…and there he stood, immobile, seized by the forest floor and pulling with all his might and mind to escape. The scars ran the length of the sky, reaching up and scoring with dark fingernails, deep. His feet; entrenched in skull and calcium of all shapes and sizes begged for freedom. Stretching out his arms and flailing, he grasped at the air and wrenched forth only coal; pitch that stained his hands and chalk that drenched his calves.
The creature, for that was all it could ever be, beckoned.
A silhouette, hunched and black. Blacker than the night’s cloth, it must have seen him, though he couldn’t know for sure. The last vestiges of light ran from those spindled tree fingers and he could all but make out the sound of a sigh in the far distance.
It was the feet, or lack there of that frightened him so. They vanished into the ground and clung. Their dark trails spread, like water on a canvas and diluted the forest carpet from ashen white to cinder oven grey. Then it came; fluid and frantic in equal measure.
The faces on the stumps watched, leered on, stared at what he knew would be, and could only be. He tugged. His sunken limbs flailed and ripped at the ground. For a moment he thought he felt something moving beneath; a worm maybe? Each time he looked back it felt as though the spectre paused. He could all but feel its smile creeping out from the dark and taunting him.
There it went again; the squirm, the slither…no, a tug. His right foot edged closer to the surface, his left still staunch and onward came the dark.
The soil, sodden and yet frozen, the air, heavy but still open. He could feel the hope crawling up his spine, like a wish set free…and then the right loosed. His shoe lost below, but his foot felt the surface once more.
His joy immeasurable until he looked back.
The dark lunged and dowsed his left leg in an acid heat. The night’s steam scolded and tore it from him. The scream shook the forest and seemed to destabilize the moon. A shaft fell to the floor and revealed the bloodied stump but also a desperate chance.
With one leg he flew forward and down. His nails tore at the lichen and swam in the earth. With every “step” he edged farther and farther from the dark. He could see the Sun, edging higher over the mound. A chewing sound echoed in the back of his head. As his palms warmed in the morning heat, he stole a glance back.
Dark dined well.