“Hey, do you ever wonder what’s out there. In the forest?”
“Emma!” I hushed. “You know we’re not allowed in there! Sister Scarlett warned us, remember? It’s dangerous!”
“But what makes it dangerous?” Emma questioned.
“My granny said out there, are our god’s enemies. Monsters that will kill anyone who steps foot inside.” I firmly replied.
“Wow.” Emma turned away from the looming forest to me. Her blue eyes peering at me. “It’s getting dark, we should head back.”
Agreeing with a nod, I still took a few steps closer to the woods. Amongst its shadows, something caught my hazel-brown eye. Peering closer, I saw a pair of looming, blue eyes. Yelping, I darted back home with Emma, keeping the forest secret.
“So, what are you going to do for your seventh birthday?” I chattered on the walk home.
“Nothing. Sister Scarlett said that ‘embracing such narcissistic acts as a birthday’ goes against our god’s wishes.”
“What does that mean?”
“Look, there’s Malcolm! Malcolm! Over here!” I shouted, waving my arm at a boy that was rushing to a house with a lumpy bag in his arms.
“Hi, Lily. I can’t talk right now, I have to get these ingredients to Marshall.” Malcolm said as his brown eyes focused on the bag and keeping its jumbled contents inside. With that, he scurried away to the house of the village’s local reverend. Following Malcolm’s lead, we also continued heading home.
“Lily dear, you missed dinner. There are some leftovers you can have.” My Granny--and only family, offered sweetly.
“No thank you, Granny. I’m not very hungry right now. I have received plenty of nourishment from the love our own god, however. How gracious he is.”
Granny nodded. “You should hurry on to bed now, dear.”
In the dead of night, a blood curdling scream rattled through the air, waking up me in a cold sweat. After rushing to Granny for comfort, she tried to soothe me till my eyes grew heavy and I slowly drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, eager to gossip with Emma over the midnight scream, Lily rushed to her house. However, it was with a heavy heart that Emma’s mother told Lily that Emma was dead.
Appearing from behind her, Sister Scarlet said. “I’m afraid it’s true, young Lily. Reverend Marshall said he saw Emma run into the forest last night. The last he heard of her was a frightful scream. She must have been taken by the devil’s monsters. This is why you must never go into the forest, Lily.” Sister Scarlett took a step closer, bent down, and stared directly into my soul with her dark brown--almost black--eyes. “Never go into the forest, Lily. Never leave.”
Sister Scarlett took a step back and dropped the tone of death. “But why would you want to? Our little village, it’s a wonderful place, no?”
“Of c-course.” I reluctantly agreed “But, I promised Granny I’d help her with chores after visiting Emma, so I have to go now. Bye.”
“Emma’s gone? In the middle of the night?” Granny questioned.
Swallowing the unnerving, growing lump in my throat, I nodded silently.
“Oh dear. It’s just like what happened to that Fiona girl a few months ago. Such a sweet child with so much promise. She had the most beautiful blue eyes just like Emma. A real shame.”
“I don’t understand. Why did Emma have to die, Granny?”
“It’s just the way it is. You need to stay out of the forest, as our god wants. It is only to protect you. Nothing good will happen to those who go against our god.”
“I know, Gran. I know. But so did Emma! It doesn’t make any sense that she would go in there!”
“If Reverend Marshall said that’s what happened then that’s what happened. Listen, you must never question our reverend, he is always right as he is on the side of our god.”
I nodded again and did as I was told. As I always did. Then, I was only a child, a child who didn’t know any better?
Again, around midnight, I woke to the sound of a horrified scream. Though, it was slightly different from before and it definitely didn’t sound quite like Emma. Still, I had to be sure. Quietly, I scurried into the night and broke another one of the village’s rules: never go out alone at night.
As I sprinted my way to Emma’s house, a looming black shadow towered over my path. Already at full speed, I rammed into the shadow and discovered it was actually a person--but not one I recognized. The stranger surveyed me with cold blue eyes. “Who are you?” I inquired.
“My name is Florence. Now, may I ask, what is your name, young lady.”
“My name is Lily. I haven’t seen you here before? Why are you here? Where did you come from?”
“I’m from New York. I’m here looking for my friend, Mercury.”
“New what?” Lily said, extremely confused. She had never heard of it before. What was this strange place outside the village? Were there other people out there?
“New York. In the United…”
Before Florence could finish telling me his origin story from whatever made up place is ‘United’, a second shriek erupted through the air. This time it definitely wasn’t Emma. Startled, Florence asked, “What was that—” Before he could finish, a sharp jab of pain to his stomach cut him off. To soothe the crimson bleeding, Florence began applying pressure
“You’re hurt?” I asked.
Florence nodded. “I got cut while in the forest.”
“You were in the forest?!” I exclaimed. “How…”
Another unknown scream interrupted me. “You should get out of here,” Florence warned.
I agreed. “Yeah, there are more screams than yesterday. It’s creeping me out.
“No, I mean get out of here. Leave this place and never—” Florence groaned out in pain.
“What are you talking about?”
A fourth scream rang through the air before the night went dead silent. Out of blind trust and childish sympathy, I grabbed Florence’s hand and dragged him back to my house. “Come on, we’ll be safe at my house.”
“Weren’t you listening, I said—”
Groaning, he nonetheless chose to follow me. Carefully, we tiptoed upstairs without waking Granny. Florence spread out across my bed while I got some bandages. As I treated him with minimal medical knowledge I know, I asked. “How did you survive the forest?”
“The forest. We were taught never to go in there because that’s where the demons and monsters live. Ya know, creepy misshapen beasts that want to kill everyone that wanders in.”
“There’s no such thing as those fictional monsters they tell you about here. The real monsters... are the people.”
“That makes literally no sense. Monsters specify things that aren’t human.”
Florence grimace in pain. “You know, it’s really not such a bad cut.” I explained. “You would have been fine if you just let it heal for a couple of days. Or asked our god for a blessing to heal.”
“I’m just not used to being in pain. Back in the city we have hospitals that stitch you up before you even got hurt.”
“What do you mean by ‘city’?”
“I told you before. I’m from New York City. A city is just a town with a lot of people in it.”
“I didn’t know there were other people other than our village.”
“Lily, listen carefully, there is a whole world out there filled with people. The villagers here though, do not want you to know that. They want to keep you here. But you can’t stay here. This place is a cult!”
“You’re funny, Mister Florence.”
“This isn’t a joke! The people here are hiding secrets from you. Random screaming doesn’t happen in safe places! You can’t trust anyone!”
“But I can trust you?”
“Yes, I’m not gonna hurt you. You’re just an innocent kid.”
“You’re funny, mister, but the villagers wouldn’t hurt me either. They’re good people. I trust them.”
I finished treating the minor wound. “Well, that’s it, mister. Good ‘night.”
The next night, yet again was I woken up by midnight shrieking. This time, it almost sounded like… “Emma!” I practically shouted. “Oh my! What if something happened to her! Hang on Emma, I’m coming!”
I threw off my sheets and began sprinting to the sound of the scream when I ran into Malcolm at full speed, knocking us both down. I slowly got up. “Malcolm? What are you doing here?”
Malcolm got up and picked up a lumpy cloth bag with mysterious contents as before. “Reverend Marshall asked me to get something for him. What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be out this late. Quickly! Go back outside, it’s not safe for you here.”
“I thought I heard Emma screaming, so I was just—”
“You need to go back home. Now. You don’t want to disappear like Emma or Fiona do you? It was the forest that took them. In the dead of night because they were out alone and wondering like you are now.”
“Fiona? I think Granny once said something about her…”
“Fiona was a girl who disappeared a couple of months ago. Everyone says she went into the forest, just like Emma. Now leave and go back home now.”
Malcolm turned to leave. “And be careful. There might be a stranger from the forest lurking around here. If you see him, tell Sister Scarlet. Now hurry! Go back home, Lily!”
Under my breath I mumbled, “a stranger…” then cut myself off when I fully realized. My eyes widened and I exclaimed to Malcolm. “I saw a stranger just the other night!”
“What? Where is he now?”
“Um, he was injured so I took him back to my house. He’s there right now with Granny.”
“Then we must hurry. Your grandmother could be in danger.”
Together, Malcolm and I raced back to my house; our footsteps thudded on the ground in chaotic unison. When we reached my house, it was empty. “We have to find granny!” I gasped out of breath.
“Yeah,” Malcolm agreed. “She has to be in the village somewhere. Let’s look for her.”
As the night grew shorter, we never found Granny, but I did spot Florence hiding in the shadows.
“Florence!” I exclaimed.
“That’s the stranger!” Malcolm bellowed.
We both rushed over to him, and Malcolm was the first to talk. “Where is Lily’s grandmother? Did you take her?”
“Of course not! She was missing and I went out looking for her.” Florence answered.
“How do we know you’re not lying?”
“Why would I lie about that?”
Suddenly, everyone stopped arguing at the sound of another scream. “Was that
Granny? I questioned and prayed the answer was no.
“I don’t know.” Florence replied. “Let’s go find out.”
Following the echo of the screech, we arrived at Marshall’s house. Just as I was about to knock, we heard another cry from inside. Florence tried the door, but it was locked. “It’s locked. Stand back, I’ll have to break it done.”
“No! You’re not permitted to go in there!” Malcolm explained.
“But, Malcolm, Granny could be in there.” I reasoned.
“Rules are still rules. No one is permitted in there other than me and Reverend Marshall. You have to trust him.” He turned to Florence. “But not this guy.”
“Kid, I’m an adult and quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about any of the pretentious rules you have around here. Lily’s granny could be in their and in peril. I’m going in.”
With three strong kicks to the door, the lock snapped and the door swung open. “Hello? Lily’s grandmother, are you here?” Florence called out.
While at least Reverend Marshall should have been there, along with the screamer, the house appeared empty. As we fanned out to search for the missing resident, I stubbed my little toe on an uneven wooden floorboards. “Ow! What the heck!” Lily whined. “Why is it always my pinkie toe that pays the price for clumsiness?”
“What is it?” Florence strolled over to me to investigate.
He peered down at the floor to observe a semi-hidden trapdoor trying to blend into the surrounding floorboards. The edges of it were elevated above the floor, meaning someone just opened it, and was likely still down there. Grabbing the edge of the wood, Florence peeled it open to reveal a hidden basement.
Florence was the first to go down. Shortly after, I followed his lead, but Malcolm stayed behind and just kept muttering nonsense to himself.
Florence and I carefully crept along an underground corridor. The corridor opened up to a blood-stained room with three bodies. The living ones, Reverend Marshall and Sister Scarlett snapped their necks in our directions, but Granny’s limp corpse didn’t move.
“What’s going on—”
Bam! From behind Malcolm whammed me and Florence with a loose piece of floorboard, knocking us both unconscious.
A couple of hours later, I finally regained my consciousness. I woke to see Florence huddled in the corner, sharply grasping a bloody object. “What is that?”
“It’s a watch. It belonged to Mercury.” He quietly answered.
“Wasn’t he the guy you were talking about when we meet?”
“Yeah, I came here in order to search for him. He was a journalist. Mercury told me that he was investigating a report about a suspected dangerous cult in the woods. He didn’t return for a while, so I went after him. This watch belonged to his father. It was a family heirloom. He wouldn’t leave it behind unless… unless he was…”
Florence glanced away. Misery and despair filled his stomach. “Dead. My best friend is dead.”
I remained silent, unsure on what to say. I glanced around trying to find something else to pour attention on and change the subject. Across the cell was a table with a large metal bowl onto in front of a shrine to their god. Inside the bowl appeared to be white grapes with little blue dots. No, not grapes. They were eyes. Specifically blue eyes, like the kind Emma had…
I gasped in horror. Florence turned to me, then noticed the bowl across from them. “Mercury’s… That’s sick. That’s so sick. They were targeting blue eyed people like Mercury. Now, that’s what they’re going to do to us because we found out their dirty secret. They’re going to kill us.” Florence turned to me. “We have to escape. We have no other choice.”
I barely managed a nod. The lock of the cell was rusted and already damaged from previous escape attempts Florence slammed his body against the door several times, but no luck. In the distance, the sound of approaching footsteps echoed their way to me and Florence. He got more desperate. Florence slammed his body against the door hinges at full force. The lock cracked and the door opened.
However, freedom came at a cost.
Florence’s wound had reopened and began bleeding. Sister Scarlet and Reverend Marshall sauntered into the room carrying several bloody tools. “Lily, I’m gonna hold them. You must go into the forest and find your way out of it to other civilizations. Go east. That will get you to where you must go.” Florence explained.
“No time for ‘buts’! Now hurry! Find people, anyone, and tell them about here. They’ll get the police and they’ll come here and save me and all your other friends from this dreaded place. Now hurry.”
Florence threw his body in between the murderers and me, providing me a chance to escape. I scurried up to the first floor and out the door. From the village and into the forest without hesitation. I sprinted past bushes and trees, stray branches scraped at my face and exposed skin, but I didn’t slow down. I kept running.
It took several days to clear the forest and reach other humans. When I did, I followed Florence’s instructions and told them about the village. An armed group of men they referred to as the police, as I learned, went to explore and expose the village.
I crossed my fingers and hoped they would reach Florence in time. I lead them to the village, but to my surprise, it wasn’t there anymore. The people were all gone. I didn’t have a single clue as to whether Reverend Marshall or Sister Scarlet were still alive or anything about the lives of the other villagers.
The houses were all burned, they remained as nothing more than charred lumps. The entire village was a mound of black ash. There was one thing however that remained. At the center of it all was a single wooden post. Maybe six feet tall and three inches in diameter. Mounted, at the top of the post was Florence. Or rather just his dismembered head, missing its sorrowful eyes.