For nearly a century he lived peacefully, marking time by seasonal changes and tree rings. Then they came and everything changed.
When the Earth first trembled, he scurried into the hollow beneath the oldest spruce. He peeked out from between the roots with curiosity and trepidation.
Beasts of metal, spewing foul fumes that poisoned the air, tore through the grove without any regard for the beings living there, be they fowl, fauna or fey.
The shrieks of the mutilated and dying filled his head and no amount of hiding could keep the sound out of his heart and memory. Something broke within him as he huddled within the tree roots and listened to the senseless slaughter of those he held dear.
When silence descended, he waited, not trusting it to remain quiet. He was patient; he remained concealed until other creatures of the woods came out of hiding and returned to what was left of their forest home. Only then did he cautiously make his way to where his kith and kin lay dying among the wreckage of the raped Earth.
He held the hand of Elder Mother as she faded before his teary eyes. He cradled the broken body of Alder as he passed into the underworld. Dainty little Mountain Ash withered away before could reach her and even the stalking Willow wasn’t swift enough to escape mortal wounds.
He cried over their earthly remains, the tree spirits ripped so carelessly out of their element, battered, broken and left to rot. He opened himself to their death energies: the vengeance of Elder, the death-knell of Alder, the fires of Ash, and the tricksy ways of Willow. He pulled the magics inside him and waited.
* * *
It wasn’t long before a structure went up on the cleared ground. He sent a surge of rodents to infest their dwelling; they got cats. He called upon the owls to snatch the cats; they got more cats and a wolf dog that barked and snapped at him.
He retreated and watched as time passed. They scraped away the wild plants and moss, replacing them with lawn seed and neat little rows of vegetables. He watched as their single child grew older and was joined by another. He simmered in anger as their family thrived; his family was sacrificed by them without a second thought so they could have their nice, little life.
Finally the Gods smiled upon him. The wolf died, killed by one of the metal beasts it loved to chase, and the new dog couldn’t sense him; it didn’t have enough wildness left in its blood. He saw this as his opportunity.
He waited until darkness fell and the artificial lights in the artificial dwelling blinked out. The moon was high when he crept out of his tree and crossed the clearing to the back of the house. He felt exposed out in the open; he was a creature of the shadows.
He scuttled across the snow, the ice pack on top of it crackling beneath his feet; his deformed shadow stretched out along side him as dark and twisted as his soul. It unnerved him. He increased his pace, reaching the back of the dwelling without alarming the family inside or the dog sleeping around front.
He reached up and grabbed the door knob, the cold metal burning his hands. He hissed in pain as he flinched away. It was locked. He knew it wouldn’t be that easy.
There was a single opening higher up than he could reach but underneath it was a slanted board. He caressed the slivered wood, muttering a prayer under his breath for the lives lost in its formation, before scampering up it.
He tried to slip through the opening only to find it blocked by a hard, transparent sheet as cold as the winter’s night. He clawed at it, his anger growing as his fingernails scrapped and screeched across it but didn’t damage it. He could see the children sleeping below him. They were close yet he couldn’t reach them.
They stirred and two pairs of eyes stared up at him. He grinned and doubled his efforts to get to them. They huddled together; he could practically taste their fear; it danced sweetly on his tongue and spurred him on. The glass groaned as he attempted to break it out of its moorings.
An eldritch glow from within the room caught his attention. He peered through the hoar frosted pane with curiosity. He didn’t know humans possessed magic.
Inside the room the spirit guardians of the children rushed to their defense. More than a dozen of them took on the familiar shapes of favorite stuffed toys and danced in a circle in the middle of the room, gathering Power. They emitted a clean, blue light, as pure as the hearts of the children, that they pushed outwards, forming a protective circle around the girls and pushing the spirit of the woods away from their charges.
The Power hit him like a physical punch and he was thrown across the yard and away from the humans. He threw back his head and screamed into the darkness. He was determined to have his revenge yet was thwarted at every turn.
He tried again and again only to be pushed away by magic more powerful than his own. The children came to dread the night, for they never knew when he would come, trying so hard to reach them. This gave him only a small sense of satisfaction.
* * *
The children grew and the family moved to a larger dwelling, one he was unable to see into. With time they forgot his visits but he didn’t forget them or what was done to his kin.
He changed tactics; he used the Power he obtained from his dying kindred and called up the elements to bring heat, fire, rain and snow upon the interlopers.
Season after season, year after year he brought destruction. The humans endured, tearing down structures and building new ones, adapting to the challenges nature threw at them. He almost lost hope as the grown children returned home but soon they left again. Finally, after nearly four decades, the property was abandoned. Metal beasts and a swarm of humans removed the structures, leaving the land to return to its natural state. Silence descended and after several seasons he came to trust it.
He curled up in his burrow beneath the old spruce tree to hibernate, content that, for a time, his woods were once again safe from interlopers.