's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" What the Forest Offered "

Submitted by Rook Lankin

It is now fifteen years since our children went away.

We were a happy town before that. Lived comfortably and tried, I really mean this, tried in all honesty to be good. I can't see how this might have been well-deserved. I myself was a painter, I still am, and I lived at the edge of town by the forest of aspen and fir west of here. I've moved across town by now, it hurts too much to look into those woods. That's where we found the first cocoons.

Who found them first, or who first brought them up to anyone who cared, I don't rightly remember. It wasn't me, although I soon saw them up close. A walk in the woods was pleasant back then. They were big gauzy bundles stuck to the sides of trees, a lot bigger than any insect we knew about should have left, and deeper into the forest than most people would go. The news rightly caused some uneasiness in town. We weren't living entirely off the land, but we all knew it would be nothing but harm if some invasive bug started eating up our trees or who knows what. And something nobody would mention, since nobody could place it, felt especially forbidding about this.

People generally left the forest alone for a while, didn't want to think about it, keeping those cocoons tucked away in their mind and waiting to see something come of it. We had stopped talking and mostly stopped thinking about them when it somehow got into my mind to start painting out there again. There was some brook a good ways in that always seemed to have nice light on it, and I had never got around to painting it, so the thought nagged at me until I headed out one afternoon to settle it. I was well on my way when I noticed the cocoons started sooner in than I had remembered, and not much further on I got a closer look at one: the grey thing had gone darker than before and somewhat translucent, and through the top I could clearly make out a flat-faced skull. I left the forest quickly. I told nobody. I did not go back there.

Some months later, the bodies were discovered. A kid had spotted them out wandering, and before long the whole town was gathered by the edge of the woods they had been ignoring for too long. From just a few steps into the forest, another crowd met their stares: humanoid bodies, around two feet tall, skeletal or close to it, stuck on to the trunks of trees. When some finally got the nerve to investigate, we found they were held on by a sort of resin that blended in with everything, looking for all the world like they had grown out of the trees. I made the connection pretty quickly, to the little skulls in cocoons. I told nobody.

So nobody understood where all those small decaying bodies came from. Nobody knew who they were or what ill portent their appearance might have signalled. But we buried them, every one, not in our graveyard but out of town near the forest. It was all folks could think to do after whatever plague or fairy-war might have left them hanging from the trees. In all honesty, we were trying to do right. One evening, a year later, we found the graves disturbed and empty. A beating of terrible wings in the air.

By the light cast out a neighbour's window I saw one, white as sickness and glowing like the moon. A tubular body writhed under its rubbery white wings and a mess of twitching roots spilled out of one end. The only appendages were two long rigid hooks arcing under it. I saw a young boy jump to grab on to these; I saw him look up at his captor with perfect, loving trust before they took off eastward with the others.

It is now fifteen years since our children went away. In a town 1000 kilometers east of ours they are finding the first cocoons. I can't go on telling nobody.