Content Warning: gore, death
The Light in the Woods
I was so lost that when I saw a lantern light, bobbing through the trees in the distance, I ran toward it. Its warm orange glow seemed to float and swing around, far above the ground, so it must have been on some sort of pole, I thought.
Ferns lined the forest floor, thick and green, making passage slow, and the lantern bearer failed to hear or ignored my cries, begging them to wait. I stumbled on thick roots wound amongst the loam and pine needles littering the forest floor, and I followed the lantern desperately, unable to catch up.
When we had stopped in town and said we were going camping in this wood, there wasn’t a single person who had said, ‘that’s a lovely idea’. They said ‘don’t go up into those woods,’ ‘that’s not a good idea, that forest is cursed. Strange things dwell in it.’
Of course, we ignored them; we drove three hundred miles to see natural places that weren’t on any map or chattered about on any travel blog. We should have listened.
We set up our tents, in small glade not far from the muddy clearing that served as a parking lot, and in the morning, prepared for the day’s hike through the woods. That was a full day ago.
First, we got lost. As panic and night began to set in, we wandered past our marker of stones and sticks for the fifth time. We began to feel we were being toyed with.
Then May spotted it. A skeletonized deer carcass, its bones held together by ragged strips of rotting meat – not a strange thing to find in a forest at all, but it was stranded up in one of the pines, tangled among the branches.
‘Something must have dragged it up there,’ May said, unable to take her eyes off it.
‘A mountain lion,’ Lonnie replied, dismissive.
A cavalcade of skeletal animals had followed, all of them stuck in the trees, from snakes to deer to bears.
Then we turned around to ask Lonnie something, only find he was missing. We searched for what felt like hours, and when I turned to see where May had gone, I found myself alone.
Then I saw the lantern.
I began to catch up with the glowing orb, at last, but to my horror, I found it was no lantern at all.
Before me floated an enormous jelly-fish, its shining, gelatinous body glowing fire orange and fringed with frills of deep sea green. From its bobbing, undulating form draped enormous ribbon tenacles that dragged along the forest floor.
I started and span to run, but found myself tangled in a net of tenacles behind me. Where they brushed my skin it blistered with fire, and I fought wildly for a short time, but their paralysing venom quickly took effect, and soon I fought no more.
The forest was lit with the glow of hundreds of these creatures, bobbing feet above the floor. The last thing I saw was May, tangled in one’s tentacles, her face in blank agony, unmoving, as I was dragged, limp, off my feet, towards the pulsating body above.
Day 7 of Short Shocktober! I really liked the idea behind this one, I hope that the image I had in my head comes across. It was inspired by this video on Tumblr of a guy paddleboarding over a very still sea filled with jellyfish, and someone wrote about how wild jellyfish are beneath it, just floating about, eating far more complex organisms without realising it. I can’t find the post again because Tumblr’s search features etc are garbage.
P.s. I promise to write one where the protagonist surives one day. Maybe. I maybe promise it. I think. I dunno. Probably not? Well… we’ll see.
Update: OH! OH! I found it! The jellyfish post that inspired this mess! It rolled back around on to my dash, and it still made my skin want to crawl off my body and walk away!