[WP] I’ve heard of stories of the monsters that lurked in the dark, creatures that would rip you apart mercilessly in a heartbeat. But when my father, the last of my family, had an axe split through his skull by a band of killers, I realized I had nothing left to lose by fleeing into the shadows.
The line of trees ahead of me are back-lit by the brightest full moon I’ve ever witnessed. As I flee my father’s killers, the shadows of the haunted wood seem to reach towards me. We rapidly approach on a collision course and I’m forced to wonder if I’m only trading one demise for another.
I spare a backwards glance as I break the threshold. Torchlights bound across the darkened field as they pursue. My fear for my life is the only means that pushed me into this place. Let us hope their blood-lust doesn’t also rise to the task.
All aid of the moon’s light abandons me as the treetop canopy robs me of illumination. With hands outstretched, I barrel through branches and barbs alike. My stride is high kneed as my footing becomes unsure and awkward. My shirt snags on something. I spin, then tumble through the underbrush. All is still for a moment and I strain to listen for my pursers.
“Spread out! He can’t have gone far!”
“B-but… this is the haunted–“
“Enough of that nonsense. No such thing. You know the boss’s rule. No witness. Now get in there and root him out.”
Still they come? Was it not enough to rob me of my family, my home? With my head pressed into the forest floor, them bursting through our front door replays through my mind. Just do as we say, they said. No one will get hurt, they promised… they lied. I picture the axe falling from behind my father and the plea in his eyes, urging me to run. My teeth are forced together as a tear is forced out of my eye.
I look back towards the voices, then sit up as my will firms. The trees ahead of me become back-lit by torchlight but my vision is adjusting to the dark and I won’t need it to see. I unsheathe the blade that is strapped across my back and melt further into the shadows. I can’t speak to whether or not this forest can kill but it will contain death this night. I’ll run no longer.
The group of torchbearers make their way through the woods, nervous looks on all of their faces. A branch breaks just outside of their torchlight. They all orient on the sound, then another sound makes them do a 180.
One of their number is collapsing to his knees, the torch drops in front of him as he grasps at a blood fountain in his neck. The other men back away from their comrade as he collapses, face down.
There are just the three of them now. They each make frantic turns, grasping their torch and waving it as if to bat away the darkness.
The moment’s soundtrack is that of flickering flames, frantic breathing, and their own heartbeats that sound as though they are beating against their eardrums. The symphony is interrupted by a new whirling sound as two of the three turn towards it. The third’s head rocks to the side as a blade plunges into his temple, where he immediately falls like a felled tree.
One of the last two survivors takes off running in another direction. Only a few moments pass before his outcry is cut short. The last of the men stands firm, his torch in one hand and a hatchet in the other. Blood still drips off the weapon’s edge. His eyes play tricks on him as shapes seem to form outside of his torchlight.
“I know you’re there! Show yourself!”
As if to answer his command, a shape steps into the survivor’s torchlight and then walks past him. It’s the boy they were pursuing. He’s covered in blood and doesn’t acknowledge the torchbearer as he walks over and crouches next to the knife bearer. He takes hold of the handle and pauses.
“I suppose I should thank all of you.” He wrenches the blade back and forth before prying it from the corpse’s skull. “Fleeing into these woods.” He waves the blood drenched blade as he gestures around them. The dropped torches have set the ground on fire and it now illuminates the entire area around them. “Killing all of your men…it made me remember something…something important.” He smacks the wet blade against the flat of his hand. “You see that wasn’t my father…not my real one anyways. He found me out here when I was younger. When you killed him, I thought you had driven me from my home but instead, you drove me back to it. So I guess I should thank you. Please, allow me this parting gift.”
The torch’s flame seems to flicker in a great gust of wind and suddenly the boy is behind the torchbearer. The torch falls from his hand, then he collapses to his knees, the impact causing his head to tumble loosely across the forest floor. The boy’s silhouette then disappears from the fire’s glow.