A few months ago, I threw together an awful short story that a good friend later helped me make into something far greater than I ever could’ve managed by myself. It ended up turning into a script that was too long to be a short film, and far too short to be of feature length, but I loved it so much. The plan then changed to writing as much pulp as possible, and pulling the best bits into a simultaneous story arc. Here’s part one! I’ll post the others periodically over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy it!
Dunahein the hunter was a fortnight dead. The forest folk had found him, face contorted in terror, in a clearing in the centre of the wood. “This forest is young,” said the druids, “there’re no spirits here. Many among you remember it’s planting, and many still care for its upkeep.” But the forest folk were not convinced. Dunahein had been a strong man, the strongest man, in fact. He had lost an eye to a boar, and carved the lines of his woad with a rock to make permanent his markings. “It is the animals of the forest,” they thought, “that would collapse in fear at the sight of him.” So when dawn broke on the fifteenth sunrise, the more adventurous younglings gathered their packs and set out for the clearing. They had been reliably informed by the wise men that the summer solstice was approaching, and as proof, the sun rose quickly into the sky, with light flooding through the gaps in the dense brush. “The Trinovantes had been blessed,” their forefathers had said, “by the spirit of nature herself.” It was promised that wherever they went, the forest would spring up at their feet to protect them, and it definitely seemed the case.
Suddenly, the pack leader stopped, fist raised slightly above her head. The rest cowered down, eyes darting. “What has she seen,” they thought. “perhaps her keen eyes have just sighted a deer, or a rabbit?” But one by one the group saw it, gesturing to each other, pointing to the forest ahead. Just within sight walked a woman, older than any of them had ever seen, draped in rags, with a face like ancient tree roots. She walked unsteadily, struggling to place one foot in front of the other, arms outstretched. Her face was wrought in great sadness, her mouth periodically falling open, and then coming to a close. The youths had been raised on the old stories of the hag in the woods, and it was not long ago that they had spent sleepless nights in terror of her. But this was different; the woman was clearly in ear shot and had ignored them entirely. They had made noise enough to startle every animal in the forest, so if she had not noticed them by now, perhaps she just didn’t want to pay them mind.
As they watched silently from the brush, they realised. The old woman was walking towards the clearing, “maybe she had run into Dunahein that night,” they thought “and not expecting company, he had died of shock at the sight of her.” But it wasn’t enough, why had she left him there to rot? Why had she not come to the forest folk to explain, for they were well known for miles? That had settled it; curiosity had won, and the younglings began to follow close behind. It wasn’t long before they had reached the clearing, the light now flooding in, blinding them for a fraction of a second while their eyes adjusted. The warmth was rewarding, and they almost felt as if the hag had just come to find a warm place to rest. But as they looked, they realised this was not the clearing they had grown up in, this was not the place where they had played.
What lay before them was a massacre, dozens of young girls, younger than them, stripped to the flesh, lay sprawled across the floor. At the centre stood a towering figure, complete with a tool none of them had ever seen before. It shone in the sun’s rays as it split the very earth, removing load after load of dirt in effortless motions before their very eyes. The figure was a man clad in finest leather, grunting and groaning, digging a pit larger than any they had seen a single man dig. They recalled the effort it had taken to dig the pit for water, thirty strong men, their bare hands and many moons of work; how could he have managed this in a single night? As they watched, he would routinely stop, pick up a carcass, throw it in, and continue his venture. They couldn’t let him continue. “How dare he commit this sacrilege to these girls and to our forest?” They thought. “The wise men would have to hear about this.” They drew their flint tipped arrows, and pulled their bows tight. “But what of the woman!” One remembered. “We must be careful not to catch her in this crossfire.” From the edge of the clearing they frantically searched, but were quickly interrupted by a loud gasp from the group.
The man was now staring intently in their direction, eyes wide and tool raised. They froze, none daring to make a sound. They watched as his mouth moved, but no sound came out, they winced as he spit and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. None dared to take their wide eyes off him, none dared to move. Then suddenly it happened, from behind him came a wail, a wordless, guttural moan. The hag had wandered to his rear, and caught him with her outstretched arms by the back of the shoulders. The man wheeled round, letting out an equally guttural, yet high pitched scream, bringing the full weight of the tool into the side of the hags neck. There was no blood. Both the figures collapsed, the man clearly weighed down by the weight of his kill, clutching his now free left hand to his chest, face in contortions. The youths seized their chance, running into the clearing, screaming at the top of their lungs, letting arrows loose and stones fly. But it was empty, no trace of man, hag, or girls. The forest fell silent, the echoes of their screams must’ve reached the folk by now, and they were probably on their way. The group fell to the floor, sweating and exhausted in the warmth of the solstice sun, looking up through the gap in the clearing. “Poor Dunahein,” they thought. “May the forest spirit watch over him, wherever his soul may be.”