept going, following the bend in the path around a bog, full of stumps and logs. She’s killing the forest.
Flowers continued to bloom as he pressed on, but every time he looked back they would shrivel and die, turning to ash. All he could think about at that moment was fire. I hate fire. He didn’t mind heat because often times it helped him control his abilities, but fire, fire was something else. It could kill, and he was sure he would melt if he caught fire.
The trail ended abruptly at the edge of a large pond, but Oliver knew the way. Shelley stood at the center of the small island, turning to face him. She smiled at him, then threw her arms in the air. They split and twisted, blood spilling all over as her body continued to split apart and change. The pieces of her arms grew longer, twisting and twisting like branches. The blood began to turn green and still, like the vines that surrounded Oliver in the trees. Then her skin turned to bark and she became still, leaves blooming from the branches of the new tree, more beautiful than any of those around him in the decaying forest. Flowers bloomed in the meadows of the island, pinks and oranges in neat rows.
Oliver waded across the water, tears filling his eyes, then freezing. Even the water grew colder as his sorrow took hold. He climbed ashore and knelt beside the tree. He felt weak, and his spirit was broken. Shelley had been his only true love. How can I love again?
He closed his eyes and tried to weep, but the tears continued to freeze, preventing him from crying. It hurts like hell. He felt something tap him on the shoulder, again and again.
Do not weep for me, Oliver. It is better this way.
I’m dreaming, Oliver thought.
Open your eyes.
Oliver did as he was told. A snake-like branch of the Shelley tree had touched him. “Shelley?”
“Why, I could have helped you! I could have saved you.”
I am safe. I did as I was told. There are things about this world you have yet to understand, Oliver, but you will in time. I have fulfilled my duty, a protector of the enchanted woods. You must leave. Find others like you, and keep them close.
“I will come back for you,” he promised. “I will help you.”
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
The branch lifted itself from his shoulder and the tree straightened itself once again. Oliver remained there for a few moments, anger setting in. How could she do that to me. He yelled aloud and felt his strength leave him, just as it began to snow.