The man from the woods

I checked my watch. It was 11.30pm. I made sure to keep an eye on the time as I sat on the partially rotten tree stump and peered into the darkness at the edge of the forest where the world seemed to stop. From my position I could see all around, the empty field lying flat, a good place from which to watch the forest. I sat facing the darkness which cut up the field and ended it with a sudden, definitive blackness that consumed all but the few branches, reaching out to touch the moonlight, informing you of the presence of the crooked trees, the reason for the dark barrier.

11.37pm. A cold breeze blew through the field, sending a chill down my spine as it passed over me, heading towards the forest. I watched the long grass being made to bow by the breeze, intent on it’s destination, keeping a constant pace in it’s efforts to cross the vast field. But when it reached the forest, the trees stood their ground. The branches did not creak and the leaves did not rustle. The forest stayed quiet.

11.43pm. Still not time. The hours spent preparing seemed to go by in minutes, but the minutes now went on for hours.

11.48pm. A small cloud moved across the full moon. Small, but enough to pull the field into a darnkess similar to that of the forest, though not as utterly consuming. My post now darker, I stiffened a little and listened for any sounds. It wasn’t time yet, but I still felt the need to be more careful. I wasn’t happy in the dark.

11.52pm. Getting closer now. The cloud finally gave way and the field was placed under the protection of the moonlight once more, but I couldn’t relax. It would be midnight soon, and I had to be ready. Just a few more minutes.

11.56pm. The time that had been crawling along before had suddenly raised itself up and began to race. I stood up from my perch and drew my knife. I wanted to bring my guns, my armour, my friends. But the knife would have to do. It was only fair.

11.57pm. The wind picked up and the trees now allowed it passage through their branches, working together to form an eerie whistle that accompanied the rustling of the leaves and filled the air with sounds that seemed unaturally loud after the quietness I had been sat in before.

11.58pm. The temprature suddenly dropped, causing my shaky breath to become visible as I exhaled a small cloud of fog, which was quickly dispersed by the wind. I gripped my knife tigher, keeping my gaze fixed on the trees directly in front of me. The nerves that I had been distracting myself from were creeping into my mind. I realised that my hand had started to ache as it clenched hard around the handle of my only weapon, but I couldn’t bring myself to loosen the grip.

11.59pm. The wind started howling, nearly strong enough now to make me lose my balance. I stood my ground but hunched over a little to remain steady. My heart was racing and I was on the verge of panic, the height of my fear suddenly realised, my breaths came fast and shallow. Still I watched the forest, my eyes intensely focused on a patch of darkness in front of me.

Midnight. The wind that had been blowing with such force before suddenly died. The trees stood still and just for a second it was as though the world had frozen and everything was still and silent, almost calming.

Then the next second passed, and the world was plunged into a hellscape. The forest emmited a terrible, deep red glow from it’s core that shone outwards, lighting up the silhouettes of the trees which had now twisted and convulsed into demonic figures, each one slowly reaching out their claw-like branches, creaking and cracking as they moved. Their hollow eyes turned and fixed on me as the shadows that bled from them crawled along the field, longing to reach out and ensare me with their transient bodies, clinging to every blade of grass they passed, moving swiftly despite their formlessness, moaning horrifically despite their lack of mouths.

Frozen in fear, I had been watching the shadow creatures as they closed the distance between us, but my eyes snapped back to the forest when I heard a terrible screech from just beyond where the tree figures stood. With a deafening creak, the trees parted to make way for a large beast that stood in the glow of the forest.

Twice as tall as a man while still on all fours, it was covered in dense black fur, so dark it obscured all other features of the beast from this distance, save for it’s eyes that glowed brighter and redder than the forest itself. It growled, and a thick fog filled the air around it’s dog-like face.

Our eyes connected and instantly it jumped, closing the distance between us in a single leap. I reacted, but too late. It knocked me down and crushed my legs with it’s powerful hind legs, planting it’s front legs hard on my shoulders as it reared it’s head and opened it’s mouth wide. I could smell the stench of it’s breath as it prepared to bite down on me. The knife that I had been gripping so tightly was still in my hand. From my position all I could do was raise my arm and plunge the knife into the beast from below.

I thrust the knife upwards, hoping I’d hit something vital. I must have, because as soon as I’d made my move the beast howled in pain, raising itself up, my knife imbedded in it’s chest. Suddenly it lurched it’s face towards mine, it’s expression so inhuman and yet so clearly filled with rage, it growled at me and with it’s eyes so close to mine I could see something in them that I understood. I recognised it as hatred, a look that I had seen many times, from eyes similar to these.

The beast clenched it’s huge claws around my shoulders, finally causing me to scream as it gripped me, cutting into my flesh and with all it’s strength it pulled. It’s legs that had allowed it to leap so far were now being used to hold mine firmly in place as the rest of me was being pulled away from them. I kept screaming, nothing could have made me stop, the pain was unbearable. The beast pulled harder still and I could feel myself coming apart. A gruesome snap filled the air, followed almost immediately by another. Then blood soaked the ground and I was flung across the field, my legs below the knees remained where they were. I stopped screaming before I even landed.

I was face up, staring at the cloudless sky gently lit by the pale moonlight. I couldn’t see the red glow of the forest if I didn’t turn my head. I laid on the ground as the world slowly got darker and allowed myself to believe, just for a second, that the forest wasn’t there at all, that this was all just a nightmare. I checked my watch one more time, but the face was shattered and blood was slowly creeping into the cracks.

Before my vision could fail me completely, I looked over to the beast. It stood on it’s hind legs now, even taller than I had imagined. My knife was burried high up in it’s chest. I had panicked when I stabbed it, but as it took the handle of the knife in it’s claw and pulled it out, the yelps that escaped from the creature confirmed that I had hit my mark. It’s heart had been pierced and it was bleeding out.

I had to fight to remain conscious, but even as the beast weakly set off towards me I could feel my life slipping. It stumbled and fell to it’s knees, continuing the pursuit on all fours. I just lay there, grief now washing over me as I watched it limping towards me. It’s power draining fast, The beast shrunk in size and even though it wasn’t far away from me now, it struggled to keep going. A few feet to go, it’s pitch black fur fell off in matted clumps, revealing the skin below. It’s snout deflated to a face and the dreadful teeth decreased to fit the smaller mouth. It dragged itself closer and as it came within reaching distance of me, all that remained of the beast were the bright red eyes. All else was just a man, naked and on the verge of death. He looked as though he might speak, but his face now level with mine, he drew a shallow breath just as the red light vanished from his eyes, though the hatred remained. His body went limp.

The moment before I joined him in his fate, I wished I could explain to him why I did the things that caused him to hate me so much and made him run away from his family, and straight into the woods that corrupted him.

Featured photo by adrian on Unsplash

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