's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Bestiary of the Vestibular Wood

Submitted by Charlotte Moore

I don't quite remember how I got roped into this delivery job, but as long as I move quickly, I can probably get to Gnestor and out of there before anyone notices I'm not delivering these.

Sure, I've had to walk a lot of backwoods trails, but at least I'm not being followed or tracked. This morning was the freest... free-est? frest? most free I've felt in months, so if nothing else, I'm at least content with my escape plan so far.

It took way less convincing than I would have thought to get my "escorts" to un-cuff me so that I could use the restroom alone, and way more crawling-out-of-tavern-windows than I'd accounted for. Whatever, though, it worked, and that's what matters. Life on the lam hasn't been too bad thus far, at least as far as "running all day, and shivering inside a tent all night" goes. Supplies aren't phenomenal, but they're enough to get by. Once I get out of this forest, I should be pretty much on the main road to Gnestor, and there's absolutely no chance anyone will look for me there, at least not where I'll be hiding.

I hope.

Anyway, I've kinda been occupying myself by walking in a bunch of different humorous gaits, so I guess I'll be doing this for a while, at least while the road is straight. I almost want to make camp seeing as it's been getting dark for hours now, but I really don't trust this place. Something in the bushes keeps making noises I can't really transcribe at me, and I'm really just gonna keep moving so whatever it is realizes I'm not out to hurt its cubs or something, and maybe start a fire once I get to the edge of the forest.

And so I plodded on, there wasn't much else to do. Sure, I was hungry, tired, and while I really should have reached Gnestor by now according to this map, but with the brushline ruckus, I'm not stopping for anything. And so I plodded on, there wasn't much else to do. Sure, I was hungry, tired, and while I really should have reached Gnestor by now according to this map, but with the brushline ruckus, I'm not stopping for anything. And so I plodded on, there wasn't much else to do. Sure, I was hungry, tired, and while I really should have reached Gnestor by now according to this map, but with the brushline ruckus, I'm not stopping for anything. And so I plodded on, there wasn't much else to do. Sure, I was hungry, tired, and while I really should have reached Gnestor by now according to this map, but with the brushline ruckus, I'm not stopping for anything.' And so-I felt an incredible slicing pain in the back of my head, prompting me to fall to my knees, my ears ringing like an analogy I probably should have thought of. As I rose unsteadily to my feet, I got a better look at the path I walked, realizing how unfamiliar it really seemed. Honestly, I don't remember when I started walking this forest trail, or for how long, but something isn't right. The chrumbling (at least that's the only thing I can describe that noise as) has subsided, and so my pace has relaxed. Up ahead, though, there seems to be a tree that really almost looks like it's trying to be visibly fake. It's just a board buried in the ground with some branches nailed to it. So, there's some kind of civilization nearby, or at least another person. Something smart enough to have a hammer and nails, and while I don't know if I can count on the kindness of strangers, I'm trusting the Fake Tree Weirdo over whatever's in the bushes.

Upon closer inspection, there's a leatherbound journal propped up against it. Seems like this was left for someone to find. Flipping it open, the first page seems to be both a warning, and a plea for help.

"Hey, hello! If you're capable of reading this, you're probably able to help me out, so in the event you're at all willing to do so, or maybe just curious to see where I'm going with this, please, read on! Actually, wait, I feel like I should preface this with maybe a warning about the Wood that you're in. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, because I'm not sure how much time you have, but as quickly as you can, try and find shelter, anywhere that isn't a cabin. You'll see why later, just... don't go in there, for my sake, okay? Set up a tent, if you've brought one, find one of my outposts, something. Quickly, if for no reason other than somewhere warm to sleep. Don't read on until you've found somewhere enclosed to be. I'm serious."

Well, if whoever wrote this thinks it best I get somewhere safe, there's definitely something out here, so that's great. They mentioned something about outposts, though I can't imagine this is one.

I don't really think getting into my tent is going to be enough, but hey, I don't think I'm in the same realm I was in earlier today. Was it today I entered this forest? Had to be. I haven't slept, since Vorstal, right? Why don't I remember waking up? My thought process was broken by a very, very loud blaring sound, and while it sounded like it was right in my ears, both of them, to be exact, I couldn't shake the feeling it was far away, and getting closer. Alright, if camp is supposed to protect me from whatever made that sound, then make camp I will.




After whanging that tent together like a madwoman, I think now's a good time to read further in that journal, see what else that stranger has to warn me about. There's no more unearthly noise, so I can only assume this shoddy thing's enough to hide myself, or at least to stall that thing.

"Are you somewhere enclosed? Inside somewhere with four walls? Okay, admittedly, it probably doesn't need to have exactly four walls, but what I mean is, are there any missing? Doors are okay, just so long as they're only big enough to fit you personally inside, and nothing much bigger."


"If so, excellent. I can only assume if you're reading this far that you either a) have the supplies (or are resourceful enough to find supplies) to spend a night or two out in the Wood, b) are smart enough to have found one of my outposts, or c) have deliberately ignored me for curiosity's sake. If it's option C, She very well could get to you soon, so seriously, get somewhere safe. Really. If the case is either A or B, you're almost definitely able to help me, but first, you might as well read a little more about the Wood. I've written bestiary entries in here, this was originally supposed to be my catalogue for the creatures of this Wood, but it's better suited as a guide, I suppose.

Doesn't a bestiary usually have to be about beasts? I suppose I can surmise this "Sonder" 's problem, now, though I'm not exactly a magic user, or a holy woman. Not a clue how to deal with curses. As an aside, I do sort of hope she thinks I'm cute, but those are feelings I'll reserve for when and if I'm out of the Woods. Heheh. It's fun to refer to this place as a capital W Wood. Wooood. The Wood. Anyway, it seems like she wrote another little message in the margins of this next page about moss or something.

"Okay, I know I said this was all about denizens 0f the Wood and for safety's sake, but I wanted to make sure you knew what I looked like, potential reader, and what the Wood was like, and why you don't remember how you got here, and then I started thinking of home, just consider that part preface still, okay? Trust me, I'm sure you'll find the rest of this book's contents interesting! And informative."

I suppose that makes sense. Now, about this moss.

"This concludes the non-animaloid section, now, onto the "small and little creatures" section. Yes, if you're wondering, I count "annoying, sentient boots" as a creature."

"I don't know exactly how many of these you've seen thus far, but if you haven't encountered any, that's maybe good? Either you didn't see them because you weren't looking, or because the Wood is calm right now. Hopefully. This is all applied stuff, after all, I'm really the only one able to research this place right now, after... well, you know. Anyway, I think now's a good time to maybe poke your head out of your building, whatever it may be, and see exactly how big the moon is. This is important, just do it now."

Tentatively sticking my neck out of the flap of my tent, I am immediately taken aback by the dull lavender hue the Wood has taken on. Almost distracted by the realization that I stepped in some Sehmarotzer moss earlier, and that's why my boot is now a little lighter, I look up to see the crescent moon, gigantic and yet ephemeral, hanging lower in the sky than I've ever seen. Some of the taller trees seem to almost brush against it, somehow. What does the book say about terrifying moons?

"Depending on the size of the moon, you can tell what time of night it is in this place. Time's really not the best at figuring out how to work here, but Her Harvest Moon seems to be a semireliable gauge. Anyway, if it's particularly, noticably more ominous than it was earlier, you might want to go to one of my outposts if you haven't already. Look for red bushes. They're not real."

I shrugged, gathering my things up and leaving my tent where it lie. Might as well have a waypoint to base my search around, after all. As I scanned the brushline, the unearthly blaring noise sounded again from what felt like everywhere, but it almost sounded closer. Probably. I sprinted out off the path, running in what I hoped to be the opposite direction, not that I could really tell, stopping only to let out a grunt as my boot caught itself in the crook of a root, sending me onto the damp earth without it. Cursing and brushing myself off, took a minute to I make mental note of the hollowness of the thud upon hitting the ground. Scanning the vicinity, I spotted a red bush, as Sonder had mentioned. Hoping it might be the entrance to one of her outposts, I scrabbled over to it, trying to figure out how it worked. As I twisted at it, tried to pluck it, and sheepishly sat upon it as though it were a stool for morons, I thought to myself that I might be falling for a trap. Then it occurred to me to pull, whereupon the bush and the ground under it swung upwards on a hinge, the reddish branches squished against the ground with a whoff as I peered into the gaping maw of what I could only assume to be Sonder's outpost.

"Okay! If it's either not night, or you're in one of my outposts (if it isn't night, find one anyway, best to be safe), read on! If you're already at an outpost, feel free to get comfy, and-"

I shrugged, clambering down the ladder, shutting the trapdoor behind me. The tunnel at the bottom of the ladder fed into a room with a curtain for a door, which I brushed aside, revealing an alarming amount of furniture, seemingly strewn all over the place, chairs lining every wall, stools piled up, a couch half on top of a second couch, a small black cat asleep on a rocking chair, a hallway leading off somewhere behind a large pile of bookshelves, books, and a harp, all in a cavernous, firelit room.

"-try not to mess up my stuff too much, okay?"

I'll do my best, Sonder.

"Hey, quick warning! If you see anything past this point, RUN. The last smattering of creatures are either harmless, immobile, or both. The following things very well might not let you leave if you come across them."

"If you're still reading at this point, nice! I don't really have TOO much else to record, so you're doing well! If you're in one of my outposts, make sure to stoke the fire, okay? There's no creature that gets you if you're in the dark, or cold, or anything, just keep yourself warm, alright? Soon enough, I'll probably be making a check of them to see if anyone's a) found the book yet, which you have, if you're reading this, and b) in an outpost. If I've seen that it's not where I left it, I'll probably bump into you sooner or later, so be prepared! I don't bite, though!"

Heheh, noted. It'll be nice to finally meet this girl, assuming this isn't an old book. I suppose I never considered the possibility that this might be a relic of the past. Though if that is the case, I feel like this place would be in a state of greater disrepair. And there wouldn't be a cat living in it. She's still around. Probably. I hope.

"By the way, be prepared for this last section! Seeing as this next one is the last page, i might as well do the next section on the Wegela- Wait, no, I'm not gonna write Her name again. Honestly, I dunno if She will even let me write the section on Her, but if I avoid writing Her name, it might work."

Well, I have been curious to find out about this Wegela-something.

Huh. So that's what it looks like? What She looks like, i suppose. If we're doing the reverence capitalization thing, at least. Anyway, this book hasn't been much help getting out of here, but it's lead me somewhere nice and warm, and also there's someone coming to get me, but in a good way, soon! Probably. Wait, hold on, did She just get... closer?

That's probably bad. What's she talking about? What 'deal'?

'Ahem, uh. Hi, monstrosity. Can you hear me? What's your name, and also what deal did you want to make?'

The book seems to shuffle at my words, and when I look back down, the last page is different again.

So, I'm signing to agree to take this book out of here, and she'll tell me the way? In addition to "pilfering the earth." I'd rather not unleash something that can steal the words of a book unto the world, thanks.

'I'm not going to sign, and I don't think you can do anything to me as a book. Nice try, though!'

"Go ahead, manifest. I don't think you'll fit in this room, if you even can."

It was at this point I scooped the rude book up and dropped it into the fireplace. Sorry, Sonder, but I don't want to deal with this.

The flames parted around it, however, and on the logs it just sort of sat. Apparently She stole the book's flammability or something? I'm not sure how She did that. Anyway, unless this Wegelagererin can fit in a chimney, I figured there's as good a place for it as any other, for a short while. About then, several things happened at once. The earsplitting blaring sound from before, which was, looking back probably the Wegelagererin's voice? That happened again in the forest above, followed quickly by a trapdoor slamming. From my new hiding spot under several couches, I could hear what sounded like a girl cursing and tramping closer, so I tentatively stuck my head out.

Upon closer inspection, it seemed to be Sonder, but dressed as the Wegelagererin. She had the hat, still, but she was also wearing what seemed to be a solid attempt at replicating Her mask, in addition to some spiked shoes. Weird.

'What are you wearing?' I asked, incredulous.

"What are you doing in my house, exactly?" she said, kicking off her climbing boots.

'Found your book, what did you think? Wouldn't have found this place otherwise.'

"Oh, good! Where is it? I have to change a few things!" she looked around, slipping the mask up under her hat.

'I threw it in the fire,' I shrugged, pointing at the unharmed book.

"Why'd you..." She paused, before staring at the lavender crescent moon that was now situated in the middle of the front cover.

"She's taken it?" she yelped, taking my hand. "We really have to go, now. I didn't think She could get in here, but if She was brought in on something She stole, it's Hers to inhabit!"

I tried to stop blushing for a moment before the reality set in, and we both scrambled towards the ladder as hands sprung from the fireplace, clattering like windchimes in a tornado.

Scooping up Sonder's cleats as I passed them, I kicked at her prying fingers as best I could, but they just seemed to stick to my leg until I focused on running again.

"Don't touch her hands!" Sonder warned, a tad too late I might add, as my boot stopped being made of leather. I didn't much pay attention to what material it was as I kicked it off, running lopsided until I reached the ladder.

'We're running out of space, hurry, would you?' I called to Sonder (who was throwing stones she apparently was carrying at the hands) as I began to climb the ladder.

"I'm distracting Her! She has a lot of hands, but I have more rocks!" she bragged, upending two hip satchels full of small rocks and stones into the bramble of grasping hands. They stopped for a moment as they caught each rock individually, which was frankly, incredibly fun to watch, until I felt Sonder's hat poke me in the leg as she climbed the ladder. "Hurry!" she yelled, urging me onward. "If we shut the door on her, she'll be stuck!" Not long after she said this, another blare rung out from directly below, where I dared not to look.

[YOU ARE BROKEN,] she boomed, causing my head to spin. "Go! Go, go, go!" Sonder shouted, doing her best to shove me out of the trapdoor. I regained lucidity not long after the cute gnome touched my thighs, pushing or not, and slipped out, extending a hand to pull the smaller girl out.

"Thanks!" she panted, sitting down on the edge of the door. "That was very, very close. What's your name, by the way? I think I owe you, now." I let out a little giggle, rubbing the back of my head. 'It's Dahlia,' I blushed, 'It's very nice to meet you.'

"Likewise, um," she stammered, covering her mouth. "Did you want to- How did you.. um. Where were you trying to go?"

'A town called Gnestor. I'm kind of on the run, though, so wherever's fine.'

"I'd say you could live with me, but you, um, already know my situation."

'I was actually just going to offer to help with your family, now that you mention it!'

"Wait, really? You don't... You don't have to do that for me!"

'I mean, I DO wanna help out the gal who saved my life."

"I guess I did do that, didn't I? Do you have any plans, or...?"

'Not really, but anywhere's better than here, right?'

"I... I guess, but I just don't want to leave them..."

'We won't, not for long. Just keep up hope, okay? We'll figure something out.' She smiled up at me, nuzzling into my upper arm. "If you say so."