“I would advise against going in there, you know”. Corden stared at the little girl leaning on the trunk of the tree. Puzzling creature, she was. Corden couldn’t seem to figure her out.
“And why would that be?”
“Come nightfall, the forest will be drenched in a darkness like no other you’ve seen before, and the Vânător starts on its hunt. They say it stalks its victim to rattle their nerves before ripping off one limb at a time and feasting on the flesh in front of the screaming human.”
Corden chuckled at her little story. “And who might this “they” be?”
“You know — people. Old folk. People who have been around long enough to know this stuff.” Corden laughed at her dismissively. “If everyone’s dead, they wouldn’t have any way of knowing this stuff, no matter how long they’ve been around, now would they?”
“Okay, your funeral. But you have been warned.”
Musoe watched the man walk deeper into the forest until the trees engulfed him completely. She stared at the moon; a red light flashed through her eyes momentarily, before she sat back down by the tree and carved another line with her finger into the trunk as she waited for nightfall.
The last wisps of sunlight had given up on their effort to penetrate the dense tree covering, and the moon had swung up in the sun’s place. A strong breeze billowed around and rustled loose leaves on the ground, causing small, concentrated spirals. Corden’s clothes whipped around his body, hugging his frame tight. An eerie howl emanated from all around him, seeming to have no apparent source. He felt a cold shiver trickle down his spine. His pace slowed and became more forceful. Each breath seemed more laborious. The ground suddenly seemed uneven and full of surface roots. Corden stumbled on one, but steadied himself, only to tripover another and have to lean on a tree for support.
He raised his arm to his forehead to wipe off the beads of sweat that were present despite the cold. Or rather, he tried to. His arm seemed stuck to the trunk, inexplicably glued in place.
The skin on his fingers peeled off painfully slowly and receded into the tree. Blood flew all over the place; whatever hit the bark disappeared on contact, seemingly absorbed into the trunk. A crunching noise came from within the trunk as the tips of his fingers disappeared in small increments. Corden tried to scream but nothing came out. His jaw was fixed in place; his throat was dry; his tongue felt too big for his mouth. The trunk continued to claim more and more of his hand, spitting out droplets of blood as it did so. Corden tried to use his other hand to push the first one free, but that too became stuck where he placed it, as the tree began work on hand number two and the pain doubled. Somewhere behind him, he heard rustling noises. He snapped his head back, hoping that it would be a passer-by willing to help. His voice worked this time.
The trees seemed to be physically parting, bending and twisting out of the way. Corden watched on in growing fright and increasing pain, unsure of what was going to happen or who was going to emerge. Their footsteps were heavy and became more frightening with each step they took. Corden swore he even felt a slight disturbance in the ground as they moved.
The figure finally made its entrance. “Hello Corden.”
“Turns out you were right, Corden. There was no stalking, no nerve-rattling.
You’re still going to die though, don’t worry about that, Corden.” She ended with a sinister wink and a warning nod.
“Bu-bu-but how?” Musoe laughed in response.
“I warned you, Corden. But did you listen? No. Just like all the others, you chose to ignore the words of a little girl only trying to keep you safe.”
Corden began tugging at his hands with renewed effort, yanking them away from the trunk. Musoe laughed harder.
“You’re a fucking maniac!”
“And you’re going to be dead. I’d say I’m better off, wouldn’t you, Corden?” She stalked over to him slowly, but deliberately, cackling with each step, beating her hand on every tree she passed. Musoe revelled in Corden’s fear and pain and screaming.
When she finally reached him, the tree stopped eating Corden alive, but kept him tethered in place. She licked a finger and ran it down Corden’s face.
“Yes, you’ll do very nicely. Well done, Corden.” He fell to the ground, suddenly free from the trunk’s hold, probably having fractured a rib or two. But when he got up to run, he found he couldn’t. He wasn’t being held back by anything either — he just couldn’t.
Or…didn’t want to…?
Musoe laughed.”What’s the matter, Corden?”
“Wha-what have you done to me? Why can’t I move?” His voice shook with each word, becoming more unstable the more he talked. She laughed again and pushed him back into the tree where it resumed its hold on him, causing a fresh pulse of pain to shoot through his frame.
“I like to start from the bottom, you know, have them screaming for as long as possible. I like to hear them beg for mercy and apologise over and over again, not even sure of what they did wrong. I like to see the cocktail of confusion and fear swirl in and out of their eyes. I like to see the fight drain out of them as they finally resign to their fate. I hope you won’t disappoint me, Corden.”
“No. No. Please. Please let me go. Please.” Musoe laughed and said with a smirk, “Right on time.” She lifted her hand to his cheek and held it there for a moment, admiring her prey. Corden stared at her right in the eyes, not out of bravery, but because of fright. What stared back at Corden were not eyes, no, they were white clouds, specked with randomly dispersed red dots. They betrayed no emotion, signalled no intent. They just stared. Musoe continued, making a thin slit on each cheek, Corden’s skin peeling apart to reveal pink mass underneath. Satisfied with the crimson stripe running down both cheeks, she moved on.
The side of her hand made contact with Corden’s hip…and then went through, slicing through his flesh while he screamed and begged, unable to move, unable to do anything but wail. His flesh splintered apart, spitting out blood and other insides across the forest floor. Musoe looked at the collateral of her work and the red dust began to dance around. She stopped midway through his hip and dashed her hand down, cutting off Corden’s left leg. He let out a guttural scream, but that only seemed to amuse Musoe even more, as she sat down in front of him and began to work on the freshly-severed limb.
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