‘Branches,’ a Horror Short Story

The visitor promised the people in town that he wouldn’t go into the forest. The warning they gave, that whoever went in never came out, because of a demonic presence left there by a witch centuries ago, was a silly tale; but to make them feel better, he promised he’d stay away from the trees.

He walked along a trail with bushes to his left and a fence of jagged wood to his right, with lush, tall grasses of yellow and green jutting out from behind it. The sky was a greyish-blue, but still, overall the scenery was too idyllic to pass up enjoying. Fresh air all around him was a balm to his skin.

He approached the shady entrance to the woods, then stopped. It’s the end of the line, he thought. I guess I’d better turn around and go back.

But he didn’t.

How stupid, he thought. It’s just a forest, no magic. What could possibly happen to me in there besides getting lost? The owner of the diner had said, ‘You die in there…yet at the same time, you don’t.’ What’s that even supposed to mean? 

“Forget it. I don’t have time anyway.” He turned around.

He took no more than one step away when he saw a flurry of dollar bills blown past him in the direction of the entry. A few bills flew into his hands…hundred dollar bills.

“Holy shit!” he whispered, then looked back at all the others being blown into the forest. Without thinking, he ran after them.

As he entered the darkness, he managed to grab a few more flying bills. He stuffed them in his pockets and went in further, reaching blindly for more, unable to see. Enveloped in black…His hands managed to find three more bills, then he groped about in the air in all futility, coming up empty.

The wind blew around him, caressing his skin, sounding almost like a whisper. “Oh…no…don’t…”

After reaching and reaching for more bills with no success, he finally gave up. He turned the way he had entered to leave.

Black. Everywhere.

“OK, what the f–”

Something whacked him in the ass, hard. It felt like a thick piece of wood. Not a plank. A branch.

Now he was shaking.

He stood there, rooted in the spot for about ten seconds. His heavy breathing drowned out any intelligibility in the whispering wind he still heard.

What felt like the roughness of bark rubbed against his arm.

“God!” he screamed, then ran in the direction of the way he’d come in, even though he now saw as black a void there as he saw everywhere else. He kept running and running, in the exact same trajectory as the curve of the path into the woods, but he ran at least three times the distance he’d come in from the original point of entry. Still, he kept running that way, in total darkness.

Until a thick tree branch ran him through like a sword.

It entered his gut, level with and to the left of his navel, then out his back to the right of his spine. He shook all over and coughed out blood. The branch lifted him two feet off the ground.

But he never passed out.

Wiry thin branches coiled around his wrists and ankles, tightened their grips, and stretched his limbs out to the point of his shoulders and thighs hurting.

Then the screaming began.

Not his screaming…the wailing of what seemed a million souls trapped in Hell surrounded him, impaling his eardrums.

His arms and legs were being pulled more and more…the pain was unbearable…yet he never lost consciousness!

He’d surely lost enough blood by now to die…yet he was wide awake! He felt a sharp, almost popping pain in his shoulders and femora/pelvis, which had just been dislocated!

Still, he didn’t pass out.

Then he remembered what the owner of the diner said: “You die in there…yet, you don’t.”

His arms and legs were torn off. Piercing screams all around…not his screams, though: he had too much blood clogging his throat to vocalize at all.

What felt like about a dozen thin but strong branches stabbed through his chest and guts, one through his heart.

A vine coiled around his neck, choking him tighter and tighter until it crushed his windpipe. It was torture not being able to breathe, and in his thoughts he begged to die…at least to pass out.

But he wouldn’t.

The vine was pulling his head up, pulling…pulling…until his neck-bone cracked, the flesh there tore, and his head came off.

He didn’t stop feeling the pain all over his body, though, even with his head removed…he was conscious of the pain everywhere.

Branches slashed and stabbed through his severed arms and legs, even making multiple stigmatas, as it were, through his hands and feet.

And he felt it all.

Branches stabbed into his face: two from the top-back poked his eyeballs out. A thick one went in his mouth, punched out most of his teeth, and went through the lower back of his head. Thin branches went up his nostrils, tore up his nose, and stabbed his brain. One branch stabbed into his right ear and went out his left.

Yet he never stopped hearing the screaming.

A branch rammed deep into his rectum and tore his intestines apart. All these impaling branches now moved in diverging directions and tore his head, torso, arms, and legs into pieces.

This was not the end of the tearing…

…and fantastically, he was still as conscious as if he’d been unharmed.

His shattered body parts could ‘see’ as if he had millions of eyes, and ‘hear’ with millions of ears, all the screams of previous victims. All the mutilated pieces of his body were themselves tearing and dividing into smaller and smaller fragments, by some kind of magical power that proved the townspeople right.

He felt his scattered drops of blood divide…painfully. He felt his cells being torn apart…were his atoms splitting apart? His body felt as if it were a nuclear bomb going off.

The only things unbroken were his continued consciousness…and his excruciating pain. The only coming together he felt was that between him and his fellow screaming sufferers, a solidarity of souls in a Hades of pain, endless waves of an ongoing throbbing.

Still, he remained so aware of his surroundings that he and the battalion of the damned he’d joined noticed those hundred dollar bills fluttering yet again into the forest from the once-again sunlit entry. A young woman came in trying to grab those bills. All he and his kindred sufferers could do, with their infinitesimally soft chorus of voices, was whisper, “Oh…no…don’t…”

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