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The Collapsar Directive!

Unfortunately, I have been very quiet lately and have had little time to indulge in my writing. However the end of the university year is drawing to a close and as I surpass this new horizon, I’ll be able to eagerly delve straight back into my story writing!

However there is news! I’m going to make my published debut in a Sci-Fi anthology book coming out later this years in august, THE COLLAPSAR DIRECTIVE.

The anthology will feature my short story SLEEPLESS, as well as countless other short stories by a variety of different authors from across the globe. It will be avaiable in paperback and E-book format from amazon, I’ll keep you all updated on it’s progress.

THE COLLAPSAR DIRECTIVE Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/THECOLLAPSARDIRECTIVE/

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The Orchard

The Orchard

By J.A Scarrott

It was a cloudless morning, golden light showered down upon the small town of Appiton.  Quaint and quiet village folk slowly stirred as they carried out their morning routines. One such person was Marianne Mumford, who skipped her way down one of the winding village streets.

“Good morning Mr Thomas!” She called out joyously, waving a hand in the air.  

An elderly man, who had just stepped out from the local post office, straightened his old, crooked spine as the young girl approached. With a large, leathery smile he replied, “Good morning Miss Mumford. Off to work I see?”

“That’s right!”

“I’ve been reading some of your articles in the Apple Press you know,” The old gentleman waved a copy of the town’s newspaper, before tucking in back under his arm. “Keep up the good work missy.”

“I will Mr Thomas. Have a good day!” Marianne waved her goodbyes to the friendly local and continued on her way.

As she walked, she began to fiddle with a hair bobble, pulling back her rich, chestnut hair and tying it neatly into a bouncy bun. Revealing the soft features of her pale, freckled face.

She beamed with delight as she saw a rustic, red brick building come into view. With the words, ‘Apple Press’ displayed on its exterior in bold, steel, letters.

Marianne pushed the front door open and wiped her shoes on a floor mat. She made her way down a narrow corridor, squeezing past a colleague as they both hurriedly exchanged morning pleasantries. She twirled round a corner and into an intimate room, laden with desks that had an assortment of computers sat proudly upon them.

Marianne pulled out her swivel chair, that she has tucked away neatly the day before, and seated herself upon it. Joining the number of employees who encompassed her, who all sat their desks, hammering away at keyboard keys.

She slid her rucksack from her shoulders and reached out to boot up her computer. But before she had chance a voice called out to her, “I wouldn’t bother booting up this morning.”

Marianne turned to see her manager worming through the maze of desks toward her.

“Good Morning Phil,” She replied with a smile, “Is everything okay?”

He peered over his rectangular glasses, that sat on the tip of his red nose.

“Everything is fine. It’s just that you won’t be in the office much today.”

“Why’s that?”

“I received this yesterday,” Phil sharply presented a small brown envelope to her, which she picked delicately from his hand.

“What is it?” She asked, inspecting the letter.

The Apple Press’s address was written across it in fine, flowing,  handwriting, and large red ink seal had been stamped on its surface, which simply read “The Branch.”

Mariannes eyes widened, before drawing the pale letter from it’s envelope.

“This, is an incredible opportunity, for you.” Phil replied, pushing his thick rimmed glasses to the bridge of his nose.

The letter read:

To whom it may concern,

Dr Dourley and his research team at the The Branch laboratory have made a world changing scientific breakthrough.

We’d like to offer Apple Press full exclusive coverage of our findings and our works, on the condition that you send your junior journalist, Marianne Mumford, to report on them.

Please let us know if this opportunity interests you.

Kind regards,

Dr I. Dourley

 

“Look, I know that you may feel uncomfortable going, on account of Dr Dourley and your father’s disagreement. But this far too good of an opportunity to give up.” Phil continued, as Marianne came to the end of the hand written letter, “People have been wondering what that Dourley guy has been doing in that bloody pyramid of his for years and now we’ve suddenly been given full access!”

Marianne slid the letter back into the brown envelope before placing it on her desk.

“You don’t need to convince Phil, I don’t mind going,” she replied, much to her boss’s surprise, “I haven’t seen Dr Dourley in years, I used to know him quite well when I was younger, I even called him Uncle Ian! That was back when he and my father worked together. It’ll be good to see him.”

“Well thats great then!” Phil replied with a wide delighted smile, “For I’ve already booked the taxi this morning. It should be waiting outside for you. Take your things and I’ll see you tomorrow morning okay?” He swiped the letter off her desk and grinned with delight, before leaving the room.

Marianne wasted no time and quickly checked the contents of her bag, before swinging it back over her shoulder. She left as quickly as she had arrived, filing out into the sunny street where a black taxi promptly pulled up beside the pavement.

After a short drive, into the rural countryside that surrounds Appiton, the taxi came to a stop. “Here we are, the fares already been paid for. Have a good one.”

Marianne peered out of the window, to see a wooden stile in the centre of a long green hedgerow.  

“This can’t be right,” Marianne replied, turning in her seat to see only more hedges on either side of the small country lane, “I’m supposed to be going to The Branch… The large laboratory?”

The taxi driver looked at the girl via the rear view mirror and pointed a finger to the broken wooden stile. “Over that love, the pyramid is located in the centre of a field for one reason or another. I can’t get you any closer than this.”

Marianne slowly reached for the door handle, and awkwardly stepped out. The taxi took no time in waiting and instantly vanish down the country lane. Leaving nothing but a trail of muddy dust in the air.

The young girl hauled herself up the dirt embankment and clambered over the wooden stile into the open, emerald field. Standing majestically in the distance was the pyramidal laboratory itself.

Marianne had heard about the famous building, but had never seen it for herself.  It was enormous in size, it’s four sloping face were made of blue, reflective, glass. It emitted a low glow ever as the morning sun’s ray bounces off it’s smooth, polished surface. The young journalist was overwhelmed by its grandeur.

Despite being a modern piece of architecture, the building blended well with the natural surroundings. It’s shimmer blue casing melted into the soft, cloudless, skies behind it.

Marianne made her way across the emerald field. Gliding through the blades of soft grass until the Pyramids mighty slopes towered above her. The Pyramid section of the building was not actually situated on the ground as it first appeared, but in fact sat upon a solid black box that supported the structure from beneath.

She looked about timidly as she tried to find signs of a door.

“Hello?” She called out softly.

“Miss Mumford?” A gentle female voice replied.

Marianne jumped, and turned on her heels to see a woman approaching her. She wore very smart, well fitted attire. That emphasised the bold, natural curves of her body. Her hair was perfectly straight and cut off sharply at her shoulders.

“Are you Miss Mumford?” The woman reiterated.

“That’s me,” Marianne replied, exchanging a handshake with the woman, “Sorry, I was unable to find the door.”

The woman laughed lightly, “Don’t worry about it Miss Mumford, The Branch has been designed to be… uninviting, so to speak. Would you like to follow me please, and I shall take you to see Dr Dourley.”

Marianne gave a nod and followed the woman to a section of solid, black steel wall. She tapped away at her smartwatch and a section of the wall shot open in front of them. The woman then lead the young journalist inside.

Marianne was greeted with a site of men and women, draped in long, white, lab coats. The atmosphere was a busy one and doused in a heavy chatter. Groups of people march to and fro, frantically attending to errands that their work demanded of them.

The young girl followed closely to her escort as they made their way through the streams of human traffic. They came to a halt beside a balding man who had his back turned to them. He was exchanging a conversation with a younger man and peering into an open folder that he held out in front of him.

“Dr Dourley,” the woman interrupted, “Miss Mumford is here to see you.”

Dourley instantly cut his conversation and issued the man away with a flick of his arm, before turning to Marianne.

“Anny?!” he cried with delight.

“Uncle Ian!” Marianne replied, she leapt forward and embraced the doctor tightly, “It’s been so long!”

“Years in fact!” Dourley rested both hands upon the young girl’s shoulders, “How have you been?”

“I’ve been well thank you!”

“So I hear, Miss Journalist,” Dourley grinned and gave her shoulders a tight squeeze before dropping his hands by his sides, “It’s honestly so good to see you again Anny, you’ve grown so much! Come, let’s continue our talk in my office!”

Dourley thanked the woman for escorting Marianne to him and then the two of them made their way into a lift. With a flick of a button, both Dourly and Marianne were whisked up to the top floor of the pyramid, where Dr Dourley’s office was located.

“This building is grand!” said Marianne beamed, choosing small talk over awkward elevator silence, “Rather inaccessible though… ”

“Thank you,” Dourley replied, “and I know. I designed it that way to deter people from visiting. I don’t want people sticking their noses where it isn’t wanted. Gone are the days that I openly share my research.” Dourley’s words trailed off, leaving a sour sting of bitterness on the air.

Marianne tried to reply, but the doors to the lift threw themselves open revealing a gleaming white corridor that stunk heavily of industrial cleaning chemicals.

Dourley paced off down the hallway, with Marianne close behind. He came to a halt at his office door and fumbled with a set of keys that he drew from a pocket. With a quick, twist of the wrist the door swung open and the pair made their way into the office.

Instantly, Marianne was met with a sight that fouled her eyes. Two rectangular tanks, filled with teal liquid, stood in the centre of the room, set a meter apart from one another. Each tank contained one half of a preserved pig, that had been surgically split directly down its centre. The grotesque cross section displayed the swines multi-coloured organs, the sight of which brought a sour taste to Marianne’s tongue.

“Please, this way,” Dourley invited her into the room, making his way between the two tanks. He strolled off toward a large, metallic desk that sat on the opposite side of the room.

Sheepishly, Marianne followed and made her way between the severed halves of the animal. She glanced up from the floor and caught a glimpse of the creature’s intestines, that were pressed against the glass like a twisted set of sausages.

Marianne involuntarily gagged and snapped her attention to the floor. Keeping her gaze fixed as such until she reached Dourley’s desk.

“Take a seat!” Dourley offered cheerily, pulling a chair from beneath his desk.

The pair sat themselves down and Marianne rested her bag beside her. After which a short silence set in the room.

Dourley avoided eye contact with the young journalist, instead looking awkwardly to his computer screen that glowed on the desk beside him.

“Uncle Ian?” Marianne asked tenderly, “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, yes. Quite fine.”

The girl let out a heavy sigh before continuing, “I think we should get the obvious elephant out of the room…”

Dourley stared aimlessly at the computer monitor for a moment, before turning to the young girl.

“I think that would be a good idea, for both of us.”

Marriage took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sorry that stuff got so messed up between you and dad. It was pretty messed up what he did.”

“You don’t need to apologise to me Anny,” Dourley replied, “You were only a young girl and innocent of it all. Besides, I’ve done alright for myself.”

The pair shared a warming smile.

“My only regret is that I let the affair come between us.”

“But now we’re finally reunited!” Marianne beamed with delight, “And, from what I hear, you’ve made a world changing discovery?”

“Yes! Yes! That is correct and is of course why I invited you here!” Dourley rested his forearms on the table and leaned toward Marianne, “I heard that you had started work as a junior journalist and I thought, what a better way for you to gain some experience, than being able to report on this world exclusive!”

Marianne tugged at the zipper on her bag, and pulled a leather bound notepad out from it’s depth. She gently rested it’s open pages on her folded legs.
“Then let us begin!” Marianne replied, as she clicked the end of a biro. Bringing the ballpoint tip to the lined paper.

“Absolutely,” Dourley leaned back into the depths of his office chair, “I thought I’d begin by giving you some background information about the project, so you can better understand the circumstances that helped lead me up to this moment. After which, I shall personally take you to see the culmination of my works.”

Marianne shuffled in her seat slightly as she prepared herself. Ready to scratch pen across paper.

“As you know, I have had a history of working in biology. My most notable work being the experiments that I carried out with your father, Dr Mumford.”

“Our work together was centred around the idea that we could alter the genetic structure of a pig’s DNA, so that it had the genetic identity of a human. The idea being that if a pig’s DNA were to read as a humans, then a person’s body wouldn’t reject organs sourced from that animal.”

Dourley stretched out a gangly arm and nodded his head towards the split pig that lay on display behind them.  

The sourness returned, flaring up the sides of Marianne’s tongue.

“And as I recall, you both were very successful in achieving that goal?” Marianne added, as she turned back to face him.

“Indeed we were. Your father went on to be well recognised for the work that we did. However, as you know, I did not receive the same recognition he did and my name was left off the research papers.”

Marianne sprawling hand stopped as Dourley finished his sentence. She glanced up to him with a sorrowful stare.

“However!” Dourley beamed loudly, “It was a blessing in disguise. For I have built upon that research since and have created something truly spectacular! A method of growing human organs on demand, free of all ethical implications. Would you like to see?”

Marianne slammed the pages of her notebook together, “Yes! Absolutely!”

Dourley jumped from behind his desk and bounded through the two halves of the preserved pig once again. Marianne threw her notebook back into her bag, before walking swiftly after him. Following the Dourley as he vanished through the office door.

The pair wound through a series of rigid corridors, before making their way into a low lit room. It was featureless, except for a row of full body protection suits that lined one the rooms four walls.

“Please pick one and put it on.” Dourley asked, as he made his way to the suits, “We have to be extremely careful whilst inspecting the work.”

Marianne clambered awkwardly into one of the suits, pulling it over her clothes and securing a large dome helmet over her head.

Dourley then ushered her through a circular doorway and into a thin glass corridor. Jets of compressed steam hissed violently as a steel disk like door shut behind them.  A white misty vapour fogged up the glass hallway.

Marianne looked to Dourley’s hazy figure in the fog and staggered after him.  The scientist came to a standstill as another vault door appeared through the fog. A golden plaque was mounted on its centre with the words, “The Orchard, “ elegantly engraved upon it.

Dourley’s cumbersome fingers punched at a large keypad that was situated below the glossy plaque.

“I hope you’re ready,” he said to her, his voice crackled through an internal communication channel, shared by the suits.

The door rolled open and streams of sunlight bled from the opening. Marianne brought her gloved hand up over her visor, attempting to shield the blinding rays from her eyes.

However after several seconds of exposure, her eyes adjusted and the scene behind the doorway became clear.

Fresh, green grass blanketed the floor and a series of short trees stretched up from the soil. The scene looked as if it belonged to a farm in rural Italy, not a controlled, sterile laboratory.

Marianne staggered into the small ecosystem and cast her view upward to see a refractive glass ceiling spanning the roof above.

“Welcome to the point of the pyramid, home to the orchard,” Dourley announced. He caught sight of the girl staring up at the ceiling and explained, “The roof reflects, and amplifies, the outside sunlight. Which helps feed the trees that stand before you.”

“This is quite impressive,” Marianne replied, “but I’m failing to see what this has to do with organ transplantation?”

“Well why do you take a closer look at the fruits of my labour?” Dourley made his way beside one of trees and gently cupped an apple, that hung from it’s branch, “Look.”

Marianne shuffled toward him, staring intently at the red lump within his hand. Her eyes widened as fruit appeared to pulsate, pumping slowly in his palm.

“Is that…  a heart?!” Marianne exclaimed, snapping her attention to the other branches of the tree.  A collection of fleshly lumps hung from them, each of them wet and pulsating.

“They’re all human hearts. Ripe and ready for harvest,” Dourley’s fingers slipped from beneath the organ, “Each tree has been engineered to produce human hearts that have a human genetic identity. Each heart also acts as a blank slate, meaning two things. The first being that, they can be universally used on any patient and the chances of a body rejecting them is almost completely zero. We’re planning on starting human trials soon.”

Marianne peered up closely to one of the hearts and ran the back of her hand against it’s surface. She cupped it gently, feeling it thump softly between her fingertips.

“This is crazy…” She whispered in disbelief.

“The greatest ideas are. Have you seen enough for your report?”

“More than enough.”

“Good! Then I would recommend returning to my office, where I can explain the science behind it all, ” Dourley suggested, as he made his way back to the circular vault door, “plus I don’t like lingering in here for too long. For risk of contaminating my work.”

Marianne loosened her grip on the frail organ and let it hang gently from it’s tree branch. She turned her back on the magnificent orchard and joined Dourley as the disk door creaked open once again.

They both made there way through the glass hallway and removed their suits. Returning them to their resting place against the wall, after which they promptly returned to the Dourley’s shimmering office.

“So what did you think?” Dourley asked with intrigue, as they both approached his desk once again.

“What do I think? Uncle Ian, that orchard is unlike anything I’ve ever seen!” Marianne exclaimed, as she sat herself down, “It is world changing, there’s no doubt about that! You’re going to save so many lives.”

A smug smile slimed it’s way across Dourley’s face.

“The only thing I’m concerned about is whether my writing will do it justice or not!”

“I’m sure it will. Would you like me to continue by explaining the science behind it all?”

Marianne pulled her leather notebook back out from her rucksack, which was still poised by the side of her chair.

“Of course!”

As she clicked her biro, a knock came from the office door. Marianne turned in her seat to see the straight haired woman who had met her previously, leaning in.

“Dr Dourley, can I borrow you for a moment?” The woman asked, “There’s been an incident.”

Dourley jumped up from his desk, “I’m sorry Anny, you’ll have to excuse me. I shan’t be long.”

“Take your time Uncle Ian,” Mariannae replied with a smile, “I’ll draft up some notes while you’re gone.”

Dourley silently thanked her, before shooting off towards the doorway, bringing it to a close behind him.

The room went silent. So quiet in fact the sound of Marianne’s biro scratching across her notebook paper was  clearly audible. However it was another faint noise that caught her attention.

A low hiss snaked through the air… Marianne raised both her head and eyebrow, as the sound continued. She sniffed the air and found the room to be odorless.

She looked over her shoulder at the office door, which was framed between the two halves of the pig. There was no sign of Dourley or the assistant through the doors clear glass window.

The young journalist got up and nervously paced her way across the office.

“Uncle Ian. There’s a strange hissing noise in here, ” Marianne called out, “I think it could a gas leak. Uncle Ian?”

She tugged at the doors metallic handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. She tried again and again. Frantically lashing at the handle as her palms began to sweat.

“Uncle Ian?!” the girl cried, “Uncle Ian!”

Suddenly, Dourley’s old grey face appeared in the door window.

“Oh thank god! The door is jammed!”

“It’s not jammed. It’s locked.”

“Locked? Well, can you unlock it…? ” Marianne suddenly choked on the end of her sentence. She brought a hand to her throat and began gasping for air. She violently bashed at the door handle as desperation sank in.

“What’s happening!? What’s going on?!” The girl choked harshly, “Uncle Ian please! Open the door!”

“The room is filling with an invisible gas called Halothane. You may find it hard to breathe for a short while,” Dourley replied coldly, as he watched the young girl claw at her throat, “Don’t worry, you’ll be unconscious soon.”

“Why are you doing this! Open the door! Open the door! Please!”

“Do you know why I’m so interested in organ transplantation Anny? I suppose you’re too young to remember.”

“Uncle Ian! Please!”

“I had a daughter myself once. She was just like you, bright, beautiful, full of life.”

Marianne weakly banged her fists against the glass as the energy drained from her body.

“But her heart was not as strong as she was. It was diseased and it failed her,” Dourley stared into Marianne’s blood shot eyes, “I did my best to help her, I tried to find a donor,  I tried to save my baby. But I failed her and she passed.”

“Please! I can’t breath!” Marianne choked harshly.

“After she passed, I dedicated myself to my work. Determined to find a way to help those in need, so they didn’t have to know the pain that I did. Your father joined me in my quest Anny, and he took all of the glory for himself. He insulted my cause, he insulted the very memory of my little girl!”

Dourley slammed a tight fist against the door, and seethed heavily, “But now, I have his!”

“Uncle Ian! Please! Don’t kill me! I don’t want to die!” Marianne begged as she sagged limply against the door, tears streaming down her cheeks, “Please…. Uncle Ian… ”

Her pleads faded away as she slumped to the floor like a tossed ragdoll. Completely cold and unconscious.  

Beep… Beep… Beep….

Marianne’s eyes stirred beneath her eyelids and with great effort she dragged them open. They were heavy and sore, as was the rest of her young frail body.

Beep… Beep… Beep….

“Where am I?” she asked hoarsely, both mouth and throat were completely dry.

Her vision sharpened and a collection of hazy figures came into focus. She tried to lift up a hand, in order to rub the soreness from her crusty eyes, but found herself bound by both wrists, and both legs!

“You’re finally awake!” A familiar voice cried out.

One of the figures came closer, looming over her like a venomous shadow. Dourley’s long grey face came sharply into view.

“What’s going on Uncle Ian….?” Marianne wheezed weakly.

The girl watched as Dourley was handed an object by one of the elusive figures and presented it to her. It was a clear jar, inside which sagged an oozing human heart.

“I don’t understand….” Marianne croaked.

Dourley spun the jar in his hand, revealing a label that had been plastered across it’s curved surface which read ‘Marianne Mumford. Patient Zero’.

“Your father would be so proud of you Tinman.” Dourley said to her warmly. A huge hearty grin spread across his face as he pointed at her chest, “Look.”

Marianne titled her stiff neck forward and looked down upon her exposed chest. Running clean down it’s centre, between her breasts, was a long, surgical incision, which had been bound back together with metal clips.

“The hearts from my Orchard!” Dourley continued with glee, “They compatible!”

Tears started to pour from the girl’s eyes as she watched Dourley laugh with delight. Shakily, she opened her mouth, but her tongue offered no words to her. All the young girl could muster was a shriek of pure, bloodcurdling, horror.

Beep…  Beep… Beep…

The Woods for the Trees – Chapter 5

Young Treesmith

“The axe is an invaluable tool in one hand, and a deadly weapon in the other.” – Treesmith proverb.

Through tightly squinted eyes Soil searched for Brook in the meadow that spanned beyond the western gate. Poised steadily upon a small fence Soil scanned the green that stretched out in front of him. Looking for even the faintest sign of Monarda’s brother.

Perhaps he had already made his way into the depths of forest? If he had, Soil knew there would be little chance of finding him. Despite his acute awareness of the terrain. You may know a the trails of a maze off by heart, but finding someone deep within it’s many windings, with no ideas of the routes they’ve taken? A rare occurrence.

A heavy hopelessness had almost set in Soil like a stone. However a strand of sunlight gleamed off a boy’s golden hair, who was situated at the edge of the tree line.

Soil had caught only a glimpse of him, before the boy had vanished into the thicket of trees.

Soil jumped down from the fence and raced across the meadow as fast as his legs would carry him, rushing through the tall grass as if he were the midday breeze. Within a moments notice he found himself looking up at the familiar leafless trees that made up Eyre forest during the bleak winters. Whilst panting lightly.

He wasted no time and instantly dived into the forest. Weaving his way through the woods.

To his surprise, his efforts paid off quickly as he came across the young man. He was trudging along slowly, bore down by a multitude of equipment.

Strapped to his back was a large, flat wooden sledge that he carried like a rucksack. Two thick leather straps made their way over both shoulders. Attached loosely to one of the straps hung a rather ominous looking axe, which had a smooth wooden handle, partly wrapped in thin, strips of leather. The head of the axe was extremely large, it had a singular long curved blade that gleamed as sunlight trickled through the dead branches of the trees above. Finally, a small bag was strapped to the sledge also, one containing miscellaneousness items and food.

“Brook!”

The young man awkwardly bumbled round, doing his best to keep his balance as he shifted the heavy load strapped upon his back. He looked at Soil with a wide vacant stare.

“Soil!?” Brook was dumbfounded by the woodling’s sudden appearance, “What are you doing here?!”

Soil reached into his cloak slowly and gently took a hold of the mysterious note.

Brook watched cautiously, his eyes shifted between Soil’s face and cloak, weary of what he might pull out of it.

Soil thought to himself for a moment, and decided asking him about the note in such a blatant manner might arouse unwanted suspicion and worry. So instead Soil pretended to itch the side of his chest, and left the note tucked away within the depths of his cloak. Left thinking of other ways in which he could get his questions answered.

“I wanted to know if I could join you today and do some tree smithing?” Soil asked, “I hear the men and woman of Tachbrook are the best in the world, I wouldn’t mind getting a lesson or two. Plus I am of these woods, so I’m well versed with the surrounds.”

Brook looked Soil up and down before replying, inspecting his slender physique most of which however was buried beneath his thatched straw cloak. “Yeah sure, you can tag along.” Brook replied with a nod, “I could do with the help.” He slid the large sled off his broad sweaty back then proceeded to remove the axe from it’s strap before fastening it to his belt. “First job, carry this lot would ya?” Brook cocked his head to the sled, and bags, that now rested upon the forest floor.

Soil looked at him slightly puzzled.

“Chop chop! I do actually want to get some wood cut today!”

Soil hastily jumped into action, hauling the sled up onto his back. He groaned slightly as the two leather straps dug harshly into his collar bones and shoulders. The weight of the baggage sagged heavily. Soil steadied his feet and adjusted his stance, using the muscles in his legs to keep him firmly upright.

“That’s lesson one completed!” Brook chuckled, both arms folded tightly across his chest. “Lets found ourselves a tree next.”

The pair made there way deeper into the woodland. Brook kept a keen eye open for any potential trees, that might be worth harvesting. He approached several on their journey, inspecting their bark carefully to ensure the tree was not rotten or dead.

“It’s a bit trickier in the winter months,” Brook said aimlessly to Soil as he walked around the circumference of a large dark tree, “For nearly all of the trees are leafless and it’s hard to tell whether a tree is dead or about to die.” As he finished his sentence he looked up at the dark tree. It’s bark was like charcoal as if the tree had been subject to a raging fire. Soil stretched out his hand and ran his fingers along it’s bark, which was coarse to the touch.

“I know what you’re thinking, and no, it isn’t burnt. It’s an Aija tree.” Brook explained, acting as though he was teaching a class of children. However Soil of course knew that the tree wasn’t burnt, having grown up in the forest he had gained a relatively good understanding of trees and plant life that grew there. He decided to say nothing however, not wanting to take away the enjoyment that Brook was having. By believing himself to be the most knowledgeable of the two.

However, Brook proceeded to show Soil something he didn’t know.

“Pass me the bag.” Brook commanded rudely, with an outstretched hand. Whilst staring up at the tree branches above him.

Soil slunk the bag from his shoulder, and placed it in Brook’s open hand. Who instantly began to rummage through it’s contents.

Brook pulled out a long curved hooked, attached to which was a long piece of thick rope. He dumped the bag onto the ground.

Soil watched, and took a few cautious steps back, as Brook began to spin the hook in a large loop beside him. Getting ever faster and wider as he did so. The boy’s stare was fixated upon the branches far above them.

In less than a second, the hook flew upward at an alarming rate and looked as if it were set to fly straight into the heavens themselves. Brook flicked his wrist, pulling at the rope in such a way, that the hooks course altered sharply. Wrapping madly round one of the branches, binding it as venomous snake would bind it’s prey.

Brook tugged the rope so it were taut. He looked to Soil with a satifised smirk.

“What now?” Soil asked.

“Climbing.”

Brook jumped up and swung on the rope, pulling himself up as he did so. The tree wood above him yawned as it steadily held his weight. Soil found himself impressed with the speed that Brook was to scale the large tree with.

Within moments, he had hoisted himself all the way to the top. Where by he unpinned the large axe from his belt.

Soil watched from the ground below as Brook set up a small, simple platform. Which acted as his makeshift workstation as he begun his work. Cutting at the different arms of the tree. That he threw down carelessly to Soil.

The woodling dived to one side as a branch nearly fell on top of him. “You nearly hit me with that one!” Soil exclaimed.

“Then pay more attention!” Brook yelled back, “Start cutting them into smaller pieces! And load up the sled! There’s a saw in the bag!”

Soil did as he was instructed, cutting down the large pieces once they fell.

The whole time that Brook was in the tree top dancing between it’s branches and hacking parts off, he shouted down to Soil. Explaining the whole wood smithing process to him as he worked tirelessly on the ground below.

“So then after we fill this sled, We take it back to Tachbrook and check to see if there have been any commissions. From there, we decide if it’s best to craft the work, or just sell it as stock.” Brook continued, breaking his sentence up into small bursts as he panted heavily. Hauling the large axe about clumsily.

“That’s quite the system you timber smiths have got!” Soil shouted back up in reply, whilst sawing at a large black branch. “Who was it who taught you how to timber smith then, you seem like a natural!”

Brook stopped in his tracks up high in the tree. Soil looked up to see if the young man was alright, after receiving a short silence in reply. Worried that maybe, he had taken a mis-step or swung to grandly with his axe, and fallen to his doom.

“It was my dad.” Brook replied, before continuing back on his way. Testing the strength of a particular branch with his foot, whilst carefully positioning himself. “He was a great man, tall, strong and well natured.”

Brook swung his axe so that the steel blade sank into dark wood, small chips flew out as the wood cracked. “He died a couple years back though, back when I was 14, in a timber smithing accident.”

Soil stopped what he was doing and looked up at Brook, “I’m sorry to hear that Brook.”

“It’s alright, accidents happen.” Brook replied as he threw a final swing at the base of the branch. A loud crunch cried out from the wood as the branch joint snapped. It crashed heavily onto the floor. “Everything went south after Dad died. My family went through some tough times, and then of course my sister met Phlox.”

“You seem to be one of the only people who doesn’t like Phlox, everyone else seems to adore him…”

Brook snapped his head round at Soil’s reply, and quickly descended from the tree top. Sliding effortlessly down the dangling rope. As soon as his feet were planted down firmly upon the forest floor he turned to Soil and said in a raised voice, “That man is a god damn devil. He manipulated my sister whilst she was still grieving over the death of our father. He keeps her under house arrest and has reduced her to nothing more than just a puppet!” Brook took a few steps away from Soil as his blood began to boil,  pulsating violently through his body.

“He’s a dirty, sneaky manipulator, who puts on a pretty face to fool everyone around him! I seem to be the only one round here who’s able to see what the hell he’s doing!” The frustrated young man kicked a large stone that sat idly on the forest floor. Sending the rock flying, but stubbing his toe in the process. He winced as a sharp shooting pain pierced through his foot and up into the back of his leg. Brook grunted out his frustration, before slowing his breathing to bring back a sense of calmness. He turned to look over his shoulder at Soil who was placing the last pieces of wood upon the sled.

“What do you think of him?” Brook asked the woodling coldly.

Soil looked up and replied “I don’t know what I think of him, but I think there’s something going on… I think your sister might be in danger.”

A heavy scowl came about Brook’s face. His narrow eyes, darkened.

Soil reached for the note in his cloak as he walked over to Brook and handed it to him. Allowing him to unfold the small parchment and read the inked words for himself.

“Where did you get this?”

“It was nailed to a tree in the woodland last night. I managed to see a person hiding in the darkness, but they slipped away from me.”

Brook folded the small note back up and handed it back to Soil, a stern look of anger was chiselled into his face.

“I’m going to stick around for a bit, and make sure that your sister is safe.”

“Why would a stranger want to help someone they’ve only met for a day?”

“Because, it’s the right thing to do.”

Brook looked Soil straight in the eyes. “Thank you Soil.” He placed his hand firmly on Soil’s shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. Soil smiled in reply.

“Come on Soil bud, lets get these logs back to Tachbrook before the sun sets.” Brook said, slapping him on the arm.

“One more thing Brook.” Soil said quickly, “I understand the point you made earlier… about your sister being under house arrest. Well, I’ve agreed to take her to see the tree of 11 trunks tonight. I just thought you should know, so you’re not alarmed when Phlox finds she’s not there tonight. You know she’s safe.”

Brooks stern face relaxed as Soil finished his sentence, “You’re a good guy Soil.” Brook continued his walk towards the sled and began fastening the logs down with the straps he used to initially carry it

Soil joined him and began helping by clearing up the odd tools that lay strewn over the forest floor. Once the two of them had cleared up they made their way back to the village, both helped in pulling the sled, making use of two additional straps that were fixated onto it’s front.

By the time they had reached the meadow, the sun was sinking into an orange horizon. “I need to get going Brook. Thank you for today.”

“You get going, I can take it from here and no, thank you for all of your help. Please don’t hesitate to come and stay at the Inn if you’re stuck for somewhere to go tonight”

“I don’t want to be a hassle or…”

“Please Soil, I insist, as thanks for your all of your help tonight. Plus if you’re going to keep coming back to Tachbrook you might as well stay there.”

Soil took a moment to think about the offer, “Okay, alright I’ll come by after I’ve taken Monarda to the tree of 11 trunks.”

A half smiled worked its way across Brook’s face, “I’ll see you soon then.”

The two of them said their goodbyes and parted ways. Brook hauled the sled through the meadow, pulling it along like an ox begrudgingly drawing a plough through a field.

Soil stuck to the shadowy tree line and followed it until he caught view of Tachbrook’s northern gate. He glanced up at the blood orange sky, the sun was slowly seeping beneath the eastern line of trees.

Calm and still, he waited among the plants and shrubbery. Keeping an ever watchful eye fixated on the northern gate. Until finally a figure arrived, covered completely, head to toe in a long black cloak. The figure ran through the northern gate and into the meadow.

Soil let out a sharp ear splitting whistle to gain the unknown figures attention. They looked up in shock, hidden within the hood was Monarda’s pale slender face. She began scanning the edge of the forest for the source of the noise, desperately searching for Soil.

He stepped out of his place of hiding and ushered her to him. She bounded over as quickly as she could, her cloak flapping madly.

When the two met Monarda frantically grabbed a hold of Soil’s hand and hissed at him, “Come on lets go! Quick!!” She sped off, dragging Soil along with her. He took a final glance over his shoulder, on the slight chance that she was followed. Before the two of them delved deep into the darkness of the Eyre woodland, as the night fell upon them.

 

Wide awake, Daniel paced aimlessly along the meandering alley ways of Tullbury. Only the sombre glow, and the smell of a cigarette accompanied him. As he mulled over thoughts of his daughter.
Daniel came to a stop, staring at a piece of graffiti that was plastered on a redbrick wall. It was a large bloodshot eye, which stared at him. Lidless, with a wide, diluted pupil. Scribbled underneath the picture, in aggressive white letters were two words. ‘Wake up!!’ 

Working on a new short story! It’s coming along really well, hopefully you guys will enjoy it as much as I have writing it. Coming soon!

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The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 1

The Crimson Tree

“Still the mind. Inhale peace. Let go of worries. Exhale stress. Notice the breath. Connect to all.  Embrace the calm.”

The world can appear to be endless. Without boundaries, or borders. One can stand upon the dunes of the earth and watch rolling hills ascend to ever reaching horizons and beyond. Stretching far beyond comprehension and often our own imaginations. Especially those of us who seek shelter in the familiar.

A cloaked and hooded figure walked idly through his forest homeland. He knew little of the world beyond his realm of trees and earth. He walked tirelessly, without purpose, reason or intent. Trekking across the hard earth of the woodland floor in search of nothing, just as he had done many times before. But just because you are not searching for any in particular, it does not mean the world is not searching for you. As often we find ourselves in explicable situations and circumstances, as reason and purpose seed their way into our lives.

The cloaked figure continued his aimless, barefooted walk. Silky morning sunlight seeped through the cracks of bare tree branches that spanned above him. The figure’s calm breath condensed in the cold winter air and vapour bellowed out from the darkness under his thatched hood.

The figure pulled the hood down, allowing the cool air to envelop his face. The young man closed both his bottle green eyes as he drew a long deep breath, listening to the soothing sound of a shallow brook that ran nearby. Fresh air seep into his lungs, before it was exhaled once more, condensing into a thick fog of vapour.

The birds who had braved the winter months sang their proud songs from the trees above, the cloaked man stood in silence, listening. He had heard their songs before, and was familiar with the symphony of the woodland in which he resided. However a new sound caught his attention, a cry that was out of harmony with the forest song that sang around him. The sound of sorrow, the sound of someone weeping.

He turned on his feet, following the notes of sadness that glided through the air. He quickly found himself beside a shallow brook that cut through a small clearing within the forest. Across from him, standing on the other side of the brooks gentle embankment, was a small tree. Which stood no taller than that of an average man. It was unlike it’s tall and mighty brethren, who stood proud and bare throughout the forest, the sapling had retained it’s leaves through all of winters spite, which were bright red in colour. Sitting beneath the tree’s arching branches, was a young woman who’s head was buried in a pair of soft pale hands.

The cloaked man stood in silence, observing the stranger from afar. He had encountered people before, however it was however an uncommon occurrence. The young man was accustom to a singular existence of isolation. Yet the good nature of his soul urged him to call out to the girl. “Are you alright?”

The girl took her head from the cover of her hands. Her heart cramped in fear as she looked across at the cloaked stranger, who stood still on the embankment opposite.

The youth was hidden beneath his thatched cloak, that had been woven from plant life and wood harvested from the floor of the forest. It flowed out from his neck, and came to an end softly at his knees, completely shrouding his shoulders, arms and torso.

“It’s okay, I’m not here to harm you.” The stranger continued, as he made his way down a steady incline into the crystal clear waters of the small brook. The icy water brought with it a bitter chill as he carefully made his way across the shallow stream. “My name is Soil.” The stranger said calmly, “I am of these woods. I only wish to help.”

The girl watched as the woodland man slowly walked towards her, a spring like smile adorned his face. He sat down on the frosty floor once he had reached the crimson tree, leaving a meter or so between them, and folded both his feet so them rested upon each thigh.

“Why is it that you’re crying?” Soil asked.

The young woman sniffed a couple times, wiping her numb, running nose with a purple handkerchief. Whilst at the same time trying to swallow a sad lump that swelled within her throat.

“My partner and I, We’ve just had a silly argument is all.” She replied hoarsely, wiping cool tears from her pale cheeks.

“I hope it was nothing serious.”

“It was over nothing important.”

Soil smiled at the young woman before saying, “The course of true love is not always a smooth and gentle one. But it’s rewards are worth the effort we invest in it.”

His words struck a chord in the girls young heart, and an involuntary, yet welcome smile bloomed upon her face. She turned to Soil, “My name’s Monarda and thank you for your concern. It’s a rare trait to find these days.”

“You’re welcome.” Soil replied, before turning his attention back to the endless canvas of trees that spread out around them.

“So you say that you live in the Eyre forest?” Monarda asked as a new found curiosity took a hold of her.

“The Eyre forest?”

Monarda raised an eyebrow, bemused. “Yes, The Eyre forest. This forest.” She cast one of her hand in front of her as she spoke, encompassing the tall bare trees that surrounded them..

“I didn’t realise this forest had a name!” Soil replied in excitement. “Eyre forest… I like it!”

The pair laughed for a moment before Soil continued. “But yes, I’ve lived out here on my own for many years.”

“Don’t you have any family?”

“I had a brother, but he’s gone now.”

Monarda’s cheery look melted away, “I’m sorry.”

To her surprise Soil turn to her with a glowing smile. “Don’t be,” He said, “He’s one with this realm now. I see him every morning when the sun shines and I hear him in every bird song.”

Monarda’s heart was warmed by Soil’s undying optimism, a trait that she found was uncommon among most people.

“So where are you from?” Soil continued, “My guess is that you’re from that settlement that lays south from here?”

“That’s correct!” Monarda replied, brushing her long, cream blonde hair behind her left ear, “It’s called Tachbrook by the way. Have you been there before?”

“No I haven’t, But I have met with several travelers who say they came from there.”

“It’s a quaint place,” Monarda said softly, as she looked up to the milky morning sky above. “Oh my, I’ve been here too long!” She suddenly exclaimed, climbing up onto her feet and brushing the dusty earth off her winter jacket.

She was a very tall and slender woman, standing at 6ft. Rich blonde hair gracefully flowed from her head down to her lower back. She was clothed in a thick winter jacket, deep blue in colour that covered from her shoulders to her knees and round its collar was thick white fur. Black woollen stockings kept her the biting cold from her legs and both feet were encased in tough hide boots.

“I’ll escort you back if you like?” said Soil, as he also stood up. Monarda towered above him, as the young man only stood at a modest 5ft 6.

“I’d appreciate that.” Monarda replied, as she awkwardly looked around, “For.. I’m not sure if I’ve got myself lost or not…”

Soil laughed and pointed with an outstretched, “This way, would be a good start.”

The two of them set off together, to retrace Monarda’s early morning footsteps. Leaving the solitary red tree to stand on it’s own one more, by the calm brook waters.