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The Nevergreens

For the Whispering Woods Challenge

By L.C. SchäferPublished 23 days ago Updated 22 days ago 10 min read
32
Thank you, AI.

Okay, I know the drawing looks scary, but the first time I went to the Neverwood I didn't see any trees like that. They're beautiful, the Neverwood trees.

They look like the kind of trees you want to climb, easy handholds and good places to put your feet. The bark isn't so smooth it's slippery, and not so rough it'd hurt your hands. So they're tempting, is what they are.

But the thing is: you mustn't. They get offended if you do that. You have to treat them with respeck. If you do that, maybe you can leave the Neverwood alive.

Loki found the Neverwood, not me. He was ('scuse me) a bit of a bugger for running off, but he needed the exercise. And anyway, it wasn't like it was lambing season or nothing. So I loosed him, and he ran, and I followed, laughing.

I was just thinking about not losing sight of him, not really paying attention to where we were going. Then I look 'round and I don't know where I am. And that's stupid, 'cause I know the woods like the back of my hand. Better, prob'ly.

I've lived here all my life. I've been coming to the forest since before I can remember. Other kids might go to the cinema or burger bars or shopping centres, but kids round here make dens and hide and chase and lose the penknives they got the Christmas before last. Like kittens pouncing and stalking, learning to hunt.

So it was really weird that I didn't recognise where I was, but I wasn't scared. I felt happy. I think that's part of the magic of the place. Loki and me, we had a great time exploring, and then, eventually, Loki led me home again.

I visited often after that. I used to whistle softly to them, stroke their bark and tell them how pretty they were. They swayed to let me pass.

They whisper to you, if you're quiet. If you stay late, if you ignore Ma when she shouts you for your tea, and you pretend you don't know dark is coming... Then you can see them. You know how some trees look a bit like a person? How those branches look like arms and that bit looks like hair or a beard?

Well, in the Neverwood, if you're quiet, if you're respectful... as the light starts fading, you can see the people in the corner of your eyes. Don't turn and look! Just wait. You can see them moving about. Walking with each other. Leaning close. Whispering. Singing. Dancing, sometimes. It's beautiful, really. Peaceful.

One night, I was having the most horrible dream. You know sometimes you can tell it's a dream? It wasn't like that. It felt real. Realer than real.

I dreamt I was in the Neverwood, and it was dark, so dark. I've never been there in the middle of the night before, and it didn't feel good. Not like in the daytime. I was getting worried because I couldn't find my way out, and Loki wasn't there to guide me.

No matter what I did, my mind wandered, and my feet wandered, too. The wrong way. I tried and tried to think of home. Of Ma's sweetcakes and hot lamb casserole and that spot on the ceiling above my bed that looks like an acorn. But it took effort. I was sweating with it. And before long, my thoughts had skittered away from those things, and turned, compass-like, deeper into the wood... Deeper and deeper. To the middle, I reckon.

When I arrived on the edge of the Neverglade, it was like a shivering needle in my tummy, settling at last.

It was spooky there. The rest of the wood is basic'ly normal. Sort of, anyway. The Trees growing and changing with all the seasons. A bit like the nearly-dead trees from our own world. But these trees, the Nevergreens, they were stark and bare and bony, even though it was summertime. I think everything would have looked grey even in daylight. It smelled weird. Slightly sweet, but not in a good way.

The ground was a carpet of leaves from last year, and the year before, and maybe all the years before that. This felt like a place where dead things layered on top of dead things and never went away. Always cold, always damp. Branches like talons stabbing the moonlight.

The leaf pile right in the middle of the clearing was moving. Then I saw it: a little arm appeared from the dead leaves. Pink and strange in this dead, dead place. A thin wail, like a lamb, coming from the ground. And then that arm sinking, disappearing, the cry getting shriller, and the trees leaning closer with their vicious-looking arms...

I woke up drenched in sweat, my sheets wet with it as well. The moonlight through my curtain-gap just the same chilly silver as it was in the Neverglade. The ice in my belly told me that it was no ordinary nightmare. Was it happening right now, or was this a telling-the-future kind of dream?

The only way to do it, is to move faster than your fear. Stay ahead of it. Don't linger. Don't think. Just move.

I squashed my feet into my sneakers, not stopping to lace them properly. Headed outside while I was still yanking my coat on. Should I take Loki? I didn't stop to think about this, just listened to that belly-needle, and reasoned it out after, feet still moving. I might lose him. If he'd even go near the place. Prob'ly not. He's got too much sense.

I think I'd have found the Neverwood that night even with my eyes shut. Maybe faster with my eyes shut. Something about that dream had magic around it, and not an all-good kind. Sticky like tar, clinging to me, and still working. I went faster, refusing to think. Not noticing, even then, the gap where animal sounds should have been.

You know when you squint a bit and stuff goes fuzzy? It's how you find the hidden image in those weird optical illusion pictures. Well, I made my brain do that. Let it unfocus and go fuzzy, so the Needle could take over... Until I found myself at the edge of the Neverglade. Shaking all over, and not just with cold. Peering through those shadows, dreading what I knew I'd see... there!

The leaves moving, that arm appearing just for a moment.

I hurried towards the spot, and the second I did, I could tell I'd crossed a line, that the trees were getting angry. Like a furious hissing, but a feeling, not a sound. I didn't know what they'd do to me if they caught me. I willed my feet to move faster than the thought. My belly turned to water, my legs were stuck in treacle.

I've got to get her out!

I tried to force my legs to go faster, but it felt like it took forever to reach that patch of mouldy leaves. Each moment, they moved less and less, and the skeletal trees were closer than they'd been before. Pressing all around me, branches rubbing together. Sounding like huge, pissed off grasshoppers.

My knees hit the soggy leaf-blanket and my fingers dug desperately into it. Useless shovels clawing and clawing to reach the baby sinking into the dead ground in front of me. When my fingertips grazed its skin, it felt too cold... I'm too late, too late... Still it was sinking away from me.

I could feel Them plucking at my coat, my pyjama bottoms, tangling in my hair. Thorny and spiteful, digging into my scalp, my blood trickling. I don't know when I started sobbing, but it rose to a scream. I plunged my hands, reckless-like, into the mould and rot and stink and- got her!!

Right as my hands closed on those soft little arms, my right eye exploded in pain, and I could barely see out of the other one.

I pulled the baby out, horrified at the glassy look in her eyes, how her nose and mouth were full of mud. I scraped it away, feeling helpless. I don't know what to do! There's a thing isn't there, like first aid? The kiss of life, banging on the chest... but I didn't even know how to do that to a grown-up, even.

Naked she was, and so cold. I rubbed her back, like my uncle does with the lambs on the farm. Begging her to take another breath, and another. She coughed and mewed, and I held her to me, trying to give her warmth I didn't have.

I raised one arm to protect my face from those wicked trees leering so close, their talons gouging at me.

~leaveit!buryit!weneedit!thelifethelifegiveitbacktousweneeditforthegreenchildrenGIVEITBACK!

"No," I mumbled.

~thenwewontleteitherofyougo

Why didn't I bring Loki? Why?!

A thicket of twigs like knives tore at us both, hissing and chittering. I wrapped the baby in my coat and staggered to my feet. My right eye was just a ball of black pain, the other stinging and blurry with blood. Then it came to me: better not to see. If I could see, I'd be tempted by the path, and the Nevergreens would use it to lie, to turn me in circles and keep us here.

I took another second, another breath, to try to still the jelly in my bones. To listen for that little needle. Squinting at my feet, I went where that needle pointed and just hoped it was pointing true.

The forest turned me alright. Time and again there was a tree planted, impossibly, right where I was going to put my next step. But I kept going, because the only other choice was to stay still and let them take me, piece by piece, a scratch at a time, starting with my other eye.

At last, I dared look up and there were the safe, tame trees I'd grown up climbing and playing in.

That's how come I ended up on the doorstep back home, banging on the door, blood all over my face, a baby wrapped up in my coat.

I'm glad we could adopt her. Would've been weird not to be able to look out for her after all that. I imagined the Nevergreens looming over her crib. Gaunt and sharp, outlined in silver winter moonlight, come to take her back and eat up her life to feed the forest. I slept, badly, on the floor of the nursery.

It's also how come I can't see out of my right eye proper. And why, when Ma told me she was carrying another baby in her tummy, I didn't sleep right for months. I was sure They were going to take it. Somehow. When she was born, I cried. Why couldn't you be a boy! I told myself the Trees prob'ly would have taken a boy, too, but it didn't make me feel better.

She's walking, now. I've been following her close. Both of them actually. But I can't be there all the time. I have to go to school and all that.

On the edge of my vision, and when I'm sleeping, I see the chub of their cheeks and arms covered in black mud, their eyes glazing over, swallowed by the leafmould.

I remember all those times I explored the Neverwood, how gentle and beautiful it seemed... and how I never realised how silent it was, except for the Trees.

It's tiring, living like this. Afraid all the time. Nightmares full of winter moonlight in summertime.

So I'm going for a walk now while the moon is up. I've got matches in my pocket. My eyes prickle thinking of those beautiful Nevertrees in their summer-wear, or fiery autumn dresses... but it has to be like this. It has to.

I'll take Loki with me. He's getting old, but maybe he can help me find the Neverwood again. We'll go together and see if it's is still there, or if it died off without its sacrifice. Maybe forests don't die, at least not properly. No more than they ever do in winter. But if it's still there, the hidden forest within the forest, then maybe I can reach its black heart and make sure my sisters will always be safe. Loki can help me get home after. I think.

Anyway, if you're reading this, I guess I'm not back, yet. So that's where I've gone. Please tell Willow and and Cora I love them.

FantasyYoung AdultShort StoryfamilyCONTENT WARNINGAdventure
32

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Book-baby is available on Kindle Unlimited

Flexing the writing muscle

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for nudes.

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Sometimes writes under S.E.Holz

"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (25)

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  • Gina C.7 days ago

    Oh, this reeled me in immediately with the description of the Nevergreens! Great pace and suspense with this! Very engaging story :)

  • Christy Munson9 days ago

    Intriguing fantasy fiction! Enjoyed it!

  • Ian Read11 days ago

    Beautiful and chilling! I love it!

  • D.K. Shepard13 days ago

    What a tale! Excellent narrative voice and the suspenseful scenes were masterfully done!

  • Hannah Moore18 days ago

    This was quite gripping, I loved the feel of his flight through the trees.

  • Shirley Belk20 days ago

    Those Nevers terrified me! Great job:)

  • Great story I liked the way you get playing with the names. The story really came together well with the end. The rescue scene was intense. Fantastic job LC

  • Novel Allen21 days ago

    Ok. Now it all comes together. Great weaving of the threads of storytelling back and forth to tell a tale within this forest. A great story LC. Well met!!!!

  • Ok so this is definitely going to win! 😀

  • Brilliant entry! Loved the voice you used throughout 🤍

  • Cathy holmes22 days ago

    This is a fantastic entry. Super creepy, and I love how you messed with the spelling so I could "hear" the dialect. Well done.

  • Great pacing and I always love your alternation of straight and frenetic inner dialogue. It renders the fantastic subject matter hyperreal as one might expect someone encountering such to be alternately calm and overwrought... Odin sacrificed an eye for wisdom. Perhaps there's a touch of that archetype here? In any event, well-wrought!

  • ROCK 22 days ago

    Whoa; I am not much of a fantasy/ thrill seeking reader, well not this kind of fantasy, lol. This had a majestic, yet untamed feel; I am so curious how your mind works.

  • Ah man, I was hoping the baby would die. And then there were two babies. Can't one of it die? Pretty please? 😋😋😋😋

  • Never! Wouldn't you rather tell them yourself? And surely they understand you know how to beat them now & will be doing all they can to hide themselves from you. And your sisters should be safe as well. But there are other babies being born, borne by the Neverwood into the earth to feed its own if there is no one to stop them. Sounds like a life calling for the three of you. Fantastic story, L.C. Loved it from beginning to what I hope is only a pause rather than an end.

  • John Cox22 days ago

    LC, you create a sense of horror and dread that is not easy to shake off. This is a fabulous entry for the Whispering Woods challenge. Great story! Gripping from the first sentence to the last!

  • Compelling writing and great sense of movement, keeping ahead of the fears

  • This is a phenomenal piece LC! Extremely compelling!

  • JBaz23 days ago

    You created a wonderful tale that has everything this challenge demands. Wonderful story line and that ending ... (not sure if this was meant to be the broken language or a needed edit. -'Neverwood I din't see any trees'

  • Phil Flannery23 days ago

    A great take on the challenge. Good luck. I haven't finished mine yet.

  • Caroline Craven23 days ago

    Wow. This is a phenomenal entry. Great story L.C.

  • Mariann Carroll23 days ago

    I don’t want to set foot in Neverwood forest. Great story telling. Love the name of the forest

  • Babs Iverson23 days ago

    Captivating fantasy story!!! Loved it!!!💕❤️❤️

  • “M”23 days ago

    Amazing

  • Dana Crandell23 days ago

    Wonderfully creepy, L.C! I love the childish tone and the little touches like "basic'ly." What a great challenge entry!

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