Upon the jagged bough of twisted, writhing branches the crows sat neatly in order surveying the hungry path laid roughly before them. Hidden amongst the heavy darkness, twelve eyes lay judgment towards those passing beneath.

Eyes of true clarity and knowing glared at strangers trampling mindlessly, lost amongst the eerie unknown of the darkest depths of the wood. The surrounding forest teemed with the wickedly unkempt. Trees upon trees of foul, snaked veins, cursing in a stationary tongue. The overhead moon offered little but dancing highlights through which the ever-moving clouds started a slow dance of meager light battling dark that oozed across the stagnant hooked limbs of soulless oaks.

The crows eyed them almost immediately.

Alfred, and his still besotted love Meredith, stopped beneath the crow-laden tree while another check of his compass drew only confusion. A wrong turn became the wrong path, became the wrong direction. The constant panic grew them weary, and they sat and laid their backs against the nearest blackened trunk.

They had seen this before, the crows, many times along this same path. The lost traveller and the ever-swallowing wood.

It rose the moment their backs hit the gnarled torso of the old oak. A mist, blacker than the dark soup already enveloping the forest, swept along the earth towards its prey. Alfred at once felt the cold approach. A biting ice that drove up his spine and sprang him to his feet. The crows laughed mockingly, a distraction that burgled the lovebirds of their last precious seconds, and within moments they were swallowed whole.

The black diluted their eyes as they shivered hand in hand. The solid ground had drifted from their feet and they felt themselves slowly hovering with no clue as to any direction. Their screams were blanketed by the rich fog which left them in a muted haze. Their sense of touch the only bond between them. Alfred held her hand with desperation, but her fingers slowly began to slip from his grasp. He called out again, but his vibrations were silenced by the nothing. Minutes seemed like hours when the rich black became a warm grey. Still grasping hand to hand they wondered if their eyes had adjusted to the soup, but soon the greys gave way to orange until they found themselves before a lit cavern that snaked through a stone wall. Meredith’s hand finally slipped free as they fell to the ground on bended knee. Alfred pulled his love close. Above them, finally, a shrieking noise cut through the fading mist. The crows, cackling with glee, mocked from an invisible branch.

The lovers rose. Behind them the mist lay dormant, cutting off any option of exit besides the mouth of the cavern beckoning them inside, while a waft of rotting flesh endeavored to keep them at bay. Cautiously, hand to mouth, Alfred put a foot forward. The air stayed ever still. A few more restrained steps later and the couple strode with rapid abandon through the crooked vessel. The light and stink gained potency as they neared a sharp turn. Upon reaching the corner, Alfred peered around, one eyeball uncovered by the stone wall.

It was already watching.

He grabbed his love and made to escape but found no place to run. The blackened mist now engorged the exit, pulsing further toward them. It roared. A shaking bellow emanating from deep within a dark bowel. The couple fell back in a scramble, hurriedly gaining their feet and turning the corner with little option.

The beast rose above them.

A giant shadow backlit by a wall of torches. Its stench a foul barricade leaving them gasping for breath. Alfred pulled his love behind him and looked up to find three eyes peering through him from within the silhouette. They grinned. In a blurred moment of madness, Meredith was snatched away as Alfred felt invisible hands bind his torso with knotted rope. It pulled his skin, slightly tearing the flesh as the rope constricted ever tighter. Soaring above the pain he heard the tormented screams of Meredith as the guttural howl of the beast filled the cavern, both sounds entwining in a matted fusion of horrific symphony. The sounds perished abruptly, and as Alfred watched his Meredith fall to the ground, her limp body too was wrapped with mangled rope as the shadow perched above her.

It rose.

The beast grunted.

It was not her.

Without warning the rope pulled them from behind into an endless void as the black consumed them once again. They emptied their lungs of screaming terror as they heard the sweeping wings of the crows circling above. The ropes, ever tensed, pulled them further backwards into the gaping maw as the birds above dropped their wings and dived towards the lost couple. They cackled again with glee. It was time to feed.