The Forest of Lescha | Short Story

Most people will tell you that the well of blood on the island of Lechsa, hidden deep in the forest in an underground cavern is just a myth and that the red tint to to all the island’s water is due to minerals. They would be wrong. Most don’t venture in to the forests that cover a good portion of the island. This isn’t because they are thick with underbrush or rabid animals, rather the contrary. Though little is known of the wildlife deeper in the forest, what is seen on its outskirts seems happy and normal enough. The trees are large, thicker than any man and taller than is easily measurable. Their canopy is thick enough to block out most of the midsummer sun and local legend keeps all but the most reckless, foolhardy and gullible from its depths. The forest lives near the people and the people near it and all is balance, most would tell you.

 

But again, they would be wrong. Wherever there is true darkness there are those who will be drawn to it. Some will be drawn by the desire to change or extinguish the dark with their own gift of blinding light, while others will seek only to revel in it, to absorb its chaos and stand at the center of its swirling storm. Others though, will seek to chain it, bridle it and use it as a beast of burden, better suited to the abuse of its station than those who drive it.

 

All the people in all the houses would tell you that no one had been in the forest in generations, and would hide their robes in kitchen cupboards and kick their athames under the rug as they did so. The unmarried hostess would wash blood from child sized clothes and tell you it was only a playground scrape and when you ask about the sounds from the forest on the night when the moon is ringed with red, answer you with deafening silence from behind a tombstone smile. Or maybe — just maybe —  they will answer you. Maybe they will offer to show you their gathering, bring you to the edge of the forest, offer you a long, heavy old fashioned cloak to ward off the cold that has sunk in to your bones as you begin to hear the heartbeat of a low drum coming from just inside the forest. As you pass from the relative safety of the remaining glow of safe cottages and hearthstones you would begin to smell something earthy and heavy in the air, and as you approach you will find its source. The fragrant fire is burning in the center of the stone disk several yards wide that will be hidden just inside the line of trees, so much more foreboding in the darkness. Without the trickling light to illuminate their trunks and play through the heavy blanket of leaves, the oversized towers of living forest disappear in to the darkness high above. Hoods will fall too far over faces for you to be able to tell which of the smiling shop keepers and flirtatious bar maids are in attendance. Their hands will hang at their sides, palms stained in rusty red patterns that glimmer, still wet, in the fire light while their voices mingle in the smoke and darkness, blending to an unrecognizable drone-like intonation.

 

When she comes from the canopy, your heart will feel like it has stopped in your chest and your eyes will be unable to leave the crimson blood smeared over her cheeks and drying on her throat as if it had once poured from her mouth. She will move with an unnatural fluidity and survey the circle of hooded supplicants  with eyes aglow with silvery moonlight. You will be able to to see her ribs through the tears of her dirty shift that falls to her shins. It is the only thing that covers her body and you can see that she so slender that she shouldn’t have the strength to sit up, let alone circle the the fire with the rolling gate of a wild animal. Her eyes will land on yours and the smile that pulls her lips back from blood stained teeth will catapult your heart back in to frantic movement. She will not blink as she makes her way towards you, then with a sudden pull of muscles she will be on top of you, knocking you back and down to the ground. Her dirty feet crash in to your chest, her fingers digging in to the flesh of your neck, slamming your head against the stone circle and blurring your vision. When the blackness and silvery spots clear from your eyes, her face will fill your view. Her dark eyes will be ringed in silver and she will smile, whisper slippery words beneath her breath, place her hand over your heart to feel the jack rabbit beating of it, and lean back to breath deep the smell of your fear on the cold wind. You won’t know what happens after that.

 

Or maybe, if you are lucky —  if you are smart — you will smile at the tombstone silence, ask if the playground scrape has healed, and ignore the smell of blood in your water at night.

 

 

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