her game . Then , as I circled the trunk , I noticed a word carved into the smooth bark : MEGAN .
Megan ! I was so close ! There must be another clue – what had I missed ? Something glinted at the tree ’ s roots . I picked it up – a little flint hand-knife from the village ! Megan must have brought it with her and carved her name on the trunk .
Suddenly I knew what I had to do . I needed to be brave for my friend . So I clasped the flint knife in my sweating hand and pressed it to the trunk .
As soon as the connection was made , my feet stopped moving . Something new was beginning . And so I began to write with a sense of dread :
L . From the distance came drumming … I . Making its way to the centre , where I stood … B . Branches beating on bark … B . The trees were calling . With a shaking hand , I carved the final letter … Y .
Beware the Demon of the Wood The distant sound of drumming For when the Tree begins to split The Demon is a-coming .
There was a deafening crack . The ground beneath my feet shook for a moment . The flint fell from my hand . I watched as the mighty trunk split from top to bottom . From this split came a blinding white light . I shielded my eyes and could see two forms stepping out of the tree ’ s heart : Megan and , towering behind her , the Wood Demon .
Her body was like a slender but twisted tree , with powerful , root-like legs . Two twisting branches were her arms . Her head was more human , although streaks of bark reached her cheekbones and her eyes flashed like lightning .
“ You played well ,” she hissed in a voice like a thousand swishing leaves . “ Here is your prize .” She swept her arm forward and Megan landed beside me .
“ Libby , you shouldn ’ t have written on the trunk !” she cried . “ I ’ m so sorry !”
The Wood Demon ’ s eyes flashed and a terrible smile crept over her face . My stomach jolted .
“ And the game goes on ,” she hissed . Her wooden hand grasped my wrist . She pulled me towards the tree . I didn ’ t fight – the tree was calling me . My game had ended …
I was dreamily aware of a giant tree closing around me .
Suddenly , the demon gave a heartpiercing shriek . Her grip on my wrist weakened . Something pulled my other arm away from the mesmerising light . There was a thud of wood against wood and the light vanished . I found myself laying on the ground , in front of the tree . Megan stood beside me , the flint knife in her hand . I looked at the trunk . It was closed and now bore the carved word DEMON . She was trapped .
“ I entered the wood for a dare all those years ago ,” whispered Megan . “ I never thought I ’ d awaken the Wood Demon ! She ’ d slept for so long , her power was still weak so I escaped but she claimed me that night . I started this .”
“ It ’ s over now ,” I said . “ No one in the village will enter the wood again . Then she can ’ t ever return . Let ’ s go home .”
And on the Wood Demon slept .
* * *
The traveller child skipped through the forest as his family searched for firewood . He stood at the tree and stroked the ancient carvings in the bark . A flint knife on the ground caught his eye . He picked it up …
Deep inside the tree , something smiled .
~ The End ~
Illustration : Jessica Tickle