Day 148 – The Forest of Ash

Went a bit …. mental with this one! But I quite liked it.

Word count: 2102

Rain was battering down like an air strike. Even the thick canopy of intertwining leaves and entangled branches could not stop the raindrops from pelting through. The mud was a squirming trench of leaves and puddles. The bulging black clouds showed no sign of relenting, but Jack could not turn back now. It had taken him years to come back to this forest and he was not leaving it now.
Thirty miles away from the nearest emblem of civilization was the Forest of Ash, called so because it had been burned down twice before and both as a result of lightening striking a tree. Jack used to come here with his parents and his sister. A long time ago now.
Age seven, Jack would be darting in and out of the trees, chasing his sister, playing hide and seek and jumping out on his parents. A twenty-nine year old Jack now trudged through a quagmire of mud, rain dripping down his eyebrows and the warmth from his hands stolen.
Jack stopped and took out a hip flask from his jacket. The whisky was soothing in his stomach, like a little fire burning on a cold night. He had been walking for miles now. His feet were plastered in blisters and his legs just wanted a rest, but he had to go on. He was almost there now. Over by a huge boulder was a clump of three trees that he remembered. Many a time, he recalled to himself, that he and Adriana would hide behind them, having ran far ahead of their mum and dad, and hid behind them, waiting to spring out to frighten them.
An hour later the rain held off for a few seconds as Jack crossed the choppy stream. At this point he did not care how wet his feet were and just ploughed through the water. It was always a nice spot here. Sometimes they would stop and have picnics and take in the view of the mountains in the horizon that could be seen through a gap in the trees. That gap had overgrown now. It was all just tall bushes and trees now. Jack was amazed by how much had changed with the place, and yet not changed at all. Alone though he was, his parents might just be round the last bend, his dad might be in the bushes ready to sneak up on him. Adriana might be here.
It had been such a long time ago now that it might have just been a story that Jack had been told when he was younger. Jack always remembered the day as if it were scenes from an old film. He remembered being handed lemonade and hot chocolate, being hugged by his mum – who would dissolve into fresh tears every few minutes. His dad stood for hours at the window, watching and waiting for something that, ultimately, never came. The police visited every day. They had teams scouring the forest. Nothing was found.
Jack was fourteen years old when Adriana disappeared. For years he felt as if he had lost a limb; that something was constantly missing. He would often wake up and forget that she had gone. No one touched her bedroom for years. Jack’s mum could not bear to see anything in it move. After Jack moved away to university, Jack started to grow more numb to the ordeal. At first he would simply tell people that he was an only child. He barely mentioned Adriana, save only to a few close friends. No one knew and Jack started to like this forced amnesia. The conversations with his mum would not just be about her anymore. Eventually, he stopped remember her birthdays and the anniversary of her disappearance. But one day Adriana ventured too far from his thoughts and he needed to latch back on to her before he lost her completely.
That day he broke down in tears. For years he had tried to forget about her, tried to move on and let go but he had spent too long trying to eradicate her from his mind that she had begun vanishing from his life completely. It was then that he decided he must return to the place where she disappeared. The Forest of Ash.
As a family they had not been back since that horrible day, though Jack knew that his dad often ventured out of an evening or after a row with Jack’s mum and would walk under the stars, still searching for his lost daughter.
Jack would never be able to describe how eerie it was to be walking amongst these trees once more. He felt Adriana’s ghost dancing among the branches and bushes, ducking behind embankments and racing ahead of him to reach the top of the hill first. Alone though he was on this walk, Jack did not feel alone at all.
The further along the path he walked, the more caught himself speaking to her in his head. “Adriana, don’t run too far ahead!” or “Adriana, you should have seen what I did this morning, I was such an idiot I forgot the way home… how could I ever forget home?”
Jack had reached it. Jack had reached the point where he had last seen his sister. There was a sharp bend in the road at the top of a small rise in the hill. The bend twisted down into the hill and the surrounding trees smothered all light from the path. Adriana had reached the top of the hill first and mocked Jack, who was struggling and panting half way up the hill, before turning and running down the other side.
Jack felt sick. He felt her eyes watching him, as if she were still only ten years old. He felt her presence now more than ever – more than the mornings when he was fifteen and thought she would still be walking to school with him; more than the times that he sat in her room and waited for the door to open and for her to come giggling in.
At the top of the hill, Jack looked around and a chill sparked down his spine and through his arms and legs. If there was no one here, then why did he not feel alone? A twig snapped behind him, from the trees. He wheeled round to see, but there was no one there; not even an animal. But then, were his eyes deceiving him? Could it be?
A figure in dirty white was stalking through the trees quite some distance away. Could it be his imagination tricking him? Jack was scared, but he his heart was not. Like a magnet, he found himself being carried towards this figure. Faster and faster his feet were carrying him and then he was off the path itself, leaping over fallen trees, slipping on wet roots and fumbling through the undergrowth.
The closer he got, the more he saw of the figure. Its face was covered by long bedraggled hair. It had not noticed that he was here, even though he was making considerable noise as he trampled through the forest.
Jack lost his footing suddenly, his feet slid on a branch and he fell straight to the floor. Hands covered in mud, he pulled himself back up quickly. By the time he was up standing again, the figure was gone. He looked all around him. There was no sign of it. There was absolutely no one there. His heart was racing, blood gushed around his veins and an addictive adrenaline hurtled to his brain, engaging his fears and bringing them to the forefront of his mind.
Looking up at the skyline, the tops of the trees seemed to stretch on forever. He could not tell where the path was now and he was still frantically looking around for a glimpse of the figure once more to convince his lateral brain that he was not imagining things.
Breath was stolen from his body. As he was turning on the spot to look for the figure, a girl with knotted, wet hair and a dirty white dress appeared just centimeters in front of him. Her face was pale, white and grey. Her eyes were sunken, dark and miserable. She was barefoot.
Though it had been more than half his lifetime ago, he could not be mistaken as to who this was.
The girl fell to the ground in tears. Jack dove down to catch her.
“Adriana, I’m sorry… I’m sorry we couldn’t find you. I’m here now, I’m here…”
“Jack, Jack…”
“You’re safe now, you’re safe…”
“Jack… J-jack…”
“I’m here…”
“No… n-n-no you must… you,” she was struggling to get free from his grip, “must go, go… you c-c-can’t stay…”
“What? Adriana, you’re coming home with me, I’m taking you home…”
She shook her head violently, “He’ll know, he’ll find me…”
“Bad man, bad, bad man…”
Jack felt sick, instantly realizing what had happened to her.
“Oh my god, Adriana, we have to leave now. Can you walk? I’ll protect you, but we have to leave now!”
“He’s here! He’s following! He’s watching, always watching,” her eyes scoured the tree line lazily, as if in trance.
Jack lifted her up and carried her in his arms. She was thin, skeletal thin. Her body hung in his arms as if it were dead. But there was no time to spare. There was no time to think – he had to run. He had to get back to the car. It was only a few miles. It was not far.
He darted through the trees. He ran as fast as he could. Adriana was still mumbling, but he could not hear her properly.
Suddenly a shot was fired. An almighty bang.
Adriana’s head shot up, “He’s coming! He’s coming!”
Jack looked back and saw a branch of a nearby tree snap and fall to the ground. He could not make out where the shot had come from, but he ran faster and faster.
“Adriana, Adriana, am I going the right way?”
The woods did not look familiar this direction. As he continued to run, a shed crept into view. It was old and decrepit.
“Take me away, take me away!” Adriana screamed, “I don’t want to go back!”
She was wriggling in his arm and broke free, falling the length of his body.
“Adriana!” Jack bent down to pick her up, but her body was weak. She was panicking and her arms were flailing.
Another shot fired through the forest.
“Go,” she whispered, “Go….”
Jack held her hand and kissed it. “Never.”
He jumped to his feet and ran to the shed. It was padlocked, but the lock itself was rusted and old. He went around the shed and saw a broken window, blood smeared on the glass. He looked inside and saw a dark, dark picture of the last fifteen years of someone’s life. There was a bed with chains strapped to it. Hanging from the wall were horrific instruments of torture. Jack couldn’t help it. He threw up where he stood. How could have the police not have seen this in their search? How could have everyone just abandoned his sister to this?
Bent over, he felt as if his insides would never stop vomiting. Tears streamed from his eyes. Jack hear footsteps behind him. Wiping his mouth, he turned and stood up.
A bald man stood with a shotgun pointing directly at Jack’s chest. He had several teeth missing. His perverse and twisted ways were etched on to his skin. Jack wanted to kill him with all the weapons that he had used on his sister. Jack wanted to rip his eyes open and stamp on his unattached, still beating heart. The sick bastard must pay; he must die and he must die painfully.
“You took her,” he said feebly, unable to go through with the horrific murder in his head.
The man nodded.
“And now you’re going to kill me?”
The man nodded once again and cocked the shotgun.
But something happened. Jack did not see it coming. Four spikes appeared through the man’s chest and blood poured out of each of them. The man’s face was contorted with pain and the gun slipped from his grip. The spikes were then pulled back inside the man’s body and the man crumpled to the ground, revealing the frightened statue of Adriana, holding a garden fork in her arms, behind him.
“Rot in hell, you bastard,” she launched the fork right into her abductor’s body, “Rot in hell.”

~ by S.G. Mark on March 3, 2012.

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