The Monsters that Lie Here

Submitted into Contest #16 in response to: Write a story in which characters are warned not to go into the woods.... view prompt



Embers few into the sky, lighting up the eyes of a little mousy, nine-year-old boy named Renan. His small face, pointy nose, and buck teeth glowed in the light of the roaring fire. The timid boy sat huddled between his two parents, staring at the town Elder as his monotonous voice drew out the story of their ancestors. "Long ago, before the great Medicinars created the cures that healed that of the Roaring Sickness, a group of pilgrims came upon a lowly valley. They forged an icy river down from the land of the Drought, and settled here. This town they called Lamb Valley. The new town grew and grew and grew into this gentle place we know as our home." The boy watches as the Elder paces back and forth, his shadow twisting in the moving light of the flames.

"What advances us children have made! We the children of these pilgrims!" Hurrahs echo from the crowd. "No plague can beat us now!" Renan looks to the shallow expressions of his townspeople. Their faces are sad and wavering. Many have been affected by the plague that is slowly consuming Lamb Valley. Renan is among them. He thinks of his dear sister, Lila, back home resting as the disease eats away her life. Despite the encouraging words of the Elder, no one dares to hope. Hope is a dangerous thing.

"Now, as we are all reminded in this daunting crisis, we must hold strong and persevere. Let us now be united in the ways of the people of Lamb Valley." The elderly man begins to ramble out a long list of the town's ancient rules, created at the settling of Lamb Valley. Renan is lost in another world as the laws are read aloud. He is brought out of his daydreams by the shrill cries of the old man as he yells out Lamb Valley's oldest and most important law: "DO NOT GO INTO THE WOODS!"

This law is so sacred and crucial that it is rarely discussed among the people. Of course, there are rumors about the Woods... bloody rumors that are so gory and terrifying they have been known to cause anxiety in some. But everyone knows about the Woods, and what lurk there. Monsters. Monsters that will devour your soul and leave your body to the wild animals. No matter how much you want to, no matter how much you need to, you do not step foot into the Valley's bordering woods. Ever.

Lamb Valley's seasonal bonfire soon ended. As Renan walked silently toward his home, he thought about how much his town had changed. Ever since he was three, the mandatory attendance of Lamb Valley's seasonal bonfire was something he looked forward to. They served the purpose of town meetings where the latest news was spread, town issues were resolved, and a reading of the laws brought the people of the Valley hope and strength. But ever since the plague, the fires were short and dull. It seemed that every time a bonfire was held, less and less people attended. What were once times of fellowship were now times of mourning.

Renan turned his thoughts to his home, now in the distance on the crest of a steep hill. The dimly lit cottage stood strong and hopeful like a boulder on the hilltop. A feeling of dread locked tight in his chest, he climbed the hill along with his parents. It was always hard coming home after Lila was left alone. While there was a slim chance she would improve, there was also the more likely risk that they would find her dead. Chills rattled his spine as Renan stood before the door.

His father brought out a pair of rusty, old keys and unlocked the door. "Lila, Darling! How are you feeling?" Renan's mother flies to Lila's bedside, stroking her dirty blond hair. A weak whimper escapes Lila's lips. "Hello Lils," Renan's Father says, joining Renan's mother. He uses Lila's pet name as he looks fondly upon her pale face.

Lila and Renan used to do everything together. They played, learned, ran , and laughed as a brother and sister do. However, ever since Lila had taken sick, she'd been too weak to play, let alone leave her bed. Sick Lila scared Renan. That's why his steps were reluctant as his father beckoned him over to look upon his little sister.

"Hi Lila, " he says gently. "Feeling better?" Lila moves her head just enough to create a shake, then lets out another pitiful whimper. "Oh now, it's alright. Papa and I are doing everything we can to help you feel better," Renan's mother smiles gently. Renan watches her closely. He knows it pains her to hide her concerns behind a cheery face and smiling eyes.

"Take out your hands, darling. Here, let me soak them," His mother continues. She extracts Lila's black, withered hands from underneath a linen sheet.

The Disease, or the Black Tree (as was called by the people), was spreading rapidly throughout the village. It started with your hands- they started to turn black and shrivel up. Then the disease progressed and began to darken the whole body. Once the bacterial discoloration met your head, you were dead within the hour. The Black Tree wasn't contagious, so how it was spreading so rapidly through the village no one knew. The only thing anyone knew for sure was that soaking the infected body parts in a Witch Hazel brew slowed the disease's progression.

Renan watched as his mother took down the Witch Hazel brew and put it in a wooden bowl. She then placed Lila's rotting hands in the bowl. She hardly moved.

Unable to watch her sister in further agony, Renan grabbed a coat and scarf and dashed out into the chilly Fall night. "Renan! Where on Earth are you going?" His Father said, watching him depart. "A walk. I'll be home in a couple hours."

"Hurry up. We'll need your help soon."

"Yes sir."

Renan ran from the cottage, feeling free as he dashed down the hill. He supposed he'd stop at the lake for awhile, then head to the church to pray and think. He'd never cared much for religion... but praying gave him something to do. He was not completely without Faith. The path to the lake ran along the border of the town, close to the Woods. He decided not to take the path at night, as it would be dangerous. Instead he made way for the Church.

Collapsing onto the pew, he said aloud, "There must be a way... there has to be a way. She's got to get better..." Tears run down Renan's cheeks as he stares at the dismal stone floor.

After about a half hour of thinking, Renan's mousy face becomes hard and resolute. "I know what I have to do. If no one else will do it, I must do it myself. Lila will get better. Maybe every one will. But someone has to step up. A real man. And I am that Man." He recites his plan aloud to himself in cautious whispers. Hearing the plan read aloud gives him a quiet inspiration:

"No one goes into the Woods. Not anymore anyways. So maybe, just maybe... yes. That's it! There must be a cure in the Woods! It just hasn't been discovered yet, seeing as how there's been no one to discover it. Well! Now there is! Me, a young man that will save Lamb Valley! My descendants will know me as a hero for generations to come! I will hike through the forest and bring back plant samples to those who are sick. Surely among them there must be a healing medicine..."

Renan leaps up from the pew, a bold determination swelling inside him. He darts out of the Chuch, leaping down the steps eagerly. With each step, adrenaline shoots through his body like blood coursing through his veins. Off on an adventure to save his dying sister! How heroic he feels!

It is not long until he reaches the town's border. Renan stops and looks at the huge trees towering over him. Between his spastic gasps and pants, he hears the hooting of owls and the cries of the crickets. Anyone in their right mind should've panicked at the sight of the fog weaving eerily through the trees. Anyone with a sane mentality should've run from the howls of wolves that thrived there. But Renan no longer thought like a sane person. How could he, after his town had suffered so much? After his sister had suffered so much? He took a deep breath, bounced on his heels once, and then sprinted into the woods.

At first it was exciting. Renan had never seen such things in the village as he did in the Forest. He trod over glowing, colorful fungi. He watched nocturnal animals as they traversed the Woods on their nightly escapade. Everything felt alive to him... from the ginormous trees to the song of the frogs as they took shelter in the shade of the night. Renan was in awe- he had never felt such a pressing peace before. It was almost as if the Woods were enchanting him.

After exploring for a little over an hour, he decided to collect plant samples. It was hard work, as most of the animals had picked over the brush to store food for winter. Soon, however, Renan had gathered a tidy collection of leaves, berries, and roots. He had traveled deeply into the Forest when he spotted a plant that he knew would be his final sample. The tree was a curious thing- it was covered in peeling white bark. It had spiky, round leaves that were velvety on the top and prickly on their edges. Beautiful clusters of berries drooped down from the branches. They were a gentle pale blue, sparking in the moonlight like stars. Renan stood on his tip toes and plucked one down from a lower branch. The berry was soft and burst in his fingers, oozing out a rich purple liquid. Renan smiled. He felt as if he had made an extremely important discovery.

Reaching for another berry, he froze. Behind him in the woods, he heard the snapping of twig. Someone was approaching... or something. "Hello? Who- Who's there?" Renan called in a shaky voice, whipping around to face the noisemaker.

"Hello, young one." The voice flowed from a nearby Elm tree. "Glad you could join ussssss.....We haven't had visitors in ages." Renan trembles as chills run up his spine. The voice is melodic, sleepy, and smooth. He feels the words running through him, paralyzing his muscles until he is relaxed completely. "What- Who?"

"Shhhhh.... You know who I am. Do not be afraid."

Suddenly, something appears near the Elm tree. A strangled cry forms in Renan's throat. A figure is standing a few feet before him. It is a human... or what used to be one. It is now a murky, black, shriveled corpse with stringy gray hair and empty eye sockets. It's torso is caked with dirt and rags. Around it's legs curl black roots and bone fragments. A dark energy pours from it's body, completely swallowing Renan in it's embrace. Though the creature is horrifying, it is familiar. Too familiar.

"Mrs. Sheila."

"You are correct."

"But... you died last week, from the Black tree," Renan feels shocking terror looking at his old school teacher.

"That is where you are wrong. I am alive through the Black Tree. It has restored me, child. The disease does not kill. It creates life. An army of life! And now I see, we see why we were brought here. To these Woods. To devour the souls of the 'living' and to show them what it truly feels like to be alive. Come! Join my brothers and sisters. Don't you want to feel alive, Renan?" Mrs. Sheila snaps her fingers and more creatures appear. And like Mrs. Sheila, they were all familiar to Renan as citizens of Lamb Valley. And like Mrs. Sheila, they had all died of the Black Tree. And like Mrs. Sheila, they all wanted to "devour his soul."

Renan would've ran. He easily could've evaded the monsters that lay in these Woods. As he was about to turn and flee, a voice stopped him. "Renan... leaving so soon?" Lila. Lila. Lila. Lila. No. No. No. She couldn't be... Renan turns to face his sister. His sister who has died as he is trying to save her. Grief floods him, driving him to his knees. "Oh, Lila," he whimpers.

"Welcome, Renan," Lila says as she approaches him. He feels a small, twisted, cold hand on his shoulder. "Live brother. Live through the Black Tree," she says, pressing two fingers to his forehead. Renan sobs uncontrollably. "I should have listened! I knew about them, and what they could do... what they will do! I should not have come to these Woods! I knew about the monsters that lie here!"

Lila smiles. She presses her fingers to his forehead. Roots spiral from them, twisting into his skull, penetrating his brain. "Live." Renan shrieks. Then everything goes black.

November 16, 2019 17:57

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.