Author has written 6 stories for Elder Scroll series, Fairy Tales, and Sweeney Todd.
Deep in the heart of England there is a forest like no other. It is not the pretty enchanted wood of fairytales - it something darker, something far more macabre. It’s forbidding trees and mossy carpet warn those who would enter to remain beyond it’s dark clutches. The shadows within are dark and unwelcoming - they bid you flee and never return. Only the flowers that gather at the tree roots beg you to come in, to go and pick them and smell them. Foxglove and belladonna, hemlock and monkshood - they all turn their heads towards you, imploring you to come and taste them. For how could anything so beautiful possible taste foul?
If you were to enter, you would eventually stumble across a path. On either side there are thorns and thistles that fight away intruders, making it clear how unwise it would be to stray from the track. Perhaps you would meet a girl of about eight years old, clothed in a red cloak. She has in one hand a wicker basket, and her eyes rove across the path in search of flowers to take wherever she’s going. Later you will hear her screaming.
Continue going down that path until it forks into three. Should you take the path on the left you will find yourself lead to a clearing where the sun penetrates the canopy of leaves. Tree stumps sit in a ring, and on them there are teapots and cups and saucers, and beside several there sit people. They are almost zombie like, and their hair reaches beyond their knees. Their clothes are ragged but they simply sit before the stumps and drink endless cups of tea. They do not acknowledge your prescence.
In the centre there is a throne carved from the remains of an oak. Some curious feeling compels you to sit, and immediately it rises into the air and begins to spin dizzyingly fast. Vines creep around the back and wind around your chest, but still your hands clutch at the armrests until your knuckles whiten. Eventually, after a great many revolutions, you are set back down and the vines unwind. You find that somehow your clothes are ragged and your hair is longer, far longer than it had been before. The climate is hotter, and slowly you realise that you have been spinning for far longer than a few minutes. You stagger up and sink to your knees in front of a cup and pot. Somehow your brain decides that the only logical thing too do is to sit there and drink for all eternity.
Had you not taken the left path, and instead opted for the one on the right, you would be lead to a castle with great stone walls. The drawbridge is lowered, the portcullis rises and you cautiously enter. In the courtyard you are greeted by an old man with a long white bead. His hat is tall and pointed, like the steeple hats worn by the maidens you see peering out from the windows. He introduces himself as Merlin and tells you to continue into the great hall to meet the ruler of this great estate.
You do as he tells you, and go through the enormous wooden door in front of you. After following a long passage you find yourself in front of another pair of heavy doors. Two guards open them for you - you thank them, then proceed into the enormous chamber in front of you. At least two hundred people sit before you at long tables. Knights with their maidens’ favours still at their breast, dignified ladies in tall hats and silken gowns. Pages and squires stand behind their masters, ready to do as they command, and the servants bustle between tables with platters of pork and venison.
At the top table there is sat a man in his forties, auburn hair beginning to show flecks of grey. A golden crown inlaid with jewels rests atop his head, and his robes are finer by far than those around him. Across his seat there is slung a mighty sword, and if you were to examine it more closely you would see the word “Excalibur” written across it in the runes of the water-folk.
The man smiles at your entrance and invites you to sit and eat with him. You agree politely, and take your seat where he asks you to - at his right hand side. A grizzled old knight in battered armour glares at you as he moves further right to give you room for your chair. You thank him nervously, before being invited to tuck in to the banquet.
As you eat, the king explains that you have been chosen to go on a special quest for him. He claims that his wife has been kidnapped by a foul sorceress and that you are the only one who can rescue her. You are shocked, and ask him why it is you who must go. He merely smiles and states that it is what his most trusted advisor has told him and that it would be most unwise to do anything else.
Suddenly the entire crowd is pushing you out of the door and further down a path leading away from the castle. You are pushed onto a horse and given a sword and shield. They wish you good luck and set your horse off, galloping away into the unknown.
After an hour’s ride, you find yourself at a tower. A beautiful woman stands at it’s top, smiling down at you and singing the most beautiful song you have ever heard. You listen to the words, and realise she is imploring you to rescue her. You tell her you don’t know how, and she tells you to climb up her hair. She throws down a plait and you pull yourself up it, muscles straining to heave yourself up. Ten metres, now twenty, now thirty lie between you and the ground and you resist the urge to look down. Finally you reach the window and pull yourself in.
With a seductive smile, the woman walks towards you. She slips her dress down, past her shoulders, then allows it to fall entirely away from her. You recoil in horror. Where soft and healthy skin should be, there is only a skeleton. Rotting grey flesh hangs from it in a ghastly parody of a body, allowing peeps of ribs and blackened organs to be seen. Behind her now, you catch a glimpse of a dishevelled woman in a cage that hangs from the ceiling. She whimpers and you realise it is her voice you heard whilst sat at the window. You face the woman you now realise to be the sorceress more fully. With a cry of terror, you try and back away from her. You go too far. As you try to get away from her hands - now replaced with the gnarled talons of an eagle and extended towards your throat - you bump into the window, and in your haste, you fall, down into the thistles below. You have the sensation of plummeting towards the ground, then the world goes black.
Had you avoided the paths leading to the clearing or the castle, and instead taken the centre path, you would have followed the track for a great deal longer than you had the others. After many days of walking you come to a river. You have not eaten or drank anything but plants and rainwater for many days, and so you sink to your knees and immerse your head in the water. You drink until you can drink no more, then you move to the side and relieve yourself a little way away. Then you drink again, more and more until your stomach is bloated and waterlogged. You then begin to splash water over your dusty body, for the weather is hot and you are sweaty after the long trek. Holding onto the bank, you let your body sink into the water and sigh as it’s cool cleanliness immerses you.
A stray piece of waterweed crawls around your ankle - you hardly notice. You are too busy enjoying bathing. You do not notice as it slips up your calf, up to your knee and begins to tighten. You only look down in surprise as another weed begins to trail up your other foot. You try to shake it off, but find it is stuck their strongly. Desperately you pull on your arms, trying to heave yourself back up to the surface, but your fingers are suddenly clinging onto mud and they slip down into the water with you. Suddenly you are fighting with the weeds, fighting with death and drowning. Precious oxygen is suddenly scarce and you are frightened. You know you will die here. Slowly, your breath slips from between your lips in tiny bubbles. Your vision blackens. You slip into unconsciousness.
When you wake, you are lying on a metal floor. It is quiet and all you can hear is the soft scratching of a quill on parchment. You groggily pull yourself into a sitting position and the floor wobbles slightly. You realise there are no walls, only bars. You are in a cage, suspended from the ceiling with a large iron chain. Tentatively, you make your way over to the edge. The cage rocks a little, but otherwise seems firmly in place.
Below you, you can see the top of a girl’s head. She has mousy brown hair, falling down to her waist, and her skin is pale. She is young - no more than fourteen, maybe even younger. And in her hand there is the quill that has been making the soft scratching noise. It scribbles down line after line of writing with a fevered intensity. You can make out strange shapes floating around the girl, and suddenly their voices are clear to you. They are insulting her, screaming at her, demanding that she write more and more. They will not be sated until she has written tens of thousands of pages. Whenever she stops, out of ideas, they scream louder. They begin to rip at her skin, biting at her flesh until she picks up her quill once more. You cannot hear their words, but somehow you know that they are screeching insults and you shudder as you imagine how they came to be attacking the girl below you.
Finally, she seems to conclude her writing and they fall upon it like piranhas, ravenously ripping through it. Every fault they find, but there is no time left to correct it. She must have it released to the world before they lose interest, and this she does through a strange device in front of her. Then the strange, shadowy spirits slip up her arms, round her neck and to her face. They slip in through her lips, her nostrils, her ears, until they have returned to their home: deep in the darkest crevices of her mind.
You look around you - there are other cages. A woman with chestnut skin and ebony hair sits to your left, her oversized features making the anger at her imprisonment obvious on her face. In a cage a metre or two from hers there is a wild woman in a black Victorian gown slumped in her cage. Her hair is wild, but through it you see her gaze fixed firmly on another cage - this one holding an equally wild haired man with a haunted expression and shadowed eyes. He plays with a straight edged razor in one hand, and his mouth silently makes the words ‘the judge’, over and over. A woman with blue skin, pointed ears and a gaunt face is staring at you. She seems to have been there the longest and seems friendly with the girl below, sometimes calling down a suggestion when she seems bereft of ideas. She complains occasionally about strange things that make no sense to you. Treachery and vampires seem to make up a large part of her complaints, although occasionally she whines that the man in the cage nearest to her - a round faced, blonde haired fellow with a gormless expression - is trying to woo her. His idiocy is plain to you, though any thoughts of pity for his clearly addled mind you had were erased once you discovered how annoying he becomes after a while. Just beyond him, a elderly woman sits in her cage, a pensive expression on her face. She speaks occasionally of the sea, and of cottages and music. Her tales are listened to by a thin man whose ribs are visible beneath his tattered shirt. His skin is tinged with blue, and he shivers as he listens.
After many weeks in the cage, living on bland, simple food, the girl cries out and crumples up her page. The voices have been insulting it more than normal, and she throws it behind her, high in the air. You reach out a hand, and somehow your fingers close around it. Carefully, you unscrew the paper and begin to read. With horror, you realise the character described on the page is you and you begin to understand. This strange young adolescent keeps these people trapped here to use as pawns in her stories. You call down to her suddenly, feeling a strange surge of pity for her. She looks up at your call, at first sorrowfully, but then her expression begins to change. Soon there is a wild smile on her face and a maniacal gleam in her eyes. You back away fearfully, causing the cage to wobble violently. Panicking, you begin to clutch at the bars, desperately searching for an escape.
"Welcome to my world." says the girl below with a cruel laugh. "There is no escape."