In the Winter Forest by John Drury
Before the man stood a large monolithic slate constructed with a dark abyss-like cosmic sludge, ever moving and crawling like one thousand termites upon the carcass of a long-deceased animal. Each character shifted and writhed through the sludge, eternally fighting for release from the confines of the monolith but forever holding their distinct and awe-inspiring shape with both grandeur and solidity. The alien etchings presented themselves to the world like the proclamation of some unholy deity, warning those of the unspeakable sufferings that laid in wait for any who dared step foot upon this god-forsaken land.
All around D’Hiver, a cold winter wind blew, the screams of the wind creating a cacophony that was further amplified by the large monolithic structure that laid bare before him. He awoke sprawled before the structure on his hands and knees in a position of prostration with no remembrance of his past or identity. Only a brief recollection of a life previously lived presided within his now deteriorated mind. Within that memory, a single visage presided but had now been smeared away from his mind like the smudged face of an ancient painting that has long been lost to the sands of time.
Visions of preconceived understandings and depictions of Purgatory and Hell raced through his mind in a desperate effort to attribute their characteristics with those of the world that now laid claim to his soul. All around snow-covered plains laid barren before the man, and far in the distance, a ring of monstrously large tree-like structures surrounded the plains, almost like the gates into a more hellish landscape. No sign of life was evident, both on the plains and through the trees far in the distance. Outside of the harrowing screams of the bone-chilling wind, there existed only silence which echoed through his mind almost as loud as the hallow wind itself.
One last look upon the monolith filled the man with an existential dread of the future that invariably waited for him—still, all the while providing no understanding of who could have potentially created such a horrific structure.
The reverberating black energy of the monolith drove D’Hiver forward, pushing him towards the ring of trees. With no apparent motive or direction, the man went onwards for what he believed to be hours or potentially even days, as there were no stars in the sky, no sun or moon to guide his path or provide any structure to the time spent pushing forever onwards. The only light apparent on this world was an unearthly white glow that cast itself from high above onto the snow below, calling him forward and forever guiding his path.
With each step, the journey away from the monolith became increasingly more difficult, the physical and psychological pain pushing D’hiver far beyond his breaking point. The man’s hunger and need for rest had been exonerated, replaced with a pang of gnawing unfound existential torment and guilt that tore away at his heart perpetually. With each step forward, the more the jagged ice ripped the skin from his bare feet, leaving a trail of blood upon the plains. When inspected, his feet showed no sign of trauma or deterioration; only when set upon the earth, did they begin to bleed and toil away upon the endless void of snow once again. Visions of the wasted body of Prometheus chained to the rocks of Caucasus raced through D’Hivers mind as the man began to feel as if he had been sentenced to a fate similar to that of the bringer of fire.
He stood before the immense trees that seemed to move and sway in a way similar to that of the wordings etched into the monolith. Once the man mustered the strength to pass through the gates, he found that the ground below the trees was barren, inexplicably protected by the vastness of the sprawling canopy of pine-like branches miles above the surface. Once his feet left the snow, the pain immediately subsided, and instantly the air had become completely silent; the halls of the forest seemed to eliminate the horrific screams and bellows of the plains that now lay a mere foot behind D’hiver. Just as the cries of the plains had echoed through his skull like the strokes of a bell, the silence seemed to permeate through the entirety of his body, slowly filling every crevice and niche until his entire being had become a well of pressure ready to burst at the seams. Unsure of which pain he found worse, he continued onwards, blocking the new sensations that at first felt like a relief but now felt like a fire from which the frying pan had directly delivered him.
The sensations of hunger still seemed to escape him, but the starvation of days without rest seemed to catch up with D’hiver finally. Immediately he fell to the forest floor, cushioned by a bed of ancient pine needles, which ushered him into a deep, dreamless sleep.
For years the man slept, always without movement or breathing; he laid there, becoming endlessly covered by the falling pine needles which stabbed into his body relentlessly until there was no skin left to puncture. A deep guttural calling finally awoke D’hiver from deep within the forest itself, which harked him onwards in the same ancient language that briefly graced the foggy mind of the wayward traveler from long ago when he traveled the plains of the ancient monolith.
And once more, his journey continued.
Scorched by the fires of some unholy force, the building lay before D’hiver, small in size when compared to the vastness of the trees, which D’hiver had called his own for what had become years now. The building, constructed in the same material as the monolith, and shaped like that of a church, presented the man with a single doorway, for which he slowly approached. With each step, the calling grew more vigorous, D’hiver felt as if his journey had finally reached its conclusion.
The inside of the building was black as night. Every particle of light was absorbed and crushed under the enormous weight of the darkness. From deep within the shadows, a figure walked forward towards D’hiver. With hands outstretched and body prostrated towards the unholy figure, D’hiver presented his unwavering love and commitment the same way he had towards the monolith all those years ago when he had first awoken.
With each step the figure took, the pressure lodged deep within D’hiver’s soul continued to grow, and the guttural voice’s call grew louder and louder. At last, before the figure was just about to present itself, D’hiver realized that the call was never a call; it was, in fact, a cry, a cry of warning, the same cry of warning that the monolith had attempted to communicate to him all those years ago. He should have never come here; his lack of purpose and direction mixed with the years of physical and psychological torment blinded him to the truth. The enticing possibility of some form of reward or fulfillment laying in wait at the end of the trail kept D’hiver moving.
However, he was wrong, and it was too late to go back now.
The creature took its last steps, and once D’hiver’s eyes bore witness to the abomination that had laid claim to his soul, the well of pressure lodged deep within D’hiver’s body finally gave way. In that very instant, all of the unholy white light absorbed by the pitch-black walls that surrounded the two figures finally collapsed upon the body of D’hiver.
Thousands of miles away, far beyond the towering trees and into the unholy snowcovered fields the man awakes, once again, before the great monolith.
John Drury is a High School student with a soft spot for horror and writing that’s just trying to get his voice out there. . “Over the past couple of years, I have been invested in listening to experimental music and watching older horror movies, which have played a vital role in the desire to focus my time on the creative process. I am only a student right now, but I hope to get my voice heard while developing my ability to create exciting stories. In the future, I would like to publish an anthology or potentially even a full-length story. Unfortunately, I only have one piece of writing under my belt, so my main focus will be on developing my craft and finding new and exciting stories to share.” If you enjoyed this story, watch for more from John and follow him at https://linktr.ee/JohnDru