By S. Peters-Davis
The tree, miles inside the dense Michigan forest, billowed with majestic energy, same as it did fifteen years ago. I’d sensed its power even then, at ten years old. Something marked in my memory like a reoccurring dream called me back to this place.
I touched the kaleidoscope of bark, reveling in its swirls of uneven texture, and swore it shivered. Or was I vibrating to its high frequency? Excitement and exhaustion sliced through me. “Hello, old friend,” I whispered.
A sudden heaviness settled into my body and eyelids. I dropped my backpack and leaned against the tree, bending until I rested on the ground. The sketch book. I pulled it from the pack and thumbed through the pages of my drawings. There he was. I want to see you again.
My eyes closed of their own volition, sending me into the darkness of deep sleep.
* * *
Breaking branches, rustling leaves, and a thud on the ground next to me startled my mind to consciousness. I jumped to my feet, the sketch book landing with Soren’s page open. I glanced at it for a second before scanning the area and seeing nothing. Then…he stood in front of me.
His violet-rimmed dark eyes studied me. He’d grown in stature, still long-limbed with clawed hands and feet. His shoulder-length silver hair was drawn away from his sculpted face by a couple slender braids. He sniffed the air and his mouth opened showing long incisors.
“It’s me, Becca.” I reached my hand toward him and he jerked back, snarling, the talons on his fingers displayed in full. The hair across the nape of my neck snapped to attention, reminding me of the graphic way he’d stopped a wolf from attacking us years ago.
Maybe this wasn’t Soren. I lowered my gaze to the drawing at my feet. He stepped closer backing me against the tree, his thin brows pinched together as he studied the drawing. He looked back at me, wide-eyed, and planted his hands on both sides of my head. Somehow, we fell inside the tree.
We plummeted into a wind tunnel. His arms locked around me as he spun my body around until our heads were up and our feet were down.
What the heck just happened? I didn’t recall this part.
Warm shimmering light surrounded us, making the violet color of his eyes opalescent as we free-fell in this make-shift elevator of air.
“Becca,” he whispered and nuzzled my neck. “You came back.”
My eyes moistened. “Soren, I’ve missed you.” His earthy cocoa-spice scent doused my olfactory in memories. The three days and nights we’d spent together, climbing the tree, finding mushrooms, swimming in an icy pond, enjoying campfires…until my parents found me wandering the forest alone.
We never went to that forest again for our spring mushroom hunts.
All this time I thought the tree and Soren were figments of a child’s wild imagination. I returned to the forest in hopes of finding the tree, where I’d first fallen asleep so long ago. I lifted my head away from Soren’s shoulder to study him closer. His face appeared more human. The fangs had receded. His ears lost their pointed tips and his nose wasn’t so snout-like.
The tunnel opened into a vast terrain of vegetation, thistle huts, pools, gardens; a whole underground civilization. Our descending slowed until our feet rested on solid ground.
“Where are we?” My focus went ballistic, attempting to take in everything at once.
Soren tapped my chin, closing my mouth.
I laughed. “We didn’t come here as kids. I would have remembered it, especially the trip down.”
“No. Our kind never brings humans here.” He grabbed my hand.
No humans? My stomach roiled and my knees shook then folded. The whole falling through a tree into another world of beings wasn’t connecting inside my brain. A living nightmare might work as not one human knew where I’d gone, too hard to explain a child’s quest.
“Becca, you must stand, now, or everyone will know.” He pulled me up and wrapped an arm around my waist. “We must hurry.”
I jerked to a stop. “I don’t understand. Why did you bring me here?”
“Shhh. No scene. Come now.” His nostrils flared and he eyed the gathering crowd. “Explain in a moment.”
A pack of wolves came to mind. My stomach flipped a couple more times at their red eyes, flaring nostrils, and growing fangs and claws.
Soren yanked me along a narrow grassy path, the others followed on our heels. Their snarls and growls closed in. Soren lifted me in his arms and ran toward a large round hut. He pushed through the fabric-like doorway into a cool dimly lit room. Not one of the creatures entered after us.
“They want to hurt me. Or eat me. Why did you bring me here?”
He set me on my feet and motioned for me to sit on the cot in the center of the room. Then he slid my sleeve above my wrist, his fingertips touched two small scars. “Those are what called you back. I marked you long ago, as you slept, with the intention of giving you another that bonds. It is why we were attacked. Spring is our season to bond, no matter what age, we bound our mate and when the age is ripe, like now, we mate for life.”
“Instinct brought me here? You told me humans aren’t allowed.” My heart beat into my ribs so hard my body moved to its pulse. A mix of emotions swept through me in a shiver.
“There are no humans here, only our mates and us.” His face morphed, fangs extended.
“No.” My voice a mere whisper as he pushed me back and his fangs sank into my neck.
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READ MORE . . . Malevolent . . .