Brown and burgundy; the leaves wave
From the trees like hands
In the darkness, the
Orange grins of pumpkins are
Parents light bonfires
Sparklers spell names, draw pictures
Cold toes, hot coffee
The forest was blood-red. The leaves in the trees had turned burgundy and they covered the ground like a red carpet. It was unnaturally silent: no birds sang from the treetops, no animals rustled in the undergrowth. Only the fingers of the black trees twitched, and the blood-red leaves clinging to the dark branches swayed eerily.
I walked slowly through the forest, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Not that it’ll make any difference, I reminded myself. She already knows I’m here. I shivered and wrapped my arms across my chest.
There was no path to follow. The trees closed in overhead, their fingers and blood-red leaves blocking out the sunlight. I carried on walking, knowing that if she wanted to talk to me, she’d choose somewhere where she could easily trap me. Sure enough, after a couple more minutes, I stumbled across a small clearing.
Brown grass, covered in the dying red leaves, grew wild. Although the trees were leaning in, their branches stretching over the clearing, none grew inside the grassy expanse. It was empty apart from a gnarled tree stump in the centre. I walked over and sat down. The minutes stretched by like years and I was beginning to think that she would keep me here until I was old and grey when a voice echoed through the woods.
It seemed to come from everywhere at once. It hissed through the leaves like wind, rumbled through the ground like thunder. The voice was as old as forever and as youthful as a child. Her voice was wise and cruel and clever and bitter and my heart pounded at the sound of it. It was her.
“You dare enter my dominion?” She thundered furiously. “Before I kill you, tell me why you dared to set foot in my forest.”
My hands were trembling like a miniature earthquake, so I sat on them. “Please, good lady, I come to beg your help.” I said, wishing my voice wouldn’t quaver like a child’s’.
This time her voice came from behind me. It was quieter and but several hundred degrees colder. “If I agree, what will you offer me in exchange for this?”
I didn’t turn around. Speaking to the trees, I answered, “My lady, I do not have much, but I can offer you my money. I have over two thousand denra at home and I would be very happy for-”
“What need do I have for human money?” she cried mockingly. “Your useless lumps of metal are worthless!” Her spiteful laughter made the trees shake. The groans of the tree branches filled the air. I sat dead still on the tree stump, shivering. I have nothing to bargain with. She will surely kill me!
The trees grew still again and the unnatural silence stretched onwards. I strained to hear her, wondering if she was creeping up on me so she could kill me. I wanted to turn around, but I was frozen with fear. Suddenly, she hissed in my ear, making me jump. “I crave something far deeper than wealth.” She paused tantalizingly, enjoying my fear. “I will help you, but only if you give me yourself in return.”
“Myself?” I asked, terror restricting my throat. She was right behind me! I wanted to turn around but I couldn’t move.
“Yes…” She hissed. Her hand landed on my shoulder, imprisoning me. Her nails dug deep into my skin. “Give me your soul, and I will give you what you want.”
I hesitated. I needed help so desperately, I was willing to do anything… but my soul? Was it worth it? Doubt filled me and I was about to refuse when a shrewd little voice spoke up. If you don’t give her what she wants, you won’t leave here alive. If you are to die, at least get her help in the process. I tried to speak but my mouth was bone dry so I nodded instead.
“Good.” She breathed. I could almost see her cruel smile. Her cold fingers stroked my cheek, her nails scratching my skin. “Now run home, little human, and you’ll find the help you needed has already arrived.”
I didn’t hesitate. Everything inside of me wanted to get away from her as quickly as I could. I jumped up and speed towards the edge of the clearing. But before I plunged into the forest I stopped. I don’t know what it was, but something in me made me turn and look back. Maybe I just wanted to see her. Maybe I wanted to show her I wasn’t afraid. Whatever it was, it made me turn and look at the clearing.
But the clearing was empty. The gnarled tree stump sat in the centre, alone. I frowned, looking closer, not believing that she could disappear that fast. Then I saw the darkness under the blood-red trees and froze. The shape was tall, taller than me, and barely recognisable as a person. The shadow shifted slightly and I caught a glimpse of scaled skin, talons for hands. Evil seemed to seep from it the darkness like a foul smell. The temperature dropped and I shivered in the sudden dark.
Fear clenched a fist around my throat. My feet seemed to have turned to stone.
Then the darkness hissed, in a voice that was absolutely devoid of humanity, “I will collect my payment at the next full moon.”
I turned and fled.