GRIMNIAN - THE CRYING TREE *

This story is rated 3 stars (2 ratings).

by Grimnian

 

 

 Axes swung and hacked large gashes into the bark of the ancient oak. The leaves above began to shiver with every heavy blow. The wounds in the wood began to splinter, as the axe heads penetrated deeper and deeper, until with one final swing, the tree began to crack in two.

 “Timber!” a gruff voice shouted. As the oak began to bend and split from its roots, tumbling backwards it crashed to the ground.

 

Three Woodsmen stepped forward, and lowering their axes they strolled proudly around the felled tree, like proud hunters after killing their prey.

 

Moonlight streamed down from above and lit their faces, two of the men Matlock, and Kobe were bearded, dark eyes looked out from beneath thick sackcloth hoods, the men were shabbily dressed in black tunics and baggy green trousers, the bottoms of which were tucked into mud stained leather boots, they wore gloves, for the night was bitterly cold, and their breathe turned to steam against the icy air.  

 

The third man Derious Cross appeared to be different from his colleagues; his hair was short and neatly cut his face clean shaven. His complexion, pale and unblemished. His clothes were of a finer quality, purple and blue, and made of expensive velvet. Derious wore a pair of boots that were polished, and shining. The man pulled his thick red cloak around his broad shoulders and smiled with pride.   

 

“The last tree, it won't be enough to sustain us this Winter my friends” He looked around at the empty plains; bare stumps marked the felling of what was once a thriving forest. 

 

"We've done a good job here though" Derious smiled proudly and winked at his two colleagues. "And there are many more forests that we can chop through".

Matlock crouched down beside the mighty oak, and brushed his hand through the crisp brown leaves, and watched sadly as they fell away. “This is all we have Derious, there is no more. It'll make a good fire”...

 

“But it won't burn long”.. Derious replied, his sparkling green eyes rose upwards towards a large hill silhouetted against the moonlight. “Up there, on Haunted Hill, there's a new forest for us “...      

 

“No” Kobe shook his head firmly. “That forest is protected by magic” The man could not hide the fear in his voice. “Many woodsmen have disappeared after cutting down trees from there”...   

Derious began to chuckle “Well, the winter months are biting. One tree, between three. That won't keep us warm for long”.

 

Once more he gazed up towards the hill. The shadows somehow seemed darker there, as if they were swallowing the moonlight.

 

“I am not afraid. I'll have my axe. As for this tree” Derious gestured casually towards it “Take what you will. Because tomorrow, I'm going up that hill, and I'm getting a tree all of my own ”...    

 

Matlock and Kobe stared uneasily at each other and they too raised their eyes and focused their gaze upon the horizon. Kobe shook his head and sighed. “You won't come back if you go, they say that wood is home to shape shifters, and tree demons. You'll leave your wife a widow and your newborn without a father”..

 

Derious Cross was not in the slightest bit concerned with petty superstition. He simply laughed at his friends. “I'll turn Haunted Hill into a business. I'll cut down every tree if I can, and sell the wood to the highest bidder”.  

 

“You'd spend the money on new clothes”. Matlock said, wiping his axe head with a cloth. “Not that you'll get the chance. You go into that forest, and you'll be dead by sunset” Once more he glanced across at Kobe, both men knew that even daylight could never penetrate the  foreboding blackness that allowed Haunted Hill to maintain its dark, terrifying secrets.

 

Matlock shook his head gloomily “What about the baby?”…

 

“What about her? She is fine, and in good fettle. She has her father what more could she want?”

 

The baby lay upon a frayed rug, crying softly, the infant’s clothes were ragged. There was no fire burning in the empty hearth, just ash settled upon the grate. 

 

Amelia Cross stood at a worn table, leaning over a wooden tub that rested upon it. Her rough hands moved rhythmically through the dirty water as she washed the baby’s bottle. She was an attractive woman, older than her years, dark bags swelled beneath her eyes and her hair hung down to her slender shoulders in grubby tangles.

 

The door to the small cottage opened and Derious stumbled in. His eyes were glazed and the smell of stale ale quickly reached his wife’s nostrils, and they twitched with irritation.

 

“Hello my angel by the hearth”. He said flippantly, hanging his axe upon a hook on the wall “It is me”. Derious sat down at the table and smiled “Where’s my tea?” He asked, slurring his words.

 

Amelia sighed heavily, and dried her hands upon a dirty cloth. “Your supper is in the baby. We only had one plate of mushrooms this night husband”.      

 

“That’s not good enough” Derious clenched his fist and shook it at her “You” He pointed his finger accusingly “You should have been out and picked more. How will baby Daria grow big on that?”

 

“Don’t blame me husband. You never bring money into this house” Amelia’s expression hardened, and the lines on her forehead deepened. “I can’t even light a fire because the wood ran out”.  She looked her finely dressed husband up and down disapprovingly. “You spend our money on clothes for yourself and drink the rest, but our bellies stay empty”.

 

“This is my fault?” Derious sounded astonished. “I work everyday, and I need to eat more than the both of you. As for my clothes” He vainly brushed an imaginary speck of dirt from his velvet tunic. “I earned the right to wear these”.

 

Amelia was saddened and looked down her nose at the drunken man. “Our baby cries at night because she is cold and hungry, her clothes are threadbare, how can you neglect her so?”.

 

Derious, placed his hands upon the table and pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. “I do what I can, but I am just a man remember”.

 

“You always say you’re just a man”.  She gritted her teeth in anger “A man that needs to become something greater, a man who needs to stand strong and provide warmth for his family”. Amelia looked across at the empty hearth. “We have not had a good fire it that hearth for months”.

 

A cracked mirror hung upon the wall, and Derious gazed at his reflection in the glass. He was indeed a handsome fellow, youthful and glowing with colour. “I’m quite a catch, you’re very lucky to have me. You should not say such hurtful things”. He smiled proudly and turned towards his care worn wife. “Tomorrow I’ll bring you all the wood you need. You can build your fire, and all will be well”….

 

The two red suns glowed brightly against a green sky. Derious closed the cottage door quietly behind him. Bleary eyed, his axe at his side, he set off at a brisk pace across open meadows, rich with coloured flowers and dancing butterflies.     

    

After an hour of walking he reached a winding pathway that led upwards. He ignored a large warning sign painted with blood red lettering, the words “Haunted Hill, walk with care” Did not worry him.

 

Instead he began to whistle a cheery tune, as he ascended the path to the top.  Before him stood a large forest, darkened by the tall trees that stood together in huddled masses, their branches webbed together formed a canopy away from the light.

 

“So this is a haunted forest”. He chuckled, gripping his axe tightly in both hands. “If there are ghosts, they should be afraid of me”.  With one bold step Derious Cross moved from sunlight into shadow.   

 

The temperature dropped sharply, and Derious pulled his red cloak tightly around his shoulders. He ventured further in. His breath froze upon the air and dissolved into steam. Yellow eyes glowed in the dark. Something was watching him.  The man pursed his lips, and attempted to whistle again, but his lips and tongue seemed frozen and he was unable to make any sound.

 

A giant oak tree stood before him, its roots twisted deep into the ground, its branches curled into grotesque arthritic shapes. Derious gazed up at the monstrous tree, and smiled uneasily. “You’ll do for starters”.

 

Derious raised his axe and swung it heavily into the bark, cutting a large gash into the wood. He took several more swings, and the wound became deeper.  Stepping forward he brushed his fingers against the split, and found that it was moist. He looked more closely and watched as a clear liquid began to run down the fractured bark. It trickled like tears, and as he continued to chop, the sap gathered in a pool at the base of the tree. Swing after swing struck against the ancient oak, and the overhanging branches seemed to become more twisted as if flinching with pain with each mighty axe stroke.

 

Derious was so determined to fell the tree that he was unaware of the two yellow eyes moving slowly towards him through the blackness.

 

 “Wretched tree, why won’t you fall?!” He shouted, swinging his axe once more, scattering splinters of damp wood into the dead grass. The pool of liquid was growing, and the yellow eyes were almost at his shoulder.

 

He lifted the axe above his head but a clawed green hand grabbed at the handle and wrenched it from his grip. Derious spun upon his heels and turned towards his assailant.

 

The terrifying creature that stood before him was covered from head to hoofed foot in green leaves. It had a long chin that was bearded with twigs and thistles. It opened its mouth revealing row upon row of long pointed thorn like teeth.

 

Derious backed away, raising his hands in appeasement. “I mean no harm”…

 

The yellow eyes blinked and rolled unnaturally, glaring down upon the man. It stepped forward tossing the axe to the ground. Outstretching a long branch like arm, the creature grabbed Derious by his tunic, its sharp green claws tearing the material as it threw him roughly against the wounded tree.

 

Derious scrambled to his feet, slipping in the pool of sap, and somehow managed to push past the tree sprite, not stopping to retrieve his trusted axe, Derious fled through the wood in blind panic.

 

The yellow eyes watched him run, and made no effort to pursue him, instead it laid its hands upon the ancient oak and screamed like a banshee.

 

Derious never looked back. He ran as if the devil was chasing him, he ran until the very breath in his body had almost left him, and only stopped when sunlight touched his face, and the meadows of flowing flowers fell crushed beneath his heavy booted feet.

 

Amelia sat quietly upon a rocking chair, cradling her baby in her arms. She fed the infant from her bottle, but the liquid inside was soon gone, and the little girl began to cry softly once more.

 

The cottage door was flung open, and Derious staggered through, he slammed it behind him, and slid the bolt across. “Bring me ale wife!” He shouted slumping down to his knees, his body trembling.

 

Amelia placed the baby gently upon the floor, her arms reaching up for her mother. “What’s happened husband?”.

 

Derious was in no mood to talk. “Just bring me ale woman, and be quick about it!”

 

The young woman opened a cupboard and lifted out a bottle and handed it to the hysterical man. “Are you hurt?”

 

He unscrewed the lid and began to gulp down the liquid. It dribbled from his lips and fell upon his torn tunic.

 

“Have you been brawling in the tavern again?” She asked disapprovingly.

 

“No” He belched as the gas welled quickly in his stomach. “I don’t want to discuss it”. He took several more swigs, and quickly emptied the bottle. “But if you want to eat today, you’ll have to go out with your basket”. He glared at his wife “It's mushrooms for dinner and supper today”.

 

Derious spent the rest of the morning hiding beneath the patchwork sheets upon his bed. He was trembling and shaking, too nervous to show his face to the world.

 

It was midday when there was a knock upon the cottage door. Slowly, and meekly he placed his bare feet upon the stone floor, and ignoring the cries of his baby daughter he stepped over her and opened it.

 

A strange lady dressed in green robes, with a hood pulled down over her face stood before him.  She carried a basket beneath her left arm, and a cloth covered the bulging contents.

 

 Derious was not very welcoming. “Who are you?” He said harshly. He was in no mood to speak to strangers.

      

“My name is Gwethen” She replied, “I am a herbalist, and I have goods to share”.

 

“Well, you’re in the wrong place, I have no money. All I have are mouths to feed and can offer you nothing”. He began to close the door.

 

Gwethen reached out a long spindly arm, and placed the palm of her hand upon the man’s chest.   “Wait, I ask for no money. I ask that you allow me inside, and let me show you what I may gift to you”.

 

“Gift to me?” He held the door and did not close it.  “You have something that will cost me nothing?”

 

Gwethen smiled beneath the hood. “I can make you powerful. I can give you a life longer than any man in Grimney”.

 

Derious smiled. “Then come in”. He stood aside, and the strange woman shuffled past him. “But try to trick me, and you’ll find that an axe head buried in your skull”.

 

Gwethen took a seat at the table, and placed the basket down upon it. “I have a magic potion” She said “A potion that will give you great strength, I ask for nothing in return”.

 

“Really?” Derious responded cynically sitting down at the table opposite her.  “Everything has a price. Why would you give me something for nothing?”

 

“Because you deserve what I have” Gwethen pulled back the cloth, and revealed several glass bottles containing clear white liquid. “The liquid in these bottles, are full of nature's goodness. They are the reason that trees live such long lives. If you drink this elixir, you too will live beyond the span of human life”.

 

“You might be trying to poison me. Then when I’m dead you’ll rob me blind”. Derious frowned and shook his head. “Why would you give me such a gift? After all in this life nothing is for free”.

 

"I believe we all get back what we give out"  Gwethen lifted a bottle from the basket and slid it across the tabletop “Then you may look, and not drink. Why would I steal from a man who has nothing? All you have is a wife and baby. Are they nothing to you also?”

 

"I need broader shoulders to carry them both. They are indeed a liability to me" Hesitating Derious lifted the bottle and stared through the glass at the contents. It looked like water. He uncorked it, and sniffed, it smelt of summer meadows.

 

“If you have no wish to drink, then return the potion now, and I shall leave. You will never know the mistake you made, and you will live and die as mortal man. If you choose to drink your shoulders will be able to carry any burden that is placed upon you”. Gwethen reached out her long fingers and curled them back and forth. “Return to me my magic potion and I will be gone”.

 

Derious shook his head. “No” He said firmly “If I drink this how much longer will I live exactly? How strong will I become?”

 

Gwethen smiled “Stronger than any man, and you will live for hundreds of years” She lowered her arm and placed the cloth back over the basket “Drink and grow stronger and more powerful than you could ever imagine”

 

Nervously Derious raised the bottle to his lips, and slowly he began to pour the contents into his mouth. It tasted salty sweet, and warmed his stomach as it slid down. Once the bottle was empty he wiped his lips upon his sleeve and smiled at the mysterious woman.

 

“Now what will happen?”… He asked placing the bottle upon the tabletop, and belching heavily "All I feel is indigestion". 

 

Gwethen began to chuckle, but her laughter was cold, and mocking, and as it increased Derious became more and more uncomfortable. She reached up her hands and threw back her hood. The face beneath was ghastly to behold. Her eyes were a piercing shade of yellow, and her skin was green in colour. A mass of curling brambles, and sharp thorns grew from her head.

 

Derious leapt from his chair and moved back against the wall. “You’re the creature from the forest”.

 

“I am the very same” She cackled, bearing her sharp curved teeth. “I am the Tree Guardian, a Wood Spirit. You tried to harm one of my children. Now you will learn a lesson of what it is like to suffer as they do”…

 

Gwethen’s body began to transform, her face began to change shape, and twigs began sprouting from her chin. Her robes split as leaves tore through the material. She grew taller and began to tower over the frightened man. “I’ll see you again boy. You know where to find me. You will come to me in time. You have much to learn about the nature of life”.

 

Derious fell to his knees and crawled beneath the table. He watched as Gwethen’s shadow passed over his little baby girl, but he was too afraid to move. He curled into a ball and buried his head, and when he looked again, Gwethen’s shadow had gone, and with a sigh of great relief he saw that his baby daughter had not been harmed, and that the Tree Spirit had left them both in peace.                

 

Amelia returned at sunset, her basket filled to the brim with mushrooms. She found her husband slumped at the table, his head resting upon it, empty bottles of beer lay scattered upon the floor, and the little baby lay amidst them.

 

“Dear Lord” She said, placing the basket upon a chair and picking up her daughter and hugging the infant to her breast. “This is no way for my child to live” She shook her husband’s shoulder and he sat up with a startled expression on his face.

 

“What has happened here husband? You’ve been drinking. Our child lies amidst all this” She said kicking away the bottles “Whilst you sleep drunkenly”.     

 

Derious rubbed his head with both hands. “I don’t feel well. I have problems of my own you know” His voice was soft, and he was in no mood to argue with the woman.

 

“We’re not your problem. We’re your family”.  She hugged the baby tightly and kissed her gently upon the forehead. “I cannot live like this. No fire to warm us. You’ve no love to give us. What will become of us?” Amelia began to sob.

 

“I’m having a bad day. I’m tired, and I need to sleep” Derious stood up slowly, his head throbbing. “She’s your child too. I’m a woodsman, not a baby sitter”.

“I know what you are, and I dread what you will become”. Amelia’s tears tumbled from her eyes. She continued to clutch her baby, and chose not to wipe them away.

 

“Don’t criticise me woman!” Derious shouted, waving his finger at her. “Without me there would be no baby, and you’d be nothing but an old maid. Look at you. Who’d have you? Be thankful that I gave you a roof over your head. That I provide wood for the fire”.

 

“Wood?” Amelia laughed hollowly. “What wood?”  She rocked the baby gently in her arms. “The day you do that I might thank you for it, but for now you’re good for nothing”.

 

Derious raised his hand, as if he was about to strike her.

 

“Hit me, and we will leave you” Amelia snapped. “I have nothing more to say. Go sleep off the drink”.

 

“Fine” He lowered his arm, and turned his back upon her. “One day, I’ll be someone you’ll look up to. I’m your husband, and I should be respected. One day I’ll be something great. Remember that. You mark my words woman. I will be great”

 

Derious stumbled across the room, and pushed open the door to the bed chamber. He felt nauseous and dizzy. Climbing into bed, he wrapped the covers around himself, in the morning, he thought, in the morning all would be better.

 

It was very late when Amelia climbed into bed beside her husband. He was wrapped tightly in the sheets, and she had to roll him to one side to unravel him. She pulled the covers over her shoulders and laid facing away from him. She was angry, but an overwhelming feeling of sadness consumed her. 

 

Derious was restless his dreams were not peaceful, and he began to groan. Amelia pulled a pillow tight around her ears. She had little sympathy for the drunken man. Beneath the covers she felt something sharp poking into her legs, and because of this moved further away. However, it was not long before she received another jolt in her ankle, this time she sat up and lit a candle that stood on a table by the bedside.

 

“Derious” She said poking him in the back with her finger “Derious, go and cut your toenails”.

 

“What is it wife?” Derious groaned, turning around to face her.

 

“You’re poking me in the leg with your toes”.  Amelia lifted the candle and held it up to her husband’s face.     

         

Derious looked peculiar. His skin had a strange green and brown tinge. “My toenails are fine” He replied wiping beads of sweat from his forehead and drying his hand on the sheet “I cut them this morning. What’re you talking about woman?”

 

Amelia moved the candle back and forth in front of her husband’s face “You’ve gone a funny colour. Go look in the mirror”. 

 

“Nonsense, it’s just the poor light” Derious threw back the sheets and swung his body around and placed his bare feet down upon the stone floor.

“Wife” He said uneasily, his voice cracking with emotion. “My feet, my toes, they have something growing on them”.

 

 “What like?” Amelia slid quickly out of bed and holding the palm of her hand against the flame to protect it, she crouched down next to her husband.

 

Several root like appendages had sprouted from his toes and they curled across the stone floor. “I’ve been cursed. Bring me some scissors” He lifted his feet, and brushed his fingers against them. “What’s happening to me?”

 

Amelia placed the candle upon the floor, and began to snip them. Derious flinched with pain, as the roots fell away, but as soon as she snipped them they began to grow again.

 

“I don’t know what to do husband”. She said in a trembling voice. “I’ll have to take you to the doctor in the morning”.

 

Derious, was not in the best of moods, he had spent the entire night cutting his toes free of the ever growing roots. He was barely able to slide on his boots, and as he gazed in the cracked mirror he could see that his skin was becoming dry and brown.

 

“We must go and see Doctor Fraven” Amelia said placing her hand upon her husband’s shoulder and squeezing it gently. “He may have some kind of solution”.

 

“What can he give me for this?” Derious retorted raising his hands to his face and looking down at them. Several long twigs had grown from his fingertips, and leaves were beginning to sprout from their buds.

 

“My God, I’m turning into a flower”.        

       

Amelia smiled uncomfortably. “Do you want me to prune you husband?”

 

“No” He said once more gazing at his reflection in the broken mirror. “I want the doctor to see me buds and all”.

 

Doctor Fraven looked grim, he stared across his desk, his puffy blue    eyes peering out over a pair of horn rimmed spectacles. He drummed his little fat fingers nervously, and seemed unable to blink.

 

“What I’m seeing is most unusual”. He said looking across at Derious’s curious face. The sick man’s skin had become coarser, and his hair had started to fall out leaving crusty brown patches.

 

Amelia and her husband sat opposite the baffled doctor hoping that he would at least have some solution to the problem.           

 

The Doctor looked thoughtful and smiled “Have you considered seeing a tree surgeon?”

 

Derious was furious and raised his hand, jabbing a leafy finger towards the so called medicine man.  “If that’s the best you can offer I’ll find my own solution”.

 

“It must be some sort of infection”. The Doctor scratched the top of his bald head, and then stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Have you encountered anyone else exhibiting your symptoms?”

 

Derious snapped several twigs from the tips of his fingers, causing Amelia to shudder “Don’t be ridiculous” He said, tossing the twigs away in angry frustration “I’ll find my own solutions. I know precisely what I have to do. I know precisely where I have to go. You can do nothing for me”. He reached across and grabbed his wife by the hand.

 

“We have to go to Haunted Hill”.

 

Amelia was uncomfortable with the idea, and equally uncomfortable with her husband’s touch. His skin no longer felt natural, it was cold and dry, and made her palm itch, perhaps she was becoming allergic to him?

 

Doctor Fraven bowed his bald head, and raised his hands. He did not like the tone of the man’s voice, but he accepted that he do could nothing to help, and bowing out of the situation seemed like the wisest thing for him to do.

 

The wheelbarrow had seen better days and its warped wooden panels were riddled with worm. Amelia had considered chopping it up and using it for firewood. It was fortunate that she had not chosen to do this because it now had a new cargo to carry.

 

Derious was slumped inside, his legs and arms hanging limply over the sides. The sunlight shone down upon him drying his dull brown and green skin. His hair had completely fallen out, and in its place there was a briar of tangled twigs and thorns, a scattering of leaves curled around his crusty ears, and his green eyes welled with tears.     

 

Amelia lifted the wooden handles and the wheels creaked with the strain. She took several deep breaths and began to push.

 

“I’m worried about our baby”. She said puffing out her cheeks. “Do you think that Kobe will look after her properly?” 

 

Derious looked irritated by the remark. “Typical. I’m turning into a thistle bush, and you’re worried about that baby”.

 

“It’s natural that I should be concerned about our child husband”. Amelia was in no mood for such selfishness, and deliberately rolled the barrow wheels over a cluster of large rocks.

 

“Careful woman!” Derious shouted as his whole body shuddered. “Are you trying to break my back?” 

 

Derious reached his leafy fingers into his torn tunic and clumsily lifted a flask of water to his dry lips. He gulped down the contents and tossed the bottle aside, shattering it upon the rocks.

 

Amelia dropped the handles, and placed her hands upon her hips. “You’ve drank all the water. What about me? I’m thirsty too’.

 

“My insides are wood dry. My need is greater than yours. Just push. We need to reach Haunted Hill” He gazed at the palms of his hands. His skin was layered with a substance similar to that of bark.

 

“Time is running out for me wife”. He squeezed his hands shut, and brown flakes tumbled upon his tunic. He brushed them away and closed his sad eyes. “Why am I the victim of such a wicked curse?” 

 

The two red suns began to descend and the light was fading. Dark shadows fell across Haunted Hill, and the tall trees, thick with their bowing branches groaned gently against the wind.

 

Amelia hesitated. Her eyes widening with fear “You want to go into the forest?”

 

“I can barely walk” Derious replied, gazing down at his booted feet. The leather was swelling, and beginning to split, the roots were trying to tear through. “Yes” He nodded painfully, the brown skin on his neck crumbling away. “It’s here we’ll find the solution to the problem. So just push”.

 

The trees seemed alive, great monsters in the dark, wrapped in veils of twisting shadow, their branches intertwining like spider web.

 

Amelia was afraid, but she continued to push the wheel barrow, and its one wheel creaked eerily.

 

The yellow eyes were watching, following the uninvited guests as they moved deeper into the wood.

 

“Stop!” Derious shouted.

 

“What is it?” Amelia’s eyes darted back and forth, drawing light from wherever she could.        

 

The ancient tree stood before them, its wounds weeping sap. Derious’s axe lay nearby bound into the undergrowth with twisting weeds.

 

“Get my axe” He demanded.

 

“Yes husband”. Amelia went down upon her hands and knees and began to rip away the foliage that held it.

 

“Gwethen!” Derious shouted, his voice drying in his throat.

 

Amelia lifted the axe in her bleeding hands, the weeds had not given up their prize without a fight.

 

“So”. A cold harsh voice echoed from behind the tree. Gwethen stepped out, and stood tall upon her arched hoofed feet. “You came as I thought you would”.

 

Amelia stepped back, holding the axe against her chest. “Who are you?” She asked, her voice trembling with fear.

 

The Tree Sprite bared her many curved teeth into a twisted smile. “I am Gwethen. The Guardian of this forest and you are trespassing”.

 

“Cure me”. Derious demanded trying to sit upright in the wheelbarrow in a hopeless attempt to appear taller.

 

“You are cured. You are becoming what you deserve to be. Now take your place in the forest where you belong” Gwethen glared menacingly at Amelia. “As for you be gone, or you will feed the soil about your feet with your remains”.  

 

Amelia gazed briefly at her husband. “I’m sorry husband but I have a child to care for” She lifted her skirts, and turning on her heels she fled from the forest.  

      

Gwethen laughed uproariously. The leaves that covered her face rustled and her yellow eyes fell upon the helpless man.

 

“You wanted a long life, you wanted power, and beauty, this you may have, now rise and take your place in the forest”.

Derious, tipped himself out of the wheelbarrow and attempted to crawl across the ground. He heard the sound of his leather boots splitting, and screamed as the roots growing from his toes embedded themselves into the earth.

 

Gwethen watched as the helpless man was forced into an upright position, the roots wrapping themselves tightly around his ankles. He tried to bend forward and pull at them, but his skin began to tear through his clothes, and layers of bark began to spread all over him.

 

“Help me!” He screamed as branches began to sprout from his neck, he reached up his hands and tried to snap them, but as quickly as they broke away more branches began to form. Buds opened, and leaves unfurled. He outstretched his arms and they too became rigid as layer upon layer of thick bark wrapped around them.

 

Gwethen’s ghastly laughter echoed through the forest.

 

Amelia did not look back, she fled as fast as she could, whatever fate had befallen her husband she had no wish to join him.        

    

The following morning, all seemed normal. The birds sang and the two red suns glowed. The air was crisp, and the meadows danced with life, and nature’s wonderment.

 

Amelia walked alongside Matlock and Kobe, they were both carrying axes. The forest on Haunted Hill as always seemed unnaturally quiet, but as they ventured deeper they could hear sobbing.

 

A new tree had grown overnight, tall and magnificent, and it stood alone in a clearing.

 

Amelia approached nervously and placed her ear against the bark. She could hear a heartbeat frantically pounding inside. The sound of crying was also more distinctive. Stepping back she gazed up at the towering branches.

 

Two green eyes surrounded by thick bark looked down upon her and the tree’s eyes were weeping sap.

 

Amelia smiled and gestured to Matlock and Kobe “This is the one I want”.

 

Matlock and Kobe stepped forward and began to swing their axes against the tree. With each swing the sobbing grew fainter, until it faded into eerie silence.     

 

That night Amelia sat in her rocking chair, cradling her baby gently in her arms. The little infant was happy and giggling contentedly.     

 

Amelia smiled and gazed at the crackling fire blazing away in the hearth. It was filled to the brim with burning logs.

 

“Dear husband, you finally kept your word. At last you’ve given me wood for the fire”. Amelia rocked her chair back and forth, and with a wry smile, she began to chuckle to herself.

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Grimnian 2011

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