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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2303411
Sophie follows the music into the forest. Winner of SCREAMS!!! 8/16 - 8/31 2023.

You may not remember Sophie but the creatures of the forest do. They speak with fondness of her and tell tales of how she was kind to them, regardless of reputation, either theirs or hers. There are still times when the moonlight supplies a pale glow to glades of meeting and thoughts turn to Sophie’s deeds among them. The smallest speak of her gifts of food that saved the poorest from starvation, and the large and fearsome tell of her stories that entranced for hours.

But they do not speak of her last night amongst them, that night when music was heard in the darkness between the trees. Sophie listened and was spellbound by the sounds. She knew hearing music in the woods at night was a bad sign, but it was such a pretty tune. Like a soft wind in the reeds by the river and the whispering of a thousand leaves dancing in the treetops together, the music called to her and wove dreams and mysteries in her mind. She resolved to find the source of such haunting music.

Like the music of a flute or pipes it was, breathy and faint, though gaining in strength as she followed it deeper into the wood. It reminded her of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and of how his music had induced the rats of the town to follow him to their deaths in the river. Inevitably, the tale continued to the disappearance of the town’s children into the mountain, never to be seen again. So it cannot be said that Sophie had no awareness of the danger inherent in what she was doing.

But the music was too enticing and she was not deterred.

Then the thought of Pan came to her mind. Pan, the wild and unpredictable god of the forest, in command of all the beasts of the woods, who cared for the trees and the plants that sprang up beneath them. Pan, who played the pipes that bore his name and produced music such as this - airy, staccato, as his lips shifted from one pipe to another. Sophie knew that he was untamed and capable of the most unexpected actions, well beyond the grasp of human understanding.

Yet still she followed the music as it grew in strength as she approached the deepest parts of the forest.

Her thoughts stumbled upon the way Pan was presented in all the pictures of him that she’d seen. He was a sort of goat man, with legs and haunches of a goat, the upper body of a man, and the face hairy like a goat, with horns sprouting from the top of his head. For the first time, it occurred to her how like our depictions of the devil was Pan. The only difference was the musical instrument he always held.

Was this merely coincidence or did it signify a deeper relationship between the two creatures? Perhaps the ancients, being so close to nature, understood much more of the dangers of the wild, of the deep rift between nature and mankind that these two beings represented. Sophie might be walking into a trap, an innocent to the guiles of something far beyond her simple experience.

She slowed her pace and stopped.

The music was all about her now, clear and lilting in the gloom beneath the trees. Surely such beauty could not be evil. What harm could a creature intend if capable of producing such wonderful sounds?

But bait must be attractive. Rare indeed would be the prey that came unprotesting to a repellant lure. And how vile must a predator be that would use so pretty a tune to deceive the unsuspecting innocent?

As the music swelled around her, Sophie realised how foolish she had been. Curiosity was a fine thing in the bright light of day when all the world lies open to inspection, but on a dark night in the deepest of woods, it can only be a yearning for knowledge forbidden to mortals. Her longing transformed into a fear of what might await her in the shadows.

As her mood changed, the music took on a new note of menace. Suddenly she was aware of deeper notes underlying the melody, heavy and ominous sounds, no longer airy but hollow and resonant. These grew as she listened, seeming to echo the dark brooding of the forest in its mysteries.

Sophie turned and started to run.

The darkness did not aid in her quest to get away. She found herself stumbling across roots and stones that tried to trip her, blundering into trees and bushes that seemed to spring suddenly into her path, slopes that fell away before her in an attempt to throw her headlong into a fall. The blackness made it impossible to run with any speed and she staggered forward, somehow balancing between sprawling in a mad dive for any apparent opening in the tangled undergrowth and a drunken, haphazard course with intent only to escape the forest.

In the end she fell, one last desperate lunge for the gloom between two trees culminating in a foothold giving away without warning and plunging her body into a final collapse that left her shaken and dazed. She lay still for a few moments before realising that the music had stopped. Instead, only an ominous and threatening silence held her motionless. The only sound was her ragged breathing as she recovered from her mad dash through the woods. She forced it under control until her breathing, though still deep, made no sound.

The forest hovered above her helplessness. She felt its weight forcing itself down on her, pressing her flesh into the earth beneath, dirt and mossy growths opening slowly to receive her flesh. Her movements against these forces had no avail, merely pushing more of the earth away for her to sink deeper into its grip.

Sophie tried with a last effort to scream but, as her mouth opened, the dirt and humus, rotting leaves and fungal tendrils, rushed into the opened cavity to gag her cries. No more escaped her lips than a muffled gasp of malodorous air, a mere mumble of protest. Then silence ensued as the soil covered her face and her movements became feeble until they ceased entirely.

No sign of her remained above the ground, the darkness under the trees conspiring too as silent witnesses to what lay below. No rabbits play nor butterflies float in that cursed glade. No life frolics carefree through those shadows in the woods. But still, on summer nights, a lilting music drifts beneath the eaves of that murderous wood.

Word count: 1,106
For SCREAMS!!! 8/16 - 8/31
Prompt: Your story should be inspired by and include the following sentence: She knew hearing music in the woods at night was a bad sign, but it was such a pretty tune.

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