Story a Day Challenge – Day 5 – The Jungle (Deep, dark woods)

The Prompt

Your character is alone in the woods and finds blighted trees, drooping plants…rot and slime everywhere. It once was beautiful but overnight is turning into a swamp–its not natural. Your character must get to the bottom of this and stop it before something they love very much is threatened also. Extra points if your character actually doesn’t know this forest and ends up getting lost. Maybe the trees have turned evil and… *gulp* developed something of an appetite?

Will your character make it out alive?

Start writing, quick, so we can all find out!

(With such a great fantasy prompt, I actually didn’t write a fantasy story today. Reminiscing with my brother about my limited, but memorable, exposure to the Pacific Northwest as a child, I remembered this wilderness behind my Grandmother’s house on Whidbey Island. It left an indelible impression on my young mind and is, to this day, one of the things I remember most from that trip. Inspired in part by my own childhood memories and with photos of the region, credited to my brother Duncan, here’s what I came up with for today’s challenge.)

The Jungle

They were told not to go into the trees. Even their “cool” aunt, the one that always sent the best presents at Christmas, looked at them sternly and told them to behave.

Celeste sighed and turned to her brother, who, shrugged, so she rolled her eyes and ran off to play with her cousin instead.

Not that she forgot about the forbidden wilderness at the back of Grandma’s yard. What child could when told to stay away? In the humidity of middle summer if was a jungle to her. Jungles were exotic and full of tigers. Never mind that they were on an island in the Puget Sound and the closest tiger was at the Seattle zoo. Six-year-olds don’t understand geography, climate or zoology.

All Celeste knew was that she’d never seen anything like it before and she wanted to see more.

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“Come on, Henry!” she called as she ran across the yard the next day. With no grown-ups in sight, it was now or never. Fern fronds tickled her knees like feathers as she stepped into the dense growth, a thick ropey vine arching over her like a rainbow portal to a land of fairies. Excitement and trepidation warred within her as she plunged farther in.

Forbidden. She wasn’t supposed to be here.

“C’lest!” Henry yelled from farther back. He was a year younger and so slow! Celeste picked her way back to him to grab his hand and haul him along after her. That’s how big sisters helped.

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They marveled at the vibrant life they found in their jungle. The ground was springy beneath their feet and critters were everywhere. Fat, black slugs hid under leaves. Butterflies flitted from one old log to a nearby tree. They heard birds everywhere. Celeste expected to see a tiger at any moment.

She didn’t expect the house.

It was old with white, chipped paint. Once ornate, but now weathered carvings framed the darkness of the wide front porch. Henry suddenly stiffened.

Impatient, Celeste turned to him, “What?”

“D… di… did you see him?” he stuttered.

“Who?” came her exasperated reply.

“The Indian!”

Celeste swung back to look at the house. Their cousin Rachel had mentioned an old house with an Indian. A ghost. She didn’t see anything. “Where?”

“There!”

Following Henry’s frantic gesture, Celeste looked up. Above the porch and below the pointed lines of the roof were the second story windows. Catching a glimpse of a face in the farthest one to the right before it disappeared into the darkness of the abandoned house, she let out a terrified yelp.

Celeste didn’t even say anything to her brother before she grabbed his hand and ran. The ran as fast as the undergrowth would let them, the fern fronds whipping shins instead of brushing knees, they almost flew. Back the way they had come, or at least that’s what they thought.

Celeste hit the bramble first. Sharp thorns snagged and caught in her cotton socks. The more she moved, the more they dug in, lacerating her ankles. Henry started crying, hung up and hurting, in the bramble with her. She wanted to cry, too.

Instead, Celeste took a deep breathe and bent down to extricate first herself and then her brother from the tangle of thorns and blackberries. She had to keep a cool head. They moved around the bramble and continued on, but the forest was just getting darker around them, the trees growing closer and closer together.

This was not the way they had come.

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Celeste started to panic again. Changing to what she thought was the right direction, she started to notice things she hadn’t seen before. Some of the leaves had foam on them, with tiny bugs thrashing around in the goo. Below, one  of the big, black slugs was eating another small, pale one. All around her, twisted branches tangled with those thick arched vines she had seen earlier, making her feel caged, and even often blocking her path. Grayish green hair covered everything, with even more piled on the rough fallen logs and branches around her.

This was not her exotic jungle anymore.

It was a sinister, and justly forbidden, forest.

Filled with dread and despair, Celeste clasped Henry’s hand more firmly and huddled closer to him. She had not been wrong. It was actually darker. The thick fog that started that started to move and settle through the forest didn’t help matters either. What little she could see before was soon obscured.

It was a tiny bit lighter in one direction than all the rest. Determined to keep him safe, Celeste kept Henry’s hand firmly clutched in her own and stretched her free hand before her. Carefully, she inched one step at a time closer to what she hoped was Grandma’s house.

It seemed to go on forever.

Just when Celeste thought they would have to live in the forest forever, she heard something faint, a muffled voice through the fog.

Frantically she and Henry called back to whoever or whatever it was. Branches moved and fern fronds quivered as their aunt burst through to them. She scooped them up with a swat, a scold and a kiss for each.

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2 thoughts on “Story a Day Challenge – Day 5 – The Jungle (Deep, dark woods)

  1. Oh, I needed something with a happy ending! You did an excellent job of capturing the wonder, mischief, and terror all rolled into one child’s brain when playing in a “forbidden forest.” 🙂

  2. Although we live in upstate NY, where I’m from, and where our kids have brown up, my husband is an Oregonian. Last February, we took a family vacation there, and stayed with my FIL, who has old woods acreage.

    This reminded me of that, and our ten-year-old daughter’s delight in exploring the non-gooey forest.

    I love your brother’s pictures, and what they inspired!

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