Dorcha Adhmad The Dark ForestKarlie Lucas
The Dark Wood
By Karlie Lucas
First published as an eBook in 2014.
Copyright © Karlie Lucas 2014
All rights reserved. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.
To all lovers of campfire ghost stories
Fire crackled on the old hearthstone, further blackening the dun colored rock that made the firebox. The dancing light cast odd shadows on the room’s scattered furniture. A rocking chair. Several worn armchairs. A small end table with a darkened lamp.
Outside, a stiff breeze sent the sleeping trees to dancing. Their stiff branches tapped against the multi-paned windows. The resulting sound was like fingers scraping over a blackboard. Browned leaves swirled across the dead lawn, catching in the bushes that marked the yard.
Inside, the old rocking chair creaked as the rocker rails moved up and down. Old Aideen McGowan sat on the seat. Her feet moved up and down like a treadle. The wicker frame of the old rocker pressed into her age-curved back, supporting it. In front of her sat her grandson, Tomas, and his English friend, Sandy McClough. Their eyes danced in the firelight as they shivered in delicious anticipation.
Old Aideen licked her dry lips as she reached for a new skein of yarn. Knitting needles clacked as she attached the new thread. The color she’d chosen was blood red. After working the needles in silence, she raised her brittle voice against the crackling of the fire.
“T’was a night much like this,” Aideen said, her voice sounding like the sighing of the leaves from the lawn. “The wind whistled through skeleton trees and branches. The ground was littered with dry, crackling leaves. These leaves flew over the ground, like low flying ghosts in a great hurry. The branches moaned and wailed, swaying to a melody no mortal ear could hear.
“A lone hunter stood, outlined by the moonlight. He stood in the far background, against the shadows of Dorcha Adhmad, the Dark Wood. The night had been long and fruitless. The monster he sought would not come. But there was a madness in his eyes as he looked out. A madness that would not be denied.”
The two boys shivered at the telling. Tomas had heard the tale before, but not on such a night. He glanced at his friend with a delightful expression of shared fear. His hesitant smile mirrored the one on Sandy’s face. But still, they both drank the story in, like only children will.
“The old Hunter,” Aideen continued, “would not give up. The ghost hounds had already claimed too many lives. Including that of his own wife and unborn child. He would have his vengeance.” Her voice rose with her body as she almost stood from the chair. Her knitting needles almost slipped from her fingers before she remembered them. Settling back down, she continued on with her task.
“The moon shone full on the wood, casting the shadows even darker than normal. The Hunter put his fingers to his cracked lips and let out one long, shrill note, calling his own dogs to return. The sound of baying throats filled the air, one call a’top the other til the air was filled with the sound.
“And then, from the darkest part of the forest, they came. Coursing across the ground, and over the fallen limbs of trees long dead. Howl after howl issued from their frothing lips. Each note hung like an echo from a dream long forgotten. The kind no man hopes to remember.”
Outside, the wind continued to blow, picking up as it swept across the yard. It pushed the shriveled leaves towards the forest beyond. Some of those leaves swirled up into the air. They formed shapes while the smoke from so many hearth fires filtered around them like dark hands.
Aideen paused, listening to the whisperings of the swaying trees beyond the window. Turning to the boys, her eyes became more intense as she leaned forward. “The dogs flew to the Hunter. He went down on one knee to receive them, reaching out to his pack of beasts. But they were more than flesh and bone. They had been touched by the same creatures they’d hunted.
“Reaching the doomed man, the hounds fell on him, ripping and tearing as only wild animals will do. By chance, Ol’ Gregor’s great-grand son, Alastar, happened upon the scene as the dogs attacked. He was about to enter the fray to help. But before he could, they all vanished, the Hunter included. Without a trace.
“No one knows why. No one remembers who the Hunter was. All we do know is that Alastar came from that wood, screaming as if the dead were after him. He ne’er was the same as afore he’d gone into the woods that night.”
The firelight flickered and the windows shuddered from the breeze. Both boys huddled close together, afraid to move. Then, when nothing happened, they looked sheepishly at each other.
“Grandmum,” Tomas ventured, “Why do you think those hounds attacked?”
Aideen stared at her grandson. “Tomas McGowan, there never was a man who knew why. All that I know is that me father told me that tale afore he died. And he warned me such to never go near that accursed place on the night of a full moon.”
Sandy tossed his head to one side. “You don’t really believe that, do you, Mrs. McGowan?” Though he’d come from a superstitious family, he’d found many of the tales he’d recently heard boring.
Aileen looked at the boy, eyes intent. It was as though she were boring into his soul. “Sandy McLough, I believe it with all me heart. Any man who dare venture to that forest, on a full moon has ne’er come back. Take heed of the words or ye’ll be sorry. Ye may have the name of an Irish man, but ye sure as don’t have the sense of one.”
A small mantle clock struck the hour, reminding Tomas that it was well after dark. “We’d better get a going, Sandy,” he reminded. “Mum’s sure to have the crock done, and Billy should be home. Besides, the hour grows late. We should have been home hours before now.”
Aileen kissed her grandson on the forehead. “Ye be of good heart, Tomas. Take heed. I know as I can trust ye to bide by the warning. I’ll be waiting for ye in the morning.”
Tomas took up his coat and gloves. Sandy did the same and they left the old McGowan home together.
“You don’t believe any of that rubbish, do you?” Sandy asked as they walked down the littered path to the main gate. “My dad says those stories were invented to keep kids from doing something stupid. Besides, your grandmother’s mind is old enough to be addled.”
Tomas stopped to turn to his friend, who also stopped. “Sandy, you ought be ashamed of yerself. Me family would never lie. Or tell tale at any expense, even if they be old. The story me Grandmum told happened fifty years ago this very night.”
Sandy rolled his eyes and continued on. “Whatever you say, Tomas.”
They walked in silence. Their footfalls were loud on the dry autumn leaves as the breeze buffeted them from all sides. It was a long walk to the crossroads path home. Thunder filled the sky as they continued along.
Pausing at the crossing, Sandy glanced to the right. “Let’s cut through the Wood,” he suggested. “It’s hardly crossing through at this point. The path barely enters before leaving again,” he reasoned.
Tomas looked towards the forest in fear. The wind grew stronger. A lonely howl filled the air, echoing amongst the trees ahead. They were close enough for him.
Looking at the twisting shadows, Sandy felt the hairs on his neck rise. “Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t.”
Icy fingers of fear fell on Tomas. He whirled around, but nothing was behind them. The trees creaked and groaned ahead of them. Even this close to the woods, it was hard not to feel the tension.
Overhead, the full moon broke free from behind the clouds. Its cold light shown down on the stark branches only a matter of meters away. The sound of more baying came from underneath the trees, followed by the quickened sound of crackling leaves and twigs.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Tomas warned. “Not this close. Not tonight.” He turned towards the longer path home, but it was in vain.
From the Dark Forest’s edge, faintly glowing forms almost slithered into view. Like will’o’whisps, they swirled into the recognizable shape of hounds. Their hackles were up and the growls low in their throats.
“Run!” Tomas yelled and he took off towards home. Sandy was not far behind.
After only a matter of minutes, both their breaths came in short gasps. Even with their efforts, the sound of barking flanked them on either side, slowly herding them towards the trees. The branches waved like wildly beckoning arms. The full moon called out like a beacon.
A ghastly grinning face seemed to appear across the moon’s glowing sphere. The stars grew dim. The shadows turned a deep, cornflower blue as the two boys ran on. The leaves rattled like chains carried by ever so many ghosts. The forest loomed closer and closer.
Within in a matter of seconds, the boys were facing the dark wall of trees that heralded the outskirts of the Wood. The boughs opened up to receive them, ghost hounds chasing from behind. They ran as roots tried to trip them. It seemed as though the whole forest was against them.
Ahead, a man appeared, outlined in blue light. It was the Hunter. He let out a shrill whistle, calling his dogs. Thunder crashed and lightning shot down from the sky. The dogs barked and howled at their master. They ran to him like a pack of ravenous wolves. He bent down on one knee and put out his hands. They flew closer and closer.
Tomas and Sandy kept running, remembering only that they need get away. They passed through the ghostly man like one passes through a web of silk.
The edge of the forest lay meters away as the hounds ignored the Hunter and continued after their prey. The boys were running on their last legs. Their lungs pumped, desperate for air as the hounds gained. The trees moved into the boys’ way. Sandy tripped. Tomas pulled him back up, gasping all the while.
They cleared the forest. The dogs came on. They crossed fields and hedges. Tomas’ house lay in the distance. They reached it, pounding on the door. The dogs still came. The lights went on inside and the door opened.
Sandy and Tomas threw themselves inside the doorway, Tomas turning to bolt the door behind them. The sound of scratching filled the air as the hounds ground out their frustration. The boys sat in a heap by the solid oak barrier, unable to move from exhaustion.
Somewhere inside the house, a clock struck the hour. The barking stopped. All was quiet. The night was still. In relief, the two boys crawled to their beds to wait out the morning.
The cock crowed, welcoming the dawn. Tomas reluctantly left his bed and went to wake Sandy, but the boy’s bed was empty. The covers were drawn back as if to invite sleep. But it looks as though no one had slept in it.
Afraid something had happened, Tomas ran to the front door and undid the bolts. Throwing the door open, he gasped out loud. The forest was gone.
“Mum!” Tomas ran towards his mother, who was feeding chickens in the yard. “Mum! Where has the forest gone? And where’s Sandy?”
Mrs. McGowan stood from her crouched position, brushing the last of the feed from her apron. “Tomas, what are ye talkin’ about? There ne’er was any forest here. Nor was there ever a boy named Sandy as lived in this village.”
Tomas stared, speechless. The night’s occurrences could not have been a dream. Could they? Slowly, he walked back to the open door and closed it lest the chickens enter the house. On the outside, he noticed several deep gouges in the wood. It was almost as if some wolf or hound had taken their claws to the wood, trying to get in. Looking back up, he thought he saw the faint outline of a man, calling for his dogs. Then they were gone.
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