The Guardian. Short Story.

Janice leaned on the desk, staring out the window. They were cutting them all down every last one. Good. The buzz of chainsaws wasn’t as loud or as harsh as she had been expecting. It was almost gentle and soothing. She leaned her forehead against the cold glass and angled her face so she could see as far as possible either side. A line of men in hi-vis jackets moved slowly forward, marking trees, cutting down others. Groups of men stood around large wood chippers, feeding branches to the machine, which would whine angrily and spit out tiny clouds of sawdust. She had wanted those woods gone for a long, long time and now it was finally happening. Years of letters and campaigning and many plans as to how she could do it herself. She had reached her breaking point the week before, her plans would come to fruition one way or the other and if that required a well placed and timely forest fire, then so be it. The letter telling her that the forest would be coming down arrived that morning.

 

People had told her she was wrong, that if they woods were so terrible she should move. Asking why she would want to live near them when something so terrible had happened there, but she wouldn’t move. She couldn’t allow herself to forget. Every morning she would stand at the window and stare out at them, making herself remember. If she forget she would be as bad as those who blamed her brother for his death. Janice wouldn’t allow the forest to continue on as it was, and to do that she needed the burning anger that came every time she looked upon it.
She smiled as another tree fell. People had been against her for so long, but those woods were a dark and terrible place. So many people had their lives shattered in those woods, countless generations had feared those woods, staying far, far away. But people began to forget that the woods were dangerous, they started to venture in them. The deaths started soon after. They were considered accidents. A child, falling from a tree or eating poisoned berries, a man slipping into the river and drowning, a woman falling down a steep hill and hitting her head on a rock. It was all easily explained, all terrible, all accidents. No one would believe her. She had seen what happened to her brother, she had seen they weren’t accidents.
Janice was five when her brother died. They were playing in the woods, hide and seek. Janice was hiding, Tom was seeking. She had been hiding in some bushes, trying to stifle giggles as he moved through the nearby clearing. She hadn’t heard the old man approaching, neither had her brother. The old man squatted down beside Tom, Janice couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she was afraid, too afraid to call out or run. Tom didn’t seem afraid though, he smiled as the old man talked, nodded and reached out, taking some small, dark berries from the old mans hand. The old man kept talking and smiling, even laughing once or twice, a deep and soothing laugh that haunted Janice’s dreams. She watched as Tom ate one of the berries, chewing slowly, savouring and smiling. The old man nodded encouragingly and Tom ate another, then another. He dropped the berries and fell to the ground, shivering and shaking. The old man didn’t move to help him, he kept talking. Tom reached out for the berries and put another in his mouth. Then another until he could no longer make his fingers take them. She watched as her brother convulsed, as foam frothed from his mouth. The old man reached out and patted Tom’s head, smoothing some hair away from his face. Then he stood. When he did his skin started to change, turning to mottled brown and grey, his clothes changing to bright green vines, gone was the black suit. He seemed to grow taller, elongating, his fingers growing thin and strong looking. Then he turned his head and looked at her. Their eyes met only briefly, they were a deep, dark grey, like stones at the bottom of a river. He smiled at her, and Janice fled.

They said it was an accident. No one believed her. No one would listen, but Janice knew. She knew it was the woods.

 

Sudden screams pulled Janice from her memories, a man was on the ground, bright red blood spurting from his leg, beside him was a chainsaw, still buzzing. Another scream went out, Janice saw another man in a bright yellow jacket, half crushed by a tree. People ran, trying to help. Janice scanned them all, looking for him.

He was halfway between the two, looking angry, but pleased. The old man in the suit. Janice’s heart started to hammer wildly in her chest, she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Then he turned and looked at her. Then he smiled, cold and harsh and raised one arm in a wave. Janice threw herself backwards from the window, gasping for air. Behind her something shattered, she spun and saw a broken vase, the flowers were gone, replaced by green vines, stretching outwards, reaching for her. She let out a shriek, but before she could stand one wrapped itself around her ankle. She reached out, trying to pull it off, break it apart, it was too thick, too strong. She let out another scream of pain as her ankle broke. The vine twitched, pulling her closer as more wrapped around her. Then the man was in the room, standing beside her, smiling.

 

When Janice was dropped out of the open window she was smiling. The ground rushed up to meet her and she knew no more. The old man stood in her room, smiling down at the body. The men would give up soon, the forest would be left alone, it would endure. It always had.

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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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