The Screelaw
By Esther Walden, Year 8, Bottisham Village College

The light of the campfire flickered over the Elder’s face, throwing eerie shadows onto the ground. Her voice spoke, barely more than a rasping croak.

“Young child? Do you know of the Screelaw?”

“No,” I answered, with my hands clasped on my head (as was tradition before the Elder).

“Humph. Then I shall tell you. The Screelaw are a group of trees, carnivorous and flesh-craving horrors — they are always here and will always be watching you.”

I sat up straighter and stared intently at the tree nearest to us — it does nothing.

“The Screelaw are evil, and cannot hide it. They are those trees that have gnarled, claw-like branches, that have no leaves and their bark is falling off. They are the trees, when you go close, you get such a sense of dread, and you are so frightened, you want to run in the opposite direction and never stop until you reach the edge of the world.”

The Elder coughed, a great hacking cough that shook her whole body. The tree I had been watching swayed and creaked in the wind, throwing horrible shadows onto the ground, huge and foreboding. I swallowed, a painful lump forming in my throat. Tears tried to seep out of the corners of my eyes. The Elder looked sharply at me; and her cunning grey-green eyes stared at mine, threatening to break in and rifle through my soul. She sniffed, a disapproving sniff.

“You see that tree, far off, in the distance?” She pointed, her wrinkled hand shaking, from age or fear I didn’t know.

“Stare at it, deeply, as deeply as you can, and you will notice something, something horrible.”

I watched it intently, its great snaking, contorted branches reaching out like some sort of mutant spider, like the feeling you get when you’ve said something unkind and want to apologise, but you can’t be brave enough to go and say it. Then, without warning, all of the memories of things I’d ever done that I regretted came crashing — cascading — down on me. It was overwhelming and heart wrenching, suffocating. I felt my stomach sink and myself curl up tighter and tighter with shame. Tears poured out of my eyes in a torrent of waves, like a salty waterfall. And I realised that I was still staring intently at the tree, eyes locked on the jagged, uneven surface of the bark.

I tore my eyes away and looked at the Elder, her yellowed, cracked fingernails picking at the dry flakes of dead skin on her knuckles.

“How do you destroy them?” I asked, deadly serious, my voice shaking from loathing of the Screelaw and fear of what they could do.