I love the woods. Especially at this time of year. With the leaves turning and the underbrush dying out, it becomes a magical place. I base a lot of my stories in the woods, at least partially, because I’m fascinated by the atmosphere and the possibilities there. Every wood has a personality. Some woods are dark and creepy. Some are vibrant and interesting. These differences make them a fun setting for lots of stories. In fantasy trees can have any attribute you want them to have. Trees that grab or pummel people with their long, gnarled branches (Whomping Willow from Harry Potter)…trees that offer poisoned apples to an unsuspecting victim…trees that consume a person, making them part of the tree. Fun stuff. Then there are the vines that drag people into deep, dark holes and bushes with dangerous berries or flowers that attack, driving thorns deep into a victim’s body. Ish! Woods are great paces to hide kid-eating witch cabins and wonderful places to simulate death (the black forest).
Woods can be useful plot points in a contemporary story too. There’s no better place to hide from bad guys. And no easier place to get lost. The woods can create needed tension in a story, or offer a way to survive.
For me the charm of woods is in the quiet history embraced within its branches. There’s nothing more fascinating to me than looking at an ancient tree, speculating on the things it has seen, the events it has survived. Then there’s the whole cycle of life and death thing that’s represented so succinctly in a wood.
I guess these are all reasons why I love to spend time in the woods, both in real life and in my fictional meanderings. They stir my imagination and soothe my soul. It’s what “getting back to nature” really means to me.
I hope you’ll join me on my next trek through the fictional wood.
Here’s one of my favorite scenes in the woods, from my sexy paranormal, Bright City Lights:
With a snarl of rage, Rabb shot back to his feet and took off running. He followed the trail of spinning leaves and dust that, along with a faint thickening of the air, were the only evidence of his attacker’s movement across the clearing.
The leaves on a tree at the edge of the clearing crackled, tree limbs flying sideways as the creature plunged into the woods.
Rabb followed, his senses on full alert. He couldn’t help wondering exactly what he was dealing with. If it was a vamp, it was a damn powerful one. The shadow of its passage disappeared in the dim light of the trees and Rabb had only the disturbance of leaves and undergrowth to track the creature’s movement. He’d also begun to pick up a low level hum that he thought must be the result of air displacement from the speed with which the creature navigated.
Suddenly everything went still. Rabb dug his claws into the dirt and skidded to a stop, listening for the telltale hum. The woods were unnaturally silent and still. Nothing moved. Not a single creature trilled, whistled, or sang.
The silence took on its own power, running jagged nails across Rabb’s nerves. His fur stood on end and he could taste the beat of his heart on his tongue.
Whatever stalked him was close. And it was watching him.
Despair swamped him. He suddenly knew that, whatever it was, he didn’t have a chance against the thing. He was toast. Rabb fought the urge to run, to strike out blindly, and instead focused his enhanced senses on the immediate area. His gaze slid slowly over everything, cataloguing the deep, rich black of the forest floor and the vibrant green of each leaf. He noted the moist, green centers and jagged edges of broken twigs on the ground, the torn, matte surface of wild berries hanging from a nearby bush, and the tender veining dividing the undersurface of the leaves in the trees, the glistening beads of moisture dotting their tops. His ears took in the far away slough of a soft breeze dancing through the trees, and farther away, the low rumble of cars droning along the highway. His nostrils pinched against the stench of exhaust, faint but clear, and flared with pleasure at the rich scent of the earth beneath his grasping claws. Broken tree branches sent a sweet green odor into the air which seemed wildly incongruent with the evil stalking him.
And finally, beneath it all, was the scent of something ancient. Something that didn’t belong in the woods. A soft scuff against the dirt had him turning and he opened his jaws as it hit him, snapping the air as the wind was knocked out of his lungs. He flew backward, smacking into a large rock and sliding to the ground in a crumpled heap. Before he could climb to his feet, the thing was on him. He was shoved face down in the dirt and teeth that felt the size of his little finger ripped through his neck. He tried to turn, teeth snapping helplessly as he snarled. Terror quickly replaced rage at the exquisite torture of having his blood drawn out through the torn flesh. His heart beat so hard against his chest it hurt. A soft yelp of fear spilled from between his lips before he could stop it.
His legs flailed in desperation, claws ripping dirt, grass, and flesh as he struggled to displace the fiend on his back before his entire life was extracted from those two small holes in the back of his neck.
An overwhelming sense of loss twisted in his gut, turning his muscles to mush. His lungs locked down under the terror, depriving him of life-giving breath as he struggled with panic. Ice filled his veins, sliding inexorably through his limbs. His heart slowed its beat, no longer able to send blood streaming through his quickly weakening body. Rabb’s wolf slid away, leaving him vulnerable to the rough claws digging into his back and shoulders. With no adrenaline to soften their sting, his countless wounds created a dull pain that throbbed in time with his dying heart. A horrifying sound found its way into his consciousness. The sound of gulping and ravishing. An indecent sound of gluttonous pleasure that made him shudder.
A handsome face flashed across his mind. A beautiful voice said his name.
He wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to the man he loved. He couldn’t. The monster on his back would see to that.
Don’t just lay there, get your ass off the ground and fight that thing, Rabb!
Rabb frowned. Easy for you to say, fang.
Bullshit. You got a problem? Deal with it. The Rabb I know wouldn’t just lie there.
Rabb realized imaginary Brant was right. It wasn’t like him to just lie there.
He wouldn’t would he?
No. He wouldn’t. He would fight until he had no fight left in him. Something was wrong. The vamp was doing something to his mind.
Rabb shoved the fear away. He heaved himself off the ground, arching his back. He managed to surprise and momentarily dislodge his attacker. The thing made a mewling sound and almost immediately reattached itself to his neck, slamming him back to earth.
He called to his wolf and was met with silence. The magic seemed to have drained away with his blood. Despair tried to wind spiky tendrils of ice around his gut again. He forced his mind away from it, retrieving Brant’s scolding face and holding onto it with a tenaciousness borne of desperation.
The miasma of despair retreated enough to allow his wolf to stir in his breast. The beast snarled, thoroughly pissed. Rabb opened himself to it, allowing it to spring from the cocoon of helplessness the vamp on his back had created. In a flash he shifted, flinging the sucking creature away with the power of his change, and shoved to his feet. The effects of the mind poison slipped away as he embraced his wolf.
Rabb got an impression of a gray, skeletal face, surrounded by tangled, dark hair before, with a snarl of frustration, the creature spun away and retreated. Its departure created a path of spinning vegetation and flailing tree limbs through the woods.
Rabb stood rooted to the spot, panting from loss of blood and the effort of fighting his way back. Brant’s imaginary voice danced through his mind, the sound urgent and filled with fear.
At first he ignored it, thinking his mind was playing tricks on him again. But the man calling his name sounded worried. Rabb took a step forward and fell to his knees on the blood-drenched earth.
“Rabb! Where are you?”
Oh shit. Worried Brant wasn’t in his head. He was in the woods. Blackness pulled at Rabb’s vision as blessed unconsciousness tempted him. He focused on pulling air into his lungs. His muzzle opened and he tried to howl. The sound came out weak and gravelly, too wimpy to carry through the dense tree growth.
Rabb tried again and the result was even weaker. But it was all he had. He fell sideways, landing on a rock that dug into his ribs and pushed air from his lungs. Pain enveloped him, clawing his lungs with every breath, and he finally gave in to the blessed relief of sleep’s charcoal embrace.