Ichor Falls

The Stillwood King

by on Nov.03, 2008, under By Kris Straub

In 1806, settler Elijah Brown became lost for two days in what would later be named the Stillwood Forest, a deceptively-small wooded area southwest of Ichor Falls proper. When he returned to the town, Brown was gaunt, dehydrated and starving to the point of near death, and insisted that he was lost not for two days but nine. He also had carefully kept journal entries with the rise and set of the sun, and indeed he had made nine of them. Exhaustion and confusion clearly played a factor in augmenting Brown’s story — and of course, after a hard winter, there’s no record of how dehydrated and starved Brown may have been before getting lost.

Later expeditions into the Stillwood showed that the forest floor is incredibly thick with vegetation, with tall, rail-thin trees making most passage exceedingly difficult. Add to this three similarly-curving creeks and streams flowing off the Erytheia, the natural sound-dampening of the trees, and foliage sometimes so thick that it blocks the sky, and you have a recipe for losing one’s way quite easily.

However, the Stillwood still carries the stigma of being invisibly endless. The legend of the Stillwood King started, interestingly enough, almost immediately after Brown’s return.

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Brown’s story that evolved him into the spooky figure of legend as time passed, but his experience probably did inspire it. Historians believe either teachers at a schoolhouse bordering the Stillwood, or parents of the attending children, cooked up the legend to keep kids from wandering into the dangerous woods and getting lost.

The legend says that Brown was not the first person to get lost in the Stillwood, but another man entered its wooded labyrinth hundreds of years before. Time doesn’t work in the Stillwood the same way it does outside of it, and the longer you’re trapped, the longer it seems, even if you’ve only been gone a few days in the real world.

That first victim became a permanent part of the Stillwood. He never found his way back home and should have starved to death, but the Stillwood wouldn’t let its King die — so it slowed his heart to a crawl along with the rest of him. They say it beats once per day, and that he can’t move more than a foot in an hour.

When he’s alone, that is.

His clothes are ragged and torn, and he looks more like a bone-white cadaver than a man. He screams and cries for help, but no one outside can hear him, and over the centuries, his screams have become silent. And as he stalks among the dead leaves in exhaustion, praying for death to come, the Stillwood becomes a little more a part of him. His blood is creek-water and moss, and his skin is the color of mushroom caps.

They say if you ever find yourself in the Stillwood, you have to be careful where you look. You see, the fact that no one sees him is what disconnected the Stillwood King from the normal passage of time. He is as slow and silent as the Stillwood itself — that is, until your eyes fall upon him.

You may catch a sliver of white through a stand of trees, thinking it to be a crop of mushrooms growing up the side of an old oak. But if it’s the King, you’ll see that white shape spin around instantly, revealing two sunken black eyes and a saw-edged mouth locked in a scream. Now you will hear him.

And now, now he will be quick, and loud, and all the things he can’t be when no one else is there. He has been waiting for this for a long time, and while you are looking at him, he’ll move with all the pent-up time the Stillwood has stolen from him, has saved for him, and he will be upon you almost faster than you can blink.

Almost, the legend says. So if you see what looks like a crop of mushrooms as tall as a man in the distance, don’t stop to think, don’t run, do nothing except shut your eyes. The Stillwood King already knows you’re there, and the forest is no obstacle to him when he’s fast. He may now be only inches from you — but if you’ve shut your eyes in time, that’s where he’ll stay. Turn completely around, with your eyes still shut tight, and pray that he wasn’t fast enough to run behind you in that blink.

Now. Feel your way through the forest, around the thin, close, brittle trees, and over the dead leaves, which will seem oddly quiet. In case he has positioned himself for you to come to him, change direction just once. Don’t open your eyes until you’ve gone at least the same distance as the King was from you, when you first saw him.

With luck, you’ll leave him trapped again, his heart beating once a day, his movement only a foot an hour.

But if, with your eyes shut, you slowly press against a wet, shambling thing that smells like moss and creek-water, and feels like mushroom caps, open your eyes.

So it will be quick.

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17 comments for this entry:
  1. Kev

    I really liked that!

  2. ProfessorKao

    Great piece. Loved it from top to bottom.

  3. Ryan

    Wow! I came over from Starslip earlier today, and have been reading stories instead of working. The two of yours (this one and Curious Little Thing, I think it was called?) were some of the best short stories I’ve read in ages! Jesus Christ, man. If you’re going to be so awesome at everything, at least admit that you have halitosis or that you wear a toupé. Something.

  4. darkmayo

    I like the premise, not entirely sure what perspective the story is being told from but it is good none the less.

    reminds me of “When a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

  5. Kris Straub

    I wanted it to start like an actual dissection of a folk tale and just turn into someone telling you a scary story. I’m imagining a kooky folklorist or other scholar telling the story, first to inform you, then to just scare you.

  6. Dublin Jack

    This was very folkish, indeed; it reeked of a headmaster’s story to his students. I wasn’t sold on it until the very end when, as usual, you managed to include just enough of a hook to really make the story.

  7. Meadhands

    Nothing short of delicious, insofar as a story can taste. The ending is a beautiful thing to read. Thanks for once again distracting me when I should be working. Worth every second.

  8. MacAbre

    By far and away one of the best stories I read on the sit so far. Perhaps this is just my type of creepy,but it was chillingly good.

  9. Moloch

    Damn… that’s all I can say… just damn!

  10. Madzia

    That was awesome, and now I am scared. *shudder*

  11. Anonymous

    It’s reverse Weeping Angels:
    Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast, faster than you could believe, don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink. Good luck.

    Of course, it does leave the question: how exactly does anybody know that the Stillwood King exists or how exactly he operates? Anybody who doesn’t know how he works will be killed – unless you’re the type of person who instinctively closes their eyes whenever you see a human-sized lump of mushrooms and that seems a bit strange if you are.

  12. Erik

    Loved this, it so makes me want to do something similar in a D&D game.

  13. Q

    Here’s something to consider: supposing that the myth of the Stillwood King was, in the end, only a myth… where would that leave people who had wandered into the forest? When they see mushrooms growing on trees, and willingly get lost in the forest, closing their eyes and choosing a random direction to escape?

    Perhaps the myth has power even on its own.

  14. Marhta Alanis

    I simply now desired to let you know about how a lot I really value just about everything you have discussed to aid enhance life of people on this material. Through your articles, I have eliminated via merely a novice to an specialist in the region. It’s a classic homage to your endeavours. Many thanks

  15. Mathew

    You Sir, make my blood freeze in place with a jolt of terror and flow hot as lava but slow as mallassiss (sorry if that’s spelled wrong) with the way you weave a story.
    You’re a true genius.

  16. Athosismyhero

    Another wonderful story! I particularly like this one, having attempted my own fairy tales and folklore. Bravo.

  17. someguy

    I love how this story works out, assuming a child has wandered into stillwood knowing of the myth, assuming they have wandered in roughly a straight line they would close their eyes turn around and follow the same path out of the forest.

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