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The Road to NeverEver Land

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NeverEver Land

Occasionally he glanced to his left getting a feel for the hill that gently sloped into the shallow valley below; certain aspects being picked out by the intermittent moonlight as it shone out between the fast flowing, dark grey clouds above. Other times he looked into the forest on his right, and saw nothing but the bark of the tree line which separated the forest from the road, flickering in his headlights, as if seen through a zoetrope.

As he considered the view of the valley, being delivered by the gaps in the roadside hedgerow, when the moon was out, his attention was suddenly drawn back to the forest, when he noticed a bright light coming from somewhere within its depths.

“Those posh bastards,” he thought to himself, “those posh and lucky bastards,” he continued his musings, thinking about how nice it would be if he could afford such a place with so many acres, to call his own.

Luminous, nearly white chevrons, separated by black ones, interrupted his thoughts as the sign in front of him played upon his vision. He slowed the car and gently steered it to the right, the signalled bend in the road being pretty severe.

As he pulled out of the curve his Spitfire’s engine coughed, misfiring, then corrected itself. Dave sighed a thanks to the engine’s manufacturers. His car wouldn’t have been a classic if its engine had been as temperamental when it had originally rolled off the factory line.

He looked at his milometer again and saw there were only another seven miles to go and, as he looked up, the engine failed, becoming silent.

Dave managed to guide the car into a lay-by as it gradually cruised to a halt. After trying the engine again, in the vain hope it would start and without success, he was glad he could still see the light from the obviously posh house, blinking between the wind agitated trees.

By his reckoning, the house could only be half a mile away, possibly further, but, perhaps, potentially nearer and hoped it was the latter. He could knock on the owner’s door and ask to use their phone. He cursed himself for leaving his company provided mobile phone back at his flat; but it was a ritual of his – if he was going to have a holiday then there’d be no way his company could contact him during his time away. This time though, he regretted his decision. He got out of his car and locked it, then slapped it very hard.

“You stupid car. I don’t even know why I keep you going. This was going to be a very simple day out and now you’ve ruined it,” he said. The car didn’t respond.

Dave opened the car’s boot and pulled out his Berghaus over jacket and putting it on he zipped it up against the evening’s cold, then thought about his trek through the forest to the house in the distance.

Next to the lay-by there was, what seemed to be, a path, and with no other choice for him to take, he followed it. Walking past the ferns and bracken that defined its beginnings, he entered the depths of the woodland proper; always making sure the light from the house was visible, it being his only comfort on this forced trek.

As he continued along the loamy track, deeper into the forest’s unforgiving darkness, the only sound he could pick out was that of the wind in the trees’ branches above, shushing them in gleeful caresses.

Dave was glad that the barely broken overcast sky of earlier had now given way to sparse patchy clouds that allowed the moon to cast its brightness upon the track more often than not. And although he was glad, it was not a light that comforted; there was something ancient and otherworldly about it – and the pitched black shadows it summoned.

To distract his growing overactive imagination, he turned his thoughts to his job and work, fighting to stop his mind drifting back to his time in the picnic area.

After what felt to him to be at least half an hour, the path finally led him into a small clearing within the depths of the forest. At its centre was a stump of three trunks, the trees having been cut down by a warder or some other kind of forest manager, he assumed.

In front of him and to his left, the light from the house could still be seen, twinkling between the trees. At the furthermost edge of the clearing the path he’d been following seemingly continued. Dave rubbed his arms attempting to thwart the coldness of the February evening, making a mental note of the clearing he’d stumbled upon. His car lay directly behind him, some distance away, and the house was almost directly in front of him; though how many more feet or yards he had to go, he had no way to ascertain, the darkness precluding any possibility of judging the distance with accuracy.

He followed the path deeper into the forest, leaving the occasionally moonlit clearing behind. And as he walked an overwhelming impression that the trees lining the path were about to take on a life of their own, somehow animated by the ancient moonlight, overcame him.

Upthrust bulks, almost arms of buried entities with a myriad of fingers pointing in consternation at the night’s sky, seemed to be struggling to break free from their subterranean coffins. Each tree alive with its own individuality, moving, communicating with one another – the path he’d taken rippling with the tree-beings’ struggle to attain an earth-side presence. But, perhaps, it was just an uneven track of a path not often travelled.

He quickened his pace, shaking his head, trying to rid his imagination of the cloying images that impinged on his sanity. He pushed back at the blocking branches of the undergrowth; the blocking branches that had never ever been there before, as he made his way, desperate, so very desperate, to get to the house, before something happened.

The moon slid behind another cloud and Dave had to slow. The path he’d been following wasn’t particularly path-like anymore and, if he was going to avoid injuring himself, he would have to pick his footing carefully. He stared intently at the ground, trying to make sure that no twig, nor bramble, would folly him in his task.

As the cloud receded, allowing the white moon to play its light through the canopy of the forest onto Dave’s path, he looked up from his feet and saw he was now way off course; the light from the house being directly to his left, instead of in front of him, where he had expected it to be.

The path through the forest was not as it had seemed. He had assumed it would cut straight through the woodland to the house, but now he was more than aware it was likely to be a run the forest animals followed. Looking to his left he now understood that he had to traipse through bush and thickets, and, in order to achieve his goal, he was going to have to make the path, following the direction the light from the house indicated. If it is a light in a house, his imagination taunted.

Dave pushed on, brushing aside the shrubs that blocked his path and making his way around the bushes, where they were too thick to go through. Eventually he stopped, needing a break, his journey towards the house being much harder than he had imagined. As he rested he heard the sound of his laboured breathing, then without warning his self-centred focus was abruptly interrupted. He held his breath.

Sharp snaps rang out in the forest; the sound of grounded branches shattering under the weight of unseen entities forcing them to splinter. Then more noises, noises of leaf laden shrub limbs swooshing as they were parted.

Dave mopped his brow with the cuff of his jacket, looking around, peering into the blackness of the forest’s depths, listening intently, attempting to locate the direction the sounds had come from, but the noises had stopped… again – and he was alone.

Keeping his breath to a minimum he strained his ears, certain there would be something else, but the forest remained quiet. Even the wind’s constant shushing had stopped: there was nothing else to be heard.

Dave pulled a hand down his face wishing that he’d never ever come across this place, this land, he now found himself in.

As the pure silence continued, Dave only just managed to overcome the paralysis his fear had wrought upon him. His heart palpitated and, with the cold and brutal fear still chilling him to his core, he staggered forward seeking the light, and hopefully an end to the nightmare he now found himself a part of.

Within a few short steps the wind came back with a force making the tree tops above him smash together, their branches clacking in unison under Nature’s power. He picked up his pace, breaking into a run, accepting the slashes his face took from the unseen small branches of the bushes in his way. Blood trickled down his cheeks in many places from the vegetation inflicted cuts. No matter how he held his arms out in front of him the twigs and branches of the undergrowth always found a way to inflict more injuries.

Without warning, a low ululating moan came from behind him, shifting his focus from the lacerating foliage. It was quickly followed by a succession of cracks as hardier ground bourn branches and ones still attached to their hosts snapped; an unknown force breaking them as if they were nothing but balsa wood.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” he heard his voice whisper above his panting and the thumping of his heart in his ears. Dave continued thrashing through the forest knowing there was something close behind, following him; ready to take him. The nape of his neck prickled as the chill of the unknown passed down his spine.

Without looking back he started waving an arm behind him, back and forth, in a futile attempt to ward off the forest’s predator he believed was now very close. Occasionally his hand felt blasts of icy breath across its back, even though the noise of the breaking undergrowth was much further behind him, or so he convinced his mind to believe.

Then he saw it, it was there, in front of him in the distance, once again, glinting through the pitched darkness of the forest the light shone and he started towards it, pushing at the shrubs and bracken, struggling against the bushes and suddenly he was through; he had entered another clearing.

His initial relief immediately collapsed into despondency as he recognised the three pronged stump at the clearing’s centre, and although he was back to where he’d started from he had no idea, now, as to the direction of his car. Everywhere was dark and, each way he looked, the view was the same.

Dave sat down on the stump, head in hands with fingers in ears, to apprise himself of his situation and how he could get out of it. But he could barely think as he wondered how long it would be before his tormentor broke through into the clearing to join him.

After some moments he looked up, afraid, scared for his life with still no idea of what to do, the fear he felt making rational decisions impossible. And as he looked around the light from the house twinkled in the distance between the trees, as if taunting him, ‘bet you can’t get me.

Rut-tah-tuh-tuh-tuh. The sound from many miles ago started up again, echoing, coming from no definite direction. Or was it coming from behind him? He turned his head quickly, attempting to seek its source, then turned back to see if it was now behind him.

“Oh shit,” Dave breathed, all his nerves more on edge than they’d been before, but the clacking had stopped. Had he imagined it? He was not sure. Then there was another crack, this time to his right, he turned to look – again nothing to be seen.

Dave peered around the clearing, tenuously keeping hold of his sanity, not seeing any movement, but somehow the trees, that defined the area he sat in, seemed to be closer, a lot nearer to him, the circumference of the clearing reduced, their branches almost but not quite able to reach him. GRAB HOLD.

No, stop it, he told his mind.

He studied the circling trees again, attempting to see their movement towards him, but in the moonlight he could not tell if they really had moved any closer at all. There was only the feeling that the circle’s edge was ten steps away from him rather than the twenty his mind insisted they were before.

As he watched the trees he caught a movement in the periphery of his vision, enhanced by the noise of cracking twigs. He turned to face the movement and as he did the dark gap between the pine trees, he now stared at, coalesced into a black, almost recognisable, amorphous shape. In turn, it disappeared behind one trunk of the circling trees only to appear in the gap between the trees further around the clearing’s circle: Nature parodying mankind’s form in the air, within her own breath.

Dave stood up on shaking legs watching the apparition’s dance around the circle. All he could do was follow its movements, turning on point, as the dark thing made a complete circle, his ability to flee being sucked from him by the brutal terror of his situation. As he completed the 360 degree turn of its path around him, the entity, whatever it was, melded back into the forest’s darkness and the hex that had riveted him to the spot eased its vice like grip upon him. Dave shivered, his body feeling as if iced water had replaced the blood that had once flowed through his veins.

Rut-tah-tuh-tuh-tuh, came the ancient and evil sound again. Dave felt like he was going to be sick and as he turned to throw up he saw blue and red flashing lights, flickering around and around, obviously from a patrol vehicle, piercing the forest. And as he recognised their source he saw the juddering beam of a flashlight that could only be carried by a person.

A way out, he thought. With what little commandable energy he had left, Dave started to stumble towards the blue and red light and the path back to his car and he prayed for some help.

Picking up his pace, energy coming from reserves he didn’t realise he had, he made for the trail out of the clearing.

As he attempted his first step onto the path that led to the road a tree root leapt from beneath the ground’s surface under its own power, throwing the path’s loamy soil up, out of its way, tripping him. He fell flat on his stomach, right arm out in front of him, and left wrist under his body, snapping as his full weight landed upon its awkward angle. With his neck stretched forward, his eyes focused again on the police officer investigating his empty car. Dave took a breath to call for help, but before he could finish large red capped mushrooms smashed their way out of the earth entering his open mouth, cutting off any sound he was about to make. He breathed heavily through his nose as his lungs continued their heaving cycle.

Other roots broke free from the forest’s floor encircling his ankles and his shins, retracting, pulling him back towards the clearing; taking him away from his only escape route.

He tried clawing the ground with his good arm, to halt the forest’s claim upon his body, but the forest’s strength was greater than his and he continued to be dragged, backwards, on his front, feet first, by the forest’s living tendrils; back into the clearing’s centre. The forest’s mouth, a thought flitted through his head.

Struggling to keep conscious he saw the police car’s lights stop flashing and heard a car’s engine start, then gradually fade away. More chills racked his body as the February night’s iciness sought to claim every part of him.

Brambles that were used to travelling the forest floor wrapped themselves around his arms turning him over, their thorns cutting through his clothing, digging deep into his upper arms.

Dave managed to cough out the Fly Garret in his mouth as bushes he hadn’t noticed in the clearing before, leant over him, rustling angrily. Then the moon was obscured by a cloud for a moment and, as it appeared again, the rustling became sibilant words.

No more. The bushes rustled in quiet unison. No more will you take us limb from limb. No more will you kill us. We are one throughout Gaia and we have started the end.

Dave did not understand and Nature’s call to arms sounded again, rut-tah-tuh-tuh-tuh, as if to underline the bushes’ mutterings.

You cannot live with us and we cannot live with you. The sibilant voice of the bushes threatened.

More tree roots heaved themselves from the ground, rearing above him, and then plunged downwards through his thighs, smashing his femurs as they sought the soil beneath him. He screamed at the pain and continued screaming as the length of the roots’ uneven surface travelled through the meat of his legs, snagging tendons, nerves and arteries; but his scream was soon silenced when ivy crept out from the edge of the clearing and wrapped itself around his neck cutting him off, but only just enough to silence his voice. It was as if the forest had decided to torture him. But for what, he could not imagine.

The bushes rustled again: Know what you do, feel what you do. You take more than you should and the gift to us, of your ones without life, put deep in our body beneath our skin, for our sustenance, is not enough. We follow you now and we take what we want, as you do to us. This is our beginning born in humankind’s way.

Rhododendrons joined the roots and brambles that had already pinned Dave to the ground, wrapping their thin branches around his arms, beginning to pull, and, as he tried to free himself, the grass of the clearing grew, sliding over his chest, weaving itself across his sternum in a mat pulling him tight to the ground, ceasing his struggles.

Dave attempted to scream again as his arms were dislocated by the plants, but he couldn’t, the vines around his neck had put paid to that. He attempted to struggle once more, this time without movement and became still as his arms were finally wrenched from his body, skin tearing at the armpits, shock paralysing any further effort he could muster. The shrubs lifted his ragged, partially clothed arms into the air, flicking them around, back and forth, in noiseless triumph.

With his blood pumping into the earth from his pulverised legs and the red fluid spurting from his shoulder sockets in arcs, Dave, in his last living thoughts, almost grasped what he had been told by the plants. But before he was able to scream at the forest, that it wasn’t his fault, the vines that had encircled his throat tightened, squeezing his head from his neck.

And so it began – Nature’s final retaliation. Humankind had ignored her warnings; the tsunamis, the earthquakes, firestorms and floods. She had ceased to accept ignorance as an excuse for innocence. Scorned as she felt she was, the war had to start somewhere – and so it had.
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