They lock their doors at sunset and keep their windows shut. When people come from over the ancient, crumbling stone wall built to keep things out, they can never tell if they're human or not.
It pays to be careful. Some of the older people like to tell stories about how little Tommy went outside of the wall one day and was swallowed by the gaping crescent moon, or taken by the trees, or lured away by tinkling laughter and glimmering lights. Though no one is really sure if it's true or not, there's no way to prove it, and it's better safe than sorry.
Most of the people who drive through don't stay for long. The village is small and the people are unwelcoming and besides, there's nothing much to do.
When you moved, you didn't particularly want to stay either. The village children wouldn't go exploring with you through the woods, which were full of vines that trailed to the ground and slipped towards you when you weren't looking and brambles covered with thorns and berries with juice that looked like blood. Some of the brave ones would go out with you to the meadow and play, but none of them were willing to cross the stream that trickled through it.
When you grew up, you moved out almost immediately and got a job in some far off city. You don't really remember, which is strange but not that strange. Everything outside of the wall is a bit fuzzy once you've been within it.
You never really planned on coming back - you don't even know exactly how to get back. When your mother bundled you into the car with a bag of clothes and a dated map and drove for hours aimlessly until you found it, you never expected to stay. You certainly didn't expect the empty house to be just big enough for two people and cheap enough for your mother to buy.
You think back on that day. When exactly did you get to that little town? You must have been at least eleven, but you have a distinct memory of coloring in dinosaurs in a coloring book, and you stopped buying those books when you were eight. Was the sun setting when you got there? You can vaguely remember a bloody red sky and strange birds soaring through the air, their cries alien, but you also remember moonlight playing on your mother's glasses and painting her hair a silvery grey.
For some reason, the conflicting stories, the fog that encompasses that part of your mind, fills you with dread.
You didn't want to come back. You weren't planning on coming back. You tap your fingers anxiously on the steering wheel, along to the rhythm of the music that the radio is playing. You don't recognize the station it's on, or the song. This worries you. You don't know why.
You don't remember how long you've driven. The stars are out, and the sky is clear. You tell yourself this, repeating it in your head to make sure it doesn't slip away. You whisper it under your breath as you drive.
Why did you leave, anyway? Was it really to go off to college, to get a job? Why can't you remember what your job is?
Somewhere in front of you, you can make out the outline of a wall and the silhouettes of houses, illuminated by the midday sun - no. Illuminated by star light.
The road stretches in front of you, and the houses grow closer. Now, you can make out the swath of trees behind them, a dark shadow hovering over the town.
You park your car by the wall and get out. You remember being here, years ago, but that can't be right. Nobody was allowed beyond the wall. The soil is soft under your feet, and without really thinking, you kick your shoes off.
This is familiar.
You take a couple steps towards the stream that flows through the one gap in the wall. The water is ice cold when you dip your feet in, and you remember trying to catch the fish that dart around your legs, splashing yourself, except that never happened. That can't have happened.
You should go back into the town. You can't remember why exactly you came here, but you know there was a reason, a pressing, urgent reason.
A breath of wind kisses your face and you pull your jacket more closely around yourself. There are voices under the wind, and you remember listening to them, singing along with them.
You didn't leave the village. You were thrown out.
You blink away the thought - the idea is ridiculous, and yet being here, your feet quickly numbing from the water and the moon sickle shaped and too bright, is bringing things back.
You remember clambering over the wall, the stone rough and cutting into your hands, landing with a thud on the other side. You remember clambering to your feet, brushing yourself off. The sun was bright in your eyes, and the shadows stretched towards it, basking in its light. You remember catching a fish in your cupped hands, rainbows forming in its glittering scales as it writhed and twisted in your hands, until it finally slipped through your fingers.
You ventured into the forest, then. Honey light slipped through the branches, dripping from each wide, vibrant leaf. Bees buzzed, frogs chirped, birds flew past you, colorful feathers fanned out as they danced.
You plucked berries from the thickets that coiled around tree trunks and over smaller bushes, and their thorns wrapped themselves around your hands and arms, digging into your skin. You could hear their malicious laughter and the wind chiding them until they let go. Blood ran down your fingers, mixing with the berry juice. You ran away as the leaves grew wider and thicker, blocking out the light.
You blink. You can feel something tugging at you, and your wrist throbs, as if someone tied a rope too tightly around it and is dragging you after them.
You stand. You should go into the town now, though something tells you they won't welcome you back. Once the forest has tasted your blood, people fear you, push you away. You no longer belong.
You wonder why you were called back, why you came, and the answer springs immediately into your mind: to come back home.
The trees pull at you, and for a moment you try to pull back, but the sound of the creek's bubbling laughter is soothing, the pattern the fireflies make as they flit over the meadow mesmerizing, and the tug irresistible.
You take a few steps into the woods. Branches bend down to caress your face, to welcome you back, and crickets chirp a melody dedicated to you. When the brambles wrap around you, it doesn't hurt - they keep their claws in this time. You're serene, calm, and your heart pounds out a steady beat. You shut your eyes, lashes tickling your cheeks, as the brambles swallow you whole.
From somewhere, you can hear bells.