Lou Lou’s lips rested comfortably on Jon’s face the only way a wife’s could. His eyes fluttered open and welcomed a moments gaze upon her face before leaning in for another kiss on the lips.
“Happy birthday,” she whispered into his ear before kissing him again.
Jon laid on his back and stared at the ceiling. Today, he was finally going to climb Saine Mountain, the hardest mountain to climb in Saine City. Jon and Lou Lou climbed for years. It was actually how they met. The importance of climbing exceeded the physical for them. The mental and spiritual ability to be able to conquer such massive and delicate pieces of land meant everything.
Lou Lou planned to go on this adventure with Jon a year ago when they weren’t interested in being parents. Now Lou Lou’s belly was 6 months full but she still urged Jon to go without her.
“Go,” she said rubbing her stomach, “ enjoy this for both of us. Who knows when we’ll be able climb again once the baby gets here.”
Hiking through the forest to get to Saine Mountain was just as dangerous as climbing the mountain itself. There were a few canals that led to the mountain that were quite rapid and rocky. There was Knott Canal, Flag Canal and Ghost Canal.
Knott Canal and Flag Canal were the ones known for their rapid and rocky streams. Being that it was such a long hike, hikers would often try to get fresh water from these canals. But they would always slip into the river and get rushed down the rocky stream towards their death.
After so many deaths from people falling into the streams, hikers decided the best idea would be to trek through the forest following Ghost Canal. Ghost Canal was true to its name as it never carried water. It dried up hundreds of years ago in a drought and never carried water ever again, even when it rained.
Hikers thought it would be a good idea to follow Ghost Canal since there were no rapid streams for them to fall into and drown. But every single hiker that ever followed Ghost Canal not only ended up dead, they ended up drowned. National park officers, city officers and firefighters searched all over the forest to see what could be causing these mysterious deaths, but no one could ever make sense of them.
Many urban legends were born from these unfortunate deaths but ultimately no one really knew how these people were dying. Eventually, hikers learned to never take water from the running canals and to keep far away from Ghost Canal.
Jon emerged from their bedroom wearing all his new hiking gear he just bought himself from REI. He plopped next to Lou Lou at their kitchen table and ate every bit of grits, eggs and potatoes on his plate.
“Well,” he said stretching and rubbing his full stomach, “I guess I should get ready to head out.”
Jon and Lou Lou checked and doubled checked that he had everything he needed to have a safe trip. Lou Lou pulled her husband close to her and said,
“Please be safe, Jon. Come back home to us.”
Jon planted a lingering kiss on his wife and said,
“I will be back for both of you, I promise.”
When Jon arrived to the forest, it was beautiful and plush as it was finally leaving winter and entering into spring. Jon got out of his truck and gazed at the beautiful land wishing Lou Lou could be there to enjoy it with him. He grabbed his hiking gear out the back of his truck and followed the trail that led towards Knott Canal.
The stream in Knott Canal gushed with freshly melted ice water. Jon saw other patrons trekking through the same parts and he figured he had his map and his gear to at least keep him on the right trail.
Jon trekked and trekked until he ran into a grizzly bear and it’s cub fishing not too far down the canal. Jon worried the bear would notice him and charge to protect it’s young. He didn’t want to harm the bear so he thought it would be best to walk around as quietly as possible and continue down the canal.
He checked his map and kept walking. As he was walking he noticed something strange; it was quiet and there weren’t any other people on the trail.
Panic rose in Jon’s chest as he looked around to see where he was. An old wooden post slightly covered by leaves and branches peaked behind a tree. Jon approached it and pushed the leaves back and was suddenly frozen. The post read Ghost Canal. Jon turned around in an effort to retreat when suddenly he heard water rushing upstream. He turned back around in great disbelief. This canal never carried water! Never! And here Jon was witnessing a strange miracle. Lots and lots of fresh water rushed down the canal. Even stranger in discovery was a tall man drinking the water.
Jon began to briskly walk over towards the man so they could team up and both get the hell out of there. That man had to know how much danger they were in. But as he got closer he noticed something about this man was different.
From far away his skin seemed to be covered in cracks, but as he approached he realized those cracks were actually tree bark. His hair resembled long, thick branches covered in delicate leaves and his eyes were a deep sap brown.
Standing right in front of him was a Walking Tree.
Walking Trees are the oldest living things on the land. They know everything from the very beginning to the very end.
Before civilization, Walking Trees walked among the people and shared the land with them. But as time went by, humans became greedy and didn’t want to share the land anymore with a species they felt were beneath them.
Some trees felt bad for the humans knowing that they would be the cause to their own destruction. Other trees weren’t so sympathetic.
Jon stood there frozen and waited.
The man, or tree, stood upright and pulled it’s shoulders back showing its towering height of 7ft tall. The Walking Tree scowled as it looked over Jon.
“It does not surprise me that you’re here,” it croaked. A distain settled deep into the trees eyes and it made Jon shift uncomfortably on his feet.
“I was just trying to get through these woods and make it home to my family,” said Jon as humbly as possible. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
The Walking Tree snarled and it’s branches shot out and wrapped around Jon squeezing him until a snap cracked down the side of his body.
The Walking Tree pulled Jon close to it’s face and he could smell it’s warm and earthy breath.
“You’re scared,” it continued in a low voice, “and you should be. When the earth flooded with water, we were here, watching the world become cleansed of you, and we were glad. We thought God had finally gotten rid of all of you, drowned all of you. Instead, He saved you and I do not know why. There is no saving you. You cannot be saved.”
The Walking Tree’s branches continued to squeeze around Jon.
“Please,” Jon pleaded in tears, “I have a family.”
“So do we,” it replied.
The Walking Tree squeezed its branches even tighter around Jon and lowered him into the cold, rushing water.