What Came to the Hollow

Like claws they rise above me, the trees, grasping at the sky—bare branches cracks in the gray expanse, the mist a slow sea rolling in over the forested hills. The earth soft beneath my feet, the moss and loam of decades undisturbed lies decaying in the deep woods. All I know is the narrow track before me and behind me, the trail my only lifeline as wilderness closes in. This is what I needed—in the gray silence to dissolve for a while and walk, nothing ahead but the end of the trail, and nothing behind at all.

Darkness falls swiftly in these woods. Impenetrable isn’t enough to describe the night. Non-existence is closer. A thin veil separates me from the mist as in sleep I walk yet further on stranger paths, to return at morning’s light and find the trail again waiting. In those dreams I hope to see what waits for me ahead. Until now I have only seen blackness.

It’s enough to know the world is alive around me, though it remains shrouded and hidden. The soft rustling along the trail tells me that my fellows crawl there, with me as I go on. What they know of the woods ahead, they will not say.

Around a bend I see the trail descend into a hollow, and I gaze out over the treetops sunken into the earth. Below me, beneath a break in the mist, a clearing lies beyond the trees. I know when I see it that I will stop there, and I will wait.

Darkness falls. A sudden exhaustion is upon me, my limbs heavy. The ground here is dry, and making camp seems more than I can bear now before sleep takes me, so I lay in the grass to sleep beneath the stars.

I know before my eyes open that I am not alone. Soft laughter and footsteps coming near. It’s close enough now that I hear its breath, and dread takes hold of me—there is excitement amid the rasping, bestial desire, and the laughter. A child’s giggle beneath a predator’s slow, steady stalking. I have to look, to see this thing that comes upon me. My eyes are open, but my body will not obey. I can’t turn my head from the trees at my left hand, and the coming thing is near to my right. Its breath across my face is warm and laden with the scent of blood. I strain my eyes, barely able to catch the shadow at the edge of sight, the thing from out of nightmare that walks these woods in search of prey. I am prey. I cannot move.

I hold my breath and wait for claws to tear me, and suddenly the thing is gone. I can move—I push myself up, my breath ragged, and come upright kneeling in the clearing, the stillness and the silence. Alone as new mist descends into even this lowland.

Now I walk on. Days lie ahead of me in these woods, nights of sleepless waiting and fear of laughter in the trees. I cannot turn back, cannot even glance behind me, because I can hear it there—giggling and the rustle of branches. Darkness is falling again, but I will not stop. I have no choice but to go on. I cannot turn back: more of them have come.

Maybe should’ve posted this before Halloween—oops. Some leftover spooky stuff to celebrate the season!

Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

2 responses to “What Came to the Hollow”

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