I did not make myself another torch; instead, I am shamed to say, I fled. Several times was I cut by the wings and claws of the glowing moths as I brushed their cages in my flight. Their voices were a discordant note and the bones strung with the long hair of murdered women that suspended them from the ghastly branches rattled in accompaniment.
No more of the human worms accosted me on my retreat as my feet slid on the slick and muddy ground beneath the withered leaves of flesh and, panting with relief, breathless from my headlong flight, I stopped on the edge of the forest and found myself facing a land I had not imagined. Behind me, within the trees of bone, the horrid glowing moths again sang their song of yearning and hunger for the blood of man. It struck me now as oddly beautiful and haunting. I know now that some madness had come over me and my eyes were blinded toward the horror of the place while a demonic illusion of serenity and perverse stillness overcame my distraught senses.
This was a land of cold grey ash, as fine as powder. Had the land burned? Had some holocaust among the stars drifted its fine remnant across this land beyond the Forest of the Dead?
The way ahead sloped downward across a wavy dune of the ash; down toward a valley where a ribbon of silver cut across the bottom where, thankfully, no trees grew. No assembly of bones greeted me and I kept my back turned toward that collection of nightmares I had escaped. On the far side of the silver pathway the land sloped up again, a dark line could be seen from my vantage, a view across the top of that far dune; tall curving mountains, oddly crested with domes and cylinders like tops of some great palace and crenelated battlements of titanic size and majesty.
I proceeded down, my feet causing a cascade of the fine powder, but still my purchase upon the slope was greater than that upon the beslimed forest floor. As I descended amid the wave of ash first a score then a hundred then hundreds more of tiny bumps appeared around me. Small heads, roughly furred which erupted a dozen stalks for eyes, burst from the moving surface. Small bodies like the torso of a monkey on the body of furred spider clawed their way to the surface and danced upon the sliding face of the slope. They chattered like dinner plates thrown together and moved with an unearthly grace. My sword swung in my hand but the small creatures ignored me. I would have halted my decent if I could, but any stop or turn would have sent me tumbling and the silver path at the bottom of the valley grew closer and made me afraid once again.
With great speed I flew down the slope, but around me the furred creatures flew faster. Their legs seemed not to touch the surface and they reached what I could now tell was a stream, some silver mold or growth covering its surface, rather than a path. Now I wished to stop before plunging into its unknown depths, its unguessable consistency. My legs flew out from under me and without dignity I landed on my backside, my feet digging runnels in the ash, and with much relief, slowing me to a stop.
The furred creatures in their legion threw themselves upon the silver growth that covered the surface of the stream and, with short arms but the hands of a primate, began to stuff themselves. As they ate, bare patches of a brown-green liquid appeared and, though the creatures stood as lightly upon the silver growth as they had upon the slope of powdered ash, they avoided the rapidly widening areas of what I shall call water that their voracious appetites were creating. I watched with fascination and a growing hunger of my own.
In leaving my terrified mount behind I had not forgotten to remove my pack and canteens from its saddle. My provisions weighed more for a traveller on foot than I had intended, hoping foolishly that my horse would transport me, at least partially, on my journey, but now I could see what I could never have imagined; the forest, this land of ash and dunes, was no place for a horse, though neither was it a place for a man.
From my pack I drew forth the fresh provisions that I knew would not keep and found them still wholesome. In these lands I took no freedom from corruption as given and while there was none in my provender I failed to cast my eye upon my own soul. I ate and watched the orgy of gluttony that the small creatures committed on the surface of the green-brown water. Frankly I was fascinated by their appearance and their graceful movement and I was astonished at their ability to consume the vast quantities of the silver growth from the top of the stream.
For some, however graceful, their gluttony was their own undoing. As they ate the creatures swelled about their middle till a sickly pinkish abdomen protruded from beneath their furred belly. A particularly swollen little beast staggered for a moment on the edge of the apparently stagnant stream before slipping one foot into the foul and thick water. A chittering wail came from its throat and it legs and eye-stalks wavered then thrashed as the creature was drawn backwards as if by an unseen hand, In a moment, punctuated by a wail like the edge of a broken dish scraped across a tiled floor and a desperate, feeble, clutching of its small hands at the silver growth, the furred creature was gone without a ripple or a last bubble of breath to mark its end; it was simply gone and it was not alone.
The quick and seemingly accidental death of the first creature spurred a general exodus of all the others. In a tide of grey-brown fur, wavering eye-stalks and spidery legs they leapt and ran toward the slope upon which I sat. I could not say why but I felt only a slightly euphoric sense of mirth come over me at their antics. Their plunge toward the ashen dune was fraught with mishap and many of the creatures touched the water only to have themselves yanked back and under the turgid stream. I rose to my knees and stared intently but could never make out what, if anything, seemed to drag these small amalgams of spider, monkey, and God alone knew what else, beneath the water with such force. Even a hand that was rendered invisible to my vision would have made some impression on the water of the stream, or so it seemed to me, but there was nothing but the chittering screams of the doomed and the susurrus of the returning creatures who quickly burrowed beneath the ash and disappeared from view.
I sat and looked upon the stream, now half denuded of its silvery covering, and wondered how I would cross.
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Copyright March 2014 By Jason Zavoda