“So,” he whispered. “It’s really true.”
In the heart of the forest, in the last place you would expect to find one, was a harp. It glistened under the waterfall, the water crashing down on it and bouncing off in glittering cascades. These golden droplets splashed into a small lake that shimmered in the later afternoon sunlight. Birds chirped overhead, flitting between the branches. A young stag pranced about in the long grass, and the blur of a bushy squirrel tail whipped behind a thick trunk. This was the most magnificent, secluded place Warren had ever seen. He smiled and felt at one with the nature.
It was clear this was no ordinary harp; not only from its unusual location, but also by its sweet song. It was a beautiful, hypnotic sound which the trees almost seemed to sway in time to. In fact, the sounds of the forest worked in harmony with the harp rather than drowning it out. The music wrapped its silken fingers around Warren’s heart. His very soul.
The song, the beauty of the scene, and the sense of peace they brought to him both physically and mentally, made Warren long for the instrument. He should have been asking himself how it was playing by itself, or how it had come to be there. He should have sensed the magic.
But he was already under the spell. He climbed hastily over the rocks, eyes and heart locked on the enchanting artefact. It shimmered alluringly, flirting with him.
He hesitated as he reached the waterfall. One poorly placed foot and he would slip downstream. Warren stepped underneath the crushing weight of water. He felt an intense energy that had nothing to do with the strength of the waterfall on his shoulders. The harp was pulsating, and radiating with heat despite the coolness of the stream.
There was definitely no-one playing it. In fact, there was no evidence of any human interference in this forest bar the harp itself. It did not seem like this was a place humanity was meant to see.
He studied the harp up close. He looked at the ornate wooden carvings of exotic flowers and graceful animals and thought they moved. He blinked and looked again. The strings were like silk, finer than a spider’s web. He put his hand on the frame. The throbbing power transfused into his palm, and wound its way through his entire body. He felt the melody entwining with his lifeblood, and it felt incredible. He felt stronger and healthier than he had in years. Overcome with euphoria, he placed his other hand on it, and pulled it out of the water.
The music quickened. It grew louder until it sounded angry and deafening. The soothing sound of the stream became a crashing roar of betrayal. The river raged and swelled until it flooded the banks. The trees grew dark as hundreds of birds burst from their midst and dived at him. Dozens of squirrels and other woodland creatures poured from the oaks like a furry plague. The deer’s eyes turned bloodshot as it charged wildly at Warren. The forest awoke with a cacophony of fury, and it had a thirst for blood.
He tried to run from the clearing, but the harp grew increasingly heavy and he struggled to move it. The crows pecked at his exposed skin in relentless waves of black feathers and sharp beaks, their beady eyes wide with rage. The other animals bit at his bare legs until they were tattered and bloody, missing large chunks of flesh and sinew. In several places, white of bone was visible. He had puncture wounds on his arms, chest and neck, but still the birds circled him. He screamed, but there was nobody to hear him.
He tried to hobble back to the waterfall to replace the harp, but succeeded only in ripping his skin further. It was agony. One crow clawed at his face, scratching deep gouges from forehead to chin. Another pecked at his eye and it popped, instantly spurting blood. He shrieked in helplessness, adding to the din of animals noises and screeching music.
His legs couldn’t take it anymore. They buckled beneath him. The animals did not relent their attack, but increased in ferocity now that they could attack more of him. The river dragged him under its depths, as if the water was against him too. He has no enerfy left to fight the tide, and was almost glad for the coolness of the water.
Until the current pulled him downstream and his skull smashed open on a rock. He spat out blood, struggled to breathe for a minute, and then was overwhelmed by animals and water alike.
The water tainted with blood ran upstream, against the current and back into the lake, where a small whirlpool drank it down into the unknown.
The music slowed back to its soothing tune, the harp back in its original dwelling. The birds flew back to their nests, whistling merrily, and the army of little animals scurried out of sight. The water saturated the earth until it had shrunk back to a gentle stream. The forest quieted down. It had been appeased.