- The trees... they look like...
- Yes, my boy. They were people once. Or so it is said.
- How did this happen?
- Who knows? Maybe dryads, or some curse. Maybe they did this to themselves.
- The skin feels... frail. Chalkier than bark, maybe. But soft underneath.
- Careful! You don't want to hurt them.
- Hurt them?
- They may come back to life one day. A broken branch may turn into a missing finger. Or worse.
- But how is it possible? They are bent.... distorted. How can this become human again?
- Some of them have been here for a long time. Their roots are deeper, their branches longer. They became comfortable. With the sun on their leaves and water on their feet, who could blame them? But some might still be human beneath that. If there is enough humanity left inside, they might shed the bark and walk free again. Or horribly mangled... but still alive. Just be careful with those who look too human.
- You see... there is not much food in these woods. Some stories say people were lost here, starved... turning thinner and thinner, trying to eat their own clothes... their limbs becoming willowy... their feet dragging in the mud, until the are unable to move, their fingers reaching for the sun in supplication... Under these conditions, finding sustenance in the earth might have been a blessing... or at least a relief. Eventually, they would forgot their former lives, with roots so deep and trunks so thick they could never move again. But before that... they could still move... at least a little.. and still be hungry... for flesh. Our flesh.
- Light protect us! What a terrible fate!
The old man shrugged.
- Could be worse.
- Worse? How can it be?
The old man fell silent again, taking a deep drag from his pipe. He scratched an old, brown wound is his arm. He looked between the tress, searching for any sign of the sun. There was none, just endless tress, but his dark eyes seemed lost in the distance anyway.
- It might always go the other way. If we got lost, and ran out of food... we might be tempted to carve the trees. Insides the trunks... you can eat it... they say. And the wood is good for a fire, in the coldest nights. But as the fire burns... and the dark red sap boils... you can hear them. You can hear them screaming... And then... you can feel them... inside you... forever.
There was one more question to ask, but the young man said nothing.
They walked away, leaving the trees behind, the wind whispering as they went.