The Forest Girl – part three

In part two we left Lisa Browning fleeing from Cerridwen, who was revealing more of her bizarre character. Lance Carpenter, who has been interested in Cerridwen, also began to make connections with the Ash family and the disappearances of children wherever the family has lived. Knowing that his friend Lisa is with Cerridwen, Lance rushes to protect Lisa from Cerridwen, who might just be more dangerous than he and Lisa ever imagined.

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Lisa made it to the backyard. She tripped on the fresh snow but regained her balance. She would run to Lance’s house, she thought. It would be closer than hers. Just follow the creek path and run as fast as possible. Lance, she thought. Call Lance. She took out her cell phone and nervously fumbled with it to find Lance’s number. Tears were welling up in her eyes, and her heart was trying to push its way out of her chest. She didn’t dare look back at who or what was following her.

She was on the path. A half a mile, just a half a mile, she thought. She found Lance’s number. “Pick up, pick up,” she cried to herself. She could hear limbs breaking in the woods. The sun was setting, and the snow was falling heavier now, making it hard to see. There was movement far ahead. Lisa was starting to panic. Her breathing was erratic. “Answer Lance, answer your effing phone.” The sound behind her was getting closer and louder. She stumbled on a tree root. That’s impossible, she thought. No roots on this path. She fell to her knees and her phone flew out of her hands, landing on the path a few feet ahead of her. Lisa was near hysterics, her voice faltering. “No …no … why me? Why is this happening? Why …why …why?” She reached her phone when a loud horrifying crunch came from behind.

Lisa was nearly paralyzed with fear. She held her cell phone in her left hand, trying to use her right to find Lance’s number. She couldn’t turn around. Turning around meant certain death. She was sure of that. She slowly lifted the phone and in its screen—pock-marked with melting snow flakes—she could see a hideous shape behind her. It made no sense. What was it? There was breathing, too, but it was crackling and breaking, but breath all the same. She tilted the phone higher. The thing behind her was moving and sending out tendrils …roots. “This isn’t happening,” Lisa whispered, trying to calm herself. “Just get up and run, run to Lance’s.” Her legs and arms ached from fear and the sudden fall. She knew she could get to Lance’s if she willed it. “Don’t look backward. Just move legs, you stupid legs,” she muttered. Her mind was numb. She gently put her phone in her coat pocket and positioned herself to start running. Snow smacked her face and a biting wind blew across her, making it hard to breathe. She remembered track practice. Could she sprint now, now that it mattered, now that it was life or death? “On your mark,” she whispered, “Get set.” “Go!” she screamed, pushing with her legs with all her strength. Every muscle on fire. I can make it. I can make …

A stinging slap on her right shoulder sent her down once more. She wanted to turn. She couldn’t be far from Lance’s. A snake-like root slithered to her right in the snow on the path. She could hear a crackling and rasping trying to speak words. Was it real? She also heard Lance. “Yes”, she whispered. What was he saying? It sounded like man, something not man.

Lance had seen the transformation. Now as he stumbled through the snow to reach Lisa, he understood why Cerridwen could appear out of nowhere. Lisa lay on the snow-covered path reaching out to him. Behind her, towering as high as the rest of the bare trees in the woods, was the thing Cerridwen actually was. A gnarled and twisted trunk loomed above Lisa. Roots shot out in all directions, quickly burrowing into the earth, some landed over Lisa, who was desperately trying to break free.

Lance was almost to her, screaming until he felt his temples would burst. “They’re not human! I’m coming Lisa! Just hold on! Hold on!”

There seemed to be movement all around the woods. The ground was rumbling as if an earthquake was imminent. Lance finally reached Lisa, who was yelling and crying, her eyes red and her fingers raw from trying to claw herself away from the monstrosity Cerridwen had become. Lance grabbed Lisa’s arms and tried to pull her free of the mass of roots that had started to weave around Lisa’s legs and waist. With each pull Lisa cried out in agony and the hellish tree sent out more roots to capture her. Limbs thudded to the ground sending wakes of fresh snow over Lisa and Lance, chilling their faces and hands. Lance kept tugging. Finally the roots gave and he felt Lisa move forward.

Lisa cried out, “Pull! Don’t stop. Please get me out. Please!”

Then the earth shook. Lance, who had been on his knees pulling Lisa, fell over. Lisa already on the ground was rolled onto her side. They were certain the ground beneath them was going to explode. To Lance’s right he saw roots emerge from the snow and lunge toward the monstrous tree. Another, then another. From his left he saw more roots fly from snow mounds and attach to the tree.

Lisa broke free of the tuberous web and crawled up to Lance, who quickly hugged her and rubbed her arms to warm her. She and Lance sat in the snow horrified and bewildered at the scene that was taking place. There were two large trees, one on either side of the path, sending roots out to envelop the menacing tree that had anchored itself in the middle of the path. The two flanking trees also bent towards the central tree, weaving their topmost branches with the middle tree. There was a deafening roar combined with the bending and breaking of limbs, which sent out bark chips with such force that they embedded in the trunks of nearby trees.

The sounds gradually changed. The ground now vibrated gently but didn’t rumble. All three trees began to shrink. Roots began to retract, but still moved with the ferocity of large whips, cutting down anything in their paths. Lance and Lisa were rigid. Their hair was covered with snow. Their breath was a cloud in front of them. Their teeth chattered as they shivered uncontrollably. They watched helplessly as the three trees began to take on contorted human features. Bends in limbs became joints for arms, and fingers. Roots receded up into the trunk and morphed into legs. Many smaller limbs and roots retracted into the larger ones until all had migrated to the trunk of each tree. The transformation was both stunning and grotesque. Lance and Lisa looked away when faces became apparent in the trees, faces that were looking directly at them, faces with piercing, black eyes.

Lance and Lisa heard footsteps in the snow and the sound of breaking twigs. They could also make out whispers, human whispers. The two gradually looked around and saw three dark figures heading down the path towards Cerridwen’s house. The snow was still falling heavily and it was getting dark. Lance and Lisa finally gathered the courage to get up and run to Lance’s house. They would finally be safe.

Safe at last, they warmed themselves by the fire, and after an hour or so after they calmed down, Lance escorted Lisa back to her house.

About Til Turner

Til is a writer, artist, and musician living in the Shenandoah Valley. He is an associate professor in the Languages and Literature Division at Northern Virginia Community College and is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Art with an MFA in Creative Writing. Til has published poems online, has written a teacher's handbook on ESL writing, and he has recently completed his second novel for young readers. Please feel free to visit his instructional website at www.EnglishIsKillingMe.com.
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