The Black Wood
I’m writing as fast as I can, but I fear that my time has run out. I won’t waste words with lamenting on how I could have lived better. Nor will I look back on the mistakes I’ve made or the people I’ve hurt. None of it matters now. Let this hastily scrawled account be my warning to the world. May the foolish die laughing while the smart live in fear, for I feel that, even now, knowledge alone cannot save us from what’s stirring outside.

***

We were at a cabin up in Maine, George and I. He had inherited a property that made Boston look like a football field; odd that such a place existed, and that one man owned it. This, of course, did not stop my friend from accepting it, though he was suspiciously stingy with the details. This was no plot of land, but a forest the size of a city. I, no more than a desk jockey, was not tremendously impressed by the grandeur, but that did not stop me from relishing the opportunity of being away from the office. Petty politics and corruption would continue and, most likely, endure until my return. I did not miss it.

George, whom I shall never forget, was a hardy and ambitious man who took great pride in his recent acquisition. With child-like enthusiasm he would point in all directions with his announcements of dominion. Everything belonged to him as far as the eye could see, and then some. I humored these proclamations with a nod and a smile; I couldn’t possibly grasp the magnitude. I was a fish out of water, as they say, and he knew it. He took a sadistic pleasure in watching me act with wonder at every little nuance of outdoor living. Understand that I do not fault him for this. I must have been quite a sight, and while the food was plentiful and the temperature bearable, one concession I could never be without was indoor plumbing.

On the last day of our trip, it had become increasingly clear that George was dissatisfied. As we sat across from one another playing chess, I could see it in his gaze. He sat with one hand covering his mouth, focused on something other than the game he was about to win. In the five years I had known him, I had never bested him in chess. Suddenly, I caught the flash in his eyes and I knew what was coming next. In two swift turns he demanded I forfeit my King and step outside. I hesitated, carefully examining the board in disbelief, before managing to pull myself away. George never needed to cheat or bluff, but to this day I still haven’t figured out how he beat me.

It happened the moment I stepped out of the cabin; my senses betrayed me. The cold hit me hard and I drew a deep breath, shuddering with each frozen gasp. A pair of branch cutters flew in my direction and I put my hand out; narrowly catching them by the handle. George, himself carrying a pair of cutters, chuckled and beckoned me closer. Had I known what would have happened next, I would have feigned fatigue or illness. For me, the woods have been and always will be a terrifying place. It’s a world tinted with leaves, possessing an eerie silence. Someone once told me that the woods were only as terrifying as what one brought with him, and if that’s the case, I dreaded the kinds of vulgar monstrosities that were stalking us that very moment. As an agnostic man, I admit to having skepticism to most things whimsical, but that did not stop me from jumping at every sound I heard. Morning soon became noon and after three hours of cutting trails, George made a terrible decision.

We stood at a literal crossroad, paths cut from a previous excursion, no doubt. Two paths went in opposite directions, but neither was completed. It was George who suggested that we split up, each taking a separate path. I questioned the logic of this decision, but was met with banter and playful conjecture that I was, in fact, a coward. Can you blame me? The nearest town was forty minutes away and the nearest hospital was even further. Still, not to be outdone, I drew a deep breath and moved on without him. Dear reader, do not make the same mistake I did. Don’t let pride and bitter vanity rule you or it will end you.

As I hacked my way through countless branches and trees, the onset of dehydration and exhaustion took hold. I had lost my canteen a few meters back, and it was getting too dark to retrace my steps. In a way, I’m thankful for the state I was in, for had I been fully aware, I would no doubt be terrified at my current predicament.

Groping around in my bag, my hand rested on what my mind told me was the torch. With feverish haste, I pulled it from my bag and brought it before me. I spun slowly in a circular motion, shining the light all around me. After repeating this several times, I was satisfied to find that no monstrous entity had seen fit to pounce during my plight. I examined the trees around me, wrought with disbelief and curiosity. A trick of the light or perhaps the dehydration, those are the only things that could have explained what I saw. After cutting away at trees all day, I was able to call myself an expert in differentiating the types. The trees I saw were unlike any I had seen before. They were hard, but smooth; more like tubes than trees; black as night. I moved closer to examine the tree, and was shocked to see it change in form. The smooth surface seemed to recede revealing what looked like wrinkles and veins. Then I saw it. Two deep depressions like eye sockets slowly appeared followed by a bulge; a nose! Staring directly at me was the face of George. The face let out a ghastly shriek and I reeled back, panicking. I can’t remember the motivation for my actions that immediately preceded the encounter. All I recall was dropping the torch and swinging my cutters at what I presumed was the tree in front of me.

The screaming stopped and the terrible, interminable silence returned. I gathered up the torch, my hands still shaking. Contemplating what I was about to do next, I slowly shined a light on the tree. The face was gone and the odd features and geography of the surface seemed to vanish. My cutters were dug deep into the side of the trunk, and I was not immediately ready to retrieve them. My mind raced to process what had just happened, and a sharp pain coursed through my head. The pain subsided, but was quickly followed by staggering dizziness. I needed something to drink. I needed to get back to the cabin.

The cold was getting to me, but I was able to find the fortitude to stand back up. I examined the cutters and noticed a liquid seeping from the gash I had made. I believed it to be sap, and quickly tore the cutters out of the tree with the last of my strength. The flow of the strange liquid increased and I cupped my hands under it, gathering up as much as I could. In desperation, I drank the dark, vile secretion. It was thick and bitter, slowly crawling down my throat causing me to choke momentarily. Drinking my fill, I took up my torch and attempted to walk in the direction I had traveled earlier. My strength had returned, but oddly the headaches persisted.

At some point during my walk, I could have sworn I heard a whisper. I called out into the night but was met with nothing. I deduced that it was George, perhaps playing a cruel prank. I called out again, pleading for him to desist as I was in no state for games, but there was no response. The whispers grew louder and became shriller. Whispers became voices, speaking an unknown language I could not hope to replicate before then becoming screams of agony. There were cascading screams and moans so maddening that I ran erratically into the night. I had to get away from the source, but whatever it was must have been following me; the voices didn’t stop, they just got louder. I shined the torch behind me, but the light must have been weak. All I saw was tree branches surrounding a black void. As I continued running, branches slapping and clawing at me like little hands, the ground under me changed. It was hard and level. Something fast was approaching. I turned around just in time to see two headlights rush at me before it all went black.

I awoke a week later in a hospital. They said I had been hit by a car. When I tried to recount to them my tale, they wrote it off as a flight of fancy; the product of an overactive imagination and lack of water. When I told them about my friend George and his property up in the mountains, the fools all laughed in disbelief. They claimed that it was preposterous to own that much land and their laughter resonated in me a sense of loathing. Later that night, my sleep was filled with nightmares too terrible to recount. It was windy and I woke up with a start; the wind blew through the trees howling my name.

After a month, I was given a clean bill of health. The first thing I did was take a trip out to the cabin. I remembered where it was on the map, but as I approached the property, something was terribly wrong. The cabin wasn’t there. Not only was the cabin missing, but there was absolutely no sign of anything ever being built there. Instead, all I saw was a patch of those mysterious black trees. The wind started to pick up and the trees did sway, hypnotically at first. It was distant, quiet at first growing louder with each second. The voices, the screams were upon me once again and I fled in terror.

***

I haven’t returned to work in over a year now and what was left of my savings is now meager at best. I had used up most of my money to visit a friend of mine, an astronomer who was also a professor in the study of panspermia. He did not believe my tale. I posited that the black woods I saw were integrated fauna, perhaps from a place beyond our sun, but he simply laughed at my claim saying it was ridiculous, and then quickly asked if I was on drugs.

I wish I was on drugs. I’d do anything to forget what I now know. Though it terrifies me, I find myself in the woods again, unable to recall how I got here. While I still have pen and paper, all but the most rudimentary senses have forsaken me. I see it now.

Those eyes. The dark.

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Synopsis
The story of a man who went to the woods seeking solace, but instead found the black woods.
A Word from the Writer
Different people interpret different things about this one.
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