My family told us not to go into the woods but that afternoon, my cousin Sam and I ventured into the darkness of the trees. We both packed a small bag of necessities just in case we felt like adventuring for more than a quick look around. Part of us wanted to discover what everyone in our family was consistently covering up during conversation.
Our yearly family reunion was being held at my great-grandma’s house, but everyone in her neighborhood was sneakily discussing how weird things had been seen and heard coming from the ancient forest recently. We had all sat down for brunch when my great-grandma brought the taboo topic up. She mentioned hearing screaming during the night, and seeing weird looking men in the early morning, standing along the tree line, but the rest of the grown-ups quickly coerced my grandma into changing the subject. Nobody wanted to believe her, and due to her age, they all thought they could quickly dismiss her words for fiction.
Sam and I were both well invested in the feast that had been prepared for us, but our curiosity couldn’t be abated. Our parents told us that because we were almost 18, we shouldn’t be getting caught up in local superstition. We shrugged their words off, knowing we’d have time later to devise a plan to check it out. A plan to scope out the woods and see for ourselves what everyone seemed to be so afraid of.
Around 7 pm, the younger kids were being sent to bed, and the adults were gathering to talk in the living room as nighttime descended. Nobody was searching for us because our family was looking forward to the time where they would be able to get to catch up about everything that happened from the past year.
Sam and I had packed our bags, and swiftly closed the back garage door, without a trace of sound. Grinning at each other, we set out down the garden path that lead to the woods. When we reached what we assumed was an entrance, I took a look back and saw through the porch window that all my relatives happily chatting with another, clearly unaware of the adventure we were going on. The blue house stood on top of the hill and displayed its grandeur to the neighborhood. A standing image of the long family line that had been woven through the generations.
Pulling my attention back to Sam, I put my hand on a sturdy tree, and crossed over the threshold into the natural abyss. A few steps in, all seemed normal. Birds were chirping and calling to one another from the treetops, squirrels were chasing after one another, a light breeze caressed my hair. The trees were brown with green treetops, and everything looked exactly as you’d expect a wooded area to look like.
“I told you Aunt Carol was fibbing about everything she had heard,” Sam said beginning to walk forward. “It’s a totally normal forest.”
“Aunt Carol does have a tendency to exaggerate,” I said following after him.
“I mean, look at those squirrels. Do they look like they’re out for blood or cause screaming in the middle of the night?”
“Nah dude, they’re just squirrels.”
We continued on with leaves crunching underfoot, as the trees began to grow thicker, and the canopy began blocking almost all of the sunlight. Sam nonchalantly pulled out a flashlight, but the small beam didn't help with the hair that was standing up on my arms, unable to lay flat again. Something in the air had become cold and the atmosphere was becoming dank around us. The trees were covered in moss and long plants that were dripping in ink wrapped around the branches. Taking a look closer, ink couldn’t be on the plants, right?
Somehow, none of the change in scenery seemed to be affecting Sam. If anything, it only made him more curious, but I didn't realize how far he planned on going. His eyes were wide with childhood curiosity and intrigue. The breeze had stopped and the air was still, laced with condensation.
“Sam, don’t you think maybe we should head back?” I whispered, clutching onto his arm.
“Why? Are you afraid of some local rumors?”
“Well not the rumor themselves, but now that we’re in the position for something to happen to us, yes. I’m quite afraid.”
“Dude, don’t be a wuss. Let’s just go a little bit further.”
The second Sam stopped speaking, a loud swish came from behind us. We spun around, looking like a cliche image of two campers who were in over their head, and scared of everything that moved. Sam darted the flashlight back and forth, looking for any source that could have caused the swish. We knew there was no way it could have been an animal, it sounded like a cape being thrown into the air right behind us. But there was nothing there. Just the darkness of the air, the ink of the plants, and the moss of the trees. As we turned around, we screamed in unison at a large man looking creature that was facing us with its arms crossed.
“Can you two please shut the hell up?” His deep voice boomed as Sam bent down to pick up the flashlight he dropped. “I can’t get anything done around here with people constantly lurking in our territory.”
“Your -- territory?” I stammered.
“Yes, our territory. Perhaps if you had just listened to your family you would know that.”
The man creature raised a thick eyebrow in disdain as he glared at the two of us. His face and body were entirely covered in short brown fur, with strange scars lining the side of his cheeks, and two long horns sprouting from the top of his head. He was much taller than the two of us, and as I looked him up and down, his whole body was covered in fur, and he was only wearing a pair of dark pants. He looked human enough, but clearly wasn’t.
“How do you know our family? They never said anything about weird deer humans in the forest!” Sam spat.
“Young boy, do not test my patience. My species is of the Navari, we have been here longer than the humans, but nobody remembers us. When your ancestors moved onto our land, we struck an agreement with them to stay in the woods, as long as they stayed out of the woods. But now that people are coming into the woods, we have been taking sacrifices for our gods.”
“What does our family have anything to do with this? It’s our great grandpa who owns the house, and she can barely leave it as it is!”
“Because it was your ancestry that struck the deal, and it carries down through the lineage. Their debts are your debts.”
“That’s not fair though! We can’t be getting in trouble for what a bunch of people way older than us decided!”
“I do not care what you tiny mortals think. You should have listened to your family.”
The air was still heavy around us. More of the men had surrounded us, some armed with wooden weapons, and looks of evil in their eyes. Sacrificial energy radiated from them, they knew they were going to be treating their gods tonight.
“What do you mean you’ve been taking sacrifices?” I asked feebly.
“Our gods require sacrifices because we are not native to this land. We send the sacrifices spirit up to the heavens, and they do with them as they please.”
“But, where does the body go?”
“Look around you,” He grinned just as evilly as the rest of men. This one must have been the original, here for years, and hiding in the depths of the forest. The rest of them had been in the creation for years and years. Centuries on centuries.
“Well, okay, we should be going now,” I said trying to turn around. The men held up all their weapons as their heads lowered and they took a step closer to us. My heart hammered in my chest and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get out of this. My family was right to try and keep us from going into the woods.