This story is by Robert Singler and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
On All Hallows’ Eve, the Woodsman walked through the Willow Woods holding a lantern and an axe. The lantern dangled, casting shadows on the forest walls. Beyond the shadows, ghouls and goblins giggled at his gait. He paid them no mind. His mind thought of the deal he had brokered. “Give me your present, and I will give you back your past,” The Green Man promised him. The promise filled him with the hope he would be with his wife again. The mother of his twins died, giving birth to them. It broke his heart, and he missed her for eight long years. During those years, he raised and loved his children. He never failed them until his broken heart broke him.
The forest opened to a clearing where the moon illuminated the path up the hill and through the Green Chapel’s graveyard. Grotesques sat atop each tombstone, and the ground in front of every tomb was turned up. He approached the Green Chapel. Two large wooden doors stood before him. The stone walls were covered with green moss, enabling the chapel to live up to its namesake. The once beautiful rose window above the doors was now in pieces on the ground. The Woodsman placed the axe on the ground and knocked three times. Each knock echoed through the night. The Green Chapel’s doors groaned as they crept open.
Peering inside, he could see the chapel was lit by the moonlight shining through the collapsed roof. In the pews sat the congregation of the undead. Heads turned to watch him walk down the aisle. Some were half decayed with eye sockets filled with grubs and worms. Some looked like the living except for the gray skin and dead eyes. Others were just bones. They had all come to witness the wedding of his beloved Bride.
Where the altar once stood was a tree. Branches twisted and bent in every direction, like the long knobby fingers of an old witch. Some branches were more unnatural, turning into tentacles with cups and hooks similar to sea creatures in a sailor’s story. Long gnarled roots raised through the ground, twisting and turning every which way. Nooses around the necks of corpses hung from the branches. The face of the Green Man was carved into the tree’s trunk. Blood-red sap poured from its eyes and corners of its mouth. The Woodsman had carved the face to make the dark deal with the wild spirit.
The Woodsman walked up to the Green Man and said, “where did you take my children?”
The Green Man replied, “I haven’t taken them anywhere. You gave them to me when you asked for your Bride. She died to give them life. For her to live again, their lives must be taken. Don’t worry. You will see them one last time this night, but when the ceremony is finished, they’ll become mine.”
Before the Woodsman replied, an organ blared. The choir of hanging corpses began to sing.
The Woodsman turned to his daughter, who was carrying a basket of petals down the aisle, spreading them as she walked. When each petal touched the ground, it crumbled into dust. Tears streamed down her face. Following her, in white, was his Bride. She had worn the same dress the day they were first married eight years ago. The same night, they conceived their children. She was buried in the dress nine months later. “Lord, have mercy on me.” The Woodsman whispered.
The Bride arrived at the steps of the tree and said, “I’ve missed you, my dear. It pleases me to see you. The children have grown so tall. I’m so very proud. But what dark deal did you make to bring me here?” She caressed his cheek with her bony and rotten hand, and he turned away in shame.
He looked down at his daughter, knelt, and hugged her as she whispered in his ear, “Papa, I’m scared.”
He replied, “All will be well soon,” and kissed her head.
He stood up and faced his Bride. “I drowned in sorrow for eight years. Now I failed you and God. But there is time to make this right.”
The Bride replied, “Do what’s right for the sake of our children’s souls. Do it for me.”
The choir of corpses ended their tune. The Green Man began his dark ceremony. “Welcome ghosts, ghouls, and grotesques to this great reunion of two separated by life. They will now be unified in death. Come forth and bring the rings to bind them till the end of days.”
The Woodsman’s son walked down the aisle bearing the wedding rings. His skin was pale, and his eyes looked every which way. Once the son arrived, he stood by the steps. The Woodsman placed a hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Be brave, my good son.”
The Green Man spoke up. “Will you take this bride and join her in death?”
The Woodsman looked into the eyes of his children. They shook with fear. He turned to the Bride and lifted her veil. Maggots had dug holes in her beautiful face. Her hair had fallen out, and her teeth could be seen through the decay of her cheeks. But her blue eyes were untouched and filled with life. The eyes he had always loved filled him with the strength to set his soul right. A single tear streamed down his face.
The Woodsman picked up his axe and swung it at the carved face of the Green man. The hanging corpses shrieked as blood poured from the Green Man’s face. The Woodsman took a second swing, cutting halfway through the tree. Gasps and growls groaned out from the congregation. With a third chop, the Green Man fell.
The Bride scooped up her daughter, and the Woodsman picked up his son. They ran from the Green Chapel. They ran through the graveyard, where grotesques galloped after them. They ran through the Willow Woods, where ghouls and goblins growled. They ran as fast as they could until the sunlight peaked over the hills. The day of All Saints had come. They placed their children on the ground and gave thanks to God. The Bride looked to her children and groom. “I’ve missed you all. We’ll be together again. Do not drown in sorrow, but live in love.” In a miracle, the Bride was made whole again. She hugged her children and kissed the Woodsman. He smiled and said, “I’ll look towards the day we’ll rest our gaze upon the Lord’s face together in glory.” When the sun’s light touched her, she faded from this world and joined the saints in Heaven on their most holy day.