The dying tree had never been more alive.
He couldn’t remember what had drawn him there. He couldn’t remember much of anything anymore, but base instinct told him that he was close. The woods were uncannily quiet, devoid of birdsong and the faint rustle of wind through the leaves. The sharp pistol crack of twigs snapping beneath trudging feet immediately deadened to silence as he walked slowly through the unrelenting night.
His eyes were near useless in the murk, but ahead amid the trees he could make out the faint outline of a person. A girl, or so it seemed. He followed the figure helplessly, effulgent moonlight silhouetting a shape flickering between humanoid and something altogether stranger, but always distant.
The sound should have startled him, but in his trance it barely registered. It began as faint laughter, phasing slowly around him from left to right. A child’s laughter. Slowly it increased in pitch and volume, orbiting him like a sickening pulsar until the source of the evil sound was at once above, beneath and within him. The nearly-girl had stopped, turning slowly to face him. His ragged breath caught in his chest. He was there.
He was in a wide clearing, the edges marked by deformed oak and ash trees casting eerie, warped moonshadows on the damp ground beneath. The air seemed thick, laden with the half remembered scent of camphor and charred wormwood. The bones of birds and small mammals scattered the woodland floor, a scene of intense, breathtaking horror. The figure of the half-girl was grisly and cruel, sunken cheeks hollow beneath an eyeless stare, but he was impossibly drawn to her. She moved towards him at a glacial pace, although he heard no footsteps, no crunch of tiny bones. Her sightless eyes bore through him, head tilted as if curious. She spoke.
The sound that emitted from her decaying maw was like nothing ever conceived by the living. Thin and dry, an inhuman rasp like the creak of a rusted sepulchre gate. The smell of a charnel house, putrescent and rank, filled his nostrils, but didn’t break through the glamour. “The old gods must feed”. He died slowly, oblivious to his fate.
A villager would later report seeing a flash of magnesium light from the wooded hollow that night, and the farm dogs were spooked into madness by a sound inaudible to human ears. The stranger was never found, and was never missed. Folklore meant that few humans entered Lich Wood any more, especially not at full moon, but those that did would have seen the major oak more contorted and grotesque than before. The gods were satiated, for now.