The pine forest’s peaks stood like silent sentinels in the valley. They had been planted as a crop to harvest for woodchip many years previously. When the market failed the pine forest became neglected and overgrown. It grew dense and dark. Forest creatures and birds appreciated its sanctuary. Many had sheltered there from the fierce wind which blew from the coast. Others liked its cool relief from the hot summers. A thin track meandered through it used occasionally by hikers to get to the coast but mainly it lay abandoned by humans.
A hiker carried the spores in on his boots. The spores spread across the forest floor. The orange spores grew and extended over the ground and up a tall pine tree. They crept into the core of the tree and quietly clogged its pores until the pine tree lost its life sap and fell to the forest floor, dead. It lay across the track that meandered through the pine forest.
“Come on Annabelle, its lovely here in the pine forest,” a young voice echoed among the trees.
“Tom, I’m afraid, it’s too dark,” his little sister replied.
“Just shut your eyes for a while and then open them. Your eyes will adjust. I’ll count to ten for you, shall I?”
“Okay, I’ll try if you count.”
“One two, miss a few, ten!”
“Not fair, you cheated.”
“No, I didn’t. That’s how you make time go faster.”
Annabelle laughed and opened her eyes. She could see much clearer so she moved along the narrow track that wound through the pine forest. Tom followed.
They went deeper and deeper. As their eyes adjusted the pine forest came to life.
“Look, Tom, a tiny bright red bird.”
“If you listen you will hear him call his mate.”
“I heard him. Look, there’s his mate.”
The female was a dusky red. She answered his call and he flew to her.
A multitude of creatures, disturbed by the children’s intrusion, skittered away and hid in the pine needles which littered the forest floor. Tom chased a dragonfly and Annabelle watched a butterfly flit through the trees.
“I’m glad grandpa planted this pine forest. It’s fun to explore, but Annabelle, you had better watch out for monsters. Grandpa said there are monsters hidden in pine forests.”
“Stop it, Tom, you’re scaring me.”
“Just kidding. Come on, you’ll be okay. I’m sure there are no monsters in this forest.”
Annabelle and Tom moved along the path until they came to a large log completely blocking the path. It was long and wide.
Annabelle climbed up on to the log. There was weird orangey stuff covering it. She tried to brush it away. Tom chased a lizard into a hole under a rock before he climbed up too.
“Tom, I’m tired and hungry. I saw you put some things in your pocket before we left. Fess up, share.”
Tom pulled out two crushed biscuits, a couple of candy canes leftover from Christmas and two round juicy oranges.
“You have the biggest pockets.” Annabelle laughed.
They relaxed on the log and ate the food slowly, enjoying the surroundings, all thoughts of monsters gone.
Tom looked at his watch.
“It’s time to head back. Mother said we had to be back before five o’clock.”
Annabelle jumped off the log and dusted herself down.
“Ergh, that weird orangey stuff has stuck to me. Tom, you have some on you too.”
Tom dismissed her concerns. Rubbed his hands down the side of his clothes and ran off.
“Wait for me.”
“Hurry up then or the monsters will get you.”
“Not funny Tom.”
They were almost to the edge of the forest when an owl hooted.
“It’s just an owl. Come on scaredy-cat. I told you before there are no monsters in the pine forest.”
The two youngsters burst out of the pine forest full of energy and excitement into the bright sunlight. They raced to the kitchen where their mother was preparing dinner.
Their cheeks were flushed and they both wanted to talk at once.
“We saw a little red bird and its mate.”
“I chased a lizard under a rock.”
“There’s a big pine tree that has fallen down and is blocking the path. Do you think dad could remove it?”
“Whoa, slow down, one thing at once. Look at you two. You’ve both got some horrible orangey stuff all over you. Go and wash up before dinner. You can ask dad about the log after dinner.”
Annabelle scrubbed hard and got all the orangey stuff off. Tom wasn’t so fussy. He gave himself a quick wash and went to watch his favorite show on television before dinner.
“I thought I told you to wash that off.”
“Sorry mother, it won’t come off.”
“It doesn’t look as if you tried. It looks as if it’s growing. Try again before you go to bed.”
Tom brushed his hands along his arms. The orangey stuff did seem to be thicker. There was some on his legs too. He scrubbed it hard before he went to bed, but didn’t get it all off. His arms and legs were clean, but he missed a small patch behind his left ear.
In the morning Tom didn’t go down to breakfast.
“Annabelle, it’s not like your brother to miss breakfast. Run up and tell him to hurry before the bacon gets cold.”
Annabelle ran upstairs and knocked on Tom’s door.
“Tom, wake up. Let’s go exploring in the pine forest again. Dad said he will take the chainsaw and chop up the fallen pine tree so we can go farther into the pine forest.”
When Tom didn’t answer Annabelle pushed open his bedroom door and screamed.
While Tom slept the orangey stuff had multiplied. His entire body was covered by it. It had grown into his mouth and closed his throat. Sometime during the night, he had suffocated.
Obviously there was a monster in the pine forest after all.
Lynne Phillips, a retired teacher, lives in the beautiful Northern Rivers Region of New South Wales Australia. Her stories, across all genres, have been published in anthologies and various online magazines. Her priority is spending time with her family. Her passions are reading, writing and keeping fit.