Flash Fiction: The Nebelwald

Some flash fiction from Terribleminds.com. This week, write in a setting. I choose the enchanted forest. Everyone loves a good old enchanted forest. Mine has a vaguely Germanic setting, because I’ve been playing Darklands and it seemed like the thing to do.

 

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The pale mist wrapped around Katharina as though it sought to smother her, to choke the life from her. A wave of the haft of her spear drove it back, temporarily. It was all around her, wrapping around the trunks of the towering pines, flowing across the ground like a living river, reaching cool, wet tendrils beneath the collar of her coat and around her legs.

“The mist is alive.” Her first memory was of the warning, spoken to her older brother. Her mother had repeated it daily to her children. “You must never go into the enchanted Nebelwald. The mist will pluck out your eyes, and you’ll wander blind, forever alone.” It had taken on new meaning when her brother had disappeared from their farm on the edge of the forest. Perhaps she would never return, either.

Katharina banished the thought as she had banished the mist. If she didn’t return, she couldn’t bring back the mushroom her brother needed needed, now could she? Waving her spear again to banish the pervasive mist again, she resumed walking.

Soon the sun vanished as the mist closed in and air grew cold. She turned up the collar of her thick coat, but the mist slipped around her clothes like icy fingers and left her clammy and chilled. Icicles covered the branches of the pines, and hoarfrost crunched beneath her boots. Outside the forest, on the farm, it was early summer. At least she could follow her footsteps home.

A soft moan seemed to reverberate around her. Katharina spun, her spear ready, but she saw nothing. Had it even come from behind her? Everything sounded muffled. Her eyes swept the trees, searching, but if anything lurked there, the mist kept it secret and hidden.

Five steps later, an eyeless leapt up from the ground and lunged at her, dirty fingernails outstretched and yellowed teeth snapping. She had been holding her spear in both hands, and now she caught the thing at arm’s length. Its fingers clawed her breasts but it proved unable to penetrate her coat. Katharina let it claw for a moment. It seemed to be a man, but the face above the snarling mouth was smooth and flawless, with a mop of shaggy brown hair covering its brow. Then she snapped her head forward.

Her brother had never taken good care of his helmet and it had been made for a bigger head than hers, but the rusted dome shattered yellowed teeth and the eyeless fell away. The impact jolted her neck painfully, but she ignored it and readied her spear. The eyeless did not come again, though. It lay still in the frost, emerald ichor leaking from the broken mouth. She kept the point of her spear between it and her until she was some distance away, but it did not come again.

She had been walking for perhaps an hour when the moaning resumed. The cold had begun to sink into her bones by now, dampening her all the way to her underclothes, and even seeping into her boots. This time, the groans echoed for all around her, seeming to surround her. Katharina didn’t wait for them. She was the fastest runner in the village, and now her long legs carried her away, shaking the weariness from her muscles. She never saw a single one of the eyeless as she left them far behind, her breath steaming in the crisp air.

She emerged from the Nebelwald as though she had stepped through a door, emerging into a clearing. An ancient, bent tree shaded the bank of an azure pond into which a lazy brook flowed. Green grass grew on the gentle slopes of the bank around the water, and wildflowers bloomed, interspersing the lush green with displays of lavender and rose. She glanced over her shoulder; the frozen forest loomed behind her and all around the clearing, but it was as if the mist could not follow her. It swirled indignantly, as though disappointed.

Wiping her brow, she pulled off her heavy coat and helm, letting her midnight-dark hair fall free. She had made it. Sweat from her run had made the dampness of the forest worse, and so she unbelted her slate-coloured tunic and pulled it over her head, then removed her underclothes to stand naked in the warm, welcoming sunlight.

Pulling her offering from her pockets, she spread her clothes out on the grass to dry in the sun. The old healer had been specific. You needed to make an offering, or the sprites would take you, instead. Sometimes, they did it anyways, to young men and women. So she took the sausage, the apples, and the slices of bread and laid it out on a flat rock. Then she stepped into the warm, clear water to wait. That, too, had been what the healer had told her, but the water felt good on her aching neck, and she kept her spear within arm’s reach.

She didn’t have to wait long. The sprite had been invisible to her eyes until she saw the sausage rise up off the rock. Barely larger than a child, it shimmered in the sunlight, and for a long minute it watched her. Then it began to devour the sausage, followed by the apples and bread. She held her breath, waiting. Would it? She blinked and lost sight of it until her eyes found it again, now beneath the tree. It plucked a trio of red-topped mushrooms, and placed them on the rock where the food had been. Then it vanished. The trade was complete.

Now, all she had to do was get them home, and put them into a stew for her little brother. Rising out of the water, she seated herself on the flat stone and waited for the sun to dry her. She hoped getting out of the Nebelwald would be easier than getting into it.

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