Deep in the forest


A story written far too late at night

As her parents set up camp at the edge of the forest, Nia peered into the darkness below the leaves. There was an energy there, thrumming through the ground and air, something unlike anything she’d felt before.

She looked back at her parents struggling with the big tent, their faces scrunched in irritation, but in their eyes the light of excitement. They’ve never been in a place like this before. The only thing that came close in Nia’s mind would be their trip to Loch Ness.

They’d stayed there for a month before moving on in search of other legendary creatures. Nia hoped they would stay here just as long.

Realising it would be a while before her parents could join her in exploring, Nia set off on her own. She easily crawled underneath the shrubbery separating the camp-site from the forest. She found herself completely engulfed by the shadows cast by the trees. A faint chill raised the skin on her arms. She looked behind her, but she didn’t want to crawl back again for her vest. She shook herself. It was only a slight chill, nothing she wouldn’t get used to after a bit of walking.

The energy of the forest thrummed around her, the sensation bleeding into her sight. She could almost feel the flow of it through the towering trees, sensed it in the earth beneath her feet, following roots and underground streams.

Her steps were sure on the spongy pine covered ground. Forests weren’t new to her, even if the energy was. She stopped at a young tree, the bark peeled off at the base. She wondered what animals lived here.

Further on, she stopped again by a different tree, this one with its bark intact. She examined the mushrooms growing around the base. She’d taken an interest in mushrooms this year and had memorised all the books she could find about them at school. She didn’t recognised these mushrooms though.

A ding rang through the quiet atmosphere. Although not pleasant, the high pitched sound was the best option her watch had. Much better than the standard beeps. It reminded her a bit of shrill bird-song. She realised something then that she should have much earlier; the forest was quiet.

No birds.

She retraced her steps back to the campsite a bit faster than normal.

Her parents didn’t feel the energy the same way she did. They nodded at her in that way adults do when you explain a drawing or tell them about the war you had during recess. Nia didn’t bother trying again after that. As long as they let her explore, she didn’t mind if they didn’t understand.

Nia expected her feet would lead her to where the energy was strongest, or where it moved fastest, or where it curled between the trees like a dancer. Instead she found herself drawn to the mushrooms.

They moved.

They grew.

They spread.

They were very very alive. So alive, that Nia began to believe they were intelligent.

So she talked to them.

And the mushrooms talked back.

Tendrils broke the earth around their stems and reached for her. They moved slowly, carefully. Nia watched them with only curiosity. When one came close enough, she reached her own hand out and touched one.

The moment she did they sprang into motion. Her scream of terror was garbled and cut off, as in less than a second they to obscured Nia’s vision completely. Everything went black.

She woke feeling cold. The forest was dark around her. The energy flowed between the trees, carried by a slow wind. With it it carried whispers. They echoed through her mind, wisps of words she couldn’t make out. She struggled to her feet. It was too dark to see her watch.

The wind caressed her hair, another whisper filled her mind. There was a power within the forest. A being with power so bright- She stumbled in the direction her eyes had been guided in. The wind and with it the energy, following her and correcting her way if she drifted to the side.

There was a track here made by some animal. She felt the power in the distance, deep in the forest where the whispers wanted her to be. She followed.

The next moment, the power was close. She felt the strain in her legs and knew she must have been walking for a while. The pushed through the bushes into a clearing and saw it. A golden horse foal, so bright with power Nia thought it actually glowed.

The foal turned to her when it heard her. Intelligent eyes settle on her. Was that concern? But not for itself, no, concern for Nia. It trotted over, golden coat shimmering in the faint starlight and nudged her arm. She petted it, feeling the softness under her fingers. It turned its head just so her fingers rested on its snout and licked her hand.

Her mind is set ablaze.

She’s blinded, deafened by the roar of the flames. The forest burns with her, the whispers turning to desperate screams. End it, they scream, end the flames, end the fire, end the blinding power that caused this.

Power shoots out of her in all directions, her own magic slashing out with purpose, ripping the cursed creature apart. But the burning doesn’t end. It continues to rage within and around her, agony blazing through her nerves, roaring among the whispers turned screams.

The power, they scream, it leaks!

Somehow her hands find the mangled corpse beside her. Somehow, her mouth finds the torn skin. Somehow, she manages to swallow.

The burning stops, is replaced by a deep freezing cold. The cold hooks into the tattered remains of her magic, seeps into her burned out mind. The last thing she feels before darkness overtakes her again is the cold reaching something in her chest.

When she finally stumbled out of the forest, covered in a silver substance and feeling so very cold, she found herself wrapped in the arms of her mother sobbing in relief. She’d been gone for a week and her parents had been worried sick.

Beyond her mothers sobs and the gentle voice of her father, she heard the whispers from the forest.

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