The screams filled the forest.
I’d been pruning back some of the older apple trees at the far end of the orchard when the screams brought me up short. The noise took myself and the trees by surprise, and as I raced toward the sound, the dryads raced ahead of me, leaping from tree to tree, traveling by root and by branch.
Soon, I reached a section of my land I’d not set foot in for close to a century, and the temperature plummeted. No longer was I in the brisk, cool air of an April morning.
The temperature was closer to that of February, despite the lack of frost on the ground.
One of the dryads sprang from an old oak, and I skidded to a stop on the old leaves.
Her eyes were wide, her bark-like skin pale with fear. The long willow strands that served as her hair whipped about her face.
“Something is wrong, Blood,” she whispered and pointed farther in. “Something is terrible. We will go no closer.”
I’d seen dryads face down bears and men with fire.
I was morbidly curious as to what might set them back on their heels.
“Straight on?” I asked.
She gave a single nod and stepped out of my way.
I hurried along the slim path as it descended into a gulley, and I found myself looking upon a small tunnel made of stone and cement. A date was stamped into the material.
I had no memory of the place. Nor of ever having built it.
A wail rolled out of the opening.
I plunged down into the water, scattering a school of fish, and walked through the cold water into the darkness of the tunnel. The sound of my splashing echoed off the walls, and I saw a dim light at the far end. As I drew closer to it, bits of flesh and clothing drifted past me. Finally, a wide section of scalp – the hair blonde and bloodied – sailed past, and then I was through the tunnel.
I found myself in a pool similar to the one I’d just left. But the date stamped above it read 1832 instead of 1823, and as I turned to get my bearings, I realized the sun was wrong. It was a tad too bright and coming from the wrong direction.
On the shore near me lay flayed bones and a pair of women’s shoes, the feet still in them.
It was a hell of a way to start the month.