semi-final votes:
3

 

fear
teens

Damned Souls

by Matt
Ohio, United States
genre: Horror

In my months in this forest, I’ve failed to comprehend this cycle. The only thing I’ve learned is that trying to escape is futile.

Today is the same as any other. The sky is a vibrant blue with a slight emerald haze, and the trees are as high as ever. They give me two feelings: dread and relief. On one hand, the trees remind me that I’m not alone; however, they mostly remind me just how lonely it is in this forest.

No matter what happens, I have a serene sense of peace when I wake up. Everything is always exactly the same, no matter what happened previously.

The only thing that stands out here is a single, golden tree that’s many times larger than anything else here. It shifts through the colors throughout the day, beginning at a bright golden yellow, and slowly shifting to flake away and burn up. The branches droop when the sun is the highest in the sky, and by the time the moon shows herself, the fire has overtaken the colossal monument to nature.

As I sit down and lean against a nearby tree, I feel something land on my head. Looking up, I see a devastating amber streaming through the sky as ash falls like snow. The flames dance up the base of the tree, seemingly mocking the still scene with its sudden destruction. As the flames rise, a body falls from a high up branch. Golden leaves shroud the figure as it plummets to the ground before ending with a loud thud. It lies still for several seconds.

But then, I see it. A huge, hulking form out in the distance. Its eyes are glowing red and its face is buried in the leaves, sniffing intently for any sign of life. Its head is that of a deer with huge, lavish  antlers.  It’s absolutely massive, extremely lean, and has chunks of skin and fur missing, exposing bone throughout its body. With every step, it leaves a path of footsteps and blood.

I take a small step back… Snap!

The beast’s head instantly snaps towards me, staring right through me. With a powerful leap, it bounds towards me with superhuman speed, beginning to close the distance at a horrifying rate. I clasp my hand over my mouth and dash to the nearest tree, pressing my back against it as I try to calm my heart rate. The creature’s heavy footsteps sink into the leaves as it searches, looking around and smelling around while desperately trying to find me. It looks right at me, seemingly staring into my eyes as it takes another breath… and turns away.

There’s no way it didn’t see me. Unless… it can't see? I bend down as cautiously as I can and pick up a small rock before throwing it as far as I can in the opposite direction. The creature instantly sprints  towards the sound, letting out a blood curdling roar that fills me with a feeling of dissonance. This doesn’t feel real. This doesn’t seem real.

Once it’s gone, I slowly walk towards the giant tree, watching the creature with every step I take. It hasn’t noticed that there’s nothing over there yet, but it will. I have to get out of here, and I’m running out of options.

The tree is a few hundred yards from me, but I can’t wait any longer. I have to move now, before it notices the absence of my scent. As I leave my hiding spot, I take small and silent steps towards the tree. In the distance, I hear a distant huff growing closer. I stop dead in my tracks, too scared to even turn around. I shut my eyes as I crouch down and press myself into the ground, trying to seem as small and insignificant as I possibly can.

I lie as still as possible, clasping my hand over my mouth. Its large, red eyes scan the area as it sniffs, desperately hunting the source of the noise. With the only clue being my muffled breathing, the beast struggles to find where the sound is coming from. It roars again before its head snaps onto a lone deer in the distance.

The creature moves much slower than it did the last time, taking long strides and dragging its giant legs through the leaves as it stalks its prey. Then, it lunges forward.

The deer darts away, running off into the woods. The beast chases after it, but the distance between us grows as the animal escapes to safety. I take a deep breath and stand up, trying to push away my fear. My legs quiver as I take slow steps, trying to stay as silent as possible.

The beast finishes eviscerating its prey and lets out a loud cry, its thick hide shaking with each pound of its hooves against the ground. I continue moving without turning around again, terrified that I'll run into the monster.

After an exhausting and terrifying hike, I reach the base of the tree and notice a deep crack in it. Light gushes out, painting the surrounding area in crimson. I push inside the tree and a sense of impending doom washes over me. I start to run. My thoughts are drowned out by my pounding heart. I stumble and trip over roots, but I can't afford to slow down. A roar shakes the floor of the forest, sending vibrations through the earth.

With every step, I feel weaker and weaker. My chest and throat feel tight as the stench of death fills my nostrils. My movement slows, and I feel a presence directly behind me. A shadow looms over me. Its large, sharp teeth protrude from its jagged maw, its eyes blazing red as it tries to eat me alive. I squeeze my eyes shut tightly as the creature slams its large, bony hands on top of mine, forcing me to look at it. Its red eyes stare into mine, and I can almost taste their fury. The creature grunts and opens its mouth wide, revealing rows of razor-sharp fangs. It bites down on my arm, tearing through my flesh and muscle. I scream out in pain as the giant beast chomps down harder. I try to push it away, but it won't let me go. The creature lets out a guttural grunt as it chews away at my arm. Blood pours from the wound, covering both our mouths. And then, its teeth sink into my throat and tear through my neck, confirming its kill.

With the last soul being silenced, the loop is brought to an end. The light begins to dim as the tree starts to heal. The fire recedes and a somber green slowly fills the forest as the leaves bloom once more. With its purpose fulfilled, the creature traverses deeper into the tree, dragging a corpse with it. Tearing up the roots, the beast dumps the body into a ditch before the carcass is drained of all life. The tree flourishes with its newfound sustenance.

Delving deeper into the tree, the creature tears into the center of the roots, diving in and closing its eyes. Before long, it’s piercing through the sky once more, bound to feed another tree.


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