Strange Short #1: The Half-Hag of the Trumpet Trees
The old man leaned across the table, the lone candle flickering in the eyes of the two boys like reflections in milky mirrors.
"Do you hear it?" said the old man.
And the two boys could. Through the windows, traveling across the meadow, down the road, over the fence, crossing impossible miles to find their ears.
A whining. A whimpering wind. A sound of great sadness mounting the dark night outside the hut and riding it straight under their skins.
"What is it?" said the oldest of the two.
The old man smiled. "Tis the Half-Hag of the Trumpet Trees."
The boys eyes did not leave the candle, as if scared if they looked into the darkness they would finally find what they feared waited inside it.
"What is she?" said the youngest.
"Part woman. Part of something else. Something old and barely alive. A tree? A stone? A skeleton? I do not know her parentage. Yet I know of her woe. I can hear it, just as you hear it now. For she sits in her home, a wood not far from here where the trees are as hollow as century old skulls, and admits her sorrow through her instruments: the dead limbs of that forest."
The music came louder now. A harrowing whistle that caused the hairs on the boys' skins to stand up.
"The trees blare her misery, shouting her sadness across the land for all to hear. A lament."
"For-for what?" said the oldest of the boys, his hands now wrapped around his arms.
The old man leaned closer. "For you."
"For us?" The boys exchanged worried looks.
"So that you know the great pain that exists in that wood. So that you know what horror awaits you should you wander into its shadow. She is a product of those trees, yet she is still a woman. A piece of her is still human. And that piece of her wants to keep your curiosity at bay. For your sake." The old man leaned back and exhaled, as if finally satisfied with the story. "So what say you? Will you go near the Trumpet Trees?"
The boys shook their heads in tandem, yet their thoughts did not align.
The oldest agreed with the old man and vowed never to come within a mile of that strange wood. But the youngest thought otherwise, as if to spite his elders and their habit of telling him what to do.
For he did not think the horror walking up his spine as a suggestion to stay away, but rather an invitation. A welcome for his spirit to come hither and explore the unknown. An order that his feet not stay where they were, complacent and safe, but rather burst forth and trample the grasses, the stones, the fields and their fruits, anything that happened upon their way, to end up at the cusp of that forest.
And as the candles were darkened, and his brother fell fast asleep on the floor beside him, and the old man went to the barn to smoke his pipe, the youngest crawled out from under his blanket and hopped out the window in the cool night. There, the music came to him clear and powerful.
A warning? Perhaps.
But he'd not the let old man's stories or the half-hag's intentions keep him away.
He left the safety of the house, and entered the utter dark of midnight, where the blackness was an empty hole waiting to be filled by his own stories. His own spirit.
His own music.