"Äiti, why can't we go into the woods again?" a small seven-year-old boy asks, voice curious, as he gets into bed. He pulls his covers over him as he lays down. The boy's mother gives him a small smile and helps him settle in. The moonlight casts a soft glow through the window.
"The woods are very dangerous." she answers him, sitting on the bed. "And holds a great evil within that preys on people." the boy looks at his mother with curious yet confused eyes.
"The Näkki live there." she supplies at his look.
"The Na-di?" he asks curiously, causing his mother to let out a small chuckle.
"Naa-ki." she sounds out. "They are water spirits that live within a lake at the center of the woods. They look friendly and beautiful, but they are not. They are shapeshifters that lure you to them. When you are within their grasp, they drag you down with them into the water where you can never leave." The boy gasps in shock at his mother's words.
"Never?" he asks. "Never. Once they have you, they eat you."she finishes. The boy's bright emerald green eyes are wide with fear.
"Promise me, Aleksi, that you will never go into the woods." the woman fiercely asks her son, her own emerald eyes pleading. The boy looks at his mother.
"I promise." he tells her. The mother gives her son a kiss on his forehead and bids him goodnight.
This legend of the Näkki is one the mother's of Eldmere, Finland have always told their children. 'Stay out of the woods, lest the Näkki will take you away forever.' As children, we held the legend with childlike contempt. They scared us enough to where we listened...but we were still children. We would tease each other at school the next day. One of us would pretend to be the Näkki and chase the rest of us around at recess.
As we grew older, we realized the legend was just a story, a fairy tale, mother's told their children to make them behave and stay out of the woods. And as time went on, we stopped believing.
"Aleksi, Garreth and Maki are here." I hear my mother shout from the front door. I quickly stuff the rest of my Korvapuusti into my mouth. Licking cinnamon off of my fingers, I quickly grab my bag and head to the front door. I can see my friends waiting at the bottom of the steps.
"I'll see you later Äiti." I say, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. Before I can step out of the door, she grabs me by the arm.
"Yes?" I sigh, already knowing what's about to happen. Garreth and Maki look up at us, also knowing, before heading to the end of the walkway. I turn my attention back to my mother.
"Have fun."she starts. Her grip on my arm gets tighter. "And please do not go into the woods." she pleads.
"I know." I tell her, my voice comes out a bit harsh. She flinches slightly, causing me to sigh.
"Olen pahoillani, äiti." I say as I embrace her. She smiles softly and gives me a gentle pat on the cheek.
"I know you get tired of me telling you this poikani. But, I just want you to be safe."
"I know äiti, I promise." I tell her. Her bright eyes search mine for a second before nodding her head. "I'll see you tomorrow."she tells me. Giving her another kiss on the cheek, I leave the house and walk towards my friends.
"Are you ready?" Garreth asks, a wide smile on his face. His dark russet brown eyes sparkle and his broad shoulders hum in excitement. I look at Maki with a raised eyebrow, to which he shrugs his shoulders.
"You're pretty excited, huh?" I ask as we walk down the road. The streets are slowly dying down as people pack up their vendors for the day and start making their way home. The sun's descent paints the sky with pink, orange, yellow, and purple.
"Of course I'm excited. This meteor shower is the most exciting thing to happen in this town since...since Mrs. Lahti got caught sleeping with mailman by her husband." he states, causing Maki snicker beside me.
"You can't tell me you're not excited about seeing an actual meteor shower." Garreth states, looking at me.
"I am." I tell him. Eldmere is almost completely surrounded by woods and is a small town compared to others in Finland. With less than a three hundred people here and three stoplights, there isn't much to do here. He then looks at Maki. With a roll of his cornflower blue eyes, he gives us Garreth a nod. "It is exciting. And it's nice to get out of the house." he tells him.
"Is your mom still fighting with your sister?" I ask him.
"When are they not fighting." he sighs. "It's gotten even worse over the past couple of months with Ayn's new boyfriend, who I'm pretty sure she's dating just to irritate mom."
Ayn is a little over a year younger than Maki and has always been difficult. She seems to crave getting into trouble. "The arguing has gotten bad enough to where dad has been staying in the den when he's not at work. Though now it's more of mom shouting and Ayn ignoring her." he finishes with another sigh.
"Well this will be a good distraction." Garreth tells him with a pat on the back.
It doesn't take us long to get to the creek. A bright, burning fire flickers, lighting up the area. Music fills the air and drunken teenagers stumble around. The sound of the rushing water can barely be heard of the excited shouts. A quick glance at my watch shows we still have about half an hour before the shower is supposed to start. We head over to the fire and relax, something we haven't really been able to do lately.
I'm talking to a classmate when bright lights flicker across my sight, causing me to look up. The sound of excited cheers and shouts fill the air as the meteor shower begins. It is quite a beautiful sight. Streaks of light shoot across a star filled sky.
"Wow. This is amazing." Maki states in wonder, the first genuine smile I've seen in weeks settling on his face. Before I can agree with him, I feel Garreth pull on my sleeve.
"Isn't that Ayn..... with Kalle?" he asks, pointing off to the side. Following his finger towards the creek, I spot the familiar long, blonde hair of Ayn. She's holding Kalle's, a teen of questionable motives, hand as they step into the creek. "Are they going into the woods?" I ask.
"AYN!" Maki shouts, but she doesn't hear him. With a scowl on his face, he runs towards them. Garreth and I look at each other, before chasing after him. By the time we reach the edge of the woods, the two teens have already disappeared inside. Maki shouts her name again, but there is no response. He takes a step forward, causing Garreth to grasp his arm.
"You're not seriously thinking about going in the woods?" he asks, voice incredulous. Out of all of us, Garreth's mother is the most superstitious, driving into his head about the evil that lives within.
"I can't just leave her in there, especially not with him." Maki states. His voice is hard, but a tiny tremble in his voice reveals his fear.
"He's right Garreth." I start, walking up beside Maki. "Besides, the Näkki is superstition. Just something our mothers made up. We'll be fine." He still looks hesitant, but he steps forward with a nod. Together, the three of us enter the woods for the first time.
The tree's seem even more daunting up close. They stand tall, with moonlight filtering through their thick foliage. Our phones offer more light. As we walk through, a heavy since of foreboding fill me. I feel like we've made a mistake entering the woods, but it's too late to turn back. Maki continues to yell for Ayn, his voice echoing. The only other sound are the fallen leaves crunching under our feet.
"Am I the only one silently freaking out." Garreth whispers. I go to respond when I hear something. I quickly shush both of them and put a finger to my lip.
A couple of seconds pass when I hear the sound again. A sound almost like screaming. My eyes lock with Maki's for a split second, before he takes off. With a curse, we quickly follow him.
The screams are getting closer and louder.
"AYN!!!" Maki shouts loudly.
"MAKI!!!" she shouts in return, her voice right next to us..
Suddenly Garreth goes down as something collides with him. He groans as he lands on the ground with a thud. I quickly shine my light, revealing Garreth's pain filled face and Ayn's frightened one.
"AYN!" Maki shouts, going towards her. He gathers her in his arms as sobs rock her frame. Leaves and twigs stick out of her wet hair. Mud and blood cake her pale face. There is a bleeding gash on her forehead, and small cuts litter her skin. Her clothes are torn, bloodied, and drenched in water.
"Ayn, are you okay? Did Kalle do this to you?" Maki asks frantically.
She shakes her head, her body still trembling. "N-no, K-kalle didn't d-d-do this." she stutters out. I take off my jacket and wrap it around her shoulders. "We ha-have t-to get out o-of here." she tries to stand up, but her shaking legs force her back down again.
"Take it easy." Maki says. She grabs his arms in a fierce grip. "We have to leave, right now." she growls out, her voice has stopped shaking. "It's coming."
"Ayn, what are you talking about? What happened to you?"
"They're real. The Näkki, they're real." she tells us, the last part a whisper.
"They can't be. It's a stor-." Maki replies.
"It killed Kalle." she interrupts, casting us into silence. "Dragged him into the lake, kicking and screaming, and tore him apart." She pulls down the collar of her shirt, revealing a deep bite mark that definitely does not look human. "It almost got me, but I got away somehow." I look at Ayn, not quite believing my ears. The story my mother always told me... was real.
Suddenly, an inhuman screech fills the air causing us all to freeze. More screeches fill the air and are steadily growing in volume. "It's coming." Ayn whispers, her pale blue eyes widening in fear. I quickly help her stand, the screeches getting closer.
"Run!" I shout. I grab Ayn's hand and head in the opposite direction that she came from, Maki and Garreth right behind us. Bushes and low branches cut into my skin, but I pay them no mind, focused only on getting out of the woods.
"This can't be happening. This cannot be happening!" I hear Garreth state in a breathless voice. "We just have to make it out of the woods." I tell him when suddenly the screeching is right beside us. Before I can say anything, a black mass rushes at me, knocking me down.
I feel pain as my body hits the ground. I'm disoriented at first, but my vision clears revealing sharp teeth coming towards my face. I quickly kick my feet out, sending it away from me. Grabbing the closest thing to me, a thick stick, I scramble to my feet.
The Näkki has taken the shape of a beautiful, naked woman. Its hair is long, white, and drags upon the ground. Blood stains its pale skin, and its eyes are black as night. It flicks its attention between the four of us, as if deciding who to go after first. The dark orbs settle on Ayn and a cruel smile stretches across its face. With fingers clawed, it races towards her. I use the stick and smack the Näkki across the face.
Before it can get its bearing I hit it again, forcing it back. I go to hit it once more, when it grabs the end of the stick and rips it out of my hand. It then wraps its hand around my throat, lifting me into the air. I try to pry its hand off, but it is too strong. I hear Maki shout as he runs towards us with a stick of his own.
The Näkki easily knocks him away and bring its other towards my left arm. It takes my arm and brings it towards its mouth, I try to resist. Suddenly there is pain shooting up my arm as the creature takes a bite. My scream fills my ears and the air. Taking its mouth away, the Näkki looks at me with a blood stained grin. Then it goes for my shoulder, its sharp teeth tears into my skin.
The pain is absolutely excruciating and I can feel it through my entire body. My body is weakening and black spots fill my vision as it continues to feed from my flesh. The shouts of my friends echo in the background, but I know it's useless. I am going to die tonight. All I can think about is my mother and the fact that she will be heartbroken.
"I'm sorry I didn't keep my promise, äiti." I think as I start to fade out.
Suddenly, the teeth and pressure around my throat are lifted. As I fall to the ground, I gasp and cough as air rushing back into my lungs. A screech fills the air once again, but this one is filled with pain. Still weak, I can only lift my head a bit to see. Another screech reaches my ears, even louder and longer than the last.
The Näkki is on the ground with several arrows sticking out of it. Still screeching, it tries to crawl away, but another arrow finds it. This time, piercing what I believe to be its heart, causing it to go quiet. A sense of peace fills me at the creatures silence. I may be dying, but at the very least, my friends will be okay.
As I begin to black out, familiar emerald green eyes lock onto my own. The smell of lilac fills my nose and soft hands caress my face.
"Äiti." I whisper. I see a small smile settle on her face. "Olen pahoillani." she states softly, tears running down her face. "I told you to stay out of the woods."
"I know....I'm sorry." I tell her.
"Rest." she says. I close my eyes and surrender to the darkness.