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The Deep Woods: Part One


by indefatigably

--------

Also by j_harkness

An insentient wind shook the boughs of the trees that stood miles too deep into the woods. Several feet beneath them, a young Meepit, whom the venerated had deemed "Phil," shivered as he trekked among the masterless trees. Precisely what force had drawn him out of the affectionate aura of the Kougra that had kept him company remained a mystery, but presently Phil cursed the unknown motive. The endless woods, he decided, were best observed from afar, where light didn't fear to linger.

      A savage rain, the product, no doubt, of a vengeful faerie, beat down on the infirm soil, easily passing through the gaps between the leafless branches. Muddy spots into which Phil's feet sank began to overwhelm the woods; as such, the Meepit sought out shelter. After about a quarter hour, he came upon a wooden shack, whose door creaked open only so far as to let in a sliver of light. The slopes of the structure's roof were so uneven that they were the work of an amateur, or a sculptor of deranged vision, or else the abject storms whose wrath they had scarcely endured. Phil allowed his breathing to slow again and pulled at the door, yet the worn thing did not budge. Further, more elaborate prodding also failed to displace the guardian of the abandoned place. The Meepit sighed and squirmed his way through the gap that permitted entrance into the shack, but this was no easy endeavor; the opening was the claustrophobe's nemesis.

      Beyond the transitional semidarkness that occupied the doorway of the retired dwelling, Phil observed before him a void which his eyes could scarcely penetrate. He turned back and prepared to compress himself, but a bolt of lightning then descended and struck the woods a few meters away. In the brief brightness that this phenomenon provided, the Meepit spied a hazy figure in the far corner of the room.

      "Who's there?" he called out. The specters of his shout rebounded without reply; however, for the ever-intensifying beating of the rain, Phil decided, it was equally likely that the room's other occupant had simply failed to hear him. His lips again parted to permit the passage of his question, but such an action faced interruption in the form of a distinct and nearing slithering sound. The Meepit took a step back towards the door as the shape entered the scope of his vision.

      Before him stood (if such an action could be so deemed; the being lacked legs to do so) a monstrosity of a pet. His neck forked off into two distinct parts, one of which gave rise to an oblong skull, coated, of course, with the natural veil of leathery skin with a pair of yellow eyes. The second bore at its end an identical head, but this one was presently subject to drooping, and its eyes were closed. As the being neared him, Phil caught sight of a sinuous, grey-green body that slithered beneath the being's neck only to close his eyes and wish it into oblivion a half-second later.

      The Meepit would not, however, be blessed with such happenings. The Hissi's approach soon halted, and his left head's mouth opened so as to emit a bellowed, "Who dares to trespass in this, my father's house?" Phil made to flee, but the door behind him, it seemed, was merely a transient visitor to this plane. The structure had not merely closed; rather, it had vanished into the odious abysm, where things too far gone ultimately escaped. Had he had the gall to claw at the air that the departed door had once occupied, Phil would have merely made a fool of himself and reflected his ever-slipping hold on reality. Instead, however, he faced forwards and responded, "That's hardly a way to greet your guests, is it?"

      The Hissi unleashed a laugh that rattled the whole of his form. Once he had recovered, he, who towered over the insignificant, still-standing Meepit, said, "Ah, I seem to have misplaced my manners – it's not often that I get trespassers around here. Oh, and introductions! My name is Harold, and – let me ask your advice here – am I to kindly ask you to leave, or else to subtly imply that you should do so?"

      To this Phil remained stone-faced. "No further statement would be needed, but it seems the door that I entered through has vanished."

      Harold moved closer and peered into the void behind the Meepit. "Gah, now look what you've done," he began, "I suppose the solution is simple enough. The house is in dire need of renovation, and you, it would so seem, are about to have a lot of time on your hands. And you are the guilty party, if memory serves, are you not?"

      Thus Phil was whisked away, up an atrophic staircase, into the web-ridden attic of Harold's house. Here, he was told, lay the key by means of which the sought door would reunite with reality, but such an object sat buried within a sepulcher composed of an old family's forsaken mementos. As such, the Meepit was tasked with sorting through the miserable lot in search of it. Between the layers of amorphous dust, Phil uncovered torn photographs and notebooks rife with smudged sentiments. Eventually, he came across an image that immortalized both a ghost Hissi and the mutant that he had met a few moments ago. The Meepit's fingers swept the surface of the picture, which, as he did so, glowed light blue. From its immobile confines emerged the ghastly figure, which towered over Phil like a shadowless shrine to a forgotten force.

      At this sight, the Meepit felt little desire to flee; rather, he merely sat himself upon the poorly-crafted attic floor. During a lengthy conversation between the two, the ethereal speaker revealed the nature of Harold's predicament. Eons prior to Phil's arrival, it appeared, a travelling witch had sought refuge in the Hissis' home (for the ghost had been among the house's owners at the time). She had likely been a Halloween Lenny, but, for, the ghost presumed, several misguided attempts at sorcery, her feathers had blackened and crumpled, her eyelids had grown inseparable, and her cloak, weary with wandering, had melted into her skin. Around her neck stood the sole refuter of her alleged indigence – a silver locket that still shone.

      Harold and the ghost (here he admitted to having been a blue Hissi named Carl) lacked sufficient space to house the witch for a significant period of time, but they had no particular desire to incur their visitor's wrath. Therefore, the ghost said, they had proposed a trade: the witch was to surrender her most valuable adornment in exchange for a free three-week stay in the house. She posed many a heartfelt counteroffer, speaking of monsters that she could summon to carry out their will, potions that could conjure courage and cowardice quite easily, and rituals that could deepen darkness to the point of impenetrability. All of these were rejected, however; the Hissis were still bound to their original desire. Eventually, she relented, removed – quite slowly – the locket from her neck, and stepped into the ramshackle dwelling.

      The ghost sighed and looked up at Phil, who still sat in place on the floor. He then pressed on. The first week of the witch's presence passed without significant incident. For the most part, the ghost said, she had been quite quiet – she generally confined herself to the attic, where she rifled through hundreds of pages of the Hissis' tomes. During mealtimes, she would, on being asked a question, answer amiably enough, but the terseness of her replies often caused abrupt ends to the conversation. This was of no great consequence, of course – the Hissis were not terribly sociable people.

      The trouble arose from a conflict over the locket, for it could hardly be in the possession of two masters, what with its being a single artifact. Carl and Harold foresaw such a difficulty, so they decided to alternate ownership of the locket each week. It was decided that Harold would be the first to keep watch of it, since the idea of alternation had been his. But Carl was dissatisfied with this agreement. On the first day of the second week, he stole the locket, placed it around his neck, and fled from the house. Here, the ghost concluded his story with a dismissive remark.

      "Well, that's the end of it," he said. "Do you have any questions?"

      Phil shook his head and got to his feet. "Other than all the parts you left out, I pretty much understand. Oh, except for one thing – what does any of that matter?"

      The ghost let out a long sigh. "I shouldn't have expected anything more from you. Very well, let me lead you to the way out of here. Care to follow?" With that, he floated down the attic stair in silence.

      Phil hesitated before beginning to walk. "Well, I don't exactly have another choice, do I?" Beneath his feet, at least, the staircase creaked.

To be continued...

 
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