She leaned back against the tree and let the cool forest breeze rush over her. The warmth built up by her long hike into the hills dissipated with the wind’s touch. As she closed her eyes and rested her head back, she felt a sensation in the back of her neck like a small needle. She lurched forward and spun around to look at the tree while she swatted at the back of her neck as if an insect crawled across it. But there was no insect to be found. She examined the tree and couldn’t find anything sharp–a thorn, a stray piece of bark, or even any of those dreaded insects crawling across its surface. She quickly went back to her relaxed position with her back propped against the tree.

Then she felt flush with heat. A sunburn feeling formed just beneath the surface of her face. Her body started to ache, and her muscles began to fatigue. She closed her eyes to rest a second and could feel a fever burning on the backs of her eyelids. Her eyes wanted to stay closed, but her head snapped back and jarred them open as she fought to stay awake…to stay conscious. She reached over to her backpack and pulled out a small canteen. As she twisted the cap to the canteen, she noticed her hands were drenched in sweat and had small bubbles forming under the skin. She watched one of the bubbles grow until the skin split open. The world began to blur and whirl around her as she watched the steam and blood spray out of the wound. As the next bubble started to rip open, the blurred colors of the forest rushed past her until her face slammed into the ground.

Behind her, the bark on the tree shifted into an eerie smile. Arms and hands made of branches reached out for the girl as a long, tuberous tongue licked its lips.