Short Stories Writing Challenges

The Dark Heart of the Forest

In this 45 minute writing challenge I had one goal. Find a random image online, have 45 minutes to write it and then see what happened. (Oh I did have five minutes to edit). By the way those of you who enjoy all things arboreal, you might want to consider being careful in the woods, especially at night.

45 minute writing challenge:

In this 45 minute writing challenge I had one goal. Find a random image online, have 45 minutes to write it and then see what happened. (Oh I did have five minutes to edit). By the way those of you who enjoy all things arboreal, you might want to consider being careful in the woods, especially at night.

There is a land that for years beyond counting has been at the heart of all that is considered childish and delightful. The place of wonder and hope, one that captivates us all. We have sanitised it, made it safe for those who would look upon this Sylvanian paradise. For children, it is the place of adventure where people go on grand tours and chase the pixies.

Throughout history these forests have been the places we wish to escape too, the fairytale imagination of heroes and woodcutters and wolves made safe by the blade and steel of man. Something to be tamed, something that has been tamed. This is the safe part of the forest. A place that has, we hope, become less than a reflective shadow; barely hinting at the power that it once contained. There was once a time when we did not imagine this cool green space, dappled shade and hues of green safe. A place where we now sit in circles with families sharing food and laughter.

It is interesting how we only share this in the daytime, in the light. Oh yes, I know you, you were one of the brave ones who laughed in the night-time with friends, feeling safe and secure. You were still by the light, near the fire. You did not want to leave the fire did you? To expel the water from your bladder, not into the night, the real night. The night away from the light and heat of the orange interloper and your braying companions.

Who am I to know such things? Who am I to know what lies in the hearts of people? Their real hearts, not the ones they show to the outside world, that of the sophisticated species that talks and feels and takes what it wants from the earth, sea and even the sky. I think people have a word for it, many words for what I am but you do not utter them. I have seen the woods shrink and decay, I come from the dark places of the world, the gnarled root growing under stone. I reach and can feel the change in the land, the mockery and derision you place on that you do not understand. I have taken some of you before. The ones who looked into branches and felt fear.

They felt fear and respect in the dangers of the leaves and the teeth of the other animals of the forest. They knew, they respected.

“Oh my God, can you believe this shit?” It was a voice incredulous and slurred. “People honestly believed this shit.”

“Yes I know,” an exasperated tone, “but it was just a story.”

“But the forest being alive.” A deep laugh. “What a stupid,” he did not finish the sentence. Harvey’s mind was drawn away, with a flick he produced a knife and stabbed it into a tree trunk. “Got it.” In triumph as his fist balled and pumped to and fro.

It was hard to tell with the now split features of the skull, small grey weeping from the cavernous wound.

Pinned to the tree was a small creature, Ray was not too sure what it was, it was wriggling and furry and small. It was hard to tell with the now split features of the skull, small grey weeping from the cavernous wound. It was nervous reflexes now, he was sure of it, but the damn thing would not stop moving, bile had suddenly appeared in his mouth and nose, burning and choking him.

Harvey laughed again. “Oh, come on you pussy.”

A third voice tittered behind them. “It’s only a… well whatever it is there’s one less now.” Gwen was always being a cunt to Ray. She stepped gracefully passed the pair. “Come on, not far now, we can catch up to the rest.” It was a command more than anything else.

Ray wondered why, well passed being teens they still had taken this trip, the one in the woods. Well he knew why, felt obliged to come. They all did, well he thought to himself, this would be the last time. They could all go fuck themselves.

“Ray, present for you,” in one smooth motion Harvey grasped the short, fat knife levered it out of the stump and cleaved head of the woodland creature and in a zorro like display of dexterity had wiped the sides leaving a thin red X on Ray’s shoulder.

“You dick, go fuck yourself.” Harvey bayed with laughter, just like when he had gotten a reaction similar to this one out of Ray when they were younger. The bile had returned, Ray did not even reach for the cylinder of tightly rolled paper, wanting to cut and burn into it. But worried that the taste would make him vomit.

The three moved through the forest’s path, littering the way with rude words. Ray looked down and tutted, it was almost a by product of working as a teacher. He carefully picked up the wrappers that had been dumped out of Harvey’s pocket and trundled along behind them.

Unnoticed by any human. The tiny creature had stopped moving, the retrieval of the knife had caused it to slowly tumble end over end to the loam floor of the wood. Imperceptibly, it began to move. Surely it did not still live. No, Tendrils that could have been mistaken for smoke or shadow snaked and wrapped around the small body, causing it to sink like a ship into the rich dirt, covering it so that it would be seen no more. With a soft sound they formed and reformed across a tree branch. Just for a second it looked as if some spectral hand was holding a rigid finger to barked lips. If you caught it at the right time, the wind in the trees made a perfect facsimile of a shush.

The camp was a place of sound and laughter, night had drawn in as the trio approached the happy gathering. There were six men and eight women. All friends from school who had drifted apart until now. Now they were adults, they had married, had children done all the grown-up things that were expected of them. That was until now. Something collective had drawn them back here to this place. The place that had fed their imaginations when younger. Fed seemed to be an appropriate word.

“God I cannot believe we all made it,” a female voice commented in a low tone, almost a whisper. Flames flicked amongst the group sitting on logs and staring deep into the blaze. They watched the dance of yellow, red and orange, all the while dark at the centre, ashen. They did not notice how much murkier it was at the edges of that delicate circle of light.

Harvey was already drunk and stood in the circle, expecting, as he always did an audience. “So, we know why we are here…” The words were slurred and broken, was he drunk or emotional or both? He seemed trapped in a garden of shadows, the light not quite reaching all parts of his face. “Hang on I need a piss.” He edged to the end of the pool of light and ducked behind a tree.

Ray sighed, he had not drunk anything but smoked something he should not have done. “You okay?” A voice he had not heard for a long time, since… “Ray, you okay?” the voice repeated knowing he had not really acknowledged her the first time. She was the same, Beth, never changing in his eyes. She smiled and he did back. He knew nothing would happen, despite wanting it to. Still, he could imagine.

“Fine, just, you know since…”

The night went on people talked. Had this been a film or movie, people would have drunkenly paired off. No one did. Simply sleeping in their own tents. One tent remained empty. Harvey had not returned. No one had missed him. He had passed out pissing behind a bush. The warm urine running cold on his trouser leg. He did not notice.

Night insects investigated him, he felt one crawl on his face, his subconscious waking him, warning him something was there. He sluggishly woke up and flicked a hand to the scurrying thing.

The moonlight was playing tricks. He saw shadows, like long fingers across his legs. He made to move but could not.

That was not completely true, he moved, his legs did not. The tendrils had him fast. His brain, sluggish as it was thought to panic, he reached a hand to the pocket where the knife was and freed the steel, it hissed through the air at the ropes of shadow. Nothing just a vicious warmth spreading across his thigh. He was too dumbfounded to speak. Even to scream as his body went into shock. His mouth a perfect O suddenly was filled with the inky black. He never breathed in again as the ground shifted beneath him.

The tendrils snaked around the camp, it certainly was darker than you would expect. If you looked closely, the observant amongst you would notice that the ring was tightening with the dying of the fire.

Gwen would be next. She did manage an utterance before she was, well before she was gone. Now it was a question of what would come first sunrise and the safety of dappled green light or the death of the fire. Mankind’s orange hope.

You wish to hear of the forest and its dangers? Who am I you ask? I am the thing that lives in the dark places and feeds, the thing animals learn to avoid and run skittering into the light place. I am the one you have forgotten.

I am the one however, who remembers. I am waiting for you.

By magpiestories

An English teacher by trade, an author at heart, it only took a global pandemic for me to start writing my first novel. Along the way, I found a love for creating shorter fiction which I share on this site along with some updates and (hopefully) useful writing tips.

I hope you have a... pleasant time reading.

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