The forest wrapped itself around me, the trees reaching up to almost touch each other in the canopy. Light filtered down in patches, speckling all around me in shimmering warmth. There was the odd waft of cut pine, a spider web to be brushed from my face as I ducked below a low branch, and as I walked, I listened. The quiet pressed into me, and I took it in as an inventory of what I couldn’t hear: no phlegmy scrapes of throats being cleared, no half-rhythmic clacking of keyboards, no muffled blare of an overly loud TV.

I pitched my tent and waited until total dark fell before retreating to my sleeping bag. As I lay in my own silence, I wished that I could have explained why I needed to leave — that it wasn’t some reaction to turning forty, or burnout, or a nervous breakdown. That I’d always felt the urge to be here. To breathe in the world, not exhaust fumes. That I’d always felt wrong, like I’m a sliver, or a papercut. Instead, I just broke her gaze and her heart. The memory of my turning head filled my mind until I drifted off.


The sound of the canvas met the edges of my dreams and when I opened my eyes, the world was black. I held my hand out towards the canvas. It sounded almost like someone was running their hand along the side of my tent, in a caress so light as to be almost inaudible yet regular as a metronome. I held my palm to the inside of my tent and the noises stopped.

Sleep was dragging at me again when I heard the soft snap of a twig. After a moment I heard another, then another, drawing closer to me. Now they were loud as gunshots and fear had me pinned in place. Another snap, right by my face, so loud the sound rang in my ears and sent my heartbeat racing up into my head.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

Silence. A loaded silence. My ears were straining through it, when something pushed into the wall of my tent.

I threw myself to the other side of the tent and scrambled for my torch. Where I had been laying, I could see the shape of something pushing the canvas inward. It looked like an enormous hand, far too large to have been human, nearly as large as my own body. The fingers were overly long and pointed, crawling towards the corners of the tent. I could even make out the swollen joints. The hand pushed further into the tent, the fabric just starting to rip, and I screamed. I fell out of the tent and was running before I realised what I was doing.

As soon as I felt the cold squelch of mud on my bare feet outside my tent, a boundless noise shook the forest. Low and ancient, more than a growl, more than a roar, I felt it rumble in my bones. It was coming from the direction of my tent. I started sprinting, careening through the trees, ignoring the pain in my feet, until the scream stopped.

Holding onto the nearest tree for support, I looked around. It was total darkness, I could only just see the outline of my hand against the tree trunk. Far in the distance through the trees, there was a pinprick of light. My torch. I glanced behind me into the black, imagining what would happen if in the darkness I stumbled, broke something, couldn’t move. I started to walk back to my camp.

I could now hear all the noises I had mistaken for silence earlier. The wind through the trees, the odd crunch-crack of leaf-litter around me, drops of rain on the canopy, my own ragged breath and pounding heart. I was hoping to hear a bird call, a far-off wolf, or something, anything to indicate another heart beating, but there was nothing. I approached the edge of my campsite. The torch was lying outside of my tent where I had dropped it, illuminating the trees around me. Behind it, behind my tent, was something else.

Tall as the trees, limbs jutting out like branches at odd angles, branch-spines flexing along its back as it turned to face me. When it turned, I saw its face and I saw its smile. Rows and rows of flattened teeth, ragged lips peeling back, the mouth stretching to a cavern that dwarfed the rest of its face. The eyes were tiny black absences, jewels of polished jet. It locked eyes with me for the longest second of my life, and then I noticed the first shift in the dark that comes as morning approaches.

It faded into the trees, folding itself up among the trunks and out of sight. I stood, in my bare feet and sleeping clothes, paralysed, completely unaware of the passing of time. It wasn’t until the first shards of dawn broke through the trees and landed on my tent that I was able to move. Obscene joy surged in me, joy that I had made it through, and I wanted to cheer, to wrap my arms around another person and scream for the love of life. I realised what I had really left behind — it wasn’t the tapping of the keyboards, it was the hands doing the tapping.

Margot Tancred lives in Norwich, UK, with a growing collection of house plants. This is her first published story.

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Every Day Fiction