“The last light,” whispered the forest through the witch’s lips. “You have come.”
Will flashed in surprise, then whizzed behind Rain. Rain couldn’t move–it was like a nightmare where running was impossible. His legs felt like they were as rooted as the trees around him.
“You killed them,” said Will, her voice small. “My sisters. All of them.”
“The trees need light,” said the witch, dangling from her noose and smiling so high the corners of her lips seemed to touch her eyes. “The magic of the witches is almost gone.”
The forest yawned and rumbled, brambles and roots and branches leaning into the enclosure around Rain and Will, snaking forward.
“Leave her alone!” Rain shouted, trembling. He slid his knife from its sheath. He slashed at a root that was slithering up toward Will. He severed the wooden appendage at the tip, sending it receding back in pain.
“Why do you protect her kind?” the witch asked, her grinning jaw gaping wide like a rotten jack-o-lantern. Rain could see a fading light in her throat–the last of the witch’s magic. “The wisps of the woods, who lure young boys to their deaths in the heart of the forest.”
“To adventure,” Will said. She floated in front of Rain, red with anger. “We never kill children. Never.”
“And how many of your young adventurers survived their journeys?” asked the hanged witch, her voice hissing through the trees.
Will’s light faded and she lowered herself.
“The wisp brought you to me,” said the witch, the lights of her eyes narrowing on Rain. “Their kind are betrayers. The world is a gladder place without them.”
“Rain,” said Will. “Please.”
Rain didn’t want to believe the witch, but she wasn’t wrong. Will o’ wisps were known to lure children into danger, even if Will called it adventure. And Rain only stumbled into the Hanging Gardens after meeting Will. For all he knew, he could have found his way out a long time ago.
“Give me the light,” the witch said, her lips never moving but to smile, the sound whooshing out of her throat and the throats of the hanged men and women all over the Gardens. “I will show you the way to Precipice. I will even stop reaching into your village. You and your people will be safe. You have my word, the word of the forest, the eldest word of the Earth.”
More branches reached for Will, who lighted away, hovering around Rain like a halo. Rain held up his knife, and the branches hesitated, but when he didn’t strike they slowly moved in again.
“Rain,” said Will again. “No…”
Even the roots around Rain’s feet lifted toward Will’s light. It was life to them, thought Rain. It was food. The forest had eaten away all the light. There was only Will left. And Will was Rain’s friend.
So Rain slashed away the fingers of the forest, and ran straight for the great oak, shouting, “Come on!”
The forest reared like a hissing cat and lunged for Rain, who ducked under the witch’s bare, pale feet, slashed a piece of bark from the oak for good measure, and trusted Will to whiz ahead of him to light the way. They made it to the other end of the enclosure as roots snapped together on empty air, barely missing Rain’s ankles, and made it out of the Hanging Gardens and back into the forest.
But the forest was no longer benign. It shoved trees and branches in the way of Rain’s path, twisted roots beneath him, and as he bumped into tree trunks and stumbled over roots he might have turned straight back around if not for Will, who flew steadily forward, weaving around trees, through hollows, over branches and through leaves, the dim light of the black forest the only thing keeping Rain from blindness.
“Where are you going?” Rain shouted, huffing and wondering how in the world he had the courage to keep his feet moving forward. The forest was screaming in a whisper, like a strong wind through rustling bush, whistling through the trees.
“I don’t know,” shouted Will, her light getting brighter and brighter. “I just… lead.”
She was getting brighter–Will could barely look at her, she was so bright. He just ran and ran for the light…
And at last, he was out of the forest. If a woodsman didn’t grab him he might have ran straight through the village and over the Precipice cliffside.
“Where are you going, boy?” the woodsman shouted at Rain, cuffing him gently on the ear to snap him out of his fright.
Rain didn’t think he’d see another living person ever again. He gaped at the woodsman as though the muscular man were a creature more magical than will o’ the wisps and witches combined.
“The forest!” a woman shouted–a “lumberjill” as the folks of Precipice called her. The woodsman holding Will back looked in horror at the edge of the forest, which crawled inward toward the village at ten times its normal (already supernatural) speed.
Day 314’s three random writing prompt categories were, “The hanging tree,” “Autocannibalism,” and, “A forest world.”
I know I’ve never done more than 3 parts to a single prompt, but I kind of want an epilogue for this one. Sue me.