The Woods. Short Story.

Henry was walking through the woods when he noticed the strange spot on the tree. Just moments ago he had been lost in his own world, thinking about the fight he and Sarah had just had. He didn’t notice the tree root sticking out of the soil and he tripped, stumbled then grabbed onto a tree. He looked down at the root then shook his head slightly, heart still hammering. He should have been paying more attention. He knew better than to storm through the woods angrily. He could have tripped and broken his ankle, then where would he be? Stranded in the woods until he either dragged himself back or someone stumbled across him. Stupid. He had left his phone sitting on the kitchen counter, right beside his keys. He groaned, he’d have to knock on the door now so she could let him back in. Wouldn’t that be a laugh? He could always knock in to next door and ask for the spare, but then they’d know that he and Sarah had been fighting. If they didn’t know all ready. They had shouted a little, not a lot, but enough. He let go of the tree and stepped back, well, the entire point of getting out here was to calm himself down and it did seem to be working. Already he had forgotten about what had started the argument. It was probably something stupid, it always was when Sarah got like that. Picking fights for the sake of fighting. Usually Henry just kept out of her way when it happened, it seemed easier for everyone, but she had ambushed him when he came in from work.

Henry leaned against the tree again and took a few slow breaths, considering if he wanted to go to the pub for a pint or two. Not enough to get drunk, but enough to mellow him out a little and by the time he was done in an hour or so Sarah would have calmed herself down. It would solve the problem of getting back in. He could see it now, that look she got when she was sorry and didn’t really want to admit it, that embarrassed little half smile when she was ashamed by what she had done or said. He shook his head again, it was cute, but it was starting to grate on him. They needed to sit down and have a proper discussion about it all. He loved her, but he didn’t want to come home every day worried that she was going to blow up at him for no reason. He had suggested therapy for her before, for them both as well, maybe now was the time to insist upon it. It would be good for them to be able to talk things through calmly and rationally, without letting things simmer until they became too much. He stood, feeling better and turned. He paused, there was something strange on the tree to his left. He took a step closer. There was a dark red streak dribbling down the bark. Odd. Harry moved towards it, had someone started spray painting in the woods? If the kids started mucking about with graphiti it might get out of hand. But it didn’t look like paint. Not really. If anything it looked like sap, slightly shiny and almost solid. He reached out to touch it, but stopped before his fingers hit it. He bent over and picked up a stick, muttering to himself. It wasn’t a good idea to start touching random things in the woods. What if it was some kind of animal blood or some nasty chemicals or fungus? He prodded it with the stick, the stick sunk into it with a little resistance. He pulled it away dragging long, sticky strands of it with it. Huh. He brought the end of the stick to his nose and sniffed. Beneath the smell of damp wood there was a sweetness, a sweetness and a faint tang of something else. He looked up at the tree, Harry was pretty sure it was sap, but what kind of tree had red sap? Definitely none he knew about. He wasn’t quite sure what kind of tree it was, but it wasn’t exotic looking, there were other types of them all around him. Harry dropped the stick and looked around the ground for a rock, finally he found one that suited his purpose. Mostly rounded, but with a slight point, he studied the nearby trees and chose one that looked practically identical. He apologised to the tree, then realising what he had done and feeling a little foolish Henry brought the rock down on the bark, again and again until there was a small hole. Harry waited for a moment, watching a clear sap oozed from the hole. He looked back at the first tree. Maybe the sap wasn’t from the tree itself, maybe it was from something else? Some kind of fruit or berry that a bird was eating. He approached the tree and carefully hit it with the stone. If the tree did have red sap, that could mean there was something wrong with it and if there was something wrong with it, he didn’t want to get some weird, exotic infection. Besides that, it probably wouldn’t be all that great to return home with hands that were stained red.

When he was done he watched as the dark red sap began to dribble out of the hole, it almost looked as if the tree was bleeding. That smell, the one that had been underneath the sweetness filled the air, he recognised it now, coppery and with an unpleasant tang. It actually smelled like blood too. He picked up another stick and prodded at the sap, it was so bizarre. Part of him wanted to reach out and touch it, see if it had the same slippery yet sticky texture that blood had. He searched in his pockets for anything he could use to take a sample. He wasn’t sure where he could bring it for someone to have a look at, maybe the local council would know. If it was some weird tree disease he didn’t want it taking out the entire wooded area. Henry yelped and jumped backwards as something slithered against his ankle, still gripping the stick tightly he used it to prod at the leaves on the ground, after a second he stopped. What if it was a rat, it might attack him. He shuddered and let the stick fall to the ground. It was ok, he didn’t need to get a sample now. He knew where the tree was roughly and it wouldn’t be all that hard to find again. There was a kind of trail worn through the trees not too far away, he’d mark that with a few rocks to make it easy to find again. Plan firmly in place, Henry turned from the tree and began to walk. A second later he stumbled over an upturned root, this time he didn’t regain his balance. The wind was knocked out of him, he lay where he fell for a moment, trying to get his breath back, then he sat up and began to take stock of himself. His knees were a little sore, and his palms were all scratched up. He stood, not bothering to wipe himself off. He started to walk again, as he did pain flared in his ankle and he stumbled again, letting out a yell and falling against a tree. He pulled himself up and tried to put weight on it. It hurt, but he could still walk. He pulled up the leg of his jeans to look at his ankle, he knew not to take his shoes off, it would help reduce the swelling. He could already see a nasty bruise starting to form, he felt a warm damp spot on his sock, the tip of his finger was slightly red when he took it away. A stick or rock must have cut him. There was a small hole, but entirely too large in his opinion. It was perfectly round, but there wasn’t nearly as much blood as Henry would have expected from a wound that size. He straightened up again, it didn’t seem to be bleeding too badly. He rested his weight onto it slowly and he began to make his way out of the woods, limping.

Henry returned the next day, a cane firmly held in one hand to held support his weight. It stung his palms but it was better than the pain in his ankle. He knew where the tree was roughly, even if he didn’t mark the path like he planned. He had taken the day off work, still feeling a bit off after his spill yesterday, a little weak and tired. He searched for almost an hour before giving up, he couldn’t find the tree with the gouges he had made, and though he found the normal tree with its hole and regual sap, there was no sign of the tree with the blood sap nearby. He stood in the woods for a moment, wondering if he wanted to bother finding a rock again, his hands gave a little pang of pain. Henry let out a brief scream as he felt something gently slither over his shoe, when he looked down it had already gone. He made his way out of the woods carefully, watching out for any roots sticking out of the ground.


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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3 Responses to The Woods. Short Story.

  1. Very nice………………..blood sucker tree

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