Dark Woods

You can find the story of Alex from the beginning here.

Alex stumbled over a root and caught himself just in time. He ached. He straightened slowly and looked around. Why hadn’t he waited?

He prodded one of the logs. It seemed safe enough so he sat down and worked his shoulders, taking a small sip from the bottle in his backpack. It was nearly empty. He had no idea how long he had been wandering. He didn’t dare check his phone. The battery had been full when he entered this place, but somewhere in the foggy mists filling his head he knew that there would be no chance of recharging.

He screwed the bottle top on tightly and settled it back into his backpack. He was losing track of everything. He closed his eyes briefly, then forced them back open. He couldn’t risk sleeping here, he knew that at least. He couldn’t let his mind wander. He was Alex Poole, who had just got a job at a shop called the White Hart. His mind slid off for a moment as he stared at the small fern curling at the base of a tree. He was caught by the intricate fronds delicately unfolding and spent another few minutes before he brought himself back. He was Alex Poole and he had bought a second-hand camera with pictures of a vampire on it. He’d caught a vampire feeding, but the victim had chased him off. There were others who knew about vampires. They were, they were…

Alex pushed himself to his feet. He could see the faces of his friends. But he had come here alone, to the vampire’s lair. He was Alex Poole and he had come alone because Rhys – yes, that was his name! Rhys was nervous and Jack was weird so he, Alex Poole, had decided to go alone. He had worked out the entrance from the pictures on the camera and the notes from the flat and he had come to kill the vampire.

Alex stumbled again but kept his feet and carried on along the track. Things had not worked out exactly as expected. He’d got through the iron grill without too much trouble. There were no fancy alarms or cameras, just lots of padlocks. And then he had stepped through the door.

Alex spun around. He strained his ears. Was that someone calling his name? He leaned towards that direction, over in a dark thicket of oak. Yes, someone was calling. All he had to do was leave the path and strike off towards the sound. Alex dug his nails into the palms of his hands and held on to what he knew. He was Alex Poole. He was trying to hunt a vampire. He seemed to have stumbled into Fairyland.

It wasn’t the Fairyland of children’s stories, with the bright flowers and sunshine. It was all the dark, brooding stories that dripped with blood and terror. He mustn’t leave the path. He had tried to turn back to the gate, but when he turned, it wasn’t there. Just this endless, hard dirt track through mossy, fern filled woods. He was exhausted, but he didn’t dare sleep. Bad things happened to those who slept in Fairyland. He pushed himself to take another step and on around the huge ash that hung heavily over the path.

Alex groaned out loud. A clear spring ran over the rocks, clattering and chuckling as it tumbled in a miniature waterfall. Next to it was a crystal goblet, perfectly placed. It looked like something from a fantasy film. Alex’s mouth was dry and sore. He was desperate for water and had perhaps two mouthfuls left in his backpack. He didn’t dare drink from the stream. He couldn’t look away. He was desperate. How much longer could he go? What would be the worst that could happen? He couldn’t remember what the stories said. He couldn’t remember why he was there. He couldn’t remember anything except this frantic, all-consuming thirst.

With a strength of will he didn’t know he had, Alex forced himself backwards away from the temptation and against the ash tree. He couldn’t force any words out of his dry mouth, but his lips made the shape as he tried to cry out, ‘No!’ Then the tree grabbed him.

Alex struggled as he felt branches whip over him and pin him tight against the trunk. He could feel the trunk giving and his back sinking into the bark. It shouldn’t end like this. He had to find the vampire – he couldn’t give in! But his body ached and his mind was full of fog and it was only his reflexes that kept the struggle going.

“Hang on!” A voice rang out along the path. “He’s here, and in trouble!”

“Don’t worry, Alex, we’ve got you,” a familiar voice said.

It sounded like glass in the background. “It’s gabble ratchets. Dave, can you keep them back? Someone help Alex.”

“I have them Padre,” another voice said.

Alex tried to form the sounds. “Jack? Watch out.”

“It’s okay, Alex, we have you. We’re the rescue party.” Jack grabbed Alex’s hand and started a steady pull.

“Release him!” another voice said with authority. “Ian, Callum, set up the howl.”

Alex fell forward into the arms of Jack, who grinned his irritating grin and pulled him away from the ash. “Don’t worry. You’re safe now.” He frowned. “Have a drink of this, take slow sips.”

Alex didn’t know how he managed to control himself as he took a small mouthful and swilled it around his mouth before swallowing. “I thought it was the vampire’s lair, but it isn’t.”

“It’s sort of that,” Jack said. “That particular vampire managed to grab a corner of Faerie but left it a little tainted. Most of the elfen, the fairies, can’t get near here because of the iron in York Station. But Steve here will sort it out, and I think that Lady Freydis will be along any minute. You can hear the doggies howl.”

A huge wolf broke off its howl to give Jack a cold look and a sharp bark before returning to the howl.

“My apologies, Ian,” Jack said, unrepentant. He grinned at Alex. “Werewolves can be so touchy. Just never mention fleas.”

“A little help over here,” another voice called.

“Excuse me,” Jack said, bounding off.

Alex swayed a little, sipping from the water bottle. The howling had stopped and small, malevolent creatures were being batted away by the priest, Rhys, the vampire and someone that Alex didn’t recognise. Jack used a fallen branch to swing wide and hard at them and they broke with the sound of glass and evaporated. A huge swarm was rapidly being reduced as Alex’s rescuers pushed forward with purpose. The werewolves had taken a station either side of him and didn’t seem hostile. Instead they were snapping at the twigs that were pushing towards Alex and Steve and keeping a watchful eye on the fight. Behind him, Steve was muttering at the tree and pulling dark strands out. Alex stared as the strands became iridescent and multicoloured. “I’m hallucinating.”

One of the werewolves gave a gentle woof and leant against him briefly. Alex looked down at the water bottle and wondered what was in it. He had just felt comforted by a werewolf’s touch.

“I don’t think so!” A feminine voice rang through the woodland and, to Alex’s fevered eyes, the landscape seemed to shimmer. A tremor ran through the trees and the ground under their feet. Sunlight raced across the trees and birdsong echoed. Alex stared as flowers bloomed like bad stop motion, jerkily unfurling until they were surrounded by blossom. The woman who strode out was tall, blonde, impossibly beautiful and queenly. She was also very annoyed. The men who followed seemed like heroes to Alex’s dazzled eyes. The woman turned to Steve. “I am most grateful to you. I will not forget this.” She turned to the huge ash, her eyes narrowing. “How dare you!”

Alex stared as the ash tree, at least six feet across, started to dwindle. Branches and twigs retracted as the trunk shrank and faded. Then the monster that had nearly destroyed him was just a sapling.

The woman frowned. “No excuses!” She uprooted the sapling and snapped it in half, throwing each piece in widely separate directions. Everything went quiet and a sense of peace and serenity stole across the small clearing.

After a moment, she turned to Alex. “I apologise for your experience. Please come with me, and I will make sure that you are looked after.” She turned to Steve. “Could you close everything down here? I had better get this poor young man back to the White Hart. I will make a short cut.” She turned back to Alex, her huge blue eyes sympathetic. “Poor, brave boy. I think you have seen enough today. Sleep.”

And for Alex, everything went blessedly dark.

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