Lurkwood

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a first draft of something that was just floating around my mind. It's either the first chapter of a short story or maybe not but it's been sitting in google doc for a couple of months so it needs to come out.

Submitted: March 10, 2017

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Submitted: March 10, 2017

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It was a bright day in Abington, the village where Caleb lived. He was on his way to the horse stables to do his work for the day. Mucking the stalls, fetching water and feed for the horses. It was a simple stable with stone walls and a thatch roof. Old Garrington was the proprietor of the stable. He was kind enough but he wouldn’t put up with much nonsense. He worked hard and expected his workers to work just as hard. Walking along the earthen path that leads across the fields and to the outskirts of the village where the stables lay, Caleb felt somewhat content for the moment. He was happy, well-fed and had some knowledge of how to survive in this world.

The sight of a group of boys approaching along the path made his cheery mood evaporate quickly like morning mist in the blazing sun.  

Coming down along the path was Darrien Slingcatcher, a boy from his village that Caleb despised because of his tendency to be somewhat of a bully. Caleb could sense Darrien sizing him up as he approached, searching for some way to get under his skin. Darrien’s bunch of knuckleheads cajoled and sneered as they bounded along behind their dimwitted “leader”.

Caleb stopped as he walked up to them. He wasn’t afraid of them. Darrien wasn’t usually a physical type of bully, he usually tried to pick on and make fun of kids weaker than him both physically and mentally. Caleb was neither of these and enjoyed making a fool of Darrien.

“Hey Caleb”, Darrien said as he and his group also came to a stop, “going to the stables?”

“Looks that way.”, Caleb said. “You’re a real keen observer.”

Darrien frowned. Possibly because he didn’t know the meaning of the word “keen”. “Guess you must like smelling like horseshit then.”, he said.

Caleb smiled. “Better than the smell of failure. That never washes off.”, he said. He was referring to the fact that he was learning a valuable skillset working at the stables while Darrien wasted his time being a thug.

Darrien knew what he meant because they had both worked at the stables before and Old Garrington had taken a hold of Darrien by the ear and threw him out of the stables one day. He had had enough of Darrien and his ways.

“Failure my ass!”, Darrien exclaimed. “It’s called freedom stableboy. While you’re in the stable sweating and breaking your back, I’m free to go where I want and do what I want.”

“Can’t argue with that.”, Caleb said. “So what are you guys doing then?”, he asked.

“We’re gonna chase cats through the village and try to hit them with sticks.”, Darrien said.

“That’s freedom right there alright.”, Caleb said then added, “Hey, do you guys know why shit stinks? Because it’s a waste. It doesn’t do anything useful.” then he walked away down the path towards the stable as they looked confused. “Good luck with the cats.”, he called back.

As he walked up the stables, Old Garrington was loading bales of hay onto a cart to bring to the stalls to have them used as fresh bedding for the horses. He looked up to see Caleb approaching and nodded a greeting. Caleb nodded in return and set to work helping the old man load the bales onto the cart. When they were finished, Old Garrington said, “Caleb take the horses out to the pasture and do their stalls. I’m headed into the village today to get supplies. I expect to be back soon after the sun hits its high point.”  Caleb met the old man’s gaze and nodded. He knew what this meant. Old Garrington was entrusting the care of the stable to his hands. This was a momentous occasion but Caleb understood this would happen without ritual or fanfare. Old Garrington considered him ready to run the stable for a few hours and that was that. Ole Garrington returned Caleb’s stare and then also nodded. Then he turned and left the stable.

Caleb was full with elation. The hard work he put in that day hardly seemed laborious. Even though his muscles were developed enough to handle the work he still ached sometimes but today was different. He felt as if the work was more like fun. Yes, that was it. He was happier than he had been in a long time. Maybe not happier, just a different kind of happiness.

He led the horses out to the grazing fields one by one and then mucked their stalls. He hauled their water buckets from the well and filled their troughs. Then he brought them in and let them rest for a little while. He was hungry after all that hard work. He was ready to have a quick break and a snack. He grabbed his knapsack and headed outside. He liked taking his breaks outside. He much preferred to eat under the blue sky and feel the warm sunshine on his face and the cool breeze on his skin. He walked to the back of the stable and set his knapsack on the ground and sat down leaning his back against the stone wall of the stable. He looked around at the surrounding fields. On one end was the dark trees of the cursed Lurkwood forest. Stories abounded of travelers that entered these woods and never returned. Caleb wasn’t sure if he believed these stories or not but in any case, every parent in the village forbid their children from even getting near that place. It made sense because even if the stories were just that, stories, there was still the very real threat of thugs and thieves that wouldn’t hesitate to harm or kill defenseless children.

Suddenly Caleb noticed something near the edge of the wood. He could just make out the figures of a group of boys headed toward the entrance of the path leading into Lurkwood. Darrien! That idiot! He was with his usual group of lackeys but they also had a younger child in their group this time. He looked to be about 10-11 years old. Caleb didn’t know what they were up to but he was certain it was no good.

Caleb decided he must act quickly. He didn't want to leave the stable. It was his responsibility. But he also knew something dangerous was about to happen with Darrien involved and the responsible thing to do was to act to stop it. He knew Old Garrington would understand.

Grabbing one of the horses, he quickly galloped off toward the forest and the boys gathered there. As he was approaching, to his horror he witnessed the young boy enter the path leading into the cursed wood.

Racing up to Darrien and pulling the horse to a stop and jumping off at the same time, Caleb screamed in his face, “You idiot, what have you done!” Caleb was so angry that Darrien could be so stupid or so uncaring as to send that boy to his almost certain doom that before he knew what he was doing he swung and smacked Darrien squarely on the jaw. The bigger boy stumbled and fell backward. He had a look of surprise and fear as he scooted back from Caleb’s fury.

“He’s the idiot!”, he said, referring to the boy that went into the woods. “I egged him on but he’s the one that did it.” This was typical Darrien and typical of too many people if you asked Caleb. People not taking responsibility for their actions.

Caleb didn’t have time to mess with Darien, he had to go get the boy. He ran back to his horse and grabbed a staff he had brought with him and then ran to the entrance to the dark, forbidding wood. He hesitated briefly and then, surprising even himself, ran into the thick brush.

Almost immediately the sunlight was blocked out. He was on a path but the forest around him was so thick that light could scarcely penetrate and in some places not at all. Caleb stepped quietly. It was odd, he had been in forests before and they are rarely quiet. You always hear birds chirping and the wind in the leaves of the trees. But here everything was still and quiet. Caleb got the sense that the forest was watching him with anticipation.

“Boy”, he called out in a half-whisper. Ugh, why had he gone so far? Caleb had hoped to find him as soon as he had entered the wood and be out right away. But the trail led into the wood about 300 yards before it made a turn that made it impossible to see any further and the boy was nowhere to be seen. Looks like Caleb would have to at least go to the turn in the trail.

Suddenly Caleb heard what he thought to be soft weeping. The sound came from his right. No not exactly to his right, more aheAd of him in the trail. The sound was coming from behind a tree. Suddenly the weeping stopped. Caleb held his breath to be able to hear any other sounds. Then he saw it. From behind a tree lining the trail, the head of a creature slowly emerged. From where he stood, Caleb could make out a gruesome face. Two eyes large and staring, looked at Caleb. Two horns protruded from the top of a crown of black hair and a fearful looking mouth that was pulled back into a sneer. For a moment, neither of them moved. Caleb was beginning to wonder if the face he saw was a mask because the face did not change or show expression. The thing behind the tree raised a finger to its lips then slowly disappeared again behind the tree. Caleb stood there, Unsure of what to do. He needed to go forward down the trail and that would take him within feet of the tree that the creature had disappeared behind. He thought about entering the trees to his left to give a wide berth to the creature behind the tree but then he remembered something. It was important not to leave the path. Could this creature have been trying to get him to leave the trail? IT wasn’t out of the question Gripping the bo tightly in his hands Caleb steeled himself and began to once again move down the trail. As he approached the tree that the creature had shown its face from behind, his heartbeat was deafening. Staying as far to the right as he could he slowly made his way past the tree. Nothing. Nothing was there. He began to think his theory of the creature trying to scare him into the woods was correct. But why wouldn't it just attack? Why try to scare him into the woods? Caleb didn't know and he wanted to get moving, find the kid and get out of these cursed woods.

He made his way to the bend in the trail and paused for a moment. He listened. The woods surrounding him were as deadly quiet as when he had first entered. Suddenly there was the scream of a young child and Caleb instinctively knew it was the boy he had come to rescue. Without any thought to his own safety, Caleb began to run as fast as he could toward the sound. He rounded the bend and there on the path ahead was the boy. Something was holding his foot and dragging him toward the woods. A long, snake-like limb wrapped around the boy’s ankle. Running forward Caleb thought quickly. He raised his staff high over his head and brought the pointy end down with all of his force. A howl of pain came from the woods and the serpentine limb retreated to the owner of that foul sound. Caleb huddled with the boy who was shivering with fright. Both of them were shaken badly but they needed to get out of here and fast.

“C’mon”, Caleb said to the boy, “we gotta get outta here.”. He grabbed the boy and hoisted him to his feet. They both hurried back along the path the way that they had come and toward certain freedom. But as they reached the turn in the trail, instead of finding the entrance as they had expected, before them lay a large clearing surrounded by the trees of the wood. Caleb felt the blood in his veins turn to ice. The boy began to whimper. What would they do now? Obviously, these woods were enchanted and finding the exit would not be as easy as it should be under normal circumstances. There was some dark magic at work here and it was conspiring to keep them both trapped here for eternity, or until they were both dead.  Caleb raged at this thought. “You won’t win that easily!” He screamed into the surrounding trees. HIs face hot with emotion.

Breathlessly he turned around in a circle feeling like a caged animal. That’s when he noticed that off to one side of the clearing stood a small cottage with a thatched roof. “C’mon he said to the boy and they approached the cottage cautiously. Upon getting a little closer, they noticed a large black cauldron on a fire in front of the cottage. Steam rose up from the black metal and reminded Caleb of his mother's stew pot. But one whiff of the offensive odor emanating from the pot drove any thoughts of that from his mind. The smell made him retch and reminded him of dead things. Despite this, his curiosity got the better of him and he inched up to the edge of the cauldron and peered inside. He immediately wished he hadn't. A grotesque soup of body parts greeted his eyes. 3 separate feet, two arms, and a torso boiled in the sickening stew from hell. Before Caleb could tear his eyes from the sickening sight, a steaming head floated to the surface of the roiling broth. It rolled to the side and the bulging eyes , veins popping out, stared at him. Caleb screamed and stumbled backward falling onto his butt. The young boy whimpered. Quickly jumping to his feet and grabbing the boy by his arm they turned to run. Suddenly, a creature emerged from the other end of the clearing. A woman, or at least a creature that had the rough shape of a woman, came dragging a canvas bag. Body parts escaped the bag here and there and blood soaked the fabric in more than one spot. The witch, for this, was obviously was what this beast was. Stopped when she saw the boys. She smiled a wicked, hideous smile and exclaimed, “Oh how nice to have you here boys!”. If this bride of the devil had been approaching them outside of these cursed woods, she may have cast a spell to hide her true form. But here she had no need for such things. She came closer and had dropped the bag now. Her eyes were two, menacing orbs which stared intensely. There was no doubt of her intentions. She planned to grab hold of them. With her strong arms, she would delight snapping the bones of their bodies so they punctured the skin and protruded from their bodies. She was eager to suck the marrow from their bones as they screamed in pain and terror. It would only add to her enjoyment. The excitement on her face was barely contained. Pushing the boy behind him, Caleb backed away from this nightmare that came closer to them. He shot his head this way and that, frantically searching for a way to escape. The witch seemed to anticipate his thoughts. “You’ll not escape boy. You are Mine!” She screamed and charged the boys. She had barely taken three steps when her scream changed to one of pain. She whirled around to reveal an arrow firmly stuck in the flesh of her right shoulder blade. There, standing in the opening to the clearing was Old Garrington! Caleb had never before been so glad to see the stable master. The bow from which he had just fired the arrow lowered to his side. The witch-beast fell to her knees and clawed frantically at the barbed arrow piercing her flesh. It was to no avail. Old Garrington came across the clearing, drawing the long blade that hung at his side. The creature gave a furious screech and charged at Old Garrington. Displaying amazing grace and agility for a man of his age he deftly stepped to the side, avoiding the claws of the witch, while simultaneously swinging the sword upwards and removing the creature’s head from her body. The head fell to the ground with a hollow thud. Old Garrington wiped the black blood of the beast from his blade and resheathed it in its sheath. He smiled wryly at Caleb. “Got yourself into a bit of a jam here my boy?”. Caleb was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe this was happening to him. Not only the witch-beast and this whole cursed forest business, but now, here was Old Garrington being like a slayer of monsters. He would’ve never guessed the old man was capable of such deeds. It was astounding. Caleb just stood and stared at the stable master slack-jawed. Finally, he stammered out, “Uh, yes sir.” Old Garrington chortled. “It’s ok boy, I know it’s a lot to take in. These woods are dangerous and we need to get out of here. Follow me and stay close.” Old Garrington turned and headed to the path at the edge of the clearing where Caleb and the boy had entered. Caleb warned, “There’s some kind of magic at play here. The path has changed and the magic is trying to keep us trapped here.” Old Garrington surprised him once again. “Don’t worry about that my boy. Magic can be defeated with magic.” He reached into his shirt and pulled out a pendant that hung around his neck by a leather strap. It started to glow. “What is it?”, Caleb asked. “It serves as a compass.”, Garrington replied. “It also wards off evil magic and guides the way in darkness. C’mon it’s not far now.” He held the pendant towards the trailhead and moved forward. Caleb and the boy followed close behind. To Caleb’s astonishment, the original trail they had come down had reappeared. They were approaching the bend in the trail and were very close to getting out now. Old Garrington quickened his step and the boys hurried to keep up. Soon they were at the exit to the wood and they practically ran to leave that place behind them. Once they were out into the bright sunshine of the meadow and gasping for breath, Caleb noticed that Darrien and his flunkies were nowhere to be seen. “I am gonna beat him to an inch of his life!”, he exclaimed. Old Garrington put a hand on Caleb’s shoulder, “Boys like him have a way of punishing themselves. They problem is that they never see themselves as the problem. It's always something or someone else.” Caleb nodded. He was glad to have a wise old friend like Garrington. He owed his life to him and he would work throughout his own life to repay him. He turned his face to the warm sunshine and the three of started walking across the meadow and toward home.

 


© Copyright 2017 Hugh M. Bean. All rights reserved.

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