Woman in the Wood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm
A woman discovers a strange forest and finds unexpected peace when she befriends a tree that can speak to her. But she takes a leap towards insanity when her happiness is suddenly destroyed.

Submitted: March 27, 2016

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Submitted: March 27, 2016

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Look at this lonely wood: how it sways and bends, creaks and snaps. See it sleep, and breathe. An ancient, steady wall of trees overlooking a wide meadow, backed by tall mountains. See the animals play in this field. Crickets and deer, beetles and skunks, butterflies and sparrows all hunting, sniffing, flying and leaping, but rarely do they go to the woods. The forest, their home, but they seem reluctant to enter when their time comes. There can be seen a caution in their steps as dusk approaches. Why is this, many people wonder, what could cause such a disturbance with nature? If one were to delve into this mystery, the first object that would capture the person's attention would likely be the tree. Across the meadow, near the front of the forest, yes, that tree. Long, thin, and pale as a child's skin, it's not quite as tall as the other oaks and pines, but once the eye spots it, it is difficult to look away. Solid white bark clasping unbroken on the skinny trunk with white, pointed, untamed leaves surrounding it. The tree looks unnatural, unbalanced, like it knows not where it belongs. If one were to begin to move close to the tree, uneasiness would fill the person's stomach, especially when light is seen reflected off its bleached leaves. Beautiful, or just unusual, one would ponder, pure, or demonic.  

There was a time when people might've walked these woods in Southern Germany, when the warnings were subtler. Only two people were ever known to find this portion of it. Coincidentally, they were both within the year of 1645. The first was a woman, Melanie Seidel, who happened upon it as she was strolling down a path to her village. She was walking back from the market like she usually did on Autumn evenings, but it happened that this time she was alone. She wasn't used to being alone, because ladies had escorts almost everywhere they went, and she gladly accepted this courtesy once she became of courting age. When she was a child, however, she would run and play for hours by herself. No one knew where she was, or what she was up to. Now, as the lady saw this wood, perhaps it was the childlike spirit in her that drew her away from safety, perhaps it was a gust of wind that turned her face to the alluring trees, but whatever the reason, she left the trodden path and headed toward the dark wood. It was in the middle of Autumn this night, and with a fresh rain just past, there was a marvelous twinkling on the forest where ever the moonlight touched. A field of buckwheat lay between her and her forest, it took three minutes to cross in her trance-like march to the edge of the trees. 

When Melanie arrived there, she stopped, as if waking up again. Why haven’t I heard of anyone ever entering this wood? she wondered. She found it difficult to move forward nowher heart was vibrating harshly. Her legs tried to turn back, but she stood, gazing into the murky, dark green. Something in this wood was so very alluring, unique, seeming magical, she couldn't look away. It hadn't rained for a time, yet this wood seemed to have kept all its vitality. The air fresher, the leaves untrod, the colors brighter. Even at dusk, she could see into it quite clearly. No broken branch, no sign of animals, not even a bird settling in its nest. She dared a step, and then three more. All was silent aside from her unrhythmic breaths. Then, with her young eyes bulging, she treaded among the trees, and the deeper she wandered, the more tranquil she found this place to be. There wasn't anything to really fear. She felt free here: unhindered by the troubles and chores of her villageThe girl started to run, then dance, then skip, then laugh, then shout, faster and louder as she went. She ended up in a meadow, dizzy and delighted. Melanie rested there for a while, completely content as she was, with cool grass under her hot fingertips, and scented air soothing ached chest. 

Eventually, her eye caught a tree that looked different than all the others. No, gladly, not the haunting tree described before, but a thick, gnarly oak, or was it a willow, that stood alone in an otherwise dense thicket of trees. Curiosity won her, and she waltzed over to this tree, but her pace slowed as she wandered closer, contrary to her beating chest. Long drapes of white sheets hung down from its many branches and swayed along with the wind. Tillandsia usneoides, Spanish Moss, she knew nothing about it other than the ghostly impression it gave her, like dead beards hanging from the tree. Her mind drove her to duck between the moss, but she hesitated to touch the tree, now that it was close. Such an old, rough, and lonely tree it looked. Slowly, cautiously, she laid a finger on the bark, then two, then slid her trembling hand to the trunk. At that instant, a sound frightened her, and she turned in every direction looking for the source of the strange noise. It sounded very close to a man’s sigh, but there were no humans around her. Everything was silent now, she dared not even to breathe. What if this wood is haunted? Melanie hadn't taken five strides away from the tree when she heard, "Do not go." More than heard, she sensed the words, felt them. Obediently, she froze herself, hoping her fears were untrue. 

"You touched me,the noise continued. 

Melanie realized then that this must've been the tree somehow speaking. Afraid of punishment, the girl spoke in return, "Yes, I did,she then felt a tang of guilt, "I am sorry that I troubled you." 

"Trouble?" The slow voice sounded, "What trouble could a hand cause me?" Laughter vibrated from the ground around her. "I was just sleeping, and I felt the touch of human's flesh. I had not felt this touch since I was youthful." She didn't know what to do, but to stand and pray. "You bring good memories to me, child. Thank you." 

The girl felt gratitude tingling up her legs, and her fear was soothed by flashes of calm and peace. She stood there for moments just looking at the leaves above her. Then she decided to put her hand on the trunk once again. There was a loud creaking in the tree, and she felt like it was letting go of tension. It must have been beautiful sight, this woman and the White Oak, Quercus alba. The oak let Melanie sit in its sturdy branches, and they conversed about many things until she fell peacefully asleep.  

Her mind did not actually remember her home until morning light seeped into her sleeping eyes. She started home, but realized she didn't know which way to walk. Panic started to grip her. She circled franticly until her eyes met the large tree again. She decided it wouldn't be too bad to stay here, just for a little longer. This thought repeated itself in her mind every day after that. 

She would see few animals that one would normally glimpse in a healthy wood. The only sounds she did hear became music to her: the falling of leaves, wind sifting through treetops, and the light beat of her feet on soft grass. She did not dislike the lack of beasts in the wood, in fact, she grew to feel less closely related to mammals as she did with trees, specifically Old Oak. This odd relationship continually increased, and each day she was in the wood brought her and the tree closer together. The chill of winter, the freshness of spring, the heat of summer, these were truly wonderful days, until the last one.  

The second person to enter this wood was very unlike the first. This one was a male. Tall, bearded, and intimidating, a man of renown in his community. His profession was hard labor: anything people needed a strong, simple man for- building, guarding, moving furniture, woodcutting. He was an exceptional woodcutter and boasted there was no tree he could not single-handedly fell. No one doubted his claims. 

His experience in the wood was much shorter than the woman's. He entered through the opposite side, across from the meadow, and he too wondered at its apparent vacancy. There were rumors: intelligent trees, a witch who roamed the woods, but did people really believe those stories? He didn't in the least, and was determined to conquer this wood and show the lies in these myths. So, he hiked down to the meadow one day with his knife and trusted axe for unneeded protection, but uneasiness tingled on his fingertips as he approached the trees. He had a strong urge to return to the security of his town, but he also desired to prove himself. Then it caught his eye. The space not far away- no trees existed in a ten-yard radius around a single oak, thrice the width of any others. What could cause this oddity? It was as if the other trees were afraid of this one. And he could almost understand why. Thick, tangled, and old this tree looked. Long webs of Spanish Moss hung down from its far-reaching branches. If any tree deserves to be cut down, thought the man, it must be this one. He would chop it down, and leave with an impressive branch as a victory. That way he would not have to go deep into the woods to uncover mysteries, which was something he did not decrease to dread. He began to chop at it, but hesitated, for the tree seemed to feel its wounds. Guilt was gnawing at the man's stomach, but he kept swinging. Hours later, the job was finally done, and no easy job it was. It took the strong man all day to hew the thick oak down and left him exhausted, sitting on the stump he'd made. That is where her penetrating scream fell upon him, the female whose heart he had just broken. 

Melanie saw him swing the last stroke, saw the tree crack, and fall hopelessly to ground. But she felt, more than saw it. The thump of the heavy axe contacting the oak almost stopped her heart. When it fell over, so did she, but when her mind realized that she wasn't also dead, she sprung up, and did immediately what instinct forced her to do. She raced straight toward the man who had killed the thing she loved. She started to scream, and the startled man turned to see her. He nearly started running at that moment, but he was a brave man and decided to meet his fear head on, so he stood upon his stump, and readied his axe to meet the freakish woman who was surely the witch rumored about.  

There was a lengthy patch of blackberry brambles in between them, which lessened the man's fear. She would have to go around 200 meters to get to him, but the man did not understand how easily anger can displace logic. The female was not turning, and she was gaining speed toward the bush. She slipped off her boots to run faster, then jumped straight into the sea of thorns. She landed in the middle, and her skinny form slid through up to her neck. When she screamed, it was not only from pain, but also hatred. Her bloodthirsty eyes never left his body. She scrambled and tore and thrust her way through the thin branches. The woodcutter had never been so frightened in his life. Truly, the image before him was the most distressing thing a man can see: true, unhindered madness, and raw, unfiltered hate. He knew she was a witch now, not because of her wildness, or tattered clothes, but because of the single worst detail: the smile on her bleeding lips. 

When she wriggled out of the thorn's last grasp, there were gashes all over her body, and thorns in her feet, but she barely lost a step, screaming muddled phrases as she ran. The man was losing confidence. He hadn't an idea about why the witch even wanted to attack him, but his instinct told him that he was going to die if he stood there. This knowledge became increasingly powerful as the female got closer. The mad eyes, the harsh scream, the resoluteness, and the sinful intent, it was too much for the man and he finally turned to flee, but it was too late. He should have run at the first sight of this woman. She leaped onto him before he left the line of trees. The axe left his sweaty hand as they both tumbled to the ground. He unsheathed his knife, but dropped it when her teeth sunk deep into his hand. He flung her off, spraining her ankle, and tried to flee againbut she was on him in secondsHitting, slapping, pulling, scraping, biting, she went wild on the poor man. He managed to give her a few random blows, but it wasn't much compared to the ferocity of the female's attack. Neither the thorns nor this man could stop her from her revenge. The intense struggle went on for a while. The once intimidating, powerful man turned into a mass of whimpering flesh. A last desperate attempt to save himself was made.  

"I'm sorry!" his fragile voice screamed. She didn't hear him, the woman kept waling on him, and tried to strangle the man with her petite hands. This was too difficult, so she found the disoriented man’s knife, and stabbed his lungs, then all was silent. 

A deep depression then replaced the greed in her, and she slumped back to her tree and laid down on the trunk. Her hands held the strong branch she had once slept on. Her fingertips could feel its life draining. The steady, pulsing breath became just a ripple of energy, soon to be extinguished. She was perplexed at what else she felt, though. There was not much anger, or regret, or depression in this tree, but relief and gratitude instead. Then it finally died. No more energy, no more intimacy, only wood spread out on the dirt. 

No! she surged with all her energy, you cannot die! And she noticed its acorns scattered about her. These could replace the tree, but they would need a damp environment, and this land was at the time in a long drought. A trickle of hope entered her crazed mind. What if the man really was sorry for killing her lover? What if he could still make his amends? The girl rushed to find the tall man’s axe. She struck the ground with it and loosened the earth. Then she furiously dug out enough dirt to make a shallow grave, and put the broken man in the space. She then struck the corpse's chest with its own axe. Ribs gave way to the sharp edge. She took the man's knife, and cut his shirt open, then she plunged it into the axe wound. She cut, and tore, and stabbed until there was a cavity in the middle of its chest. She then reached in and grabbed out the heart. Disgusted, she threw the vile thing away for the birds to eat. In its place, she put the most perfect acorn that she had ever seen; long, round, perfect for germination. She buried the man with hope in her own heart. "If you are truly sorry, then make me a tree,she said, then drifted down from exhaustion. Just before she fell asleep, she worriedly murmured, "But what if you don't want to," and her eyes beheld yet another perfect acorn. 

When the woman hastily awoke, she did something possibly stranger than the last day. She took up the axe, and dug quickly again, about five feet away from the original hole. She gently picked up a new acorn and wondered at its beauty. The female then lay down in the grave she had made. She kissed the acorn like a mother would kiss her child, and placed it on top of her chest. Then she began to bury herself with the dirt she'd lain about her. Who knows why she did this? Maybe she was unsure of the first plan, maybe she wanted to mother the tree herself, maybe this man couldn't save the tree, what if he didn't want it enough? Whatever the reason was, the female fell asleep there and never stirred again. 

Months later, the sprout of a new tree came above ground for the first time. In the middle of a drought, the sickly, bleached oak was conceived. It could be looked upon as a warning to all who ventured there that this wood is unnatural, and should not be neared. All who hear this story wonder, but none are ever sure, was it the from the man that this tree came forth, or the woman? Was it required for the seed the blood of a murderer, or love from a bride? 

 


© Copyright 2018 Joshua Kepfer. All rights reserved.

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