Artist of the Week (10/9): Stella (Pearl) Werbach
Updated: Oct 22
The Hungry Forest
Upon the skin beneath her fingernails, the ridge of her nose, and the fine hairs on her neck, the little girl sensed an unexplainable vibration- a hum. A creeping fog lurked around, making each step on the autumnal crackle of blood red leaves a blind guess. The trees around her stood tall and wispy, clinging onto the last of their leaves unsuccessfully. They looked… hungry. The girl did not know what time it was. Hugging her skin close to herself, she stopped. She looked left to see a few skeletal trees, slowly fading as the fog’s cool breath cast over them. She looked right to see the same. The little girl had been told to follow the path of stones through the forest, but at this time of the year, it was no easy task. She spun around, looking for hints to point her where to go, and immediately regretted it as she lost the little sense of direction she had. Which way had she come from?
A crow cawed it’s broken, ugly words from a place either really close or really far. She decided she must keep moving. Suddenly it felt as if the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. She began walking faster- she needed to get back before it got colder and darker. A twig behind her snapped. She started running, her icy breath a twin to the fog. Quite unsettlingly, her footsteps seemed to echo. But what was there for the sound to bounce off of? She willed herself not to look back.
A crow’s caw from a few feet away. She couldn’t see its source. The forest had looked so- so uninhabited by anything other than those god forsaken trees. A crunch of leaves from behind her. She looked over her shoulder to only see fog. Another crunch, this time closer. And another. The hum sounded again. No, she did not have a good feeling about this. She began sprinting as fast as she could. She did not know what she was running from, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to either. The further and faster she ran, the hungrier-looking and closer the trees grew. But she did not stop, for she could still hear crunching that did not belong to her feet. Nor did she even slow down, even as the trees grew so close that she had to weave through them. Nor when she found herself at a wall of a leafless, thick blackberry bramble. No, she kept going through the long, fingernail-like thorns as they gripped at her.
It ripped her shirt sleeves and tore through her skin until her arms were merely bloody gashes. But she kept pushing through. The footsteps behind her sped up and got even closer. She kept going, until the thicket got so thick that it was below and above her, and at all of her sides- like a room with no exit. She could no longer move forward through the thicket, but as the footsteps grew even closer, she became desperate. She clawed forward with a primal urge, not making any progress. Even as she wasn’t running, the bramble sank its tendrils into her.
The little girl suddenly felt as if the bramble above her was lowering into her. Its dehydrated, boney branches had a strength to them. Was someone above her, standing on the thicket? She screamed, hoping that they would get off before she was crushed. She was ducking over, almost on her knees. They didn’t hear her. She put her hands on the tendrils above her and pushed up, biting down the pain. A grayish brown vine wrapped around her wrist, and as she clawed to remove it, another grew around her other wrist. The thicket continued to condense around her. The bramble she was standing on now seemed to be raising as well, tightening her space even further. The girl didn’t know where the gashes and blood ended on her once fair skin. Thorny, famished vines wrapped around every part of her, the footsteps somehow growing closer still. The little girl was on her chest, a bloody heap of tears and lost hope. The ground and the ceiling met, and released the little girl’s last scream as it rang through the forest.
A worried mother perked up at the sound of a shriek. “Did you hear that?” she asked. “Hear what, the crow?” answered her husband, “Kya probably just headed home.”
The mother took one last look around the forest, the trees, and the plump, crimson-red berries hanging plentifully off a nearby berry bush and headed home.