07 May The Black Bone Tree
“The Black Bone Tree”Written by Elias Witherow Edited by Seth Paul and Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 22 minutes
Two days ago, I drove up to northern Vermont to do a little hiking. I needed to get away from it all: my job, social responsibilities, the world. I didn’t want to have to talk to anyone all weekend, so I picked a ten-mile trail I didn’t think anyone would be on this time of year. The plan was to hike up and across the mountain tops, stay at the summit for a day, and then hike back down.
As I drove the four hours to the trail’s start, I felt all my stress begin to fade. I realized how long it had been since I had taken time out of my busy life for “me time.” The thought of the woods and the beautiful New England mountains kept my mind buzzing as I zipped through the small towns and empty roads.
This was my first mini-vacation since I graduated and started my new job two years ago. It was long overdue, and I looked forward to the time I could spend reflecting and enjoying my thoughts and nature.
After what seemed like no time at all, I was pulling into the small, empty dirt parking area and pulling my backpack on. After making sure the car was locked, I tightened my straps and began what was sure to be a wonderful hike.
* * * * * *
I had been walking for a good three hours, the sun now high over my head. I checked my watch and saw that it was noon. I walked a little further until I found a suitable rock for sitting and dropped my pack next to it. I unzipped it and pulled out one of the sandwiches I had prepared, taking a seat.
As I munched on my ham and cheese delicacy, I took in the beauty around me. In the distance, I could make out the sound of a stream gurgling down the mountainside, bringing the earth to life.
Taking another bite of my sandwich, I pulled out my map and tracked where I was. If I was correct, I was about two and a half miles in, a quarter of the way to my destination. In another three miles, I would break through the treeline and go the last four and a half miles across the tops of the Green Mountains.
Finishing my meal, I slurped down a few mouthfuls of water and shouldered my pack. I told myself I wasn’t going to stop again until I broke through the treeline. Determined and enjoying myself, I pressed on.
As I walked, I realized I had yet to see anyone else. I wasn’t all that surprised, considering the dirt patch where I parked had been empty. I knew this wasn’t a popular hiking area, most of the hot spots being one state over or further south. I liked to think I was alone out here, the only human for hundreds of miles. It made me feel like these were my woods and that I was blazing the trail myself.
I began to get lost in my thoughts, my feet taking me down the trail and my mind expanding into the woods around me. I don’t know how long I had been walking when I suddenly stopped, something catching my eye to the right of the trail.
There was a circular clearing, just a few steps off the path. In the center of the empty space was something I had never seen before, and it grabbed my attention.
It was a black, leafless tree.
It stood alone in the little circular clearing, the earth around it bare and dry. It wasn’t a big tree, barely reaching my chin, its naked ebony branches twisting out from the base like long broken fingers.
At first, I thought it was the remains of a small fire, but as I got closer, I saw that that wasn’t the case. The dark wood looked healthy, the bark smooth and uncharred. Despite its unaltered state, I noticed tiny plumes of smoke drifting off its branches.
I took another step closer, sniffing the air, but didn’t smell burning. One more step and I was inside the circular clearing, the ground void of any foliage or rocks.
As soon as I crossed that threshold, I noticed a dramatic drop in temperature. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself, bewildered.
What the hell? I thought, wondering why it had gone from a pleasant seventy-five degrees to near freezing. I could see my breath billowing out in front of me, and I retreated from the clearing.
Immediately, the temperature went back up. I stood there, staring at the inky black tree, dumbfounded. I had never seen or experienced anything like it. It had to be some kind of rarity, a true gem of nature. I wondered if it was cold to the touch, the wood matching the icy air that encircled it.
I stepped into the small clearing again, this time ready for the change in temperature. I approached the tree, hand outstretched, and reached for one of the branches.
My fingers enclosed around the wood, and my world went dark.
I was in an empty field, nothing but cows as far as I could see.
I was standing amidst them, their eyes black and lifeless. They turned and looked at me, completely silent. My heart was racing, and I tried to shift around them, but there were too many. They pressed in tight, and I raised my hands above my head, terrified they would bite my fingers.
What the hell is going on? I thought, panic seizing me. Where am I?
In the distance, I heard the sound of a bell, tolling endlessly.
Then a voice whispered to me from somewhere in the herd, close by.
I spun around, trying to determine where the voice was coming from, eyes prying into the bovine nightmare.
“Who’s there? Hello?!” I cried, wincing as the cows came closer, sniffing me, rubbing against my body.
No answer. Everything was so quiet, too quiet for the amount of livestock around me. Except for the bell that continued to toll, its deep chimes rippling through the still air.
Suddenly, I spotted something on the horizon. It was a dark smudge that was growing bigger and bigger at an alarming rate.
I squinted and then realized it was an enormous black tree, rocketing from the ground. Its roots shot towards me, tearing through the herd of cattle and decimating any that were in its path. Blood and gore exploded into the air as chunks of animal were shredded and pushed out of the way. Nothing made a sound, except for the endless, distant bell.
I stumbled backward, screaming, watching as the tree continued to grow, now hundreds of feet high, its leafless branches arcing into a sunless sky.
The path of death its roots were carving into the cows had almost reached me. I turned and ran, still screaming, desperately pushing the herd out of my way.
I looked over my shoulder and saw that I wasn’t going fast enough. Sweat stood out on my forehead, and adrenaline dumped into my system, my throat raw from screaming.
As the bloody roots were about to reach me, everything shifted.
I was standing in a forest. There was no undergrowth, just towering trees so thick with leaves that they blacked out the sun. The earth was dry beneath my feet, and the sound of the bell had stopped. Everything was still.
No… Something was wrong with the trees.
My mouth fell open as my eyes soaked up this new horror.
They were people, twisted and massive beyond anything I could imagine. Their skin was fused with bark that grew like a cancer, covering their nakedness. Branches protruded from their bodies, leaving gaping bloody knots in the flesh. They had no feet, just contorted shins that sprouted from the ground, roots coiling around them like unmoving snakes.
Their eyes stared down at me, empty of emotion, watching me. Their mouths were sealed shut, knotted closed with twisted bark.
Then I heard the bell again. But it was different. The sound was smaller, like that of a handbell you would ring to summon someone.
As the sound echoed through the woods, the tree people’s eyes grew wide, and a wind rustled through their leaves.
They were terrified.
I fell to the earth, covering my ears, screaming, and everything shifted again.
Darkness surrounded me. I didn’t know where I was, but someone was grabbing me, pulling at my shirt. I slapped hands away, engulfed in total blackness, stumbling back over my own feet. I couldn’t see anything, not even my hands in front of my face.
“Tell them I’m sorry!” A voice cried out in front of me. “Tell them I didn’t mean to!”
I stretched my hands out, trying to get my bearings. My breath was coming in short pulls, and my mouth was growing dry.
What is this nightmare? What’s happening to me?
The voice called out to me again. A man. He was scared and weeping.
“Just tell them to leave me alone. I won’t do it again, I promise!”
I crouched down and tried to feel the ground, but…there was nothing. It was like I was floating in space, feet planted on an invisible platform with no density.
I focused on the voice, clearing my throat and trying not to sound as terrified as I was. “Where are we? Who are you?”
“They’ll find me; I know they will,” he wept, ignoring my questions.
I tried a different angle. “Who will find you?”
I heard him inhale sharply, then, “The Blue-Eyed Axe Men.”
“Who are they? Why are they coming for you?”
He continued to cry hopelessly, his voice coming from just feet in front of me. I could hear him shifting, balling himself up.
I continued to try and question him, but it was no use. He didn’t say anything else, just kept sobbing, babbling nonsense that I couldn’t make out. I tried to reach out to my surroundings again, hoping that my hands would find something, anything. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic, the thick darkness filling the space around me, filling my mouth and throat. I tried to calm myself, fighting off a massive panic attack.
Suddenly the crying stopped. Faintly, I heard the chime of a small bell.
A whisper. “Oh, no…”
I whipped my head around, widening my eyes, pleading with them to see through the black. It was silent except for my own heartbeat, thundering in my ears.
Then I saw two pairs of eyes open in the darkness. They were large, the size of baseballs, and of the deepest blue I had ever seen. They did not blink, just hovered by where the man’s voice had been coming from.
Before I could react, I heard a deep gurgling sound come from whatever possessed the two sets of eyes. It was a sickly sound, like someone trying to clear a throat that was filled with mucus and phlegm. It made me nauseous and I covered my ears, trying not to gag as a wave of bile churned in my stomach.
“I’m sorry!” I heard the man scream. “Forgive me!”
His voice rose in pitch and terror cracked his shrieks before something thudded into him, bringing with it a meaty squelch.
This isn’t happening to me, I thought, madness encroaching my mind.
I sat up in a bed, pushing covers off me. I was in a small cabin, decorated with rustic furniture and old carpets. From the windows, the light of a full moon trickled in and the sounds of night echoed outside the cabin walls.
How long have I been out? I thought.
With a sudden jerk, I realized there was an older man sitting at the foot of the bed, looking at me. His hair was graying, and wrinkles fanned out from the corners of tired blue eyes.
“Who are you?” I sputtered, trying to get a grip on myself.
“Easy, easy,” he said, raising his hands. “Just take a breath, son. I found you in the woods, unconscious. This is my home. You’re safe.”
I digested this, trying to clear my mind. This felt real, the nightmare visions draining from my swimming head like poisonous venom. I took a few unsteady breaths and propped myself in an upright position against the head of the bed frame.
“Is this real?” I asked. “This is Vermont?”
He nodded. “Yes, of course it is. What happened to you? Were you attacked?”
“What? No,” I said, shaking my head. “I…I just found this tree…” I trailed off, noticing a series of shallow cuts and scrapes on my arms.
“What happened to me?” I asked, twisting my arms.
The man shifted on the bed. “I don’t know. I found you not far from here, just lying on the ground off the trail. Judging from those cuts, it looks like you were running from something. A bear, maybe? Do you remember?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose and squeezed my eyes to purge them of the images I had seen. “No…no, nothing like that. I don’t remember running from anything. I…I was just taking a hike and saw this weird black tree…I think I touched it and then…and then everything began to change.”
The man stood up suddenly, backing away from the bed. “Y-you touched…you touched a black tree? You’re sure?!”
The urgency in his voice caught me off guard. “Well…yeah…it was in this little clearing…and the air around it was so cold…I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He stood in the center of the cabin, staring down at me with worried eyes. “And you touched it?”
He sat down hard on a chair next to an ashy fireplace, “No…no… oh, what have you done…”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“We don’t touch the black trees!” the old man hissed, taking a step back from me.
“What are they? Where do they come from?” I asked, the urgency in his voice stirring up my own unease.
He licked his lips and checked the windows, glancing out into the moonlit night. “I can’t believe there’s one here. What are the odds? I should have known something like this would happen.”
“Can you slow down and tell me what is going on?!” I yelled, suddenly feeling irritated. The way he seemed to be deliberately avoiding my questions was pissing me off, especially after what I had just been through.
The man turned to glare at me, his eyes blue chips of ice. “Don’t talk to me like that after I’ve cared for you. Do you understand, son?”
I sighed. “Yeah, I understand. I’m just…something really strange has happened to me, and if you know something about it, I’d appreciate it if you’d clue me in.”
He stood there a moment, then slowly dragged a kitchen chair over to my bed, sitting down and pulling out a small pipe. He stuffed it with tobacco from his shirt pocket and flicked a match off the bottom of the chair.
He took a few quick puffs from the pipe then his gaze returned to me. “Okay, I’ll answer your questions if you answer mine. Deal?”
Sweet-smelling smoke billowed from his lips as he spoke. “This black tree…where did you find it? How big was it?”
“It wasn’t very large, maybe four feet high. There were no leaves, just burnt-looking branches and what looked like smoke rising off the wood. It was down the path…I’m not sure where we are now, but it can’t be far from here.”
He waved away tendrils of smoke from his face. “And you thought it would be a good idea to touch it?”
I shook my head. “It wasn’t like that. It was in a small clearing; I had never seen anything like it. And it was cold, as soon as I got close the temperature dropped. I guess I just wanted to see…well…” I trailed off, looking down.
“What happened then?”
I swallowed, unsure if I wanted to share my visions with him. I looked up at him, and he slowly nodded, my eyes giving away the caution and unease of the memory.
He leaned forward, pulling the pipe from his lips, “You saw some things, didn’t you?”
I returned his stare. “Yeah. I don’t really know how to explain it. It was…awful.”
The man leaned back, the tip of his pipe slipping between his lips again. “Damn…well, son…I’m afraid you stumbled upon a Black Bone Tree.”
“What the hell is a Black Bone Tree?” I asked, suddenly feeling pain in my right arm. I massaged it, feeling like the muscles were cramping.
The man took notice but didn’t comment. “Son, there’s a lot of things you don’t know about the world. There’s a lot of things people aren’t supposed to know. It’s better that way. It keeps us safe, it keeps us happy. If we knew about all the evil out there, why, I believe we might all go insane. But seeing how you’ve already reached out and touched that evil, I’m going to tell you some things, important things that you need to understand.”
I felt fear sink deeper into my skull with every word. I didn’t like the way he said the last part. I kept rubbing my arm, willing the strange pain to subside.
The man puffed on his pipe. “What you touched, as I stated, is called a Black Bone Tree. There’s only a few of them that grow at a time around the world. They…” he paused, sizing me up, then continued. “They suck up the evil in the world, drinking it in like you’d draw poison from a snake bite.”
I coughed. “What? What are you talking about? That’s ridiculous!”
He leaned forward and gritted his teeth. “You really have no idea how much trouble you’re in, do you? Maybe you should put aside your disbelief and open your ears. If you want a shot at staying sane, listen to me and listen good!”
I was taken aback by his outburst, and my jaw clicked shut. I didn’t like the way this conversation was going, his words rattling me. If I wanted a shot at staying sane? What did that mean?
I gripped my throbbing arm, waiting for him to continue.
He stood and went to the curtains, whisking them shut before taking his seat and continuing. “Now listen to me. There is a Black Bone Tree in South America, deep in the Amazon, that has not been cut down. It is colossal in size, its branches reaching for the heavens, its roots snaking deep into the earth. There is a church, a following, that worships this tree. They believe it has some kind of power, some kind of energy that they can draw from. The bigger the tree gets, the more powerful it becomes. And do you know how it gets to be that way?”
I shook my head, trying to comprehend the information. A bunch of crazy people in South America worshiped a giant black tree?
“It gets larger and more powerful because the little ones are cut down. If the evil of the earth has only one place to go, don’t you think that place would be…tremendous?”
I didn’t say anything, and he could see I was struggling with the concept of his story. He held up a finger and said, “Okay, imagine this. Imagine a lake being drained with a single straw, and all the water is digested by a single source. And that’s the way The Source wants it because The Source is impossibly thirsty. Now,” he held up another finger on his other hand. “Imagine something else coming along with another straw and drinks from that lake. Well, The Source can only hydrate properly if it’s the only one drawing from the lake. Are you following this?”
“Yeah,” I said quietly. “I think so.”
“Good,” he said with a quick nod. “So…in order for the central tree in the Amazon to flourish, the little ones that grow need to be cut down so that the evil is forced to flow to the big one.”
I worked my fingers over my arm. “But how can these…these psycho tree worshipers cut them down? I barely touched the wood, and I blacked out!”
The man leaned forward. “The Blue-Eyed Axe Men.”
The things from my dream…that gurgling sound in the darkness. I shivered and remembered the way their eyes looked, glowing with crystal brilliance in the empty black space. I remembered the meaty sound of something striking the crying man.
The man cocked his head at me. “You’ve seen them? In the visions?”
I sat up a little straighter, clearing my throat. “Y-yes…I think so. Have you? What are…they?” There was nothing human about the abnormally large eyes, the sounds they made.
“Aye, I’ve seen one. Years ago. I was in Maine, doing some fishing early one morning. I was walking down the beach, looking for a suitable place to cast my lines. The sun was barely up, the sky faintly colored in the soft light.”
The man looked at me, and I saw flickers of fear dance around his face. “It was coming out of the water. Just…walking, slowly, towards the dunes. It was big…maybe eight or nine feet tall. Its body was…twisted and knotted like a tree, its skin rough and cracked. It was colored gray, a dark gray, everywhere except those massive blue eyes. It was dragging its axe behind it, almost carelessly. A monster of an axe, the handle almost as big as the creature’s body, with a shining steel head. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He paused, glancing towards the covered windows. “It didn’t see me. It just came up out of the ocean and walked across the dunes and into the woods. I don’t know where it went, but I know what it was looking for.”
“A Black Bone Tree,” I said quietly.
“Exactly,” he said somberly, putting his pipe away.
“Where do they come from? What are they?”
His eyes shifted about the room, nervously. “They come from the All Wood. That’s the giant black tree in the Amazon that is feeding off the world’s evil. This tree…the All Wood…births these creatures, tearing them from its coal-black trunk. They are the All Wood’s way of nurturing itself, sending them out into the far corners of the world, hunting for the small trees, and cutting their existence from the earth.”
I swallowed, all of this drowning me like a cocktail of madness. “Hold on…so if what you’re saying is true, then that means the tree I found…the tree I touched…” I trailed off.
The old man nodded. “You know what comes next now.”
I shivered as the words left my mouth. “That means there’s a Blue-Eyed Axe Man coming to cut down the tree I touched.” I grabbed my arm again, wincing as a sharp bolt of pain ran through it.
The man stood and went to the window, peeking out. “Yes, it is coming…”
I pulled myself out of the bed finally and stood. “How do you know all this?”
The man kept looking out the window into the night. “Because I used to worship the tree as well.”
I blinked. “What? Are you serious? You went to the Amazon and were in some kind of evil cult!?”
He turned to me, eyes sharp. “No, no, I never got to see the actual tree. I came into contact with one of its worshipers, though, almost thirty years ago. He shared with me his beliefs, and I found them fascinating. I was young and impressionable, and the man who spoke with me about it was charismatic and faithful. After meeting with him a few more times, I decided I wanted to become a believer. That I wanted to be a part of this dark energy the tree apparently fed its followers with.”
“What are the odds,” I muttered. Then, “What happened?”
The man went back to the window, watching the night from the split in the curtains. “I joined and began making plans to go visit the All Wood. After months of saving and preparation, I was finally ready to go. The day before I was to leave, I met with the man who had converted me. He told me he needed to inform me of a few things before I left. So I met him at a coffee shop, and after a suspicious duration of him beating around the bush, he finally told me some…unsettling things that convinced me I wanted no part the All Wood, its followers, or anything of the sort.”
I joined him by the window. “What did he tell you?”
The man glanced at me. “He told me what the initiation process was, what I should expect when I was taken out to these people.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And?”
He took a deep breath. “When the Blue-Eyed Axe Men cut down the trees, they take them back to the All Wood where, hopefully, new converts are awaiting its return. The converts must…eat the dead evil…and if your heart is truly faithful, you will be given the blessing of the All Wood.”
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “And if your heart is not faithful?”
The man looked down at the floor and said quietly, “Then they cut your feet off…and…and plant you in the earth, letting the dead evil fester and grow using your body’s energy, eventually twisting and contorting you into nature itself, kept alive till the ends of time by the earth, damned to forever suffer as your body is wracked with the pain of mutilation.”
I thought back to my vision, the dream of the towering trees with faces. I suddenly felt sick, nausea swirling in my stomach like dirty water. This couldn’t be true. None of this could be true. It was impossible. Things like this didn’t exist in the world. And yet…everything he was telling me kept matching up with what I had seen.
My arm flared with pain again. I gripped it and turned to him. “Do you know why my arm is killing me?”
The man looked down at it. “I’m assuming it’s because you came in contact with that tree. You touched it with that arm, right?”
I nodded, but something felt…off. My bones felt like they were shifting, grinding together, the muscles clenching and cramping. I started to feel warm, like I was about to run a fever, and my palms were beginning to sweat.
“Is there anything I can do to stop the pain?” I asked.
The man shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never met anyone who’s touched one of the small black trees before. I don’t know what they do. I’m sure, though, that it’s just a shadow of the evil passing through your system.”
I swallowed, gripping my arm tighter as the pain slowly became greater. “It really hurts, I don’t-”
I was cut off as the man’s eyes went wide, and he held up a finger, silencing me. He cocked his head and seemed to be listening intently.
Puzzled, I looked at him. “What is it?”
He shushed me, throwing me a look that was both terrified and angry.
I turned my head, trying to pick up whatever sound he was hearing.
And then I heard it.
The chime of a small bell, coming from the woods outside.
With a trembling hand, the old man peeked outside and then immediately grabbed my arm and shoved us both to the floor.
“Ow! Christ, what the hell?” I cried as my head thudded against the wall.
The man shushed me frantically and crawled across the floor. He reached the wall by the door and reached up, flicking the lights off. Bathed in darkness, he made his way back, propping himself next to me.
His words came out in staggered stages of panic. “W-what have you brought here? What did you do? Why is it here?!”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, unsure.
He pointed above us to the window.
I took a long look at him, then slowly raised my head to look out the window.
My eyes bulged, and my heart came to a screeching halt, the air drained from my lungs like a blown tire.
From the dark woods, two impossibly large blue eyes stared directly at me. As soon as the eyes met mine, a sick, loud gurgling sound erupted from where it stood.
I dropped to the floor, my heart roaring, arm hurting worse than ever now. “What the hell!?” I whispered, spittle flying from my lips. “What is that!?”
The man only looked at me, his own eyes reflecting my shocked terror.
“Is that…one of the Axe Men?” I asked, voice shaking, breath coming in stuttering gasps. “Why is it here?! What is going on?!”
The man spoke in broken, terrified fragments. “I don’t know…it shouldn’t be here…it has no reason to be here. It should have cut down the tree and gone back to offer it to the converts.”
“Well, then, what the hell is it doing here?! What do we do?!” I cried, voice cracking.
The man slammed a hand over my mouth, his eyes glowing. “Keep your goddamn voice down!” After a moment, he removed his hand. “You keep your eye on that thing…I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?” I hissed.
The man didn’t answer, slithering across the floor towards his bedroom. I muffled a scream as the worst bout of pain so far rocketed through my arm, exploding down the bone and out my fingertips. I grit my teeth as tears of agony formed in my eyes.
I looked down at my arm and had to muffle another scream. On the underside of my forearm, a small black twig, the size of a toothpick, jutted from my skin. Horrified, I grabbed it and snapped it from my flesh, immediately stuffing my free fist into my mouth to stifle a howl of pain.
What is happening to me? I thought, mind aching as my brain thundered against my skull.
The old man returned, dragging an old shotgun behind him, a box of shells in his other hand. He sat up next to me, shoving shells into the chamber, his hands shaking slightly.
The chime of the bell continued outside, along with the churning gurgle noise, and I noticed that the forest night sounds had been silenced. No bugs chirping, no crickets squeaking…nothing. In the still quiet, my breath sounded like a hurricane, my heartbeat exploding in my ears like a cacophony of war drums.
The old man pumped the shotgun, discarding a casing onto the floor. Everything was maddeningly dark, the absence of any city lights magnifying how truly isolated we were out here in the wilderness.
“What do we do?” I whispered. The man shook his head, gesturing to just wait.
The pain in my arm spiked suddenly, and I let out a soft growl, gripping it in agony. I looked down and saw that a small sliver of skin had split apart, revealing hard darkness underneath. What was happening to me? I traced a finger along the open wound and bit back a surge of panic.
Underneath my skin, beneath the bloody cut, was black wood. Confused terror clawed up my throat, and I felt vomit boil in my stomach.
I was about to show the old man, but he had popped his head up to take another look out the window. He stayed like that for a moment, then glanced down at me, relief in his eyes.
“I think it’s gone,” he whispered.
The side of the house suddenly exploded in terrifying violence. The head of an enormous axe split down the wall with tectonic power as if parting the plates of the earth.
I screamed and dove to the side, the axe missing me by inches. Fragments of splintered wood rained down around me as a gaping hole opened the house to the night. I tumbled into the old man, and we went sprawling, our voices joined in terror.
I scrambled up, pulling him with me, as a massive gray face emerged from the gash in the wall. Blue eyes met mine, shining with the brilliance of cold moons, a hole torn below them where its mouth would be, leaking black ooze. It gurgled at me, the sound of a small bell mixed deep into its vocal cords.
“Shoot it! Goddammit, shoot it!” I screamed, stumbling away.
The old man whipped the barrel of the gun towards its face and pulled the trigger, just as the monster jerked its head back.
The report of the shotgun was deafening, and for a moment, my ears rang and I saw stars. As I regained my senses and was about to pull the old man deeper into the house, I heard a whoosh from outside.
Half of the roof was cleaved from the cabin as the Blue-Eyed Axe Man swung his colossal weapon. We both fell to the floor, rolling away as wood rained down on us. I felt something smash into my leg, and I howled in agony.
“Get up! Get UP!” screamed the old man, trying to drag me to my feet. My world was filled with the sounds of the cabin howling and the infectious gurgle of the monster. My leg pulsed in agony, matched by the intense pain in my arm.
The Axe Man gazed down on us from the open roof, those impossibly huge blue eyes seeking us out. It saw me and reached a long gnarled hand towards me as black pus bubbled from its mouth.
As it was about to grab me, the old man fired off another shot, blowing the creature’s fingers from its hand.
The monster retracted its arm, the sound of the bell intensifying. I felt hands on my shoulders as the old man pulled me against the far wall, screaming something I couldn’t understand in my dazed state.
I looked down at my arm, screaming as the pain intensified once again. I watched, drool leaking from my contorted mouth, as the skin finally gave way and black wood exploded from my bones, popping my arm like a balloon. I wailed and thrashed on the floor, flailing my now twisted wooden limb.
The old man’s mouth dropped open in horrified shock, watching as I waved my new arm in searing agony.
Through the tears of pain that clouded my vision, I watched in terror as the Blue-Eyed Axe Man swung a knotted leg up over the open wall and slid down inside with us, his towering mass dragging with it its enormous axe.
“KILL IT!” I screamed, my voice cracking with pure, unfiltered fear.
His back to the wall, the old man raised his shotgun as the monster raised its axe.
Time seemed to slow as the man and monster simultaneously struck each other. The blast from the shotgun blew the creature’s face in half, while the titanic axe head fell with deadly accuracy.
Blood exploded across my face as the old man was cleaved in two, his body split down the middle. Gore splashed to the floor and over me as half of him flopped over my legs, blood drowning the cabin.
The monster, its face and half its head gone, teetered, then fell, crashing through what remained of the wall.
And in an instant, I was the only living thing that remained.
Chest heaving, blood streaking down my face, I screamed into the night.
* * * * * *
It’s been three days. My leg is broken, the beam from the ceiling crushing it completely. I tried to splint it, but the pain is overwhelming. Despite that, I managed to drag the old man outside, the stink and sight of him causing me to vomit.
I haven’t touched the Blue-Eyed Axe Man, haven’t dared to. At night I fear his body will rise up and murder me in the darkness. But it doesn’t. It just lies there, motionless, dead.
My arm has turned into some kind of twisted branch, the wood dark and smoky. It doesn’t hurt anymore, but I think it’s…growing. I noticed this morning that the wood has reached past my elbow now. Something about the tree I touched, the evil it held, has been passed onto me. I don’t know how long I have or what awaits if the transformation completes itself.
But I don’t think I’ll live that long.
There are two of them now.
I heard the sound of bells last night, jolting me from my sleep. I peeked from the wreckage and saw two pairs of blue eyes staring at me from the woods. I don’t know why they haven’t come to reap me yet. This wood in my arm damning me, drawing them, pulling them towards me. They were created for this, to cull the tree growing inside of me so that the All Wood may flourish.
I’m trapped out here. I can’t leave, my shattered leg making travel impossible. It’s only a matter of time. Maybe they see their dead brother, lying in the gory wreckage of our encounter, and hesitate. Maybe they’ve never seen one of their own lying dead.
Or maybe they’re just toying with me.
I may have a few minutes, or I may have a few more days. I don’t know. I’m terrified. I’m writing all this, hoping I can make it to the end before they kill me.
I wanted to warn you, because no one warned me.
Remember the words of the old man.
We don’t touch the black trees.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableElias Witherow Edited by Seth Paul and Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A