Walking home from grandma’s house was always a frightening experience for young Allie. Sunset would create long strips of shadow that would dance and jangle as she moved through the underbrush of the woods. Her grandmother had, when Allie was but a child, taken her aside and brought the fireplace down low, and explained to her the many monsters of the woods, and what they would do if they ever happened upon Allie. These stories frightened Allie and kept her close to her grandma’s house when she was young.
Now that she was older, the tales terrified her more. She made the trek out to her grandma’s cabin at least once a week, usually by the light of the moon and stars so that she wouldn’t have to bring a lantern. This week was no different, and Allie was forcing herself not to twitch and jerk at every small sound made around her. Turning on her heel at a small brook, she walked a hundred paces to a small bridge before walking over it.
“Just another two miles with the two peaks in my sight and I’ll break the wood’s tree line and be in the fields of my home,” Allie told herself, steeling against the haunting sounds the wood made at night. Looking out into the darkness, she pinned the sight of two distant peaks in her gaze and she began marching.
The brook let off into a small pond, one full of frogs. The bullfrog’s croak would reverberate across the wood to be answered by some unseen beast, a snarl mixed with the hum of a hive of bees. Allie didn’t know what animal made such a noise, and she didn’t want to learn; she just wanted to get home. Walking on, she shivered as she passed under the branch of a large tree. Looking at it, the only tree of its kind in the whole wood, she wondered why it was here. Tall and thick, with red wood and solid branches… stepping closer to examine the tree, as she did every time she made this trek, she noted that someone had made a carving into the bark at just her noses height. Squinting her eyes, she could make out letters, but couldn’t read them. Looking up to then heavens, she waited for the clouds to part to reveal the moon, so she would be able to read what had been carved.
It took but a few minutes for the wind to blow just right, the clouds creeping across the inky curtain of twilight painted above, revealing the glowing half-moon of light. Smiling, she looked at the words, and suddenly frowned.
Carved in angry, jagged letters were three words.
“Gonna get ya…?” She said, running her fingers over the sharpened pieces of bark. A distant peal of thunder came from deeper in the wood, followed by a smattering of birds taking flight, their cries harsh to one's ears as they screamed in the night like a score of fallen angels. Then the wood went silent.
No chirping of bugs.
No hoots from the owls.
Nothing to be heard… except a soft clopping of hooves. A large animal, most likely a horse was moving at a slow amble through the woods, its hooves echoing out like the bullfrogs mating cry.
“Nothing to be concerned about,” Allie said, moving away from the tree and searching the tree line for the two peaks. “Just need to make my way home, and then everything will be fine.”
But everything wasn’t fine. The trees had shifted with the wind, and now the familiar sight of the twin peaks was nowhere to be seen. Stifling back tears, Allie walked back a fifty yards to the bridge, to higher ground and looked from there.
Still nothing but the steady clopping of the hooves, still walking slowly through some distant part of the wood, Allie prayed.
Deciding to take a chance and walk down a deer path leading between two great trees, Allie walked through the woods listening only to the clopping of hooves for over half an hour, in almost complete darkness as the clouds moved over the moon, blanketing the whole valley in shadow.
Allie wished now that she’d brought a lantern, she truly did. She could barely make sense of the path she was following; the beaten trail seemed to stop and split into four new paths, each leading in a different direction. She tried to stay on the path she felt was right, but instead she soon found herself hopelessly lost in the wood, with nothing to keep her company but the sounds of a distant rider slowly making his way through the wood. Perhaps he would have a lantern?
“Should I seek out the horse and it’s rider, or should I continue on with my own path?” Allie wondered, leaning against a tree. Her clothes were warm, thank goodness, and she had little to fear from hunger; her grandmother had stuffed her full as a roast pig ready for the spit before she left. But to be lost in the wood, where all sorts of beasts and bogeys lurked… it just made Allie’s blood run cold.
A sudden series of shrieks from close by made Allie jump and run, tripping over the roots of a knotty oak as she tried to right herself. Turning to look back at what had made the noise, all she heard was the clopping of the horse, and now the whimpering of a child. She stopped, blowing a sigh of relief. She must’ve just scared a farmer boy who was out here as well.
“Hello?” She called out, stepping beneath a low-hanging tree limb. “Are you out there? There’s no reason to be afraid, I’m lost as well.”
Silence reigned supreme for a few minutes until a charming voice of a young child to her right spoke up. “You’re not lost!”
“Yeah! You’re not lost!” Another voice chimed in.
“I’m not?” Allie said, confused. She felt a pair of hands push her by the waist.
“Go to the tree, wait for him.” The first voice said.
“Yes, go wait for him. He’s done his work for the night and would love some company,” the second agreed.
Allie couldn’t place where these voices were coming from, and as she whirled around to look, thanking God above that the clouds were moving and allowing some light, she expected to find two children, dressed as warmly as she, bright eyed and smiling.
Instead, she found no one. She was standing between a clump of five trees amidst mushrooms. One low hanging branch, the one she’d ducked under, pointed off deeper into the wood… or perhaps out of it, who knew in this accursed place?