Beneath the trees. Short story.

The trees were swaying in the wind, back and forth, dancing to and fro. Their leaves rustling together, almost as though the trees were talking and laughing. Taking part in some divine festivity only they were aware of. The sun bathed their branches, leaving them warm to the touch. Nearby a river rushed passed, paying no heed to the dancing trees, it continued on its journey as though carrying an urgent message to a master far out to sea. Sunlight bounced off its surface, glittering in the tiny currents and waves that populated the river.

The calm and order of the place lulled visitors, relaxing them as they walked, or picnicked. The pleasant days gave no indication of the terrible nights that passed. Of the evils that stalked the forest and of the obscene celebrations they would hold. Leaping and dancing, screeching and laughing. They would feast on a thousand delicacies, foods too rare and wonderful for man. They would sing songs that were sweet and would draw all those who heard them. Bringing them closer until they wandered into their party, uninvited, and were set upon by claws and teeth and biting things. nothing to mark their passage from life into the darkness, the only evidence of their presence were the small flowers that would bloom the next morning, where their blood had fallen, but by nightfall, these flowers would already have withered and died.

When the first rays of light began to grace the world with their presence, waking those from slumber, the creatures would flee in terror, ending their festivities; they would dive into their dark places beneath the ground, to escape. The sunlight on their skin burned their flesh and melted it from their bones. They resented those that could walk unharmed in the daylight, those who could frolic freely to their hearts content both day and night.

Once they had been able to walk in the light, unhindered and unharmed, they would cavort throughout the day and into the night, resting only briefly before starting again.

A beautiful youth was walking through the woods, when he heard their singing, he began to follow the sweet sound to find its source.

He wandered amongst them unseen for a time as already their minds were twisted from the poisonous concoctions they consumed.  At first he remained quiet, content merely to listen, until he became drunk from the sweet melodies, and he began to join in. They accepted him in their games for a time, before realising he was not one of them. In their horror and fright, they attacked him, ripping him apart. As they were bathed in his warm blood a frenzy took hold, they grabbed and fought for the meat, cleaning the bones before consuming them too. Once they had finished, they continued their celebrations, coated and covered in gore. Unknown to them, the youth was the son of a great king who sent out messengers to every corner of the world to try and find him.

News had spread that the youth was seen wandering into the forest and despite warnings from many to stay away, the king’s messengers entered the forest.

Of the ten that entered, only one returned. He was delirious from fever, his many wounds infected. As he lay dying he told those looking after him of what he saw and what he suspected had happened to the prince.

When the king heard news of this his anger was great and terrible. He amassed a giant army in which to destroy the vile creatures and the place they called home. His army marched day and night, the ground shaking beneath their feet until they arrived at the forests edge. There the king gave orders for the forest to be destroyed.

The flames took hold of the forest quickly, devouring everything it could, sending animals fleeing, trying in vain to outrun the spreading flames. The smoke was thick and heavy, filling the sky and blotting out the sun, shrouding the surrounding lands in darkness. The creatures enjoyed the destruction, teasing the flames, darting closer before twirling away. The fire, enraged by their calls and jeers raced faster, the creatures, seeing the fires rage began to fear him. Their dancing turned to running, their jeers to panting breaths as they tried to escape the flames.

The fires burned for twenty days, but still the creatures survived. The rivers ran black with ash, the smoke turned days into night. Burnt and twisted the creatures howled for vengeance and invoked the ancient gods of the forest. The king’s men marched through the wreckage, killing everything in their path, animals or creatures, dying or healthy. Each was destroyed. Still not satisfied, the king ordered that the earth be salted so nothing would ever grow in the accursed land again. After the lands had been salted, the army began their march home. Each was covered in soot and ash, almost invisible in the darkness that surrounded them. As they marched the ground rumbled, then cracked. They were used to their marching causing the land to shake and paid no heed, few noticing as the rumbling became louder. The earth groaned as the land twisted and spewed forth walls, surrounding and trapping the warriors and their king. Though they had stopped marching the rumbling continued. A great river rose from the depths of the earth and flowed through the destroyed land, the vast wave washing away the salt. Once the forest was clear, the water became a great, winding river, which continued to flow in the direction the king had come. The walls around them began to crack and crumble, and the men began to fear, they prayed they wouldn’t be washed away in the torrent and cursed their king for leading them to destruction.

When the walls had crumbled, they looked around in awe, the forest had begun to grow once more, threes sprouted from the ground, growing tall and mighty before their eyes. From the darkness strode the gods, great beings bathed in light, their eyes aflame. Beneath their gaze the army trembled and gibbered. The king, reckless and bold, strode out to meet them. “I am the king of the greatest city in the word, I control this army and I have ordered them to destroy this place. They acted under my orders and as such, they are not at fault.” Their attention shifted from the army to him, “why have you done this? Committed such a heinous act?” “The forest was home to evil creatures, depraved beings that destroyed my son and in repayment, I wanted to destroy their homes and their lives.” “The creatures lived in the forest, but it was not their home, it was ours. You have destroyed that which is precious to us and we have done the same to you. Your kingdom, once the greatest in all the world has been destroyed, its people dead, in a hundred years its existence will be forgotten, no one will remember you, or the greatness of your city, drowned beneath the waves of salty water. You had completed your task when you destroyed their home, but you salted the earth. We could have forgiven you had you not committed this act. We did not know of the creature’s sins, but you tried to destroy our realm permanently. For that you and your people shall suffer. Already those of your city have been cast down into the realm of the death gods. Who will see to it they are justly punished for your actions as you acted on all of their behalf.” “Please, no, they are not responsible for what has happened here” “but they are. You are their leader, you represent them, you committed acts of atrocity, as did they. Once their punishment has ended they will be judged on their own merits. Though many will have gone mad and will forever be locked in torment.” Behind him came the sounds of screams and tearing flesh, he turned to look at his army and saw them on the ground, a heaving mass, ripping at their skin. “Please, stop, what are you doing to them?” “They are becoming that which you tried to destroy. We cannot stop it, they were infected while marching through the ashes. This too is your fault.” “What of me? What is my punishment?” “You shall become a powerless god. You will live forever knowing of what you have done to these people and those under your command. You will be doomed to wander the earth alone and broken for all eternity. You will know of every pain that your people endure. You will feel every lash of the whip, every torture. You will hear every anguished cry and be unable to stop it. You will be responsible for the creatures you tried to destroy. Every life lost will be a life lost due to you. You will be unable to intervene or stop them. You will only be able to observe.” The king dropped to his knees to beg, but the gods had turned their backs and began to walk away. His army once faithful, now twisted, set upon him, ripping him apart. So ferocious were they that parts of his flesh flew up into the heavens, taking their place in the sky as stars, so they could watch for all eternity but unable to help. Part of him was cast into the realm of the death gods where he was forced to watch the torture of his once loyal subjects. Parts of him that were consumed lived on inside the creatures forever forced to endure their evil deeds. And his spirit, the last part, the part that could not be consumed, was tied to earth, where he was forced to wander alone. Aware of each part of him but unable to reassemble his body or stop the pain. The gods had lied to him. His people had not been killed yet. He watched helplessly from the heavens as the great wave washed over his city, frothing and bubbling, as people vainly tried to flee the waters wrath. The river continued to flow, filling the area with water, creating a deep sea from which dark creatures rose, created from the spirits of those who hated their king and sought revenge.

The kings army was further punished, from them was taken the day, the sun would burn their skin. As they cavorted with the other creatures, the sickness spread and soon none could venture into the light. The smoke cleared from the sky, the rivers ran clear, the forest was reborn, the gods returned to their slumber, and the creatures continued their insane rituals, their hatred growing.

Though the trees of the forest grew back, taller and greater than before, the area was never used for logging, no hunters dared to stalk the woods, there was something worse than their guns and bullets, things which would not take kindly to their intrusion. During the day, the beasts were held at bay, but at night, they were free to reign.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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