By Julio Toro San Martin
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Like warm breath that’s exhaled and evaporates in winter was Annie’s life. She came and was gone. But what an amount of happiness and eternity was held in that time! How can I describe to someone who hasn’t felt the intensity of true, unselfish love, and hasn’t met her, how I felt? Like a lightning bolt that flashes across a dark sky was Annie’s love and mine. Rapid, bright, violent, ominous, and brief.
We would often escape into the woods, my studies now forgotten, for Annie was a worshipper of Nature. She was also classical and heathen. She would describe to me what she saw of centaurs and satyrs and other magical creatures, and maybe it was the fastness of our love or the intertwining of our souls, but in time, I grew to see those supernatural things too.
Ah, those moments of happiness and of pleasures! All that was or will ever be of imagination were our private magic kingdoms! We swam with naiads and ran with dryads! All sorts of fabulous creatures were our friends! The reeds made music for us as we passed! A thousand living things were our choirs! All nature and fabulous beasts of myth danced with us at times and Annie led the dance!
Ah, happiness upon happiness and joys past joys and yet, sadly taken! Those long and sun-lit days gave way to dark and horrid winters, lived and living still! The green world was gone.
Soon, the ugly hold of death touched my life. I saw its slow ravages as tuberculosis spread throughout her body. She grew emaciated and weaker as treatment followed treatment until one day, all hope was gone. Near the end, all day and night I sat by her bedside and my Annie rarely moved, numbed with too much pain and morphine. I saw her rheumy eyes, blank with the realization her life was over.
It was a cold evening on a Tuesday, when most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, that Annie stirred from the delirium that engulfed her and feebly whispered, “Nature was my goddess and to her I dedicated my succulent hours. She was my world and mistress and something I could understand – but she wasn’t good to me. Our love was the only precious thing. Promise me, Arthur, that I’ll live a little in your memory after I’m gone and after the green world’s vanished with my passing, and then forget me and go and do those things I couldn’t hope to do or ever will. Spring follows winter; the green world will be resurrected, as I won’t.”
She died and I buried her on a Thursday.
I was without hope.
One day, I ran outside the mansion, into the cold world of trees, desperate in my sorrow and my anger, and as I sobbed with my head between my elbows to the ground, I looked up and saw a tall being swathed in blinding light. It was him now come to me – the God of the Woods, the son of our goddess, Nature! Atop his head of short, curly hair grew two grotesque and massive antlers! Behind him were the trees and the world grown green again where his light touched. I saw him bend his gaze to my right and stretch his arm and point and turn his heavily-antlered head with ease and a slow repose in that direction. In that spot was a vision of my withered Annie, hollowed-cheeked and decomposing in her tomb. Then looking at Annie and pointing, the god said, “I will plant thee and will labour to make thee full of growing.” Then looking at me, he said, “You two will love again. Get thee the Book of Eibon.”
Then he vanished.
Oh, how the words spoken by the god haunted me afterwards! What meaning did they convey?
Long I searched for the meaning in the god’s words until one day, high atop a wind-swept, Pyrenean mountain, I found the meaning and the book. The deathless Bogomil priest who gave it to me issued this stern warning which I’ve always remembered, “The joys of the gods are not the joys of men and how a god thinks is not the way a man thinks. Inscrutable are their ways. Often, I have seen them dancing on the clouds, but to what music I have not heard. Often, I have also seen them come in thunder. The gods of Eibon are the green gods of earth as are the gods of the sky also, as there are other gods you have not known. Fortunate is the man the gods have touched when a man’s will and a god’s will is one.”
Then he spoke no more.
One day, I stood before her mausoleum outside my ancestral mansion and began the incantations that would bring my Annie back to me. I chanted in the language of Occitania, the langue d’oc. My copy of the Book of Eibon was a translation into this language from another language now lost to time, as ancient as Hyperborea and the dead Lemuria. I chanted to wild, savage, unholy, forgotten elder gods, gods older than Jupiter or Quetzalcoatl.
The Horned God of the woods appeared to me as I chanted and by night-fall, he disappeared only to be replaced by sinister shapes far in the trees. These shapes I knew were the soul-stuff of the trees emerging from their ancient shells. These shapes disappeared into the open mausoleum and by daybreak, now totally exhausted though I was, I noticed something begin to emerge from within the dark recesses of the idyllic tomb.
A horror I felt when I first saw it – that thing that once was her, my loved Annie! And still I feel it! It’s an abomination! That thing that shouldn’t live!
How quickly my love had turned to hatred and fear! I also felt from deep within me resurface my long-repressed Christian sympathies which made war against this demonic aberration. That the dead should live before their appointed time is unnatural, a blasphemy and a sin against God and Nature!
Out of the tomb emerged a shambling, upright thing neither complete woman nor tree, but an unfinished fusion of the two! It was as if some deranged mind had smashed together in chaos a decomposed human and a tree and the resultant malformation lived! In one eye that I could discern on it, I read either agony, shock or terror! It was unholy, I yelled! It moved awkwardly towards me and its unpleasant gait aroused in me feelings of revulsion to behold its mockery of the human form. I felt like retching! A branch which I took to be an arm, perhaps, it strenuously moved to point towards me and, as it did this, I ran. From behind, I heard a word spoken in an inhuman lisp, and it was my name, it was, “Arthur.”
The thing didn’t go away. I convinced myself it wasn’t really Annie. I couldn’t bear to look upon it.
Day and night I heard it in the woods walking alone and hidden, yelling my name, “Arthur!”
The yell would come at uneven times, with different moods, but still I wouldn’t go to the thing. I would stand by the windows for hours on end in a panicked trance, staring at the woods and listening to that inhuman and nightmarish voice.
By the sixth day, my servants became sufficiently unnerved that they begged to be discharged. I couldn’t do anything but acquiesce to their demands. I would have gone, too, and left this horror-stricken place, if not for the fear that I might lose my ancestral mansion forever if I left this place alone to the ghoul and the unhallowed hells from whence it came. I was also responsible for the thing since I’d summoned it.
I was now alone with it.
Days and weeks passed and the creature became bolder in its cries from the dark. No minute passed that I didn’t hear its squeamish cries that echoed terribly in the barren countryside.
“Arthur! Arthur! Why don’t you come to me?”
Hysteria engulfed my world and I wished for nothing more but that the hellish thing would stop its blasted screams from the dark.
“Arthur! It’s because of you that I am here! You owe me your help!”
I didn’t sleep. My days were an icy terror. Sickness engulfed me like a blanket of night. Still, the monstrosity cried to me.
“Arthur! Can’t you remember our love? Help me!”
I cursed the time that she and I spent together. I cursed the Green God of the Woods for bringing this malady upon me. I cursed the dark gods of Eibon and the diseased book of their creeds. But most of all, I feared. I feared so much that I marvel that my body didn’t collapse in a monstrous breakdown. I feared even more when I began to suspect that she wasn’t alone in the woods. I began to develop sense impressions, which I can’t describe now, that with her in those blasphemous woods was a thing more hideous and inhuman than she was. And still, her cries persisted.
“Arthur! By all that’s good in Man, help me!”
And then one day the screaming ceased. I don’t know what was more terrible, the screams or the unnatural silence which now surrounded the countryside. Days, days passed and the silence remained so that I began to think the thing was gone.
Then, one terrible night as I lay in one of my disturbed slumbers on my bed, I heard a voice whisper in my ear and say, “Arthur.”
It was the voice of the thing in my home! Beside my bed! I convulsed to know my walls now were no protection or barrier between the evil and me! I summoned my strength and sat up to confront the thing – but it was gone! It was then that I could hear a fumbling thing walking down the steps to my room and traversing my ground floor and exiting through my main door. I fainted from horror for the first time in my life.
Through the next few days, I witnessed a dismal transmutation in the woods which would begin at sundown and last till sunrise. A light shone in the darkness from deep within the forest. I sensed that the trees were moving. Every morning, I noticed that the woods did not look the same. The horror when I realized also that every morning the woods were closer to the mansion!
I resolved then and there to end this madness forever. Fear or no fear, I would confront the thing. If in the maelstrom I was destroyed, so be it. Better to die in a confrontation soon, I thought, than to let this monster reach my mansion with its haunted trees and die anyway.
One afternoon, I entered the woods and passed the trees which were my besiegers. I quieted my fears, for I was resolved. I fancied the trees were giant sentinels which could move at any moment. With me I carried my knives and a rifle. Poor weapons with which to combat the unnatural, but I was a desperate man and near the end of my wits. The hounds I owned wouldn’t follow me into the woods and my best hunting horse foamed at the mouth every time I brought it near the border of the two worlds.
I walked deep into the forest of dead silence and bunched -branches and leaves. If silence has a sound, it is the sound of horror.
I looked warily upon those faerie-haunted trees, which I imagined looked upon me with eyes of malice and thoughts of hurt.
My direction took me where I supposed the strange lights I saw at night originated. Soon, I came upon an almost insurmountable wall of trees. This obstacle looked to me like a defensive wall, no doubt housing the aberrant command of my besiegers. I was near the source. There wasn’t need, however, to scale the wall and find out. At that moment, a voice both familiar and unfamiliar began to address me from the other side of the wall of gathered trees.
“Arthur, so finally, you have come.”
It was her voice, but now with a tone of calmness and strength which unsettled my nerves.
“I know, Arthur, that you don’t love me anymore, but I still love you, and if to have you by my side though without love is to be my fate, so be it. I can weather eternity. Can you, Arthur? I was afraid once but not anymore. It has granted my revenge.
You never stayed by the tomb long enough, my love. You ran away and never looked back. You never stayed long enough to see the thing that emerged from the tomb behind me.
And it wants you.”
With her words ended, the trees opened up and made a gateway to what I can only surmise was another world, a world of infernal chaos and darkness and light that stings, and coming from it towards the gateway, I knew, was the lord of it.
I ran from the aperture and fled into the safety of the trees. I didn’t look back. I could hear the thing behind me and, through the din of its advance, the laughter of my Annie.
In terror, I fled through branches and undergrowth. The trees seemed to close around me, but somehow, I managed to make my way through them. I took no set path, yet always made my way towards where I thought my home was. My instincts were correct. Soon, I saw the blessed paradise of my mansion. I passed the threshold of the trees into the clearing of my grounds. I was safe from the threat of trees.
Then root-like tendrils grasped my legs. They flung like projectiles from the ground. From behind me, these root-like tendrils grasped my arms. In all directions I looked, I saw octopod arms like roots sway before me. They all converged on me. They immobilized me and picked me up. They turned me around. I was held as a puppet on a string. They turned me around and made me look on it!
I could not close my eyes. I stared in fascination and horror. The bulk of it! The insanity of it! Nothing compared to it! No animal or twisted imagining I knew had ever conceived of it!
The tendrils were an outgrowth of it. And the tendrils were the only sane things on it.
I passed before it as the tendrils took me. It was then that I saw Annie sway towards me, held by one of those demonic arms. She was still laughing.
I called her name as we swayed side-to-side and past each other.
“Kiss me,” she said.
I saw her clearly, now. She was my Annie. Only her flesh was different. It was a flesh of bark.
The tendrils made us face each other and then I kissed her. The harsh lips eviscerated my lips.
She laughed and said, “Don’t worry my love; soon, you will not bleed.”
I noticed a trembling in this dark god of Eibon. Its being shook. It came together and elongated. I yelled at my Annie that I was sorry. The process continued.
The thing stretched itself high into the sky. It set itself firmly on the ground. Its shape took on the form of a tree. Then bark appeared on it.
In panic, I realized what was happening. I tried to break free! The tendrils that held me forced my head towards Annie’s. I was pushed to kiss her! They held me tight in that position so that my lips bled even more profusely. With my eyes I could see clearly into my Annie’s eyes. They were ecstatic!
I felt my flesh harden and crack. We were both pushed towards the body of the thing. We three became one. The last sight I had was of staring into Annie’s wide, monstrous eyes, until bark covered the white-and-blue yolk of my own.
Since then, I’ve known what eternity is. Love eludes me. I am forever in bondage and attached to these creatures.
If you should ever find yourself on a dark path and you come across a tree which has on its trunk the haggard outline of two lovers in a kiss, don’t be deceived by the outward show and beauty of the thing. Inside is Hell. Walk past.
Bio: Julio Toro San Martin was born in Chile and grew up in Toronto, Canada. He spends most of his days working and nights reading almost anything from history and weird/fantasy fiction to Elizabethan drama, to the latest bestselling novels. He writes because he is driven to and can’t imagine doing anything else. “The Green World” is his first published story.