Into the Vale…

She stared at the empty trees, and they stared back. Their haunting nature chilled her and the feeling of dread that spread from the branches toward her, rooted her in place. She wanted to run from that place as it closed in on her, abandoning everything that had gotten her here, but she took another step forward, through the gloom that threatened to steal her heart. The wind blew and sent the leaves rustling in a frantic dance, causing the branches to creek and groan under the pressure.

Her foot paused, her toe extended toward the ground but frozen just before the final touch. She looked around as the trees continued to look back. Her heart raced as the night was absorbed by the ominous guardians of the vale. She tried to explain to them before entering in to their sacred grove that she was here to help, but she was less and less sure that they were listening to her, let alone even there to hear.

Her toe touched the grass five feet from the pond. She could see moonlight reflecting in the surface, but that light might as well have been miles away for all the illumination it gave to her currently. A branch touched her cheek, startling her as she whirled around. The cracking limbs echoed, sounding closer and closer to her with every passing second.

“I’m here to help.” She whispered as her voice failed her. Another loud wood splintering boom sounded off to her left. She looked in that direction, knowing she wouldn’t be able to see anything, but instinct has a funny way of making you do things that don’t make sense.

Fear filled her as the wind increased, throwing leaves and dirt up toward her face. She covered her eyes as her hair joined the macabre dance swirling around her. “I’m here to help.” She began to sob, wondering why she ever volunteered to save the vale.

She tried to look around, tried to find the moonlit pool, tried to move in that direction, but every step brought her further away from it as the trees mounted their defiance against the intruder. She heard creaking closer than before and could almost feel the tree nearing her. She tried to move away from it, but as she did, she tripped over an upended root which sending her falling backwards onto her backside.

Scrambling to her feet, fear overwhelming every sense she had, she determined to get away from the vale. For even as much as she loved these woods, dying in them was not something that seemed very appealing to her. She closed her eyes, covered her face with her arms and ran. She didn’t care where, but anywhere had to be better than here.

Tree branches scratched at her face and arms, roots grasped toward her feet, vines snatched at her torso and still she ran. She felt her breath burning deeply in her lungs, she could feel blood flowing down her arm from a deep gash, and she could hear splashing coming from her feet slapping on water.

It was the splashing that made her stop. The coolness of the water on her feet began to spread up her legs and she knew where she was. She hoped she knew. Without lowering her arms, she dared to open her eyes and as she did, the small glimmer of hope that had seeded itself in her mind began to sprout. Light filled her eyes and the darkness of the woods gave way to moonlight from the pond.

She quickly reached into her robe and searched for the vial of Moonwater that she had been tasked with. The creaking of the trees grow louder, and what little hope that had formed now mixed with terror as she frantically searched for what should be there.

“No, no, no…” she kept murmuring as she searched and searched her robe pocket, her eyes looking around the edge of the pond from the direction that she had come from. Fear rose in here again as she saw the flask a few feet away, just past the edge of the pond and just a few feet away she could see the root tendrils of one of the trees, masked in shadow, moving toward her.

She mustered all the energy she had left, feeling everything inside of her hurt, and lunged toward the flask. She grasped it in her hand and started to scramble back to the edge of the pond, desperately trying to pull the stopper off the top. Finally freeing it, she held it up to the light, and intoned the blessing that she was taught. The final words came out as a terrible scream as a root tendril came down and pierced her left leg just above the knee.

The pain seared through her body, it found all the fear that had not yet found its way out of hiding and coalesced with it into the most horrible scream a girl could ever scream. As the scream subsided, darkness filled her eyes again as unconsciousness beckoned to her from just beyond her sight. As she succumbed to the sweet mercy, the flask fell from her hand and landed in the pool.

TWW 430

Published by

R. Todd

MFA from the Queens University of Charlotte ('21), BA in English from the University of Central Florida ('17), Group leader for the Florida Writers Association since 2019, member of AWP and ACES.

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