The Ocean Forest
Sander was a young boy of fourteen. He lived in a grey house, of grey brick, with grey paint on the walls. The sky above Sander's house, more often than not, was just as grey as the room he called his own, for heavy bellied clouds hung dangerously low, and most days, poured rain continuously.
When Sander sat at his desk on the second story of his grey house, within his grey-walled room, he would often look out of his window, out over the grey, leafless trees that shivered together in a sparse huddle of a wood.
As Sander sat there, his chin cradled upon his fists, elbows resting upon the desk within his grey room, he began to daydream.
Now, ordinarily, daydreams are vastly different from the sort that come from deep sleep. For when the brain and body are both awake, many sorts of distractions can instantly pull oneself from the dream. This, in turn, reminds the dreamer that reality still holds its dreary clutches upon the world. The dreamer wakes up, and normalcy prevails once more.
But Sander was no ordinary boy. Within his mind prowled a vast and different world. A world, not created by the living visions of an ever fleeting mind, only discovered therein. It waited there, hidden, longing to be explored and discovered. And each time Sander daydreamt, the hidden world welcomed him into its mysterious embrace, and he was lost to its endless mysteries.
The world of which Sander dreamt was called Azrayell, and none but this young boy have ever seen its likeness.
Sander awoke this time laying in a field of endless grass. Thick, succulent blades of green so vibrantly emerald in their hue, they almost hurt to look upon. The grass, as Sander thought, was so soft and comfortable to lay upon, that it almost seemed to pull him deeper, deeper into its sun soaked embrace. Sander was warm, but not uncomfortably so, like sleeping in a chilled, mid-october night with a thick, downy blanket.
But he was not asleep.
Sander lay there on the grass, gazing into the heavens far above. It was a familiar sky. Puffy, yellow clouds reaching endlessly into a sky more gold than blue. It was the sky of the world called Azrayell, and Sander knew it well.
Propping himself up on his elbows, Sander tried to get a better look around. East, and to the right of him, a hazy mountain range reached up into the clouds. The snow-white peaks turned to varying shades of hazy grey by the distance. In wonder, Sander thought of how large the mountains must really be. He had seen them once before, he knew, but never up close.
But Sander knew that was not for today. Today was the field, and the green grass, and the golden sky. Today was for rest...or so he hoped.
And so, he began to walk. To the north, he decided, and as he walked, he sang to himself. Softly, he sang. For he was alone with the grass and the golden sky. Not even a breeze stirred the shining, emerald blades, and no birds cried from the heavens. And as he sang, the sun hung still among the endless, puffy clouds.
The land is sweet,
Sweet to me.
The grass is vast and warm.
The sun, it sleeps
The clouds, they creep
In many different forms.
Oh, Azrayell, I've come again.
I'm here. At last, I'm home.
It's me, your friend, its Sander
And I'll go where you'll have me roam.
Sander did not know how many repetitions of this song he went through, but he didn't mind. He enjoyed walking carelessly through the field, and he knew that, eventually, he would find what he was meant to. He always did. That was the way of things here in Azrayell.
As he walked, Sander's song became a hum as he looked up at the sky. The clouds looked so inviting, so much like the softest of pillows. He hoped that one day, he would dream himself into the sky, so he could lay down on the clouds and watch the sun.
The first time he could remember dreaming of Azrayell, he had seen a city on top of the clouds. A magnificent, and colossal city of pure white. And there had been singing coming from the heavens. Faint, but consistent, and far, far more beautiful than any song he had ever heard before.
There was no singing now. No singing, other than Sander's song.
With an effort, Sander pulled his eyes from the sky, looking instead upon the ground in front of his feet. He was, of course barfoot. He was always here in Azrayell. As a matter of fact, there had never been a time where he would have needed shoes. The ground was never abrasively rough, or scalding hot, or frozen over. Not in any of the times he had visited in his dreams. Not yet, at least.
Suddenly, Sander realized he was walking under the shady covering of a tree. A rather large tree. The canopy of its leaves was so vast, that he could not see where the trunk of the tree was rooted. They seemed to stretch for miles in all directions. The branches of the tree hung low, however, and Sander thought to himself that he could almost touch them, if perhaps he decided to jump. Light was filtering through the branches and small patches of the sky shone through gaps in the leaves.
Thoughtfully, Sander turned as he looked around. He could see, far, far behind himself, where he had entered under the leafy branches. The sun shone brightly, almost blindingly there, as if he were looking at daylight through a tunnel.
He thought briefly of turning back. After all, he had not meant to be here. But the thick, soft grass was still beneath his bare feet, though a bit cooler now, so he continued to walk, still humming his song.
After a while of walking and humming, Sander paused. He did not know why he did, but he seemed to think he heard something. A rustle in the leaves, perhaps, or the soft snapping of a twig. Taking a deep breath in through his nose, Sander blinked twice, tasting the air. It was heavier here and somehow, danker. The leaves were darker too, though not enough to blind Sander from the fact that it was still, indeed, daytime. But they were higher. He could not have reached them, even if he had jumped. They had to be at least twice his height above the ground, possibly more. The grass itself was more sparse as well, and rich brown dirt could be seen between the patches of blades. It was loose and pliable, almost spongy underfoot and Sander giggled softly as he dug his toes into the earth. But his giggle echoed emptially around him.
Then he heard it again. The noise that had stopped him before. It was the rustle of wings. Wings of a bird that sat on a branch above him. A rather funny looking bird, Sander thought. If a bird, it could be called at all. It was as large as he himself was with feathered wings so small, Sander wondered how he could have heard them at all. The strangest thing of all, however, was that where a nose and beak should have been, a human face sat nestled into its brownish-black feathers. A face that looked remarkably like his own, though the proportions of its features were...altered. Its blue-grey eyes were just a bit too big, and would blink slowly, like an owls. Its full, red lips stretched ever so slightly too far across its pale face and Its nose was smaller than his own. If put side by side however, no one would have been able to deny the similarity between the two.
"Hello," greeted Sander. His hands in his pant pockets, and his toes still rummaging through the dirt.
The bird twitched its head to the right in a short, jerking motion, offering no response.
"I've come back, again. Back to Azrayell."
Again, the bird was silent. Its large eyes blinked slowly.
"I don't think I've ever been here before," Sander continued, "At least, not that I can remember. Could you tell me where I am?"
Suddenly, the bird-creature squawked, raising its small wings in protest, and with a voice like a raven, it cried:
Trees that sleep.
Leaves so deep
Leaves that seep.
Ocean of trees.
Ocean of green.
Sea of wood, of bark,
Deeper, deeper, sleeping trees.
Talking trees, living leaves.
Don't go too deep!
Don't wake the trees!
The sleeping Trees!
And in a mad flurry of its tiny wings, the creature took flight, croaking and cawing as it fluttered away.
Sander shivered as the bird-creature's words echoed within his mind. What could they mean? What trees? He saw only branches and leaves, and maybe a root or two protruding from soil. This was not like the Azrayell he knew. Something was off. Something was wrong. He had never been given a warning before. Not here. Not in Azrayell. But was he still in Azrayell anymore? Where was 'here'? He wanted to find out.
Sander began walking once more, though he didn't hum his song.
Soon, the ground began to slant downwards, though the leaves and branches only seemed to reach higher. Thicker and darker the leaves became, allowing for only the tiniest streams of light to break through. The spotlights of sun shone through the dust and minute bits of dry leaves that slowly swirled by, seemingly slowly blown about by a current of ghostly wind.
Sander took slower, deeper breaths through his nose as he looked at the streams of light, imagining himself breathing in every bit of the floating particles if he was not careful.
The air grew heavier still, and his surroundings, darker, yet Sander walked on, ever downwards into the murky, treeless forest.
Then, he saw it. He saw what he knew he should have seen hours before. A single trunk of dark, mossy wood, stretching upwards until it disappeared into the shadowed foliage. Large shelf-like mushrooms clung in clusters to the bark of the tree. Fungus so white, it seemed to glow in the ever darkening mirk of the leaves.
As Sander drew nearer, the tree grew larger and larger, its very circumference seemed to contradict the height at which it mingled with the leaves and branches.
Standing directly beneath the tree...could it have been an oak? A pine? Sander was unsure, but he knew it must have been very old. So old in fact, that the young boy knew this tree must have been alive for the very beginning of Azrayell. Maybe even older still. How much had this tree seen? Possibly everything. Maybe nothing at all. For it grew in such a hidden place. Such an isolated area of the world. Had anyone ever been where he now stood?
These were the thoughts coursing through Sander's mind as he gazed upon the ancient behemoth before him.
Suddenly, he had the urge to touch it. To feel the countless centuries held within it's wizened, wooden skin.
And as he placed his palm upon the tree, Sander closed his eyes. He breathed in the scent of the forest around him. The dry, broken leaves that scattered the ground, and reminded him of the spices of fall. The new, blooming buds that grew far above, a remnant of spring on an early morning. And among it all. A scent of decay. Mouldy, dank pondscum and disease. It teased and taunted him. Tingling his very bones.
Sander opened his eyes once more. Though he could not see the tainted air of which he smelled, he knew from where it came. Farther down. Deeper into the darkness of the ever-thickening branches.
The desire to turn back tugged at Sander like a distant memory. One he could almost recollect, yet, ever escaped his mind. The words of the strange bird-creature echoed across his mind once more.
"Don't go too deep!
Don't wake the trees!
The sleeping trees!"
Sander continued forwards. Ever downwards into the esoteric dusk of green.
It was a long while before Sander slowed his steady march. He had passed many trees now. Trees just as monstrously large as the first he had seen. There were clusters of them now. Dark, wooden pillars of timeless growth. The leaves and branches themselves could no longer be seen. They had disappeared far above, fading into a monochrome of inky emerald. Sunlight no longer pierced through to touch the ground and no grass grew out of the damp soil. The air itself was saturated with a wet, heavy blanket of unperturbed growth. It was almost hard for Sander to breath. Each inhale he took felt more like drinking than breathing. Drinking in a vapor of spores and dewy lichen. The air was thick, and Sander could taste it. And upon it all, a defining silence lay.
Straining his eyes, Sander blinked as he tried to distinguish the trunks of the mighty trees from the darkening shadows of the forest. He dug his feet into the grainy earth, feeling the slightly damp texture of the dirt between his toes. Nothing grew on the ground here, nothing but small mushrooms of glowing white and speckled brown. Bits of fungal plantlife that needed no sunlight to thrive. Sander continued downwards still.
He was surrounded now. Towing trees as thick and as tall as skyscrapers encased him, held him in as he ventured onwards. The roots of the elephantine structures formed a maze of insurmountable barriers, through which Sander wandered. How deep had he gone? How far above was the sunlight and the golden, cloudy sky of Azrayell? Sander could no longer guess. It felt an eternity since he had glimpsed it. Just a patch of light shining through the leaves.
But that was long ago. Long ago, and far away. He was in too deep. Held captive by an ocean of darkening leaves and trees. The unfathomable depths of which he wondered now.
For the first time ever, since the beginning of his daydreams. Sander felt utterly and completely lost.
As he walked, a tickle brushed his ears. At first, Sander thought it to be a breeze. A low, heavy breeze, rising and falling slowly throughout the woods and branches. But as he listened closer, Sander's own breath caught in his throat. Surely, it was not wind, but a deep laborious breathing. In and out, in and out. Slowly, softly it climbed and descended through the leafy darkness around him. The more Sander focused on the sound, the more its weighty, rasping intonation seemed to shake the earth beneath his feet.
Why hadn't he heard it before? What could possibly breath so deeply? So softly, yet, so encompassingly loud?
Then, Sander knew. The bird-creature had told him. The sleeping trees.
Sander shivered with the knowledge. These trees were not just living, but alive. Deep in a slumber unperturbed by generations of silence.
Suddenly, an urge tugged at him. An urge to speak. An urge to talk to the trees. To wake them. The urge was a small, almost unrecognizable voice within his head. Two, powerful words that pulled his very heart into his throat.
And then, the warning. "Don't wake the trees!"
Sander shook his head in frustration as an argument of words not his own collided together within him.
"Don't wake the trees!"
No! Sander thought. His brain hurt with the confusion. The words almost poured from his tongue. "Don't wake the trees!" A warning. He needed to listen. He needed to heed the bird-creatures' words.
It was a shout this time. A cry within his soul. And with equal and opposite force, he repeated the phrase within his head. "Don't wake the trees!"
Don't wake the trees!
"WAKE UP!" Sander yelled. And just as soon as he did, he covered his mouth with his hands. The phrase scattered about within the woods, rebounding off the bark and fungus and moss. Sander held his breath, cringing as his voice came back to him in waves. Sometimes louder, sometimes softly, like a never-ending echo of his mistake. WAKE UP. Wake up. Wake up.
As the sound slowly died away, Sander realized with horror that he could no longer hear the breathing of the trees. Nothing moved. Nothing stirred. Not a sound was heard but the faint, and ever distant repetition of his command.
For the longest time, Sander stood motionless, hands still over his open mouth. He dared not even take a breath. He did not know what he expected to hear. Yet he waited.
Then it came. The cracking and snapping of a colossal branch, then the thunderous crash as it fell to the forest floor. The sound was that of thunder when lightning strikes not a mile away. The cracking and snapping continued, as if some massive beast were pressing through the undergrowth of some colossal wood. Yet, here, there was no undergrowth.
And Sander saw it. A huge animal of brown fur. Its body resembled that of a dear, or elk, yet its bulk was so vast, that its head and most of its upper neck disappeared into the shadowy darkness of the treetops.
Its torso held four sets of legs, two in the rear, and two in the front, though the foremost of its feet seemed almost to form hands at the end. Appendages with the ability to grasp and pull. They bent at the elbows, hands folded together and resting at the base of the neck, just where its underbelly ended.
Sander realized then that the sound of branches breaking and snapping came from far above, where the creature's head and neck pushed forwards through the fulliage. An unfathomable amount of leaves and broken branches showered to the ground as the thing moved slowly forwards.
Sander held as still as he thought was humanly possible as the creature proceeded. Trying desperately to will himself to disappear. To escape. Even, to wake up from his daydream. But he could not. He simply watched as the animal's full body came into view. A side profile of the most massive creature he had ever seen.
Then it stopped. It was directly in front of him now, though still as a statue, as if frozen in place like a deer in the headlights. Then slowly. Ever so painfully slowly, its neck began to lower from the treetops so far above.
Branches broke off from the muddled darkness, falling an immeasurable distance to the ground and the creatures feet. An endless shower of leaves and dust and bits of fungus rained from the velveteen heavens above.
As the creature's head descended it was shielded by the shadows and turmoil falling to the ground, but Sander saw what he believed to be mighty bone-white antlers emerging from the branches. And as the wreckage cleared, Sander's eyes nearly bulged with terror.
An elongated skull of yellowing bone stared directly at him with hollow, empty eye-sockets. Bits of flesh and sinew still clung to it in strings of brown and red, swinging and shaking as the skull continued to descend through the air. Three pairs of antlers protruded from its base, though most of the points ended in cracked or shattered bone.
A stench filled Sander's nostrils as the creature's head came to a pause, piercing through him with an eyeless gaze.
But Sander could not move. Though he told his feet to turn and run, they stood firmly. Planted to the soil in the petrification of fear. All he could do was look in horror at the monstrosity before him.
Then it opened its crooked, broken jaw of bone. A gaping maw of darkness and feted decay.
A scream echoed fourth. Not audible. It did not echo off the branches, or burn within his ears. But it rang within Sanders' mind like a gong, hammered upon again and again. It shook his vision and rattled his bones. Louder and louder it grew, until Sander doubled over, clutching his ears in a desperate attempt to still its terrible reverberations. Then, a thunderous word burst forth, separate from, yet mingled with the silent scream of the creature.
Sander opened his eyes. His breathing was heavy, and his heartbeat thumped within his ears like a metronome.
He was back in his grey room, with grey walls. Sitting back in his chair, Sander tried to take deep breaths as he watched the rain streak down his window in rivulets. The grey clouds still hung, swollen and heavy above him. The grey trees still stretched out beyond the view from his room.
Sander swallowed hard. He was terrified. Terrified, but excited. The trees were awake. That, he knew for certain. Something new was coming to Azrayell.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, L.C.NesbittWrite a Review