FREE short story by Colin Devonshire
A Darker Forest
A darker forest paints with blood in the sun sliding down its trees
“Here we are, kids. I used to play hide and seek with your auntie when I was your age. Lovely old tree, isn’t it?”
His memory, like Movietone, pictured his black and white sister grabbing the biggest and best conkers from the ancient horse chestnut, branches bowed with the weight of prickly inedible fruit.
The family Alsatian, Bruno, tail wagging, ran around in circles, begging for a ball to be lobbed into the trees. Bounded to and from child to trunk.
“When are we going home?” asked Sadie.
“Yeah come on Dad, there is no connection out here,” said her twin brother, Rog.
“We’ve only just got here. There is more to life than games or TikTok on your mobiles,” said Johnny, their father. “We played conkers or hide and seek.”
Clarice, Johnny’s girl friend busied herself spreading a rug on a flattish area of grass, laying out well wrapped sandwiches, biscuits and a flask of tea.
“Come on gang, sit down and enjoy your picnic,” she said.
“I wish Mum was here,” said Sadie. Her brother nodded.
Their step mum to be hoped she would get accepted by the children soon, “She would have loved to be here with you too,” she said, glancing at Johnnie.
“There are your Mum’s initials in the middle of the big heart I carved, mine next to it. We dug them out with small pen knives them when we first fell in love,” said their Dad.
Johnny, again lost in memories was staring high into the branches, “If only?” he thought.
It was two years to the day she died. Twelve years since they fell in love. Twelve years of hate between their families. “When will it end?” he wondered.
Clarice passed laden paper plates to the children, Rog nodded as he accepted his, Sadie knocked hers in the air.
“I don’t want your sandwiches, I don’t want to be here. It feels funny,” said the girl.
“Sadie!” shouted her Dad.
Clarice leaned over to hug the girl, “Don’t worry. I understand.”
Rog ducked his head to hide his tears.
“We don’t like it here,” stammered the boy, as he stood and stepped hid behind the enormous truck.
Johnny glared at his daughter as he started clearing away the uneaten picnic.
“Look what I’ve found,” shouted Rog, holding aloft his treasure. “It’s a gold ring.”
“Let me see,” called a brighter Sadie. “It’s Dad’s,” she squealed.
Johnny walked around hand out. He studied the simple design before looking at the engraving inside.
“It’s its,” he stammered. “Mine is in the drawer at home.”
“See, Mum’s and your initials either side of a heart. Just like on the tree,” stated Sadie.
“Mine is at home!” insisted Johnny.
“It must be your wife’s,” said Clarice. “Try it on, then you’ll know.”
Johnny snatched it back.
“It won’t fit. It must be someone else with the same initials?” he said.
“That’s pretty unlikely, don’t you think. The letters, the heart right next to the tree you love?” said Clarice.
Johnny shook his head slowly. He sank to the grass. Clarice hugged him, not understanding his grey mood.
Another memory tormented him. “I trust my brother far more than you,” she had screamed at him. Her stare like molten lava burnt him to this day.
“What’s the matter, maybe she lost it well before she died?” said Clarice.
“No, she didn’t,” he answered.
Sadie and Rog ran around throwing the ball for Bruno. His barking and jumping cheered all except a sullen Johnny.
“Come on, stupid dog, here is the ball,” Rog shouted, showing the once hidden ball pulled from behind his back.
“He doesn’t want to play with us,” said Sadie.
Bruno had other things to do. A scent he could not ignore twitched his nose. Busy scratching at the base of the tree. He bounced, jumping excitedly, front legs digging, rear legs splayed, he dug up sod after sod of loose grass.
“Get away from there,” shouted Johnny. “Here, have this,” he handed a ham sandwich to the dog. “Don’t you want it?” he asked, wagging the treat at the dog’s wet nose.
The children and Clarice watched open-mouthed, as Johnnie stamped after the dog.
“Dad, Dad, calm down he is only playing,” said Rog.
Johnny grabbed a hefty stick and slashed it at his pet, who yelped away.
“What is up with you?” screamed Clarice.
A red faced father was on hands and knees, patting down clumps of turf, shaking his head and mumbling. Bruno in a wolf-like stance crept behind his owner, low to the ground. Wary, careful, he edged closer.
The children watched in horror as Bruno bared teeth, growling with intent. He leapt and bit deep into Johnny’s throat.
Clarice pulled the children behind her before slowly walking forward, “Okay Bruno, leave your owner. Come on, good boy,” she soothed.
Bruno released his grip, turned away from the wounded man and continued with his digging.
The children rushed to their blood-soaked father. Clarice tried calling emergency numbers. No signal.
She used the rug as a pillow and checked his carotid artery. It was leaking. Blood seeped between her fingers.
“Kids run as fast as you can to the edge of the woods, try to contact anyone you find or if you can, phone an ambulance. Go quickly,” she said.
The children ran off clutching their mobiles.
In a panic, Clarice’s first-aid knowledge remained deep behind stacks of other information. She clamped her hand over the jagged wound, blood kept leaking through her fingers.
“Don’t die on me, please!”
“It was an accident!” Johnny croaked. Tears were watering blood as they reached his throat.
“Don’t speak, the ambulances are coming. Hang on,” she cried.
Minutes passed, Bruno didn’t slow his digging.
“Thank God, here they come,” Clarice breathed. She spotted flashing lights in the distance. A pair of stretcher carriers battled branches.
A chunky lady dropped a case next to Johnny, immediately started working on him. The ambulance driver put his arm around Clarice, leading her a few steps away.
Clarice turned back as Johnny spat out a brief sentence, “I didn’t mean to, it was her family.”
Johnny’s head twisted to one side. The lady shook her head slowly. Clarice wailed. The children ran up, collapsing at their father’s side.
Bruno kept digging, deeper and deeper.
Police arrived, taping off the area. An officer attempted to lead Clarice and the children away.
“Where is the dog that caused all this?” he asked.
Clarice pointed to the tree trunk.
Bruno sat behind it, proudly wagging his tail, showing off his treasure. He had bits of a skeletal arm in his mouth. Rotted muscle hung loose. A hand with a ringless finger.