It was the driest summer since records began. The earth was scorched and barren, stripped of every last drop of moisture from the devilish heat of the sun.
The sky was a deep, unrelenting, cloudless blue that beat down like the very gates of hell.
Global warming, some said. The new normal, said others.
River banks were alarmingly low, great expanses of dead yellow grass lay exposed across the country, drying and decaying with each passing day of the enduring, demonic heatwave.
In the forests, great oak trees seemed to shrink in their frames, even with roots deep within the earth they were conserving themselves. They were smaller, frailer, leaves shedding early as they shrivelled and died.
Somewhere in the southeast of England, a great crevice appeared in the ground. It began as a small dry crack in the dry earth and as the moisture-less weeks stretched on it grew as well.
Eventually the local police had to section the area off, a great crease was growing in the earth like a pair of blackened, dead lips parting for a breath of reanimation.
“What if it never stops growing?” One passer by mused.
“Maybe it’s two tectonic plates splitting apart.”
“Will it go all the way to Australia?”
The authorities assured the public daily that it was nothing sinister to worry about, simply the dry dirt pulling itself apart. Nothing that a good season of rain wouldn’t fix.
The circumference of the police tape around the crevice grew and grew until most of the forest was out of bounds, even a narrow road was closed.
It was the last week in August, the whole of the United Kingdom was in drought, after weeks and weeks of blistering hot weather and not a cloud in sight. Grocery store shelves were stripped clean of bottled water, avid gardeners stared wistfully and dejectedly at their withering plants. Neighbours were encouraged to report one another for breaking the hosepipe ban if they were spotted in the night sneaking out to quench their thirsty gardens.
The crevice split deeper.
At last a storm was on the horizon, happy citizens grinned at their TV screens when the weather girl confirmed it was on its way. Lots of families pulled up seats in their windows, or stood on their patio to experience the first spit of rain in almost three months.
Great globules of warm, salty water dropped to the earth like meteorites. They pounded into the crisp ground and gathered in round puddles almost instantly. The air was rich with the smell of hot, wet asphalt. A rumble of thunder rolled across the sky as heavy grey clouds clotted and throbbed there.
Flash flooding, they warned in the news, the ground is too dry to absorb it.
Under the cover of the trees in the forest, the crevice took some time to start catching water. But catch water it did.
It was just as dry in the depths of that hole as it was on the surface, not a single drop could enrich the earth’s crust, which was too tough to absorb anything.
Rain water poured off the leaves above and spilled into the crevice from the road. It took three hours of constant downpour for it to fill up completely.
Not many people spared a thought for the gaping wound in the earth, they were too preoccupied with the flooding in the town, the closing of roads, and the overflowing streams.
There was no one around to see the thing that the flood dragged out of that hole in the dark of night.
Not even the flash of lightning pierced the gloom beneath the trees, the blackness there was unnaturally thick with the scent of damp earth and deep rot.
Even the roar of the thunder was muted there, as if that space around that hole was padded and distant.
What might easily have been mistaken as a lump of wood floated lazily to the surface of the flood. It was a simple box, the size of a large Tupperware container, not unlike the keepsake box of a newborn baby. The wood of the box was ancient, unlike any other wood of this world.
It drifted to the edge of the pool and was spat out onto the sodden ground as another fierce wave of rain slithered down from the road.
It would take four days for someone to find the box, the attention of the citizens at first would be consumed by the flood and the casualties. Then they would wait for the ground to dry out before they ventured near the crevice.
But the box would be found.
A man in heavy mud caked boots would come across the box ten yards deeper into the forest, swept there by the shifting waters. He would find it open and on its side.
With a frown he leans down and flips it over to find a stuttering inscription on the front, decayed and aged he cannot make out all the words.
Mathew… Apostle, it reads. DO NOT OPEN. Contains the demon… sp…
He looks back at the box with a more hesitating curiosity. Inside, it is lined with what looks like salt. Looking up he sees the trail of a black sticky substance leading from the box into the forest.
Whatever was contained in that box deep within the earth for hundreds, if not thousands of years was now loose in Epping Forest.
The writing prompt that I used for inspiration can be found here…
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© Emma Stead