The Hanging Gardens – Part 2

“I don’t know if I can,” said Will, and she was as dim as a fading ember. “This is a bad place.”

“If we hurry we can get through before the sun sets,” said Rain. He wanted to usher Will along, but he didn’t know how to gently touch a will o’ the wisp for reassurance. “I know it’s scary, but I’ll be right here.”

Will flickered a little.

“I promise,” said Rain. And he entered the Hanging Gardens as though it were an empty meadow. Reluctantly, Will puffed herself up, bringing a little more light to the situation, and whizzed after Rain.

They kept close to each other as they waded through the hanging ropes and dangling feet chewed up by rot and moss. Trees had grown beneath hanging corpses and seemed to feed off of the bodies, twisting in and around human remains, making the plants half human in appearance. There were faces in the gnarled wood, fingers alongside twigs, and Rain had to force himself from wondering whether he was being caressed by a branch or an arm as he maneuvered through the increasing darkness of the Gardens.

The floor was spongy and the stench of decay seeped into the plant life. There were curses on this land–this place that started the Ocean of Trees–and Rain found himself holding his breath as though he could keep the dark magic back by refusing to breathe it in.

“How much farther?” WIll asked. She was trying her best to emit light, but the darkness was crushing. She thought about her sisters, overwhelmed by the black heart of the forest, suffocated by it. She did not want to die like that.

“The Gardens aren’t that far from Precipice,” Rain replied. He pretended he was confident about that, but the truth was he never made it past the outer edge of the Gardens before. He didn’t know how deep they went or how broad. Nor did he know what direction led back to Precipice Village.

Just as Rain was convinced he would get tangled in the ropes and vines and hanging people, he stumbled into a clearing. Instantly, Will’s light gleamed almost completely back to normal.

“Is this it?” she asked. “Is this Precipice?”

“I can’t see,” said Rain, peering into the darkness ahead. “It’s too dark. It might be…”

“We’ve done it!” Will cried, flickering happily. “We’re out of the forest!” She zipped forward, her light dancing in the shadows and the mist.

Only for a larger shadow to fall over her.

A great oak, impossibly tall and broad and dark, like a giant of legend. And from one long branch, like an offering, dangled a solitary woman, almost completely whole, like she was hanged yesterday. She was garbed in brambles and feathers and the tattered remains of a dress. Rain knew who she was. The witch. Not a witch. The witch.

And she looked down at Rain and Will with voided eyes, her thin lips curling ever upward.

Day 313’s three random writing prompt categories were, “The hanging tree,” “Autocannibalism,” and, “A forest world.”

Yes, and a part 3.

– H.

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