There is a Sickness in the Forest

Submitted into Contest #89 in response to: Start your story with an ending and work backward toward the beginning.... view prompt


Fiction Fantasy Sad

And then it became apparent; he would never re-become what he had once been, and she had never been anything more than a spectre walking through a dilapidated house that was endlessly replaying the horrors of the sickness from the forest. He was looking at her with eyes that didn’t have a color anymore, and she knew he didn’t recognize her. She was looking at him, for the first time, as the creature he was now - frail, defeated, translucent. He would fall back into the darkness of the spaces between the walls. And she knew she as well would never leave the house; she would walk the staircases as the wraith she had become, mourning the loss of something that had always smelled like darkness and foreboding. It was her own fault, really, but it wasn’t as if they hadn’t tried.


Two days before they became the house, he had his hands on her face and he was kissing her, trying to bring her back to him. His mouth tasted like black blood and someone she had always known. She had seen the photos in the hallway - she was in every single one, but she didn’t remember why or how. She panicked as the nagging thought that always whispered to her whenever she found herself in the house became louder: that she was not in fact there at all, and she was away from herself. Somewhere else, she was sleeping, and this place was a dream. But his hands were on her face, and he whispered to her that he loved her. It was almost the same episode it always was, but this was the first time his eyes had no color and the second time his hands had no warmth. She let him lead her back to his bedroom, which she remembered the warmth of, as if she had always been there, and he laid her down and covered her with blankets, asking her to rest. She would feel better soon. He left the room, and she heard him cough. Later, in the kitchen wastebasket, she found a napkin with tar spattered all over it.

For some time, he had been slowly disappearing, just more quickly than before, and she worried she would never see him smile again. She worried he would stop sleeping altogether; she could feel him climbing the walls at night, and the things he wrote on the closet’s back wall were incoherent now, and written in red clay that looked like blood. She feared - she knew - the sickness from the forest wasn’t just a sickness anymore; it was rooted inside of him. But she loved him. And she knew he loved her; the only time she could remember the color that had been in his eyes was when he would take her face in his hands and kiss her with his eyes open, as if she may disappear at any time. They were becoming ghosts together; they were becoming ghosts apart.


Three weeks before they became the house, his mother finally died. The room at the back of the hall: for months they had heard her screaming and writhing and becoming something that was filled with tar instead of blood. His mother screamed an abhorrent sound each time she heard the girl enter the house, and she always told him that something followed her in - that it was her fault she had become so ill. But they both knew that had never been true. His mother had coughed up blood since he was young, and when it started to turn black, she was less able to move and focus and chastise and beat. But the screams began, and they only got worse over time. So she was in the room at the back of the hall. And the girl thought that maybe, his mother’s death would give him what he needed to come back to life. But his breath was too cold. They left his mother in that room, and it never smelled like death - it smelled like evil and hate and the color of swamp mud.

She was standing at the front door. She found herself there, as she always did, standing on the porch, unable to remember how she got there. But there were leaves in her hair and mud on her shoes, so she must have been in the forest again. When he opened the door, he was surprised but not surprised, and he pulled her into his chest so forcefully and held her so close that she felt this had to be the real place. How could this all be a dream? He pulled away and ran a hand through her hair, combing out the leaves:

“I’m always afraid you won’t come back.”

She asked him how long it had been.

“Longer than last time.”

She walked to the kitchen and put the kettle on to make them some tea. He watched her from the threshold, leaning against the doorway. She could feel his gaze, and when she looked back to smile at him and see him smiling at her, she noticed his eyes were less of a color than the last time she was here. And she asked him again how long it had been. But he couldn’t answer her - he shook his head.

“Let’s just be here. Until you’re gone again.”

The thing in the room at the end of the hall that was slowly un-becoming his mother made an unholy shrieking sound, but he barely reacted. 

“It’s too late for her. Haven’t you noticed the sinking feeling around her room? It’s a grave. She’ll quiet eventually, and then her cloud will be gone and we’ll be able to see the sun again. Maybe it will help you stay.”

But that night, he didn’t sleep. He climbed the walls and he wrote on the back wall of the closet in sharpie and he woke the girl up at 2:47 am, frantically, to tell her he loved her, as if it might be the last time he’d ever get to say it. When she turned over to go back to sleep, she coughed, and since it was dark, she didn’t see the small drops of red blood she had splattered across the pillowcase. 


Four months before they became the house, she woke up in his bed, before the sky turned light, and he wasn’t there. This was the third time. She found him in the sun room, in the darkness of the early morning, which was also the darkness of the late afternoon, because they hadn’t seen the sun since his mother started to turn. He was just sat in the chair, facing the windows, looking at the forest. She walked up behind him and put her arms around his chest, leaning her head against his head. She asked him what was wrong. He breathed deeply, but it was a rattling sound, as if his bones were starting to come loose, and he looked at her with eyes that seemed just a little more pallored than the day before.

“I don’t know.”

And she believed that he didn’t, so she kissed him, but his mouth tasted like iron. It was happening.

This place was wrong and it always had been. She used to ask him why they stayed, back in the days when he smiled and his eyes were bright. Back in the days before they had given up. Because when they used to venture into the forest, the house at their backs, no matter which direction or how far they went, they always ended up back on the front porch, staring at the door and staring at each other.


Five years before they became the house was the first time she found herself stood on the front porch, muddy, wondering where she was. It was the first time she knocked on the door and he answered it with a look of love, recognition, and just a little bit of pity. She knew his name, but she couldn’t say it, and he never called her by her name either. He took her in his arms and to his bedroom, and they made love the way people do when they’ve missed the feeling of each other’s warmth. And she knew that she knew him, but she also knew that they were a misery. After, as they lay next to each other and she tasted the color of lead on her tongue, as if the air was saturated with heavy metals, she asked him what had happened.

“You went away again. It’s not your fault. Please don’t worry, love; you always come back.”

She didn’t know why, but his voice sounded at once like comfort and death, and the warmth of his body, his hands, his mouth, felt fleeting. His eyes were a color she couldn't name but she knew she had seen, and when she thought about the house - this place she didn't know - she realized she knew where the bathroom was and where they kept the knives in the kitchen. She had made tea here before and she had smiled at him as they sat in the sun room with mugs in their hands. But had she?

She asked him how she had gotten there, who she was, who they were. But he never answered her; he just pulled her into him and lay her head on his chest.

He had no heartbeat.

April 14, 2021 16:34

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