Flash Fiction Challenge: The Shrouded Forest

methuen library tree 1983
methuen library tree
photo by K.S. Brooks

The Shrouded Forest was no place for a mortal man. Giacomo Berrien had fought and prevailed against man and beast alike in a hundred battles. Yet, he was filled with dread as he advanced into the otherworld.

They called this place the graveyard of heroes. Giacomo could smell death in the air, he could feel the tortured souls of the fallen clinging to him with every silent footfall on the damp forest floor. Had the beast not taken his son, even brave Giacomo would never have ventured here.

In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and/or the written prompt above. Do not include the prompt in your entry. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

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On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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16 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Shrouded Forest”

  1. Title: Fitting Rewards

    They call this place the graveyard of heroes. He knew of this place, avoiding it for years. Some of his fellow combatants bravely ventured into this otherworld for unknown reasons, but all were never seen again. He was here to make a trade – his life, for that of his son’s.

    There has to be an end to all things. He had fought hundreds of battles, but none more important than this one. He did not want this to be an end to his son’s life.

    Therese, his wife of only five years, had begged him not to risk his life, but he saw the torment in her eyes. He had served his purpose and left his mark, now he had to ensure future Berrien generations.

    How fitting they call this place the graveyard of heroes. Despite the souls of his fallen friends latching onto his legs trying to prevent his further advance, it was time to make this final stand.

    The smell of death was overpowered by the beast’s stench. He knew he was close. He parted the branches and witnessed his son prone on the flat boulder in front of the cave. He could have sworn he detected the creature smile just before it attacked. He lifted his sword, but it caught on a twisted branch. The creature never saw the blade, but they both heard it break as it pierced its massive chest.

    His son’s reward was her smile, his were her tears.

  2. In the Shrouded Forest
    He felt cold drops on his neck, and muttered, “Cursed iron helm, always drips down my doublet.”
    He remembered he wore the new helmet, with a neck protector. Shouldn’t drip just there.
    He turned sharply, and wet leaves swiped across his face. With an emptyness in his maw he turned to the muddy path, seeking any mark of the foul beast that’d taken his son. Faint and dimming hope of sign Frederic himself had escaped, and could yet be helped.
    Blood, washed to a pink trace in a wet pug mark. This was the right way. He gripped his spearhaft, worked his jaws to make a good gob, and spat into the spoor.
    “I’ll get you yet. This Graveyard of Heroes will hold your rancid bones, and I’ll bring your pelt to the Hall so all may trample it and curse you, beast.”
    The gloom under the great trees thickened as day drew to evening. He knew this was beyond foolish. He slogged on.
    A flicker of movement behind a moss draped log. He stopped and turned. Orange and black stripes blazed. How could he not see that until it moved? The tiger ignored him, and turned to gnaw a shapeless red and white mass on the ground. Meat with rags of bloody cloth.
    “Here I am, animal. Look your last at me, Giacomo Berrien.”
    He didn’t see the other tiger. A stab of pain and alarm, then rending and crunching in the night, and purring.

  3. His hand touched the fog slicked tree. Not even the thick moisture in the air could quench the dryness of his throat. He didn’t want to face what lay before him. He lowered his head, knowing the most painful death would be better than returning home without his only son. He stepped forward, feeling his skin dampen, the fog blanketing his body, wanting to witness this strangers demise.
    He shivered as he heard the monster’s high pitch squeal as a shadow passed over him. Giacomo dropped to his knees, spinning around as he raised his shield and sword. He jerked his head back and forth, searching the gray sky for any sign of the flying beast. His heart racing and his hands trembling, he wished he could wake from this nightmare.
    He tasted mud as the pain shot through the back of his head, hearing the squeal of the monster as it glided away. Through the muddy soil he heard a faint call. Giacomo shook his head in disbelief, wanting to believe that it was the voice of his child.
    He rolled his head to the side to see Kinso, his son, hiding in a hollow log. With no time to waste, Giacomo sprang to his feet. In two short steps his hand clenched the wrist of his son and started to run for their lives. The monster’s talons stabbed and sliced at the flesh of Giacomo’s back, plunging over the cliff, Giacomo prayed that deep water lay below.

  4. For years the people of the Shrouded Forest had fled the fires of death which threatened to burn them out of their homes. They had been cut off from the outside world for generations. Giacomo, new ruler of the desert tribes, had vowed to destroy what he called the evil shroud of trees once and for all. Zeablay had tried to negotiate through other tribes, but whatever treaties had been promised had always crumbled in the face of generations of mistrust by both sides. Zeablay had one last desperate plan, he stole Giacomo’s only son from under his protection and waited for the leader of the desert people to come to rescue him.

    Now Giacomo’s son Elowen and Zeablay waited for Giacomo to come. They became friends, the older man finding Elowen to be a bright young man who didn’t accept the dogma of decade upon decade of mutual distrust without question. He was, unlike so many of his father’s subjects, his own man.

    The answer came with quick finality as the old man of the forest and the young man from the desert heard the fire bringing missiles scream toward them. By morning the entire land of the forest people would be nothing but smoke and ash. Giacomo chose to make a martyr of his only son, his hatred being stronger than blood.

  5. Moisture dripped from the gnarled branches of The Shrouded Forest. Silver bark glistened as the sun burnt morning mist away.

    In the quiet of dark night Giacomo had felt the dead’s presence. The weight of mighty deeds unforgotten by the land they had defended. Now light touched the trees, caressed the grass, and beasts of evil fortune stirred in their lairs.

    He sat, huddled in the serge greatcoat which had covered him from Austerlitz to Waterloo; ten years of battle with The Emperor. It warmed him one final night. He drew a whetstone along the sabre he wielded with his left hand. The right-hand blade was already honed sharp enough to cleave flesh from sinew.

    A creature roared, an ululation of exultation at a new day, at new prey. Giacomo hefted a sabre in each hand. An emperor, a country, he was willing to lose. A wife he lost with no choice. But a son; a child; his only child. This would be avenged to this arboreal circle of hell, whatever foul denizens were set before him.

    A jaw snapped before his face. Its snarl was cut short as he severed its neck. Twisting constantly in the increasing daylight he wove a dance of death on the creatures which prowled The Shrouded Forest, which feasted on the memories of the fallen.

    Still they came, and fell. Featureless, faceless, save the last. A ravening child, a wildling undead boy.

    “My son. Oh, my son.”

    He wept a final tear.


    “Come now, my son, before it returns!”

    But his child stayed curled in the hollow where he been found: shivering, surrounded in bones, and slick with filth. For what felt like an eternity, Giacomo had trudged through the black mire, and overcome gruesome trials to reach his child. Why did the boy hesitate?

    “I tried, father,” whispered Marcello. “To warn you away. I did not want you to see what I have become.”

    A memory flashed in the warrior.

    ‘Giacomo hears the screech of the beast on high. Nimbly, he dives for the cover of a muddy thicket—thorns tear at him—and cowers until the leathery shadow passes. As the horror flaps off, it cries again. Giacomo harks to the sound, as plaintive as it is angry; it is a sound he feels he should recognize, like the scream of a babe in the night…’

    Giacomo knew that cry. Heard many times while nursing his son after Clara’s death. After the beast of the Black Forest had devoured all but the finger that wore her wedding ring: leaving that grisly trophy outside his son’s crib.

    “No…” muttered Giacomo, stepping back.

    “The beast did not take me, father.”

    No. Giacomo shook his head, refusing to understand. Regally, his son rose from the bones and rot. What stared at Giacomo had eyes like whorls of darkness, a smile of white knives, and a hump to its back that would soon unfurl into wings.

    “I am the beast,” said his son.

  7. The forest, shrouded in a thickening cloak of pungent smog, grew silent as smaller animals succumbed, lifeless victims to its toxins. A panther burst into the clearing. Terror filled its eyes as it fell screaming less than ten feet from her. Broken bones protruded, bite wounds open and oozing.

    Behind it the monster broke the haze. Slowly, methodically it approached the dying panther, not on legs, but tracks otherworldly. Its head swayed to distant music as it straightened its hinged neck. Hovering over the shuddering animal it lowered its head ripping away the lower half of the panther’s body, flinging it away as useless.

    She quelled nausea, knowing her time would come. The beast stalked her. This senseless death staged to instill in her heart fear’s little death.

    Using its forepaws to claw closer to her hiding place, the panther stopped within but a few paces. “Take my spirit, my soul when I breathe my last.”

    She nodded her promise.

    The monster lowered its head biting into the panther’s neck and jaws grinding the lifeless form into the ground. The warning clear, “Stand not between us and the forest. It is ours.”

    How could this be fought?

    The spirits smiled. There in the depths of it eye, she saw the man-form pupil. Attack not the beast but its man-form eye. She had to take this knowledge to her people.

    “Yes, friend panther,” she thought, “Because of you the monster’s weakness is known. The battle for our forest will be ours.”

  8. A chill ran down his spine and there was a whisper dancing through the air – Giacomo could almost see it as a sweet, embracing fog. His instincts took over and the old soldier drew his sword wary of his surroundings.

    Branches of withering dead trees swayed to a wind Giacomo did not feel and the fog became thicker with every passing second.

    In spite of the blood-curling fear gripping firmly at his heart Giacomo advanced, and with each step he took the whisper carried by the fog became clearer and more beautiful than a child’s laughter.

    “Hush, my sweet one.
    The storm is gone,
    So take my hand,
    Close your eyes,
    Come into my realm,
    Where there’s a surprise.”

    Giacomo heard a metallic reproachful clank. His feet felt lighter and his shoulders unburdened.

    Then he saw it. A pale, graceful hand belonging to a woman unlike any he had ever seen. He placed his hand in hers and found himself swimming lost inside her dark, glimmering gaze.

    The whisper was woven around his soul now – a lullaby. Giacomo wondered why he had tears running down his unshaven cheeks when all he could feel was bliss.

    A glance over his shoulder just as he started to walk with the woman revealed his burdens had remained behind – a pile of armor plates and weapons – a pile of sharp violence and unbending desires.

    Surely, in her realm he needed none of those. Surely there will be peace and joy.

  9. A Mother’s Plea

    The moon-crusted mist caresses my face, alerting me to the woman—an aberration in my forest. The mothers of the dead never come.

    The fallen are mine, my children folded into the fog, drooping from the crippled trees. Their howls fill the silence, their shivering light animates the night, their tears become the haze that softens the edges of my isolation. My family.

    Most nights, we’re enough. Other nights, I dream I follow one of the warriors into the unbearable daylight.

    When my mother vanished, I was yet slick with my first skin, every breath flush with her scent, my only sun the greenish glow of her eyes. Once she was gone, my spawn-mates surrendered to the emptiness. Not me—I’ve filled it with my pets.

    Despite her age and girth, the woman strides easily through the bracken, like she expects audience, like she knows I won’t consume her.

    On her, I smell the son I’d taken. “I won’t relinquish him.” I reveal myself.

    She smiles. “I know. I’m sorry.” Her smile dissolves. I ready for her attack, but she only adds, “My husband is coming for him. Please, take him too.”

    “I take whomever I wish,” I snarl, “even you.”

    She shakes her head sadly. “Just take Giacomo.”

    Above us, palsied branches rake against each other. Fingers of fog stroke my wings.

    “Don’t follow him.” Her voice trembles. “As I did.”

    I start to argue, but the mists peel back and the moonlight illuminates her viridescent gaze.

  10. The heavy air smells of things so horrible that my stomach turns. I cannot fathom the loss of hope engulfed here, in this place. The tragedies. The bravery. The fear. The sacrifice. The horror. Evil had overtaken this place. There was nothing anyone could do now to save it.

    Every step I take is carefully placed. I wonder what went through the minds of those who walked here before me. Were they hell-bent on revenge? Filled with rage? Possessed by a hunger? Were they determined to destroy this place? Or had it destroyed them?

    Now, in the dripping blackness, I can see fingers reaching for a help that did not come. With palms flat against the ground, I imagine this once animated soul trying to crawl and claw his way out of the grips of the beast. An eerie, swirling steam rises up from these panicked hands. I can’t bear to look any longer. It is too gruesome – the way it has shriveled and blackened and been sucked dry of fluids until it has cracked.

    I have seen this kind of thing many times before. I am called, but I am always too late. I don’t know if I will ever find the source. Perhaps, one day, it will find me.

    “Over here!” I call out. Roberto drops his hose then joins me. He raises his visor and gazes down at the charred remnants of the Krispy Kreme donut mascot.

    “What kind of evil burns down a donut shop?”

  11. His heart beat faster, faster, as he fought against the underbrush that clung to his pants. Giacomo hacked with his machete but more of the demon weeds rose up to constrain his progress. The stories he heard of the forrest said nothing of the very plants rising up against you. Still he pushed himself forward. The life of his son, his prize to win if he could find and defeat the hell beast, Blaktoon Kray.

    After hours he came upon a clearing, the forrest heart. Legends spoke of the clear lake that stole a man’s soul at its center. Water flowed into this lake, with no paths out to feed other water ways.

    He followed a small stream as it wound its way through the trees. Though the lake was large, he found himself unimpressed. Giacomo had been a sailer in the past, a fisherman on the vast ocean. This lake, this forrest heart body of water, was little more than a kiddie pool, a thimble in the vastness of the ocean.

    But like many stories, the pool was much more than it seems on the surface. As he traveled further into the clearing the water in the pool bubbled and spewed. A violent storm of the small sea, a tsunami of waves that crashed out from the center. At the eye of this storm he rose from the depths of the bottomless pool of water.

    Blaktoon Kray, creature of nightmares, the head of a man, body with thick carapace shell. It had hooked claws similar to that of a crawfish and a double set of hands and harms. A giant beast of great evil, Giacomo prayed for strength to bring down this monster.

    Then the thing spoke, a voiced that boomed against Giacomo’s eardrums. “You trespass,” it said. “The law is the law mortal.”

    “I come for my child,” Giacomo yelled. He felt small and insignificant. “You have taken him unfairly.”

    The beast reached into the pool and pulled a boy, surrounded by a bubble of air from its depths. “He trespassed. He pays the price for his crime.”

    “Take me,” Giacomo said. “Take me in his stead. He is but a boy and did not know.” Tears trailed his cheeks. He had yelled at Tavio, had chased him away.

    “What difference does your sacrifice make? You have crossed into forbidden land already, I could take you as I please.”

    Giacomo stood tall as he pulled a leather scroll case from a pouch at his side. He cleared his throat as he unrolled the old parchment. “The law is clear,” he said. “When one offers an exchange of their own free will, the exchange can not be denied.”

    The beast growled a piercing thunder from deep within its thorax. “I know the law, mortal,” it said. It pushed the back of the bubble and his son bounced across the water to the shore. “Caress the sphere and be done with it.” Its voice cut at him, deep and low, a slice deep into his core.

    Giacomo waded into the pool, chill, black water bit at his flesh. He leaned close to the translucent shell but avoided touching it. “Run Tavio. Run for your life.”

    The boys eyes were wide as he shook his head no at his father. In a blinding flash of light, he looked back on Giacomo now trapped inside the sphere. He backed away tripping in the waste deep water in an effort to pull away from the bubble as it sunk back into the depths.

    “Begone child,” the Blaktoon Kray’s voice rang out. “Do not come to my lair again.”

    A path through the forrest opened before him as Tavio ran, ran for his life.

  12. Late autumn. Mist surrounded Darita, ethereal fingers snaking around the trees she traveled past, blocking the pale winter sunlight. She paused to wipe rivulets of water from her face, pulling up the hood of her cape to cover damp chestnut hair. Studying the tree in front of her, she considered the split in the trunk. Which way to go? She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and centering herself inward, reaching out with her senses, searching for direction. Her eyes flew open, a gasp escaping her. Evil. Evil emanated from the tree, darkness issuing from the surrounding woods, infiltrating the mist.

    Uneasily glancing behind her, Darita knew with certainty she couldn’t retreat. She was fleeing from another type of evil of a more human kind. The only possibility was to move forward. Gathering her cape closer about her, she headed off to the right of the branched tree. Mist closed in around her, menace felt in each wisp of damp that swirled about her, that sought to seep into her very soul.

    Dread pressed upon her, weighing heavier with each step. Feet slowly coming to a halt as the howl of an unknown creature echoed through the forest. Hastily retreating back to the original path she had been following, Darita once more studied the starkness of the branched tree, clearly presenting two different choices. She searched inward once more. Yes, she had no choice. It was impossible to go back. The future lay in front of her.

  13. Giacomo came upon a path lined with poles each one displaying the heads of the fallen. Their faces contorted in grotesque caricatures of the heroes they once were.
    A low rumbling roar startled him and fear oozed from every pore, he tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword.
    He moved silently forward twitching his head this way and that at the silent whispers and unseen presences he could feel around him.
    He came upon a clearing and crouching behind a boulder he surveyed the scene.
    A fire burned brightly tinging the mist with an eerie yellow glow. Pinto was bound and lay helpless on the ground while the beast circled the fire gesticulating and grunting.
    Anger coursed through Giacomos blood and his courage flamed at the sight of his son.
    Magda the Witch had thrust a vial into his hand last night proclaiming it was the only poison which could kill the beast. He retrieved it from his tunic.
    By now the eight foot monster was leaning over Pinto his vile claw raised ready to strike.
    “Beast, will you not fight yourself a worthy opponent?”
    Wild eyes turn upon him and the beast bellowed furiously stinking spittle spraying his face.
    Giacomo thrust his sword but the beast swiped it aside, his ugly maw wide and angry and lifted him off his feet. Removing the stopper he poured the poison down his evil throat.
    The beast dropped him and staggered backwards screaming and burst into flames, then lay dead.

  14. Night had not yet fallen upon the treetops, but he had already filled with excitement. He could smell them. He could smell their inviting scents in between the breeze, the mist, and the tree barks. The dampened forest floor added the heavy odor that made the pull even stronger. He could barely contain himself.

    No, he was not in need of food. If it were so he would already venture out of the forest hours ago. No, he was not hungry. He was in love. His kinship would not agree on his choice of words, but they could growl all they want. He didn’t care. They didn’t know what he knew.

    He waited in anticipation as feet stepped on dead leaves and broken branches. Each crunch seemed to amplify his senses and he could almost taste the aroma. Anytime now and his feeling for love would be quenched.

    As he manifested himself in front of the boy scouts, their fearful screams buoyed him into the bliss of nirvana.

  15. I peered up, at the dark sky through the silloette of trees; their shadows casting images of gnarled creatures surrounding me. Directly above me branches loomed in the shape of a black raven, promising nothing but gloom. My heart raced faster by the moment as my imagination led me into fear. My breath became quick and shallow blocking out the silence in my ears. I stood frozen, lost. My way was no longer laid before me as it was in the twilight. I should have known better than to cross into a path I was unfamiliar with. I had to keep moving forward. To make a decision. As night drifted in darker, I moved towards a low hanging branch, twigs snapping beneath my feet. I saw it was getting cooler as my breath crystallized on the air. I ducked below the branches and pushed the vines away that blocked my path. I shivered at the thought of spiders falling into my hair in the darkness so I closed my eyes and pushed on forward. Something caught my leg. I gasped! Freighted; afraid to move, but there was no tugging or pulling… It was just a branch, I held my breath and wiggled my foot a little until my leg was free. Then breathed again, opening my eyes, there in front of me was light. I picked up my pace slightly tripping over hidden tree roots but my heart was filled with relief to have reached the edge of my yard.

  16. Nelson Q. Lewis writes:

    Giacomo heard a rustle in the trees over his head. His hand crept to
    his sword, La Justice, the ornately carved hilt a comfort to his touch. With the expert footwork of a master swordsman, he sidestepped fluidly, turning quickly to face the stalker. Sword drawn, he froze in horror as the phantom floated listlessly to the dirt path.
    “Identify yourself,” he demanded.
    “Giacomo, my love, it is I, Maria”
    Had he grown so jaded that he’d forgotten the face of his first love? Here she was before him, dressed in the shadow of the blue dress that had matched her eyes. He sheathed his sword. The weapons of the living are useless against the dead.
    “Maria,” he whispered. “Why are you here? This is an unholy place.”
    “Holy? I must atone for my sins. This is as good a place as any.”
    “What sins could you have committed? You were sixteen when you died.”
    Maria floated closer and the scent of apple blossoms filled the air. The path shrank, pressing in on Giacomo. He closed his eyes and remembered the last time they’d kissed. Her lips, so innocent.
    “I will lead you, Giacomo. Follow me and I will help you find your son.”
    Her face was no more than six inches from him, his unlikely guide.
    “Lead on, Maria.”
    He felt the heat rise and he understood her meaning.
    To find his son he must enter hell.

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