Seven people had gone missing in one month.
The ranger had said it to her as a warning, a poorly masked plea to not hike alone. She had laughed off the concern, taking her permit and shrugging her pack higher up onto her shoulders. The satellite phone would guarantee she wouldn't get lost without help; the gun concealed under heavy flannel would guarantee she wouldn't end up anyone else's fool. She nodded to him and let his worried frown be eclipsed by the forest as the trees closed in.
Six hours later, she came to a clearing not marked on the map. Not one she had come across on her previous trips either. The underbrush halted in a large circle at the edge, breaking away to only dirt and the thin exposed ends of a few roots. And in the center of the wide glade sat a large, twisted oak.
She stepped cautiously onto the soil and glanced up at the thick branches, the dark wood. At the trunk base, there was subtle movement around shapeless shadows. Curious, she unholstered the gun and steadied it, ready for a predator and she began to walk forward.
Twenty feet from the base of the huge oak, she abruptly stopped. The movement was not from animals but the roots of the tree itself. The amorphous shapes had also solidified as she had drawn closer. She could make out arms and legs, what remained of heads and chests.
She watched the roots curl and move, snaking in and out of rib cages and gaping jaws. The tree's vines spasmed and twitched around rotting remains, drawing them against the wide trunk.
Seven people missing - the ranger had told her. The tree clutched its treasures closer to itself. She began to step backward, careful to avoid the free ends of the roots.
She supposed she'd found them.