By Rachel Sloan (US)
"It ain't a good idea."
All three of them turned to look at him, but Noah did not even raise his head to give those looks back in return. It was the third time he had tried to get them to agree. "I mean it," he added, convinced, but still with his head down.
James was firm: "You could have stayed home. He was always firm, but this time his dry tone was truly appropriate. They were all tired of being told it had been a bad idea to go into the woods at night - James, the boss, Gary, James' brother, and Dylan, a guy who always chased Gary, who always chased James.
It was a hot night. They thought it would be better to go into the woods at night because it would be cooler. But instead they were burning. They were sticky and smelled of sweat. Each one with his flashlight lit, with his backpack.
Noah was lined up, not convinced at all. James, on the other hand, was bragging. He didn't care about the risk, what mattered was the feeling in the middle. He and nobody else. The others could be in his orbit.
They were there because Jacob, a woodcutter, had told them a strange story. Woodcutters were such people. They were always armed with axes. Anyway, this Jacob had said that after the first moonless night, new trees would sprout up next to the ones that had been cut down by the lumberjacks the days before. It happened every moonless night, right, and this was the first moonless night since they'd heard that story, and James had taken them there to check it out and to make that stupid Jacob look like a fool, because he couldn't stand woodcutters, rude, stupid people, he said, because he lived with people who thought like that.
Breeze: the woods all trembled. The little group stopped behind James. Noah was so scared that he peed in his jeans, and since he felt alone in this, this damned fear added to the loneliness and weighed on him.
James looked back and they looked back.
James ducked and they ducked. Who had any idea why they had put their trust in this idiot? Noah could not explain it and followed him in the meantime.
"Well? The expedition leader asked, "Does anyone know the right area? "Where are these new trees supposed to grow?"
"Gary answered in his baby voice: "It should be over there.
Dylan echoed, "How do we know?"
"There are the trees that were cut down. Don't you see?" replied the other.
Noah leaned over, so he could see without exposing himself, of course. Traces of light came from the flashlights.
"I just see cut logs and piles of new wood. Nothing unusual in a place where loggers work," Dylan commented.
Noah's heart was pounding, but he could not explain why he was so excited. He had been afraid he might not be able to control himself and had actually peed his pants.
"He announced, "I hear footsteps.
"I don't hear anything," James replied quietly.
"I'm tellin' ya."
"But did you pee in your pants?" scoffed Dylan. "It's unbelievable."
"I hear footsteps," Noah repeated. He looked around, moving the flashlight from side to side. James lowered his hand, turning off the light.
"Where?" he asked him.
"On the opposite side of that cut log, the one over there," he replied. "No, wait, it's that way."
"Stop fooling around," he said. You'll be a scare to the others."
"Gary interjected, "James, look, I feel something too.
"Don't bullshit, you're getting suggestible," James yelled at him.
"It's not a suggestion."
"There are only cut trees here, as there should be!" yelled James again.
"Don't yell," Dylan invited.
"I'm not yelling," the young guide replied.
"Yes, you are shouting and you have to stop or someone might hear us."
"Are you scared, asshole?"
"I'm not scared James, stop it!"
Noah stood by, they screamed, he stood by. He covered his ears.
The first was Gary. His legs stiffened from the start, as if the long walk had made them too tired, then strong cramps that almost made him scream. But when he tried to sit up in the leaves of the underbrush, something prevented him. He lowered his flashlight. He looked down at his feet.
He cried out, "Oh my God! James, James, help!"
"The legs, the legs, the legs!"
"The legs what?"
Gary wanted to explain, but his voice broke, cut in two, became the crunch of a branch breaking under the weight of the snow. The boy, out of breath, waved his arms, and then they froze, too. James shone his flashlight. The others did the same and it was a chorus of screams.
Dylan was the second. His legs stiffened, but this time the pain of the spasms forced him to his knees, and from that position he was unable to get up. The voice faded to the sound of branches rattling in a whirlwind.
James then aimed his flashlight at the trees, then looked for Noah, who was standing mute in a corner, kneeling in prayer, hands on his head to cover his ears, tears and terror. He did not want to die, but neither did he want to see what had become of his companions.
James had a look around; the darkness was oil. The flashlight was zigzagging here and there. Then his legs began to stiffen. The boy fell backward and lay on the ground. He twitched wildly. He let out a terrible scream. Wood watched. James' body was now trunk and leaves. And there was nothing but silence.
It was only then that Noah's head lifted and he had a look around. Nothin'. The black cloak of night met his gaze. Completely random spots were illuminated by the flashlights on the ground. He managed to get up and take a few steps after who knows how long. His jeans were wet and dirty. Step by step, cautiously, he made his way to the spot where he had been with the group of friends. There were three saplings. Two were straight and one was bent and twisted as if he was on his knees.
When he recognized them, his cry was the last one for that night in the forest.
Rachel is a very young author, passionate about fantasy stories with a Cthulhu, Lovecraftian setting. She writes out of passion and to give voice to the stories that come to her mind on her walks in the woods.
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