Flora plunged her fingers into the warm earth, rooting around with patient dedication. She turned up nothing. Rising to her feet, head slowly turning back and forth, she heard the scream again. They were always so difficult to locate, the earth muffling their cries.
She spent another hour snaking her way back and forth through the forest. All the usual spots turned up nothing but worms and mulch. Head swivelling like a satellite dish, ears constantly pricked, she worked her way deeper under the canopy, back where the elders grew, Ancient oaks, once the hiding place of kings, great pines, the ancestral homes of dryads, and none sheltering the screamer amongst their sprawling roots.
Pausing to drink deeply from the clear waters of a stream which flowed in tumbling delight from the mountains, she caught the scream once more. So close she felt she could reach out and touch it. Ah, of course, the willows. Long had they deserved their reputation as often playful, occasionally spiteful, pranksters, home to piskies and gremlins.
On edge, aware the willows were watching her, branches whipping out and back, or slipping over her arms, under her legs, blinding her in flurries of blade-like leaves, she wended her way, threading between trunks until the scream became almost unbearable.
When she bent to the roots of the elderly willow she heard scattered whispers around her, racing up and down the billowing branches; ‘Get it gone. Took you long enough. Make it stop.’
Delicately she released the screaming mandrake root from the encroaching earth, tucking it into a pocket within her cloak, smiling at its whispered thanks. She pulled her cloak tight about them both and headed for home replying;
“You had me at aaarrrgghhhh!”