By Brubek Coltrane
In search of my lost companion, I strained my ears to pick up the reverberation that had so suddenly disturbed the silence of the night. When the forest’s quiescence was all that could now be heard, I chided myself for the fabrications made by my wild imaginings. I need to find him. That was the cardinal thought in my mind from which all others were dictated by.
The recollections of our pedantic wanderings through the ancient woods that bordered the edges of our unpretentious little town flipped through my mind as I pieced together the puzzle my brother had left in his wake. Deeper this time had we gone than ever before. Old tales of the dwellers and demons that inhabited far deep under the stretching branches of the old trees ravaged our minds.
My mind was amok with fanciful tales of the maleficent and malevolent beasts that could so at this very moment be torturing and terrorizing my little brother at this very moment. But I did not let panic rip through my veins so easily, as in doing so I would put my brother at an even greater risk, for if I too lost my way in this deep wood, no one would ever find the two of us again. Yet despite my calm, my heart could not help but yearn for the knowledge that my brother was safe; he was all I had left after the pestilence took both our parents.
Venturing across snarled roots and pushing through verdure and umbrage, the path grew ever harder to see amongst the shade of the trees above, battling like hoary old giants slowly dueling over the scant sunlight that still managed to pierce the dark canopy of the shroud of leaves and bark. A sudden feeling of dread ran over me, and in response, I ran my fingers over the blade of the dagger hung at my belt: my only defense against whatever evil might come forth from the darkness.
My silent sojourn was abruptly interrupted by a shrill cry that sent a murder of crows racing for the heavens. If only I could too, alas. I stopped once more, realizing that the imaginings of the deep recesses of my mind were not to blame for the sound which I had heard earlier. The perversion of the silence brought with it a short period for which I was unsure once more what I had heard. And then, again came the cry, but this time, there were words that I could discern from the bewailing.
“Rodrick!” I heard the voice call out, sounding vague and distant, as if far away; a mere echo.
Though distant and faint as it was, there was no mistaking the voice as belonging to my lost brother. I scanned the treeline that rose from the small ridge where I was standing, not daring yet to make an assay from the trail, which was now, in light of the fading sunlight, my lifeline.
“Vik!!!” I called back out, using the name that had been bestowed upon him, seeing as to the fact that his full name, Victor, was deemed too long by some folk. Little Victor didn’t seem to mind the change, and answered to his new name as eagerly as he had his original.
The thought of this brought back memories of the time before his hand slipped away from mine, and the forest ate him whole. Remembering the time when we’d use to run on the fields under the summer sun in happier times. Recollecting how my little brother could never quite understand how to say certain words right, no matter how hard he tried. But that was oh so very long ago.
The circumstances however, demanded a break in this form, and so I cried “Victor!”
Fearing that silence would be the only answer, I waited restlessly for an answer. When none came, I called again, louder this time. Again, the response was silence. As my heart sank into whatever deep edifice it could find, my hopes began to falter.
“Rodrick?” I heard the voice call out again.
The sound of Vik’s voice brought me to my senses again, and I instantly called back, barely noticing how much the provenance of his calls had changed.
“Victor?” I called back, relieved that I had not lost my brother to the forest just yet. “Where are you?”
Again, the sound of the forest was all that gave me comfort in the absence of a return. I began to trod in the direction where I heard his voice come from last. As soon as my feet had betrayed the boundaries of the path, and stepped into the dense undergrowth of the trees, another sound perturbed the forest sounds made by the rustling of tree branches and conversations of birds that rung out among the skies.
Setting my gaze upon the wild lands in front of me, a darkness disturbed some of the light that might have shed guidance upon the unknown land ahead. Preventing the light from reaching the ground, a cloaked, dark figure stood, arrayed just beyond the light, so that I could not see their face. Atop a large, mossy boulder, stood whatever lay beneath the cover of the cloak. I could not judge the size too accurately from the ground, in that moment in any sense; to me the figure seemed as large as a rogue monstrous bear.
As my heartbeat quickened, the figure standing on the rock seemed to notice me, and when it did, it pounced. Leaping off the rock and running towards me, my feet were frozen in place, asleep amongst the mushrooms and ivy that were permanent residents of the forest floor. Its face was concealed. Whatever it was that was running towards me picked up its pace and rocketed towards me with a speed I had not seen before.
Drawing ever so closer, my soul made its decision: to live. Unbolting my feet from the ground, I turned and made my way swiftly in the opposite direction. The creature, or whatever it was (I was not inclined to stay and find out), continued in grim pursuit, with a determination unlike any other. Tripping over roots and detritus left on the forest floor, I mustered whatever energy I could to get away. I pushed through branches and bushes as the setting sun’s rays lost more and more dominion over the influence of the great trees. The farther I tried to get away from my pursuer, the darker and more for foreboding the woods seemed to become.
As the last mustering of energy faded in their spread throughout my tiring limbs, thoughts of surrender began to creep into my mind. Batting them away, and striking each one down, the number of these cognitions were growing in strength, so much that the valiant efforts of the apses of hope began to become overwhelmed. Had I not been running for a greater cause, I might have fallen by now. The thoughts of the smiling face of my innocent little brother who was all I had left in this world, were flashing before eyes before I suddenly slipped, and tumbled downwards.
In the darkness, I couldn’t see what lay ahead of me, and so when a great, steep ridge appeared, I ran full force, and hurtled down in a heap. When I pushed my lacerated face from the cold soil of the ground, my still blurred vision caught a glance of my pursuer, who was now situated on top of the ridge, illuminated from behind by the very last holdouts from the sun’s rays. Still unable to see the face I thanked whatever divine intervention had saved me, and decided to test my luck no further, venturing into the wood that lay beyond the door of the ridge.
Pushing through the branches of the now almost completely dark forest, I heard again the unmistakable cry of little Vik. His voice however, sounded more distressed, crying now not for recognition, but instead, for help.
“Rodrick!” It demanded.
“Vik!” I called back. “Where are you! What’s wrong?”
Either ignoring or not hearing my reply, it called again, “Rodrick?”
This time, it seemed more stressed than ever before, the fear in his voice ringing clear, cutting into my heart. The darkness set by the trees allowed me to procure no sign of Vik, yet the tone of his voice installed in me a new sense of urgency.
“Rodrick, help!” The voice cried out again, screaming, rather than crying this time, as if in pain.
“Victor!” I screamed back, drawing my knife, and preparing myself to charge into the darkness to face whatever monstrous creature had taken hold of my brother. This I would have done, if not for a cold hand that firmly grasped my shoulder, making my heart stop and my entire body turn to ice.
“Rodrick, whatever’s calling you out there, it’s not me.” The unmistakable voice of Victor, my brother said.
Slowly I turned, my heart beating so hard, it threatened to leap out of my chest altogether. In the darkness, I could scarcely see the face of the one who had grabbed my shoulder. He was wearing a dark cloak, and with a sinking realization, I found it was the same cloak of the on who had pursued me.
“Wh-why did you chase me?” I asked.
“Why did you run away?” Vik replied.
“Where’d you get that cloak?” I asked.
“I…found it.” Vik answered, though I was unsure if the truth was what came out.
A sudden thought dawned on me as another anguished cry echoed throughout the shadows of the now dark woods, whose demeanor had changed entirely from one of fading light, to one of nightmares and terror.
“Rodrick!!!” The voice cried out again, in an shrill, earsplitting cry that took every bit of will in me not to rush out at that moment. “Don’t listen to it!”
“Um,” I began, trying not to show the fear in my voice. “If you’re Vik, what’s out there…?”
We both turned our heads out and looked into the darkness, straining our eyes, but seeing nothing. I turned to Vik, or so he said he was, and asked a question whose answer I could only know would be disturbing either way.
“Remember that time by the river?” I asked. “What was the name of our ship we made?”
“The islander.” Vik replied “I remember, the one with the sails and the flags, yes, that…”
As Vik carried on with his story, my eyes widened, and my very blood turned cold. I couldn’t quiet make out what was beside me, but whatever it was, it wasn’t Vik. It had said islander like I-lander, not is-lander. Vik would never say that. Quickly, I drew my dagger, and made a cut at the surprised…thing.
I quickly jumped up and sprinted as fast as I could away from whatever the ting that called itself Vik was.
“Vik!” I cried out. “Where are you!”
The sounds changed behind me, as an inhuman shriek emanated from behind me, and the sound of human feet in my pursuit, quickly changed into the sound of scurried rustlings and unnatural growls, noises no human could imitate.
“Over here!” A weak voice mumbled, straining to be heard.
Finally, I nearly tripped over the crumpled body of my brother’s form. I swiftly grabbed him and picked him up.
“It…” He tried to say. “It tried to…”
“What did?” I asked in anger.
“The…the thing.” Vik said weaker still, pointing behind me.
I calmed him down, assuring him with whatever lies I could tell. As I rubbed my brother’s cold forehead, I felt my hands go red with what could only be blood. Cradling Vik in my arms, I ran as far away from the woods as my legs would carry me, with a renewed determination. No creature would get Vik without a fight. Behind me, the shrill growls and other inhuman noises that derived from just behind me kept growing closer, and ever closer still.
Cradling tight my bloodied brother, I pushed and kicked through bushes and tall grass, though, whether closer or father away from where I needed to go I did not know, wherever it was, I went there swiftly.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the edge of the woods came into sight, and beyond them, the small town stood, under the light of the full moon. Relief hit me like when sleep hits a weary traveller after a long and arduous journey; like a punch.
The radiating sounds of the creature who shrieked trailing off behind me, in anguish of the two souls I had cheated it it out of. Banging on the gates, which finally relented, indifferent faces suddenly turned soft, and rushed to our aid. As they took him in, many whispers found their way to my ear, the likes of which stated of how he would not make it through.
I droned it all out, waiting until sleep took my restless mind. When at last, the light found it’s way back into the sky, I awoke to a sea of morose and amber faces. It was then that the only light that I saw left in this world had now been extinguished.
And here I now stand, at the grave of my fallen brother, who too soon was taken from this world. I confide with a bittersweet mind, the fact that he was not taken by the voices in the woods, so that his soul might be free to wander and find it’s way to wherever it is they go. Amongst old trees and shrouded vines, I now find myself once again in the woods where so many years ago I lost the one closest to me. It is once again that I venture into the nightmares of my childhood, and confront once and for all the voices that robbed from me, everything. Only this time, I will not run, but face whatever evil there is that dwells deep within these woods, where long ago, under a fading sun, I remember what they did. Now, I enter once more, to what fate I do not know, only that I swear to my last breath that no longer will these woods be plagued with the voices that take innocent souls, and bereave hope from those who would stand against it.