Imagine the canopy, thicker. Much thicker. Branches intertwined with each other appearing as if the trees were battling each other and froze in mid parry. Ever leafless, ever just on this side of wet rot, but so thick that even at noon, it is dark as night on the forest floor.
And here you are, trying to make your way through. Maybe you were told this was a shortcut, a way to avoid bandits on the road. Maybe you were told there was a secret treasure hidden within, with the owner depending on myth to keep thieves at bay. Maybe you found your family missing, with directions to leave the ransom in the forest. The reason you are here, really doesn’t matter. You’ll only be here for a few hours, after all.
Just you, and your lit torch. Just your muck soaked feet on the squishy ground, just your fire sizzling from the gathering mist.
Out of the corner of your eye, you see movement. You turn, and only see a pile of leaves and debris. Nervously chuckling, you turn forward and try to make your way.
It moves again. You turn your whole body to face it. Yes, the pile is moving. You take a step backwards in sudden fright. The presence of the damp tree behind you chills you in surprise. You stand on the tree’s roots, anything to stand away from the moving dirt.
The pile of debris rises and stands. You stare at it in muffled shock. A slight whimper escapes you. The Shambler says nothing. Just as you make the decision to run back from where you came, you feel a sharp pain in your leg. A root of the tree you are leaning against against has lifted and impaled you. Slowly, more Shamblers rise from the forest floor.
You have intruded into the Forest of Shadows, where humans are not welcome. You try to keep them at bay with your torch, but the environment is too damp. When you make contact, the fire only scorches the Shambler’s surface. The torch however, starts to rot in your hands. Soon it is ripped from your hands, and the Shambler extinguishes it with its own body, engulfing the wood and digesting it before you.
You reach for a branch to snap off and swing. But the very branch you grab, grabs you back! The tree itself is bending roots and branches to hold you fast. As the Shamblers begin their slow embrace, you feel the worms, the beetles, and the roaches that live in them start to nibble and bite into your flesh.
They will eventually cover you completely, so that it will appear the tree that continues to impale you is growing from a tall mound. But they will leave your mouth free. They don’t want to suffocate you. Living meat is the best meat. Your death will be slow, your blood seeping out of your many wounds to the delight of Shambler and tree.
Some say, the trees don’t have leaves because they can’t use sunlight. An ancient grove that came about before the worlds were finished, there was no sun when they first sprouted. Some say the trees are wights that offended the gods, cursed to live without living in the grove.
Some tell their children, the Shamblers are what becomes of boys and girls that don’t do as they’re told. But the old men will tell you, after a tankard of ale, the Shamblers are what become of people that don’t die right away. The worms and the beetles and the roaches change the victim, until there is only the mass of decayed putrescence laying on the forest floor. And the hunger that drives it.
Still you wish to walk in my dreams?