The Whispers in the Woods by Alistair Redd

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The Whispers in the Woods


          The spring air was refreshing, and Sean O’Dwyer could hear the crunching of leaves and twigs as he stepped through the forest’s dark floor. His only guide was the moon, shining its brilliant light down upon the world – his world. It was saddening to him that it would soon crumble, and he would have to return to the monotonous grey life that he inhabited by day.

          Sean worked at Burke’s pub in the town of Clonbur while he lived just on the edge of the forest nearby, in a small cottage. The final work hour was almost over, and he would finally be able to escape once more into the woodlands. Once the day was done, and everything was in order at the pub, he left, and strolled off to his home.

          Once Sean arrived, he immediately changed out of his grimy work uniform, took an icy shower, and afterwards put on a light brown waist-length coat, a dark green shirt, and a pair of newly-purchased blue jeans. Lastly he put on some brown boots with equally brown suede on the sides. Sean was ready to head out, and walk below the many overhanging trees of the forest.

          Time was nearly allowing the dark to flow throughout Ireland when he first stepped into the woods. This particular visit of his was a peculiar one. Sean couldn’t perfectly place his finger on what exactly felt so strange about it. He had the strange feeling of being watched by something (or someone) lurking in the darkness, though he shrugged it off since it was certainly just his wild imagination! His eyes did not deceive him though, for there were also shadows in the treetops, hunched low on the numerous twisting branches of the large and ominous wooden giants in the night. These dark and shadowy figures put Sean on edge, and he felt it better to just head home for the night. And he immediately did just that.

          After arriving before his cottage, Sean rushed inside and slammed the door shut, bolting and locking it instantly afterwards. He skipped dinner, undressed and jumped straight into bed. That night, as he lay asleep in his cheap, noisy bed, Sean tossed and turned, the sweat on his body serving as an indication of an unpleasant sleep. He dreamt of the shadowy figures, and what they truly looked like. One of them appeared to be an enormous raven, others small impish creatures that danced around fires waving sticks over their heads, and carving symbols into the ground with rocks. He also dreamt of an ancient tree, only it was a living being. Cian-Ruis.

          A subtle stirring at the door of his cottage awoke him from his dark sleep, and he slowly rose up, like one who wakes up on a work day, although they wish that they hadn’t. He placed his feet onto the wood-paneled floor, and stepped out into the entryway where the door stood, gaping wide open, both bolt and lock dismantled.

Outside he could see what appeared to be floating lanterns, all glowing in luminescent turquoise, radiant green, or burning yellow-orange colours. The lanterns slowly, rhythmically approached his cottage, nearer and nearer, until he could see what held them up. Small, child-sized creatures held the lanterns up, and walked in a sort of dancing motion, hopping to place one foot in front of the other every two seconds, wobbling before they did so. Once they all came nearer and assembled into two lines, one of the lantern-bearers, holding a unique, multi-coloured lantern, slightly larger than the rest, hopped to the middle of the doorway, and knelt down before Sean. It donned a pointed hat with a wide brim, which had numerous strings with what appeared to be small golden seeds attached hanging down from it. The seeds collided with each other in the instant that it knelt down, and each made a quiet “Clok!” noise as they did. The creature was much smaller than Sean, and it had three black circular indentations on its head.

          Just then, he heard a creaking, like that of wood bending beyond its limits. A tall figure appeared in the distance, and once it was close enough, its details were revealed to Sean and all of the small creatures in front of his cottage. The figure looked a bit like a tree, only in place of branches were twisted, bent, wooden arms. At the base of its trunk-like body, there were dark brown, dirt-riddled roots that resembled and acted as feet. Sean remembered this figure from his dream. “Cian-Ruis”, he almost subconsciously uttered. Cian-Ruis approached him slowly, moving its invisible legs, creaking with each step it took. After what seemed like an eternity, for Richard was in a dream-like state, the Tree stopped next to the imp-like creature that wore the intricate hat. “Pol,” Cian-Ruis echoed, in a loud, but whispering and ancient voice. The ancient tree then gestured to the small kneeling imp. Sean realized it must have been telling him the little being’s name. “Pol, then. Right. Now would you kindly explain to me what in the nine hells is going on here?” Sean asked, convinced that he was going insane, though he went along with it anyway. It was better than simply waking up to yet another day of his normal life.

          In that instant, Pol turned his head to Cian-Ruis, and the Ancient Tree droned, “Pol ponders why, inside of our enchanted faurest, ye often wanders, and yer time, ye always squanders. Why is this?”

Sean was puzzled at first, due to the strange manner of speaking that the ancient being spoke in. After he processed the words, however, he understood. “Squander? My time? I would barely call it squandering. It is a great use of my time, and I consider it the only way that I cannot possibly be squandering it, thank you. Most people would think I was queer if I said this, which is possibly why you expect that I consider it a waste of my time,” Sean said, quite dizzy in the head, as he was imagining that he was on the brink of insanity.

Why doesn’t he just dismiss all of this and head back inside? The answer to that is one which Sean could not find no matter hard he tried. “This is all a dream…” he uttered, “just..a dream…” With that, Sean passed out into dreadful state of unconsciousness. He had that bewildering nightmare again. Only this time as if a fog were being lifted from a landscape in a matter of seconds, he could see what the creature’s that he met earlier were doing. Carrying him away. It was to a clearing in the forest, where there were numerous pebbles all lined up in a circle. This was where he awoke.

          Sean O’Dwyer’s eyes opened up to a radiant sunlight, its warmth soothing his nerves as he slowly rose before realizing what had happened and where exactly he was. Normally it would be a great shock to any person, waking up in the middle of a forest. Only, Sean was in a trance-like state, and he could do nothing to stop this, so he lifted himself up, and planted his legs in the leafy ground, one in front of the other, towards a magnificent tree. It was significantly larger than the others, and was adorned with all kinds of beautiful flowers, and spiraling streaks of white on the trunk and branches. One peculiar thing about this tree, however, was that there was a very concentrated amount of leaves, vines, and other foliage in a specific spot on the tree.  Sean was guided to this location, and he didn’t stop when he reached it. Rather, he strode directly into it.

          Falling. This was what Sean was met with as soon as he set foot beyond the foliage that he had previously walked through. Strangely though, this wasn’t quite the terrifying high-speed falling. It was more of a relaxing, and cool fall.            He was surrounded in complete, utter darkness, rendering his eyes useless. As Sean eased downward, he had a strong feeling that he was approaching something. He felt as if he was about to emerge from whatever it was he was in. And that is just what happened.

          As if oozing out of a pool of tar, Sean emerged from the complete blackness, into yet another ominous expanse of blackness, however, in front of him was an enormous vine which he could thankfully see with his own two eyes. Now out of his strange trance, and with no other course of action, Sean descended down the vine. (I should add, our sir could see the vine due to light, ghostly symbols floating downwards just on its border. They were all very elaborate and nonsensical, though this fascinated Mr. O’Dwyer all the more.)

          As Sean walked down the mystical vine, the luminescent symbols reacted to his presence by bursting into vibrant, flourishing swirls. It caused Sean to think of dancers in a golden ballroom.

          In what felt like ages and less than a minute, Sean O’Dwyer met the floor of this strange abyss. It was made up of a kind of tallish grass, which glowed in a milky neon turquoise.  They brushed against his nightgown lightly, as if they were feathers.  Not far from where he was standing in the grass, there was a hulking raven-like creature facing towards him. It stood taller than Sean, and he could just make out its beaked face. The raven's eyes were like lines, as if they were tightly shut, almost squinting, but relaxed, as the lines were smooth-running. As soon as it noticed him looking its way, it spoke.

"I have been awaiting you, woods-wanderer. My name is Brom, and I am to guide you to our village," the raven said, adjusting its stance to a more refined one, as it stood straight, appearing almost like a noble eagle, glowing with honour. "We have been watching you for a few moons now, and it is clear that there is something different about you. Something that..separates you from the rest of your kind. However, 'tis not my job to explain these things to you. I request that you climb onto my back," Brom told our pale Mr. O'Dwyer.

Without a word, Sean acknowledged the request, and clung to the shining purple green feathers of the magnificent raven. With that, the two were off, flying through the darkness, the vast abyss, the world of dreams.


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