The screams are all too common here.
I have heard a wide variety of screams within the depths of this place. Some have been human, and some have belonged to animals.
The trees are hungry here, and I do my best to avoid them when I can.
Today, as I traveled along a narrow trail, I heard a scream from ahead. I quickened my pace, kept an eye out for waiting roots and low hanging branches, and made my way toward the scream, which ended as suddenly as it had begun.
As I neared the place I thought the sound had originated from; I heard a great and heavy rustling as though the trees were being shaken.
In a moment, I saw why.
Ahead of me, in the strange and curious light of the day, I saw a body. It hung a good thirty feet in the air, a long, single whiplike branch wrapped around the dead man’s throat.
From where I stood, I watched as more branches slid down, coiling around the body. Casually, almost lovingly, the tree stripped the corpse. Clothing fluttered down to a pile near the base of the tree. When the body was bare, its grotesque nakedness on display for the hunger of the forest, the tree began to feed.
Branches burrowed into the flesh, and the body shook. The branches pulsed, expanding and retracting as the mass of the corpse was reduced. Soon, the victim was nothing more than a husk of skin and bones. The branches wrapped around it, pulling the corpse into a fetal position before finally bringing it into the upper canopy of the tree.
As the branches parted, I caught sight of dozens of similar fetal orbs.
I drew my knife and removed a single match from my pack.
I started along the trail again, and when I drew abreast of the pile of clothing, I felt a branch caress the back of my neck.
I dropped into a crouch and slashed the branch with my blade. While the branch snapped up and away, I popped the matchhead with the nail of my thumb and dropped the burning match onto the pile of clothes and dried leaves.
Flames sprouted up, and I moved away from the tree.
Its branches tried to slap out the fire, but it was too late.
The flames devoured the tree as easily as the tree had devoured the corpse.