1.4

I had seen Caroline on occasions before this day, a dear girl keen to assist at the church services. She was a daughter of God, and Thomas adored her. But then she was before us, as dead as all that around her. I remember her body contorted within a hollow tree, as if sat comfortably, but her lips were parted, blue, and maybe with the last prayer upon her lips that we had never heard.

Thomas had then stood beside me and, his hands delicate and loving, had reached for his daughter to carry her in his arms. The veins in his arms seemed to twitch with suffering, and though I grieved, suspicion could not escape my mind, and the impossible dawned on me. I saw that Caroline remained preserved and perfect; her disappearance had, at that time, been two years ago. Yet, her cheeks had not hollowed, nor had she been afflicted with decay. She could have been sleeping.

"Let’s gae, darlin’," Thomas had said, and I had felt his pain with the knowledge that my children led safe, beds of down or earth, they were at peace.

But Caroline suffered, and I sent out a hope that she rested with Almighty God, before I was witness to the most horrible of sights. I watched her fingers close.

It was a sight from a nightmare, like something sacred sparked with dark life, and I remember hearing Thomas scream as his daughter's knuckles cracked from the thaw, her eyes glazing with lifelessness. With her mouth ajar, I saw in horror what protruded from her lips.  For a moment, I had thought they were the tentacles of a monster, but then realised they were roots, mottled and squirming like multiple tongues.

"Come to me, Thomas Cribbs," the voice had whispered, one that could not pass for Caroline's, but was of a creature darker and far worse. Only when she lurched forward, possessed by monstrosity did I see that her back had been eroded, dug out with flesh crawling with maggots, roots having spun their way around her pale spine. At that moment, the trees seemed to come upon me, moving with the wind like they would collapse and engulf me. I had thought of myself and had tried to flee, if it had not been for the screams of my once-friend.

"Help me, oh God!" he had begged, roots pouring out around him and his child, around her waist to his, binding them tightly.

"I'm hungry..." it had rasped, "soo hungry..."

The roots had begun to pull, and unravelling before my eyes was the sight of the child being pulled beneath the tree, dragging Thomas with her. He clawed into the ground, but the roots had constricted around his waist, then his hands, snapping each finger, one after the other. At his neck, his high-pitched shrieks had been subsided, roots at his throat desperate to drag him away.

I mustered all of my courage, and leapt for him, lying against the hard, sharp earth, grasping Thomas' broken hand, but as it dislocated, I felt my battle failing. Then, I recall the voice, turning for the first time to one that had been vaguely human.

"Faither," it had said, and I watched Thomas' fear turn to wonder.

"Caroline...my bairn..."

"Faither...Ah'm scared. Faither, help me."

I watched Thomas' thoughts unfold before me, his yearning for his child. I remember his eyes at that moment, lost, hopeless, before they widened in asphyxia. I heard a snap, that of Thomas' spine, and then he was pulled into darkness, the roots crawling to the creases of his eyes. He was gone, and from then on, I was alone.

The End

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