- Story One -

Maulshaw


My axe bites into the wood, like it has done countless times before. Bark flying as the blade chews at the oak, sap spilling from the tree trunk. I grip the handle and swing, my hands greeted by the shock of the blow. I smile as the tree creaks and twig and branch all topple to he forest floor.

Otum, they called me. “Tree Feller”, like my father and his father before him. Growing up in Mualshaw as part of a famed family of woodcutters was an honor. Every log and pillar my kin hewed from the earth, every plank and rafter we supplied to turn Mualshaw into the bustling city it once was.
The forest brought back long forgotten memories of my hometown. I remember the towering trees, branches like webs across the grey skies, and cold mists lapping at my ankles. Days spent watching my father chipping away at the forest like an artisan at his marble.

And then it was gone. Axe and haft meticulously carved from the forest, a vast cemetery, with stumps jutting out of the ground like gravestones. Howling winds now whipped against the once sheltered settlement. The forest that stood like a guardian for the people of Mualshaw now left the halls and houses exposed, and me looking for more work. The night that I left my hometown, is one I’ll never forget. The gale outside was stronger than it has ever been. Screeching like a wild animal, tearing through the streets, the wind ripped apart the very soul of the town. Window shutters and shop signs shuddered at the onslaught as we clung to our warm hearths.

The uneasy silence that followed was almost deafening.

I peered out the window, and it was as though I had stepped into the past. Leaves rustled, but made no sound. The branches twisted across my vision; the moon shrouded by tree tops. Looming, at the edge of Mualshaw, was the forest. A ghostly silhouette of carcasses writhing in the night. The forest my family had cut down years ago, was inexplicably back on the fringes of the town...

Then came the mist. Thick swirls of grey twisted and creeped through the streets, knocking on doors and scratching at the windows. In an instant the houses in the district seemed to have been painted over, vanishing before my eyes
There was a pounding on the door, and the entire house started creaking, as though being crushed by the enveloping mists.

Carefully I opened the door and stepped outside, squinting my eyes to pierce the mists. From out of the mirk. shapes started appearing in front of me. First the silhouettes of the trees came back, and with them came gnarled faces in the trunks, screaming into the night. Then at the edge of my vision I saw the figures in the branches. Dangling corpses strung from the neck hanging dead still amidst the trees. I whirled around to escape to the safety of my home, only to be greeted by a ghostly expanse of corpse and branch and mist.

As my heart started pounding, as if to match the beat, a pulsating green glow appeared deep in the forest. The ebb and flow of the light seemed to tug at my very existence, and I remember feeling as though I was being reeled in, away from the town. The forest flew past me in a blur as I left Mualshaw behind.

I stopped. Feet brushing the edge of the cliff, rocks dropped down below, and the mists begged me to take another step. I could feel whispers pressing me forward and for a moment the ocean below seemed welcoming. For a moment the mists parted, and I saw the black waters, riddled with gondolas. The ferrymen with quiet vigil guided their crafts across the waters.

I took a step back, and as one the figures turned their ghostly faces towards me. I could feel their eyes burning into my skull, and my vision started to fade.

My eyes sprang open, and I jumped up. Startled, I looked at the familiar walls of my house, fire crackling softly in the hearth.

Slowly inching towards the window, my ears once again picked up the sounds of the wind, howling at the night sky. I peered out and saw the moon winking at me through the clouds. The forest that had entombed the town was gone.
Sighing, I wipe the sweat from my brow, beard glistening with tree sap. Once again I thank the spirits that the forest was once again only a memory.