The trees surrounded her on all sides, pressing in against her. Noemi stepped carefully around a large trunk, trying not to rustle the ferns that insisted on getting in her way. The deer, a yearling buck with short, slender horns, froze. Noemi froze along with it, holding her breath. Her arm ached from holding the bow in position.
There was a crack as a branch overhead broke. Probably a squirrel or large bird. Whatever it was, the startled buck leapt into the underbrush, gone in a flash.
Noemi groaned and lowered her bow. She rolled her shoulders and stretched. She wasn't supposed to be out here. She was supposed to be back at the tiny cabin with her children. But she was out here, hunting. If only her husband was still here.
She looked about, getting her bearings. Despite it being mid-day, she was not very far from home. She turned west and found her way to the small stream that winded it's way through the forest. There she knelt and drank cool clear water from her cupped hands. Then she splashed some of the water on her arms and face before sitting back on her haunches to watch the stream flow past.
Noemi jumped at the sound and grabbed her bow, She looked around taking in the trees and the stream and the muddy bank, but there was no one there.
“Noemi,” the voice whispered again. It was coming from the bushes to her left. There was a rustling sound as someone pushed through the bushes. When the figure fully emerged, Noemi leapt to her feet, simultaneously nocking an arrow. “No. Don't.” The figure held up it's misshapen hands. “Please, love. Don't you recognize me?”
Indeed she did recognize the horror standing before her. Tallis had left their cabin three weeks ago a tall man, handsome and strong. Now he was bent over, in obvious pain from the tree branches that sprouted from his back. His arms and legs were flexible tree trunks covered in thick, warty looking skin. His long black hair that she had always loved to comb and braid for him, had mostly fallen out so that only a few strands fell over his shoulders. Only his face was the same, and it gazed at her pleadingly.
“Please, Noemi. My love. I want to go home.”
Noemi lowered her bow, but kept the arrow in position. “What happened to you?”
“It was the Inulpa,” Tallis said. His voice was high and plaintive. “He changed me into...this thing. I wanted to go home, but I couldn't find my way.”
Noemi, blinked back the tears. All this time she had believed her husband was dead, but the reality was so much worse. She raised the bow again.
“Please, Noemi. I want to go home.”
The arrow flew the short distance between herself and her husband. It struck him in the chest with a solid thunk. In a blink of an eye, Tallis was gone and in his place stood a tree thick around the middle and about the same height as a tall man. Noemi sobbed and dropped the bow. She rushed to the tree, and through her tears she saw the whirls and grooves and knots in the bark resembling a nose, a mouth, and eyes; the face of her love.