Writing

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/

Author List

 

 

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.

 

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 4

Return to Tachbrook

“It is said in Tachbrook folk tales, that those who wear a crown fashioned from the wood of the Aija tree, can pass freely between the worlds of the living and the dead.”

 

Stillness, quiet and focus. Soil sat upon the brook bank. His nimble legs folded neatly beneath him and both eyes were gently closed. Deep breaths filled his lungs, as he fought to bring a stillness to a mind that swirled violently with thoughts. As if it were a vicious typhoon.

Every time Soil’s mind wandered, he brought concentration back to the breath. Hoping that through meditation, he could refine the information within his conscience and find an understanding to the events that had occurred the preceding day.

However, despite his efforts, he did little to quell the storm that raged within him. Flashes of the ghostly apparition came to the forefront of his mind before melting away and twisting into visions of Monarda. Behind her stretched a towering pair of black silhouetted hands. Unnaturally long fingers crept around the frail girl, she stood seemingly unaware with a smile adorning her face. Then she was snatched at. The monsterious hands gripped her hair tightly and pulled her down into a deep well of nothingness.

Her shrill screams struck his conscience as if they were solid punches. Each delivered a heavy, hard hitting blow. With every strike, a single inked letter flew out of Soils self perceived body. One by one, they spelt out the harrowing message left to him the night before.

“D.O.N.T L.E.A.V.E”

“Come back!!” Monarda’s voice echoed through the depths of his mind.

“S.H.E.S N.O.T S.A.F.E”

“Help me!!”

Soil’s eyes shot open. The boy clutched at his chest as he began gasping frantically for air. A single bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.

He looked down at his lap. There, rested gently between his hands, was the mysterious note. The sudden tightness across his chest began to fade, as a calming rhythm of breath returned to him. Bird song soothed his mind and river waters calmed his soul. He looked up and across at the lonely crimson tree. The bright morning sunlight caused it’s delicate leaves to shimmer like precious rubies.

“One must not get lost in vision’s of the past, present or future.” Soil’s whispered to himself, as he drew a long deep breath, “One must stay focused on present moment as it exists now. As it is the only true reality.”

The crisp crunch of footsteps, treading harshly on frosted leaves, could be heard coming from beyond the clearings tree line. Soil buried the note within the depths of his cloak. Warily watching as a figure made it’s way out into view. Cast in the glow of morning sun.

“Soil?” A soft voice called out.

“Monarda!” Soil got up onto his feet. Eagerly making his way across the brook water. “I had a feeling you’d come back.”

She replied back, “And I had a feeling you’d be waiting for me.” As she stepped further into the clearing her shining silhouette faded.

The two met one another by the crimson tree and Soil extended his hand as a gesture to sit beneath the small tree’s arching branches. Monarda bowed her knees slightly. “Thank you.” She planted herself down, pulling her hood from head. Revealing her golden, silk like hair.

“So why is it you thought I would return?” Monarda asked, being the first of the two to strike up a conversation.

Soil sat down beside her, before saying “Monarda, I believe I’m supposed to help you.”

“Help me?” Monarda replied in bewilderment, “I don’t need any help, I’m fine.” Ending her sentence with a sweet smile.

The note flashed back violently in Soils mind, followed by the vision of Monarda. Her screams and shrieks pierced his soul just as a wasp sting pierces flesh. The pain that remained, showed no signs of fading soon.

“Then why are you here?” Soil asked, “What are you trying to run from?”

“I’m not running away from anything…? I’m just- It’s just…. good to get some fresh air every once in a while.” Monarda’s tongue tripped up her words as they tried to escape her mouth.

“I think you’re searching for answers.” Soil said to her calmly, turning his head to look at her, “Answers to questions that you don’t even know to ask yet.”

Monarda stared into Soil’s bright, bottle green eyes. Her face began twitching and her jaw trembled as a conflict stirred within her.

Soil continued, not waiting on a reply, “Which flowers is it you want to see and why haven’t you gone to see them yet?”

Try as she might, Monarda found herself unable to keep her composure. Her face melted as a bitter sorrow swept in. She turned away from Soil. Gentle tears rolled down her cheeks. The sparkling drops of sadness splashed against the earth.

A silence set in as Monarda wept. Soil was about to break the silence with an apology, thinking that perhaps he had pushed the poor girl too far. But just as he opened his mouth, Monarda spoke out softly. Wiping the tears from her face.

“When I was a young girl growing up, I would talk with the various travellers who passed through Tachbrook at my mother’s inn.” Monarda sniffed, “They would tell me stories of adventures they’d had in far off lands, tales of monsters, beasts, different cultures and races that made up this world. I knew that I would never see any of the things these travellers spoke of. I knew the world was too big for someone so small and insignificant, like me.”

She turned back round to face Soil, a new light came about her face, “But then there were the travellers who had returned from Eyre woodlands. They’d bring back stories also, tales of the magnificent life that bloomed within the forest. Wondrous tree’s and animals, and accounts of a boy and his humble allotment deep within the woods.”

A grin grew across Soils face as he continued to listen.

“One of the various travellers told me about a tree that he had stumbled across whilst venturing in the woodland. He said that this great tree was unlike that of any he had ever seen. It’s body had split into 11 separate trunks, each of them twisted and wound about the area of the forest in which the tree resided, as if they were mighty branches. Beneath the tree, he told me, grew the most splendid red flowers. At night when the moon climbed into the sky above they glowed a dazzling red and illuminated the forest around them in a bright light. The traveller even showed me one that he had collected, his tale captured my young heart. Since then I had always dreamed of going for myself. But it was just a dream, nothing more.”

“A man who dreams of seizing the stars never will if he refuses to look up to the nights sky.” Soil replied, “Why haven’t you gone out and tried to fulfil this dream? All these wonders surround your village and lay only a short distance beyond your door.”

“I couldn’t,” Monarda replied, she brought both her legs up to her chest. Wrapping her arms around them tightly, “I don’t know. I’ve got duties to do at home now that I’ve grown up, I’ve got a life to be dealing with. The woods are dangerous… and Phlox would be really angry with me. He’d even be angry if he found out that I came here.”

Monarda leaned her head forward resting it heavily upon her knees. She glumly looked down at her feet and let out a low hum.

“We’re all born as free people. Free to make our own choices about our own lives.” Soil said, in a calm cool tone. Monarda’s expression remained unmoved, her eyes cast low.

“Look, If you want…” Soil continued, in an attempt to cheer her up, “I can take you to this ‘Tree of eleven trunks’.”

Monarda shot up instantly and a look of pure elation came about her face. Accompanied by a wide joyous smile. “You can?!” She replied gleefully, clapping her hands together in utter delight. “Oh that would be wonderful!”

“If you really want to see it, then meet me by the eastern edge of the Eyre forest that surrounds Tachbrook, be there tonight, just before the twilight hours.”

“I will, I will! I’ll be there!”

Monarda’s intoxicating rush of excitement was short lived. As she caught a glimpse of the sun stretching out above them. It had continued with it’s slow, inevitable, trek across the sky. Striving to provide the folks of the world beneath it with their accustomed hours of daylight.

“Oh my! I’ve been gone too long, Phlox will be waking up soon!”

Monarda dashed up onto her feet, being careful not to strike her head against the low tree branches.

“I must be heading back,” She said, brushing a thin layer dirt from her thick coat. “I’ll see you tonight.” Monarda turned to leave hastily, but darted back round when Soil suddenly called out to her.

“I’ll escort you back, like I did yesterday.” He said, rising to his feet from beneath the small tree. “There’s some business I wish to attend to in Tachbrook today, so I may as well join you.”

Monarda smiled at the woodling, “Okay, yeah sure, that would be nice, thank you.”

The pair set off together, in similar fashion to the morning of the previous day. Monarda led the way this time however, ducking and weaving her way through the bare, low hanging branches.

Thoughts of the shadowy silhouette from the previous night came to Soil’s mind as he effortlessly followed Monarda’s footsteps through the forest. Numerous questions sprang up in his mind, questions whose answers, he was sure, laid hidden away somewhere in one of Tachbrook’s quaint homesteads.

“So what business do you have in Tachbrook today Soil?” Monarda asked, turning her head slightly as she did so. Her sudden question pulled Soil’s mind from its festering abstractions.

Soil looked across at her, wide eyed as all thoughts instantly flushed from his mind. Desperately he scrambled to grasp at some reasoning to explain his sudden interest to return to the small village. He knew he couldn’t tell her about the ominous note that now lurked within the depths of his cloak. Her knowledge of it could potentially cast her into more danger, if of cause there was any. A change Soil was not willing to take.

Just before the silence had been dragged to an uncomfortable length, Soil’s mind presented him with an idea!

“I wish to visit your brother.”

“My brother?!” Monarda exclaimed.

“Yes, I want to… get some wood smithing advice from him. As to better aid my own creations.”

“Well my brothers an idiot, but if it’s one thing he’s good it’s carving wood. I’m sure he’d be able to help you out. I wouldn’t quiz him on anything else though, he’s mediocre at everything else.”

The two continued their journey back to Tachbrook with hast, the sun reached up ever higher into the white skies that blanketed above them. Pouring it’s cool golden rays over the huddle of tightly knit homesteads.

After walking through the tall grassy meadow that separated Tachbrook from the forest, the pair parted ways at the village’s northern gate.

Soil made his way down the winding pathways, narrowly dodging village folk as they slowly began to stir from their early morning slumber. Begrudgingly answering the call of their long daily routines. He eventually found himself arriving outside Ivy’s humble Inn. Soil walked up to the entrance but allowed himself to become distracted by an arrangement of flower pots.

They sat humbly outside, lined against the outer dark wood wall of the inn. Each was filled to the brim with dirt, and noticeably absent of flowers.

“Soil!” A loud gleeful voice cried out behind him.

The young man jumped in his skin, switching round quickly on his heels to see who it was that had called to him. But as he did he was greeted by a pair of large soft arms that muffled around him tightly. He began gasping for air as he was smothered intensely within an unknown bosom. When the clenched grip was finally alleviated Soil fell backwards heavily, red faced. Landing awkwardly on his palms whilst panting desperately for air to fill his squashed, empty lungs.

“So good to see you again! I didn’t think you’d be returning so soon!”
Soil looked up to see Monarda’s mother standing before him, her blonde hair carelessly bundled into a bun on her head. The short chubby woman beamed a delighted homely smile towards Soil, before leaning over to pick up a small watering can she had brought outside with her.

“Good to, see you again, also.” Soil stammered, doing his best to recover from the unsuspecting, and unintentional, winding she dealt him.

“Looking at my plant pots were you?” She said cheerily, walking over to them and gently showering each one with a sprinkle of clear sparkling water. “I know they’re not much yet but, like most things in life, if you devote enough love, care and-” Ivy leaned over one of the red clay pots and pulled a tiny green sprout from the dirt, “And make sure you keep the weeds out, then eventually they’ll blossom into beauty when spring arrives.” The short stocky woman turned round once more to Soil, who was now back on his feet. A healthy hue of colour had returned to his face.

“How was the meal yesterday?” Ivy asked, as she continued to tend to the collection of plant pots, “I was sad to miss it, Phlox’s cooking is always so delightful.”

“It was good!” Soil replied as he walked over, watching as she carefully tended the dirt held within the clay jars. “Although the atmosphere got a bit tense.”

“How so?”

“I mentioned about some flowers within the Eyre woodland that Monarda wanted to see…. Phlox isn’t very keen on the idea of Monarda venturing far from home is he?”

Ivy stood up straight, a loud crack eminent from her straightened spine. She let out a long exhale.

“We’ve all got to make sacrifices I suppose. Phlox has provided my daughter with a stable and comfortable life. She never goes hungry or cold and most importantly he keeps her safe. He’s concerned for her is all.”

Soil pondered the thought for a moment, he didn’t entirely agree but decided it was best to hold back his tongue. Not wanting to cause any upset or arguments between them.

“What brings you back here anyway? I didn’t think I’d see you again so quickly.” Ivy asked as she finished watering the plant pots. The woman turned to head back inside the Inn, cocking her head as an invitation for Soil to join her. The two filed in through the door and into the main reception room of the Inn.

Upon his entry, Soil saw an elderly man sat at one of the tables to his left. He had tanned leather like skin and a collection of strange, black tattoo’s that ran down the sides of his bald head. They appeared to continue down his back, but Soil was unsure. The elderly fellow was tucking into some early morning breakfast. A small collection of which had been laid out by Ivy, for her inn guests.

Soil’s stomach growled slightly as his own eyes caught a glimpse of the small breakfast buffet. Black rye bread, cheese and fruits made up the colourful collection that sung out to him.

“Soil?” Ivy asked, who was still waiting on a reply.

“Oh sorry! I’m here to see Brook, I thought he could give me some wood smithing advice.”

“Well you’ve picked a good day for it!” Ivy replied, “The little sod set out a short while ago, he’s heading for the western edge of the woodland,  if you hurry you might catch him.”

“Thank you!” Soil bowed slightly, before turning to leave. He had placed a hand on the wooden door handle when Ivy called to him.

“Soil. Catch!”

He turned round to see 2 rolls of rye bread fly through the air towards him. Soil managed to pluck a rye bread roll from out of the air, however the remaining one hit him softly on forehead. He scrambled quickly to swipe the remaining roll from  the clean swept Inn floor.

Soil went to lean forward again out of thanks, but before he could Ivy said to him cheerfully “Don’t worry about bloody bowing again, go on! Get out of here you!”

Soil sheepishly made his way out of the Inn, tucking one of the rye bread rolls into his cloak before taking a large bite out of the one that still remained in his hand. Instantly a strength spread throughout his muscles as the rye bread reached his empty stomach.

He looked up into the milky, winter sky. Taking into account the position of the slow rolling sun in order to find his bearings. ‘West …’ he thought to himself, ‘west.’

Once Soil had demolished the bread roll he held in his hand, he set off to look for Brook. But more importantly, to look for answers.

 

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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Shellvon Heights

“The offence in hand, was committed with two deadly weapons, one knife and one firearm.” A heavy silence smothered the room: press, public and jury all sat quietly as the judge continued with her closing statement. “The crime was carefully premeditated, fuelled by his bitter, jealous nature, and the defended has shown little to no remorse for his actions.

From the middle of the courtroom, a tall man stood with both hands bound together. He looked up at the judge before him with a vacant stare.

“The court continued to consider the previous convictions held by the defended, which includes aggravated assault and multiple charges of GBH. Not only this, but considerations were made for the emotional harm and grief inflicted on the victims family members as a result of the defences actions Therefore I have come to the decision that, Norval Tunnock, is a violent, remorseless and vicious man who is unfit to ever mix with the civil population again.”

Not even the slightest flicker of emotion showed on Tunnock’s stern face that was set as if it were carved from stone. His eyes watched from the dark sunken hollows they were situated in. His lawyer stood beside him, just beyond the group security that encompassed Tunnock, eager for the judge to finish her words and finally put an end to this un-winnable case.

“The court has unanimously agreed that Norval Tunnock is guilty of two accounts of murder and shall be put to death.”

The faint mumble of hushed chatter emanated around the room. People leaned from ear to ear, carefully and quietly exchanging thoughts and their personal opinions.

Tunnock’s empty gaze lowered to the floor, his expression unmoved and unchanged. Whilst his lawyer brought a hand to his forehand and rubbed one temple gently, relieved that the ordeal was finally over.

“However,” The judge continued suddenly, casting another shroud of silence over the room, “In this rare occasion, an alternate sentence shall be offered.”

The judges words caught Tunnock’s attention once more and he slowly lifted his beady glare.

“The alternate sentence is offered on behalf of Smith Ltd’s mercy. The defended can choose either the death penalty or life imprisonment at their maximum security facility Shellvon heights. There is no chance of parole and the charged must conform with all terms and conditions that the facility asks of you.”

Tunnock’s lawyer spoke up immediately, “What kind of terms!?”

“The information will be disclosed if the defended chooses to accept the sentence and appear at Shellvon Heights.”

“How can my client be expected to accept their terms if he doesn’t even know what they are!?” The lawyer cried out, waving his hands as he talked.

A frown came about the judges winkled face, unimpressed with the man’s tone. “The defended will hold the right to revoke the sentence offered by Smith Ltd at any time he chooses. If he does not agree with their terms, he can be put to death on the site.” The judge hissed, “Can the defended make a decision please?”

The entirety of the room turned to Tunnock and waited with baited breath, as he chose his punishment.

***

The next thing Tunnock knew, he was being thrown into the back of a police van by two huge hulking members of security. Who had brushed him past large groups of press that flocked to the corridors of the crown court building, waiting with microphone and camera in hopes of gaining even the faintest of words from the

convict.

The truck in which found himself was windowless and had only a dim bulb situated on it’s ceiling. There was no seating of any sort and Tunnock found little comfort as he awkwardly situated himself on a wheel arch.

There was a brief moment of stillness, as Tunnock poised himself carefully and stared aimlessly at the floor of the van. Echo’s of faded voices gently whisked through his mind, like fallen autumn leafs on a soft breeze, before melting away.

The van then hummed angrily as the engine started, and Tunnock snapped back to reality, the truck then proceeded to begin it’s slow, long journey.

Tunnock had heard stories about Shellvon Heights, many people had, civilian and inmate alike. Dark rumours circulated about the mysterious place. It was an infamous, high security compound, privately owned and funded by a company called Smith Ltd. The general knowledge was that Smith Ltd received endorsements and money from the government and in return they offered to lock up and detain the harshest criminals that a broken society could spit out.

The location of the prison was mystery to most, including Tunnock. The information was kept private to minimise the chance of rescue attempts or possible revenge attacks from gangs or terrorist organisations.

However Tunnock was well aware that there was no one who would come break him out. He knew he was now completely on his own and Tunnock didn’t care.

The vehicle began to slow down as it tackled a steep incline. Tunnock slid to the back of the truck and was pressed heavily against the back door, unable to brace himself as both hands were still bonded tightly behind his back.

The van shook violently as it went. Throwing Tunnock about like a ragdoll, causing him to bash his head several times off the wall beside him.

Eventually the van came to a halt and the hum of the engine ceased. The doors behind the convict flew open and a hand grabbed the collar of his shirt, dragging him out onto a hard layer of black tarmac.

Tunnock lay on his back looking up at the blue skies above him.

“Make sure you get a good look,” A prison guard said as he leaned over him to obstruct his view, “It’s the last time you’re ever going to see it.” He smirked before grabbing hold of Tunnock and pulling him back onto his feet.

Before him stood the light grey buildings that made up the mysterious prison complex, Shellvon Heights. A series of tall gun towers littered the area,each with hexagonal crows nests situated upon them, rifles were permanently poised and ready to open fire if a situation called for it. Beneath them lay the rest of the bleak prison buildings, which were situated in a large outcrop surrounded by steep rocky hills.

Tunnock was lead to a large rectangular opening that was completely dark and void of light.  He was escorted through the darkness for several seconds before emerging in a small lit grey room. In which a single woman stood, a long rectangular object was poised neatly in her hands. She had short brown hair that had been shaved close to her head, yet it didn’t inhibit on her feminine appearance. For her smooth jaw line and soft eyes brought an unsettling beauty about her.

“Tunnock is it?” She asked sternly.

“Yeah. That’s me.”

She ushered the guards to step back from the convict as she approached him. Looking the criminal up and down as she circled him. “I always get the soft ones,” She scoffed.

“Whatever you say sweet stuff.” Tunnock replied coldly, flexing the muscles in ridged arms.

A fist smashed straight into his face, the force threw him down to the ground. Tunnock tried to retaliate, only to have the object she welded forced into his ribs which dealt a spine ripping electrical shock to his body.

“You will call me Darius,” She continued, withdrawing the stun stick from his body. “I am one of the enforcers at this complex. I shall be escorting you and monitoring you until either you die, or I’m instructed otherwise, got it?”

Tunnock groaned as he attuned himself to the searing pain that afflicted him.

Darius tutted to herself as she look down at the man beneath her, “Get up!” She said to him, “You haven’t even been inducted yet.”

She turned her attention to the guards that still lingered within the room, and flicked her hand to signal them to leave.

Daruis spoke into a small device pinned on her body armour. “Okay Dr Kesh, come in.”

A door opened from the opposite side of the room and a man dressed in a smart pressed suit made his way in, a small silver suitcase held in one hand, and a bundle of grey clothes in the other. He made his way over to a table that stood situated in the small room and placed the items upon it.

“Hello there Norval.” The man said cheerfully, turning as to face him.

“Tunnock, Call me Tunnock.”

The doctor raised a bemused eyebrow, “Okay, Tunnock. I trust you’re eager to hear our terms and conditions relating to the sentence that you’ve wisely accepted.”

Tunnock remained in silence.

“Well, I can tell that if you do continue to accept life imprisonment with us, it will be under the proviso that you are subjected to daily doses of scrinacine.”

“Scrinacine?”

Dr Kesh messed with the combination on the box beside him and flicked the lid open. Revealing a set of syringes, filled with bubbling yellow liquid, housed neatly within a layer of foam.

“It’s a concoction that us scientists at Smith Ltd have created, and we wish to trail it. The scrinacine will be administered to each of your limbs and to your chest. Previous tests on rats have shown the injection to restrict blood flow to the muscles, whilst also drawing water from them. Leaving you in a perpetual state of unrest.”

Tunnock raised an single eyebrow as he looked upon the strange serum. “Why do you want to test something like this? What practical use does it have?”

Dr Kesh held a stare with Tunnock for a moment, before removing his spectacles, “That is something you need not worry about Mr Tunnock. All you need to be concerned with is what sentence you wish to carry out. Remember, if at any point you wish to cease your contract with us you can, you are free at any point to fullfill your alternate sentence. You’re in control.”

Tunnock chuckled lightly, “So my choices are either Death, or, living my life in mild discomfort for the rest of my days?”

Dr Kesh nodded.

“Shoot me up then doc.”

Darius stepped forward and brought her taser into Tunnock back. His muscles seized up and he collapsed to the floor.

“Make even the slightest move and you’ll get get toasted again, got it?”

Tunnock snarled angrily before looking down to see Dr Kesh approaching him with a syringe in hand, a slight smirk upon his face.

He carefully pierced Tunnocks skin and pushed all of the yellow liquid into one of his biceps. Dr Kesh repeated the process, skilfully injecting the scinacine into the flesh of each of the man’s limbs and rchest.

Tunnock remained cool and collected throughout the process, as he felt the drug seep into his veins and muscles.

Dr Kesh gently closed the lid to the suitcase once he had finished and packed the syringes neatly away once more.

“Is that it?” Tunnock asked, as he climbed back onto his feet, looking at each of his limbs curiously.

Dr Kesh made his way back over, and passed a small bundle to Tunnock.

“These are your clothes from now on.” Dr Kesh replied, “Come on, get changed and we’ll show you to your room.”

The convict turned slightly and raised a seductive eyebrow at Darius, who stood behind him. She responded to the gesture with a taser to his gut. He collapsed to the floor once again.

“Do you like being hurt Tunnock?” The enforcer quipped.

Tunnock squirmed on the floor, before reaching for the pile of clothes that lay strewn out before him. Once he had climbed into the plain grey attire he was promptly escorted from the room.

Darius led the convict down an array of bland shadowless corridors. All sense of orientation was lost within the complex. No signs or markers lay on the walls, the hallways were barren and windowless, twisting endlessly like a grey maze. Creating a suffocating feeling of claustrophobia.

They made their way round a curving corridor. Stopping outside a large steel door labelled ‘1-C16’. Darius brought her key card to the scanner beside it and the door slid open, revealing a wall of steel bars behind which sat the prison cell.

Darius proceeded to unlock the steel bar door and drew it open, throwing Tunnock inside before closing it once again.

The cell was tiny no longer than 5 meters in length. It contained a steel toilet, and wash basin. A small desk and chair, made from solid concrete, which was fixed to the floor, and finally one bed that was also fashioned in the same way. Just a solid block of grey, with a thin foam sheet upon it.

“Welcome to your new home!” Darius beamed, “Dr Kesh will visit you once a day to check up on you and administer more scinacine. You’ll get 3 meals delivered here and one hours exercise a day. The other 23 hours, will be spent in this shit hole.” Darius swiftly left after adorning a sarcastic smile, leaving Tunnock alone in his cell, to begin his life sentence.

***

Tunnock couldn’t help but find himself inexplictly drawn to a window that sat at the end of his cell, just above his bed. It was 4 inches wide and about half a meter long he clambered over to it and tried to look out to see if he could catch a glimpse of  the skies above, to no avail.

He slumped onto the bed and feeling the scrinacine slowly pinch through his body. Each of his muscles twitch slightly as the drug rushed through, whilst also feeling stretched and sore.

“This isn’t so bad.” Tunnock muttered to himself, smirking as he lay back against the concrete wall.

He sat in silence until a peculiar noise caught his attention. Tunnock opened an eye and peered round the tiny cell. The noise continued. He got up and  followed the faint noise across the room, leading him to the steel sink basin.

A faint gurgling could be heard coming from down the pipe. Tunnock peered down into the darkness and found himself disgusted as a spray of water shot upward out the sink and into his face.

Tunnock staggered back, grunting as he did so. Whilst wiping the sink water off his face. However to his surprise, he could hear almost inaudible words creeping up through the pipes.

“Use the toilet roll….”

A grimace came about the convicts face, however he did as the unknown voice instructed. He picked up the loo roll that sat beside the toilet, and unravelled the paper leaving only the card tube in his hand.

He looked at the tube, then at the sink hole and crammed one end in, carefully placing his ear upon it.

“Say something if you can here me. Hello?” The voice said to him, the words now clearer.

“Who the hell are you!?” Tunnock yelled down the sink angrily.

A high pitched laugh rattled through the pipes, “Oh man this is exciting, I haven’t talked to anyone in ages! Anyone that isn’t a goon that is! I’m your cell block neighbour. We’ll probably never meet, my names Ashamm by the way!” The man replied in childish excitement.

“Tunnock.”

“Hello there Tunnock my buddy! Go on then, tell us what you’re in here for!?”

“That’s no concern of yours!”

“Wo-o-ah bud, okay then! No worries! What sentence you serving?!”

“Life, no parole, under scrinacine injections.”

“Look at this guy, opting for the goon juice! You’re alternative sentence must have been pretty bad.”

“It was the injection, or death.”

There was a slight pause before Ashamm’s boyish voice echo’d back out of the sink.

“If I was in your shoes… I’d be knocking on heavens door mate! Hello God it’s me, let us in would ya!!”

“Why’s that?” Tunnock replied, with a new found curiosity.

“The peeps that run this joint are pretty relentless, as you’ve probably found out. They’re not going to make your life a skip in the park, if you know what I mean.”

Tunnock scoffed, “I’ll take my chances.”

“Never forget, they own us buddy. The moment we waddled in here we became nothing more than their livestock. You’ll end up in the cellars for sure. ”

“Shut up! No one owns me!”

“Oooooh, we got a hard man here. Guards help! Help! I feel threatened.” Ashammed laughed mockingly through the drain pipes.

“Shut up!”

“What you gunna do Tunnock? Big man Tunnock? Fight the sink?”

Tunnock pulled the cardboard tube from the pole hole and launched it angrily across his cell. Ashamms mocking words slowly faded, “Shellvon gunna break you!”

***

The following night saw Tunnock subjected to the full effects of the scinacine inside him. Twinging his muscles and ligaments, causing periodic spasms throughout his body. He lay flat on the concrete bed, looking straight up at the blackness above him.

The grown man winced as short bursts of pain pinched at him. Forbidding him from succumbing to the gentle state of sleep. Both eyes grew to be dry and heavy, and a headache grew like a thick fog inside his mind.

Eventually the lights flickered on once more, after the sleepless, endless night. His sore eyes ached under the pressure of sudden bright lights. Before he knew it, Darius and a group of scientists entered the cell. Forcing him down and injecting more scrinacine into his veins.

The first week of Tunnock’s stay followed this painful, yet dull routine. Each night was sleepless, each night the scrinacine pulled at him. Each night rolled on to become more hellish than the last.

Slowly Tunnock found himself falling into deteriorating state, as his mind slowly began to pull itself apart. For the hope of sleep was ripped from him. His vision became hazy and unfocused, the world surrounding him blurred out into barely distinguishable shapes. The once overly proud man now found himself jumping in fight at illusions that popped up momentarily around him. Touch became nothing more than a memory as a soft numbness set about his body. The only thing he could feel was the vicious drug within him, a potent virus, keeping him set in a perpetual set of warped awareness.

***

The 6th night brought true terror and fear, unlike anything Tunnock had felt before. He lay there motionless, as he had for the 5 previous nights. Waiting for the lights to flicker on once more.

But something caught his attention. “Footsteps?” he thought… Tip toeing within the darkness.

Tunnock brought his head upward, the world spinning violently as he did so. “Hello…?” He murmured.

Then a force struck him violently in the fore head, throwing him back against the bed. In amidst the panic and darkness Tunnock could just about distinguish a figure, who had jumped upon his chest pressing down on him relentlessness.

He gasped desperately for air, and as he did so the figure brought down a barrage of fists into his face. Crashing hard into his head, shaking his skull beneath his skin.

“Stop! Please stop! Stop!” Tunnock wheezed in horror.

The beating ceased as suddenly as it started, and Tunnock was left quivering, crunched up into a shaky ball for the remainder of the lightless night.

It wasn’t until the lights in his tiny cell came on once more than Tunnock dared to move. He peered out from behind his hands at the cell entrance and watched as Darius entered followed shortly by Dr Kesh and a group of scientists for the routine injections. However the broken Tunnock cried out to them, throwing a hand out wildly.

“No don’t!” He whimpered, “Don’t come any closer! Please!”

Darius looked to the scientists surrounding her, and shrugged. Dr Kesh spoke out, “What’s the matter Tunnock? Is everything okay?”

“Someone, Someone attacked me!”

Kesh looked back to Darius, who responded once again with an unenthusiastic shrug.

“When were you attacked Tunnock?”

“Last night! Last night someone came in and attacked me!”

The doctor cocked his head, issuing the other scientists to restrain the shaking man. Before administer more of the cruel concoction. Tunnock screamed out helplessly.

Once they had finished, the group promptly left the cell with Dr Kesh, followed shortly by Darius, who glanced back at Tunnock with cold grey eyes.

Tunnock remained cowered behind his numb hands. Slowly, thin streams of tears forced their way from the corner of his eyes.

But then, unexpectedly a voice spoke out.

“How can I be your little secret if you’re going to tell everybody about me.”

Tunnock lifted his heavy eyes from behind the safety of his hands to see a nightmarish figure standing before him in the cell.

The hellish creature was a solid shade of harsh black. Towering over Tunnock,  standing on two unnaturally long, thin legs. With a pair of gangly arms to match. It’s eye’s glowed as if they were a pair of blood rubies, their gaze brought with it a nightmarish feeling of dread. All of which was fixated upon Tunnock.

“What the hell is this!?” Tunnock screamed as he desperately tried to shuffle backwards. Despite already being firmly pressed against the wall.

“We’re going to have lots of fun together.” The jagged figure hissed sinisterly in reply.  It lunged forward and brought it’s hulking head besides Tunnocks, whose frighten stare was fixed upon the creatures burning eyes.

A long thin tongue slipped from the monsters razor teeth and slowly licked the side of Tunnock’s face. Revelling in sinister delight as I did so. An icy chill splintered through Tunnock’s spine.

“You skipped school again.”

“W-what?” Tunnock trembled in reply.

“What have I told you back skipping School Norval.”

The nightmare’s black silhouetted body expanded, engulfing the entire cell in a thick blanket of darkness. Tunnock found himself to be standing as the monotone grey of the cell melted away into nothingness.

A burning grew beneath his skin and he desperately clawed at his arms, in hopes of relieving the sudden searing pain. As he did so, an large door sped toward him from a indistinguishable horizon. It paused before him, towering meters above his head.

Tunnock watched as the door crept open. A thick stench of stale cigarette smoke oozed out as the door revealed a large arm chair face away from him. He took tiny steps as he stumbled his way in. Looking about nervously, like a lost lonely child.

“You know the punishment for skipping school Norval.” The voice hissed once more.

The ominous black figure pulled itself from the large arm chair, and had now tripled in size, dwarfing Tunnock as if he were a small boy. It pulled what appeared to be a large cigar from it’s sharp toothy smile and shoved the searing glowing embers into Tunnock’s face.

His screams were muffled beneath the cinders of burning tobacco. He felt his flesh peel from bone.

“You’ve upset daddy very much.”

Tunnock screamed. Then suddenly he tumbled back from out of the darkness into the light grey surroundings of his cell. Beads of sweat poured from his brow as he frantically patted his face with both hands. Finding it to be free of damage.

The terrors continued day and night. The creature would return to torment Tunnock and as his insomnia stretched on, the terrors grew to be more horrific and more frequent.

The mysterious figure would whisper chilling words into his ear. Beat him until he could hardly breath and warp his mind with twisted visions. Painting dark illustrations onto the canvas that was his fragile mind.

Tunnock did all that he could to make the guards and the scientists aware of his ghostly abuser. However each time he brought it up he found himself met with a set of stern, unimpressed faces and silence. As a result he was left alone, with his monster.

Another week passed by, Tunnock lay flat on his bed. The world around him was an incoherent mess of scrambled information. Resulting in a perpetual state of nausea. The light above him faded out and a blackness flooded the room.

There was silence. Tunnock waited for the monster to return. But there was silence. He lifted his foggy head and looked for a pair of glowing eyes in the dark. But there was nothing but silence.

Tunnock slumped backward and let out a deep sigh, perhaps this sleepless night was one free of torture and torment. Then a set of soft footsteps came from beside his bed.

Tunnock began to breath deeply and beads of cold sweat began to run down his face.

“Daddy?” A softly spoken voice called out bedside him.

He gripped his head in anguish, “No… no… no! Please stop!”

“Daddy?”

Tunnock turned his head to see a little girl standing at the bed side. She had curly hair that hung freely from her head and was dressed in a school uniform. However her skin was an icy wash of white and both eyes glowed a faint red.

“No please! This is too much!” Tunnock screamed out helplessly. “Please!”

The small child jumped up onto his chest, forcing the air out of his lungs.

“I’ve got a headache daddy.” The little girl said quietly, “Mom does too.”

“…no, get off, get off!”

He did his best to move the child, but she was fixed in place. Set like a steel anchor upon him, cold to the touch and unmovable.

The small child’s eyes gazed upward as she brought her tender hands to her forehead. Tunnock flailing ceased as he stopped to watch the young girl.

A tiny red circle materlised on her forehead, she began clawed at it gently with her fingers. It slowly grew in size and a thin trickle of red oozed out from it. Sliding down her forehead, into her eyes and down the rest of her face.

Pure horror seeped into the core Tunnock’s bones.

The girl then began to cough and heave heavily, hunching over forward as she did so. A large gush of blood spewed from the girls frothing mouth and poured over Tunnock’s face.

Kicking and screaming, he tried once more to force the girl off of himself. But she wouldn’t move. Madly he wiped the red liquid from his face and eyes. However the small girl brought her hands to his face.

Tunnock struggled, but was over powered by the girls supernatural strength. She slowly prised his mouth wide open and leaned forward. A shower of blood poured from her mouth into his.

The coppery taste raced down to back of his throat as he gargled the thick warm liquid. He couldn’t bring himself to swallow, or to heave. Instead the red liquid bubbled and frothed in his mouth as he desperately tried to clear it from his windpipe. Then the muscles in his throat gave up, and blood poured down his airway straight into his lungs. Just as he felt life leave his body he jolted upward violently, flailing his limbs about in a mad fashion.

The nightmare had vanished, but a coppery taste still lingered on his tongue. Tunnock then let out a defeated a yell. One that signified a man who had been broken, a man who had given up.

The iron door to his cell slid open, and Darius made her way inside. She stared at the killer, who was perched upon his knees, whimpering like a child.

“Keep the noise down Tunnock.” She said bluntly, turning to leave as she did so.

“Kill me.”

“What?”

“Kill me Darius. I want the alternative sentence. Kill me.”

***

Tunnock was pulled from his cell the following morning, by a pair of bulky security guards, instructed by Darius. The felon flopped about weakly as he was dragged out of the grey cell, both feet sliding limply behind him.

He was in a state between the conscience and unconscious, caught in a hellish limbo between rest and unrest. Yet it was the closest thing to sleep he had got since beginning his stay in Shellvon heights.

He felt his feet flop about awkwardly as he was dragged down a flight of circular steel stairs that descended into a dark dingy corridor. Illuminated only by the faint glow of a few dying light bulbs.

Security threw him into a small cubical room. The floors and ceiling were flat, plastic and white. A thin piece of metal ran across the floor at one side of the room, acting as drainage.

Tunnock brought himself up onto his knees weakly and stared up at Darius who towered above him. He raised his hands and brought them together as if in prayer. “Please. Finish it. End it.”

Daruis looked down at the broken man with a smirk. Then took a step backward out of the cell, closing the door behind her.

Tunnock looked up in shock and scuttled frantically across the floor. Peering through the small circular port hole on the door.

“What’s is this!? Whats going on!” The felon cried out loudly. “I thought I was to be put to death!?”

Darius peered at him through the foggy glass. “You are dead Tunnock. Well, as far as the outside world is concerned.”

“…What?”

“We’ve filled out all the documents, death certificate, execution statement and so on. As far as the outside world knows. Norval Tunnock is dead. But you, will actually be spending the rest of your natural life here, in this room. You will be visited by our scientists for 15 minutes a day, to administer more scrinacine.”

“No… No!” Tunnock whimpered, as he began to claw violently at the handle-less door.

“The other 23 hours and 45 minutes. You will spend here, in total darkness, alone. People like you deserve nothing more.”

“No! No! Please you can’t leave me here!

“Goodbye Tunnock.” Darius said with cruel twisted smile, before exiting up the spiral stairway once more.

“Why are you doing this!?”

Darius paused for a second on the stairwell before replying, “We’re just curious.”

“Kill me! Darius please! Kill me!” Tunnock shouted desperately as he heard her footsteps fade away. “Darius!” Seconds after Darius had left, the lights in the small cell flickered out. Drenching the cube in a heavy darkness.

An icy chill shook his bones. He quivered as he turned around to stare at the darkness. Finding a pair of red glowing eyes staring back.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun together Norval.”

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 3

 

Breaking Bread

“Winter is a bitter season, the variety of food and flavours are bland. But a warm roll of rye bread baked by loving hand’s can warm the coldest hearts.”

“I’m sorry about my brothers out burst. He can be so insensitive sometimes.” Monarda apologised to Soil, who was walking quickly alongside her. Doing his best   to keep up with her long stride.

“You don’t have to apologise, I know what having a sibling can be like.” Soil replied, “It’s clear that Brook cares about you. His anger and frustration shows this, he’s just unsure of how to communicate that care to you.”

“Oh it isn’t that, trust me. My brother is just rotten because he isn’t the head man in the family.” Monarda finished her sentence as she approached the doorway to her own house, that she lived in with her partner, Phlox.

Soil stared up at the marvellous homestead. It’s dark timber framework had been elegantly crafted and the multitude of pieces interconnected in a seamless, satisfying, fashion. Unlike many of the other homes in the village, this marvel made use of black brick to construct its walls. Rather than using the common, and cheaper, method of using wattle and daub. The building had it’s own yard, that sprouted a variety of green winter plants. White bulbs of garlic could be seen reaching out from beneath the dirt, as rows of leafy spinach.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the house was a stable that connected to it. Housed within was a great brown mare, whose head hung over the stable door. It’s large friendly eyes looked upon Soil as he gazed upon the large homestead.

He wasted no time in following Monarda into the house, of which the front door stood at a height that accommodated her towering stature. As the pair entered he hallway they were greeted by a sea of delightful smells. The aroma of sweet boiled herbs wafted throughout every nook and crannies of the house. Soil mouth began to water uncontrollably. Steam rolled in from the kitchen and crept across the ceiling above, bringing with it a warm refreshing temperature that drew the bitter winter chill from Soil’s limbs.

Monarda removed her thick blue coat and hung it on a collection of hooks that protruded from the wall to her right. She fanned her face weakly with her hand and exhaled deeply. Her hand stilled and her eyes widened when she noticed Soil was still standing with his large thatched cloak on. She kept forgetting that this young man before her was not used to the little rituals that village folk carried out on a daily basis.

“Feel free to hang your cloak up Soil. You must be boiling in that.”

“I am a bit warm to be honest.” Soil replied sheepishly, his face quickly reddening. After fiddling with a small toggle he drew the cloak from round his shoulders and hung up on one of the wooden hooks bedside him. Revealing his undergarments, which consisted of shorts and a sleeveless top, that looked much like a weaved potato sack and was a green grey in colour.

Monarda looked at his thatched cloak and cursorily rubbed a part of it between her thumb and index finger. It’s outside layer was harsh to the touch , almost gritty, as if one was rubbing their hand against sandpaper. However, to Monarda’s surprise, the inner lining was the opposite, pleasantly soft and elegantly smooth .

“Where did you get silk from in Eyre wood?” She asked in amazement.

“It’s not lined with silk, it’s moss.” Soil replied cheerily.

“Moss!? That’s incredible! How have you managed to use moss like that?!”

“The cloak is more like a living plant, rather than an item of clothing… It’s a mix of craft work and magic,” Soil told her, “But I couldn’t explain how the magic aspect works, I crafted it together and the forest just… sort of… did the rest? I can’t explain it.”

Their conversation was abruptly interrupted as Phlox came to stand in a doorway at the other end of the corridor.

“Monarda! Soil! I hope you’re both hungry!” The dark man said with a smile, “Your mother and brother are not joining us Monarda?”

“Unfortunately not my love, You know what Brook’s like.”

“That’s no problem. He’s a growing man looking for his place in the world! I was just the same when I was his age.” Phlox chirped, before bringing his hands together into an enthusiastic clap, “Let’s eat shall we!”

The trio made their way into the dining area, which held as much splendour as one would have imagined. Four large arrangement of candles sat in each of its corners, they provided a bright light that flooded the expansive room. The walls were adorned with a collection of different antiques and trophies.

On the northern wall situated above a doorway, that led to the kitchen, was a pair of two curved swords. Mounted so that the naked blades crossed one another. The swords were inscribed with strange symbols that ran from their points down to their hilts. The western wall housed a large open fireplace, in which a beautiful yellow crimson flame danced about upon a heap of charring wood. On the mantle of the fireplace sat a collection of 4 plates, very bland looking, made of clay. Each of the 4 plates had a unique character painted upon them.

Finally, in the centre of the ceiling, hung a truly grand yet unusual ornament. It was a crab claw, however it was nearly the size of a human, spanning a length of 6 ft. The bazaar appendage had been suspended by ropes that were in turn fixed into the dining hall ceiling. It hung freely, mirroring the long rectangle dining table that sat below it. Soil winced slightly as his eyes met the grotesque centre piece.

Phlox pulled out a chair for Monarda, and then for Soil, on the opposing side of the table. “Make yourselves comfortable! I shall return shortly with your food.” Phlox sung out as he exit the room, disappearing into the soft, steamy fog of the kitchen.

Soil couldn’t stop himself from slowly shifting his gaze upward, doing his best to conceal the fact he was doing so from Monarda. A grimace forced it’s way across his face as he stared at the gigantic pincer. When he shifted his gaze subtly to Monarda he jumped! For she was looking directly at him. Quickly the distasteful expression left his face and Soil did his best to replace it with one of neutrality.

Monarda laughed slightly, “Is the giant claw bothering you Soil?”

Soil leaned across the table slightly as he replied “It’s a bit… Unsettling. Is now a bad time to mention that I don’t eat meat…?”

Monarda couldn’t contain the laughter that popped out of her body, Soil looked at her in confusion.

“Don’t worry Soil. It’s not the season for meat, Vegetables are the only food that we can get hold of right now, so you’ll be fine.”

Soil forced a small appreciative smile onto his face. He couldn’t stop his eyes from nervously glancing up at the claw at final time.

Phlox re-entered the room carrying three bowls of creamy soup, and a basket of black rye bread, upon a large tray. He placed the dish down delicately on the table and shared out the food. Providing each dinner guest with a dainty sliver spoon.

He looked upon the table with a distinct look of pride when he had finished, before pulling out his own chair at the head of the table and planting himself firmly upon it.

“We were just talking about the claw Phlox,” Monarda said, breaking the silence that Phlox’s entrance had brought with it.

“Oh yes the claw! The most prized item in my collection.” Phlox said cheerfully, staring up at the suspended limb. “Was an awful pain to transport when I moved to Tachbrook however.”

“I didn’t know crabs grew to that size…” said Soil as he brought a spoonful of soup to his lips.  He found the collection of herbs provided a sweet flavour that was most agreeable, yet the boiling heat scalded his tongue. Soil did his best to conceal his discomfort, he glanced across at Monarda. Who was giggling at him quietly, and purposefully blew on her spoon before placing it in her mouth.

“It’s not a crab Soil! That is the claw of a mighty Argapod!” Phlox bellowed, before taking a tiny mouthful of steamy soup. “They’re a race of intelligent crustaceans that live just off shore of the Muskove mainland. Incredible beings.”

“Did you kill this one?” Soil asked.

Phlox laughed in response to Soils question. “No, no, I can’t even begin to pretend that I did. I don’t have the strength or the means to take one of these beings down. I came across the claw at an auction many years ago. A very rare find, taking into account that Argapods are notoriously hard to kill. Some even consider them to be gods.”

Soil looked down at his spoon thoughtfully, before blowing on it and sipped at the sweet pea soup.

“Anyway Soil, Tell me what it’s like living in the Eyre woodland!” Phlox continued.

“Have you never been in for yourself?”

“Never had the chance if I’m honest. Much of my work consists of travelling between Tachbrook and Larton city. So I don’t get much free time to go exploring. What’s it like?”

“It’s a very beautiful place, full of amazing flowers, trees and wild life. You could never get bored with the colours they display. Truly wonderful.” Soil smiled, as he thought of his woodland home. “Monarda, which of the flowers is it that you wanted to see. The ones that your brother mentioned. I can take you there at some point if you want? No one knows the forest like I do!”

The mood of the room instantly plummeted and Monarda’s face went a ghostly white. Soil sat staring at her, with a large grin plastered on his face. However he shifted his gaze between Phlox and Monarda as the silence began to draw out. Soil’s smile slowly receded, he wondered what it was that he had said…

Phlox delicately placed his silver spoon flat onto the table. The faint sound of the cutlery being rested on the wood rang out clearly in the complete silence of the room. He said in a low voice, his stare fixed directly on the table, “Monarda. We’ve spoken about this.”

“Phlox please, I didn’t-”

“When are you going to give it up Monarda! When are you going to grow up and get a hold of yourself!”

“Can we do this later?” Monarda hissed through gritted teeth and shifting eyes. “Let’s not argue in front of our guest.”

“No we shall! Otherwise our guest is going to think that I’m just unreasonable and don’t want you to go, out of spite.” Phlox snapped back hastily, remaining firmly upright in his chair. “Which we know isn’t the case, is it.”

Monarda looked down sheepishly at her lap. “No.” She whispered sadly.

“So please, stop chasing silly dreams and focus on what’s important for once!” Phlox’s stare was fixated his partner.

Soil, didn’t know where to look at or even what to do with himself. He stared at his bowl of green soup. Hoping, wishing for some excuse or reason that would justify him to leave the table. However none sprung to his inconveniently vacant mind. So Soil continued to sit, silently. He sipped at the broth and prayed that Monarda and Phlox would hurry up and do the same. In order for him to make an early escape from the tense, awkward atmosphere he now found himself in.

The rest of the lunch time meal was carried out in a bitter silence. The couples heated exchange had sucked the previously enjoyable atmosphere from the dining room. Instead it was replaced with a heavy, uncomfortable one. That squashed mere seconds to feel like minutes and minutes into hours.

Soil’s heart leapt with joy as Monarda finally took her last mouthful, after what felt like a lifetime of waiting. She tenderly placed the small silver spoon beside her bowl. Soil was eager for someone at the table to say something, anything! Until he realised it was up to him, the neutral party, to shatter the quiet that hung around them.

“That was really nice. Thank you for inviting me.”

“A pleasure Soil.” Phlox replied, as he got up onto his feet. Slowly he started to clear the bowls from the table.

Monarda and Soil gazed at one another, “I suppose you’d want to be getting off back to the woods now?” Monarda asked, ”Would you like me to escort you to the door Soil?”

Soil’s mind screamed with delight “Yes! Yes! Please! Yes! Get me out of here!” He got up slowly and calmly replied, “That’d be most kind, thank you.”

When Phlox had carefully stacked the bowls he turned to the Woodling. “It was great having you over Soil.” Phlox said, he made a move to shake Soil’s hand but retracted it. Instead he bowed slightly. Soil smiled, and did the same.

“I had a great time.” He replied.

Phlox smiled, then turned on his heels and disappeared into the depths of the kitchen.

Soil looked up at Monarda. “This way,” She said to him calmly.

The two made their way from the dining room to the front door. Soil lifted his thatched cloak from a protruding wall peg and swung it over both shoulders. Fastening it’s toggle tightly.

“Are you going to stay in Tachbrook for a while?” Monarda asked the young man, “I’m sure there would be a room for you at my mother’s inn?”

“That’s a gracious offer, but the woodland. sorry, Eyre woodland is my home.” Soil replied with a sunny smile, “I will come back soon however. I quite like this place.”

Monarda smiled, “Okay Soil, See you soon.” She leaned down slightly and embraced Soil in her arms. He returned the gesture.

“Goodbye.” Soil replied, before disappearing through the doorway.

The late luncheon meal had dragged on, and slowly the days sunlight began to fade. Leaving the sky a pastel red.

Soil weaved his way along the village pathways. He passed by homesteads whose families were coming to the end of their daily routines as the sun began its early winter descent. Men and women who tended to their idle homes began to file away behind small wooden doors.

Soil stepped to the side of a pathway, to make space for a group of weary tree smiths. Who had just entered the village through the narrow northern gate. All were eager to return home and soothe aching limbs in gentle slumber.

Two mighty horses escorted them. Behind them they pulled a large cart in which a  collection of sawn off wood was heaped.

Soil made his way through the gate once they had passed, and found himself running his fingers across the cool tall grass that encompassed him. A smile leapt to his face as he saw the edge of the forest. Standing like a mighty wall that embraced the village.

Soil continued to follow the path that he had taken that morning with Monarda. A feat most people would have had difficulty in doing, as the forest can often be disorienting. With it’s plethora of plant and tree life.

However the woodling could see past the forest’s illusions and was able to traverse the landscape with accuracy and ease.

It wasn’t long until soil found himself back at clearing. The gentle brook still sang its quiet song as it’s waters trickled by. He looked up to the sky above, watching as the crimson twilight sky faded into a blanket of stars.

He took a deep breath of cool air, before looking upon the red tree that he had found Monarda weeping under that very morning. Thoughts of her flashed harshly in his mind, thoughts of her pale skin and long flowing hair.

He ran the bright crimson leaves through his fingers as he approached the small tree. The cold winter wind suddenly hissed. Soil’s cloak and the tree leaves danced in accordance with the breeze.

In this moment, Soil noticed something, strange and peculiar. Fluttering gently was a small piece of parchment, which was nailed to the tree bark. sunset-forest

He leaned in curiously and pulled the note from it’s fixing. Carefully unfolding it within his hands, making sure that the ever growing gust of wind did not steal it from him.

The note had five bold words scrawled across it in big black writing. “DON’T LEAVE. SHE’S NOT SAFE.”

Soil’s stomach dropped and the wind hissed once more. He quickly scanned his surroundings. In hopes of finding some clue as to who had delivered the note.

A black figure stood, hidden away under the faint dark veil of the tree line. Which suddenly darted off.

Without thinking Soil set off after the mysterious silhouette, dashing over shrubbery and fallen trees. As if he were water, uninterrupted, free flowing and fluid.

However the dark shadow seeped away into the darkness, like water into a sponge, and Soil came to a sudden stop on top of a large tree stump. Soil stared deeply into the darkness, but no trace of the being was to be found.

The words on the note were etched into his mind and a thousand thoughts tumbled through his head.

 

“DON’T LEAVE. SHE’S NOT SAFE.”

“DON’T. LEAVE. SHE’S. NOT. SAFE.”