“Don’t!” Jacob exclaimed.
Charle touched the bark and in one quick movement, the branch bent upward and wrapped around his arm. He yelled a curse that sent birds flying from their nests and tried to back away, but the tree held him in place.
Jacob lunged for the older man’s arm. The branches parted, revealing a black pit nestled among the roots. The putrid smell rose in distinct gusts from the hole and the tree pulled Charle toward it.
“Get away, Jacob!” Charle shouted, pushing Jacob away from the tree.
Jacob stumbled from the force of Charle’s strength. He watched in shock as Charle became entangled by more branches. Charle reached for the knife at his belt, but the tree seized his leg and he fell, the knife flying from his hand.
“No!” Jacob cried. Heart pounding in his ears, he grabbed his own knife and took hold of a branch to saw at the creaking, quivering wood. The tree shuddered again at his touch. It relinquished its grip on Charle’s arm.
Jacob splayed his hand on the branch tugging Charle’s leg and it retreated. Then the rest of the limbs recoiled. He put Charle’s arm around his shoulders and they collapsed out of reach.
Recovering, the tree groped for its prey. Wood cracked and groaned as it twisted and straightened, rubbing off leaves like shedding fur. Failing to relocate Charle, its boughs swung back into place. Then the tree became still again as if nothing had happened.
The only sounds were their labored breaths until the chirping of birds and crickets returned. Jacob shivered and wiped sweat from his face.
“What is that-”
“Watchers above,” Charle interrupted with a firm, almost painful grip on Jacob’s shoulder. “That thing, that creature is evil! It has to be destroyed! Jacob, we can’t let it be free to take someone else. I will not sit by and wait for someone in our village to be eaten by this monster.”
“No one from Keboa wanders this far,” Jacob said. “I think we should find out what this is first.”
Charle pulled tinder wrapped in cloth from his pack. “Jacob, it nearly killed me.”
“But it didn’t!”
“You’re going to help me burn it down.”