The Forest Beyond the Earth
by Matthew S. Cox
February 6th 2018
Under the watchful eye of the Mother Shrine, twelve-year-old Wisp ekes out a simple, but challenging life with Dad, foraging for food and losing herself in old books from the world that came before. She loves the Endless Forest ― except when the Tree Walkers come for her.
In ages past, the great rain of fire and ash destroyed the Earth, wiping out the ancients and everything they had made. Nature has reclaimed much since then, spreading out in a vast forest full of wonder and dread. Ever in fear of being taken away, she follows Dad’s rules without question while learning to survive off the land.
No longer a small child, she accompanies Dad on one of his treks, her first time more than a few steps away from the cabin. A day exploring with him is the happiest time of her life, but joy is short-lived.
A monster follows them home.
Safe in her Haven, she hides while Dad goes outside to confront the beast. She wakes alone the next morning, and waits. Alas, her hope of his return fades with the daylight. Desperate, she breaks his strictest rule and goes outside alone. Not far from the cabin, she discovers his rifle abandoned next to the monster’s strange footprints.
Afraid but determined, Wisp sets off on her own into the Endless Forest to find Dad ― before the Tree Walkers catch her.
Moonlight painted the landscape in a deep blue shade. The woods more than fifty yards in any direction had become a dense murk of nothingness. Wherever leaves fluttered in the moonlight, she cringed away, from the lurking Tree Walkers she expected. Wisp clung to Dad’s arm with both hands, her pale fingers all but glowing against his deep brown tan.
“It’s all right,” said Dad in a near whisper. “We don’t have far to go.”
She nodded. It hit her that acting like a little kid might cause him to leave her in the Haven next time he went out to hunt. Except for right now, the journey had been amazing and fun. Wisp straightened her posture and let go of his arm, attempting to appear brave. At least in the dark, he couldn’t see her wide eyes and shivering hands.
A rippling cascade of snapping echoed out of the forest, like a bear crushing an entire bundle of twigs at once.
Or a Tree Walker rising up from the ground.
She held back a startled yelp that echoed in her brain and snagged the pistol from the holster on Dad’s belt, clutching it in both hands. Within a second of her pointing it at the woods where the sound came from, Dad grasped her by the wrists and pushed the weapon down.
Wisp shifted her eyes to him, asking ‘why’ with a stare.
“You cannot kill the Tree Walkers with a bullet,” whispered Dad. “A gun will only make them angry… and the loudness will tell them where you are.”
“I understand.” She fidgeted her grip on the pistol. “It might not be one of them. What makes that noise?”
Dad let go of her and grabbed the front of his rifle, training it generally in that direction. “Sounded like a big person stepping on branches. Down.”
Wisp sank into a squat, staring at the forest. Her mind played evil games by making her think every shadow held a creature of living vines coming to take her away from Dad. Mother, please protect us.
Another crunch came from ahead and a little farther to the left. She shifted her facing toward it, but didn’t raise the pistol. Dad took a knee beside her, a little in front to shield her from arrows.
A chill wafted by on the early evening breeze. Leaves rustled overhead. Cricket song surrounded them and the rapid skittering of a squirrel zipped by overhead.
Her toes dug deep into the rain-damp soil. The pistol wobbled in her hands. She swallowed hard, trying to be brave, trying to show courage so Dad would take her on a hunt again. He would do anything to protect her, and he didn’t like seeing her frightened. If he thought going out scared her too much, he’d keep her safe in the Haven. She thought back to how nice it had been relaxing beside the stream, watching birds and eating fish with Dad. If every day could be like that, she’d be the happiest girl in the world.
And here he is. . .
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour
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