The icy breeze flowed with the hints of sharp icicles in it. Lydia tightly clutched the documents, which Professor Millar handed to her in school. The dark branches eyeballed Lydia, Nora and Levi out of curiosity. Lydia knew that Nora and Levi would be as perplexed as she was to find out the peculiar location of the upcoming school event. All of them exchanged confused glances as at night the place didn't look any less than a mysterious piece of art.
The basil-coloured colossal trees surrounded them, like parents surrounding their kids in unknown places, but this time it wasn't for protection. Some broken chiffon-coloured stones were aligned in order to make a path for a place above, making them seem like stairs. None of them dared to step on it and explore the place. They were standing right in the middle of the forest, faraway from all of their houses. Two cars slumped in the dull environment of the forest. The only thing which didn't make sense was how were we supposed to arrange farewell here in woods? Lydia and Nora had agreed to the location which Professor Millar gave them for the arrangements of the farewell party but they didn't know that the address in the paper would lead them here.
"I think we should refuse." Levi suggested.
"We can't, the professor had so many expectations from us." Nora said, miserably.
"And do you even remember what happened last year? Innumerable amount of balloons, cakes presents and the deco-"
"It is not a birthday party, Lydia. And besides, there is no way we can arrange anything here. You see these trees and plants, and the whole place is not suitable for a farewell. Unless you wanna arrange a scary room of some kind." Levi said.
"But . . . But we can still move upstairs, and see if there's anything interesting." Lydia propounded.
"My brother has gone there and he does not want us to be there. I think it is not safe." Nora advised.
"And that is why I am leaving this place and I am again saying that you should say no to the professor, there is no benefit in digging up bare land."
Lydia fell silent for a moment as Levi sat in his car and waved them bye and then he was gone.
"Your dream boy just went in his Corolla and you just watched." Nora said.
"I thought that it would be good to be here. Maybe he will have some fun."
"Yes, sure, in the woods." Nora snorted
"I didn't know we would end up here!" Lydia protested.
"I think Levi did the right thing. We should also go Lydia. I feel… insecure here." Nora said, rubbing her arms. They both felt the cold reaching up their body despite their sweaters and jeans. Lydia didn't have the heart to leave the place without even going up the stairs but she didn't have the courage to do it all alone, at night. Just as they were about to turn, Lydia was face to face with a stranger. Red hair was the first thing Lydia noticed. And second was the plum cloak he wore.
"People leave in anger but who knows if they will ever return." He said. She paled. She didn't know what to make of that. Lydia looked at Nora for any reaction but she was as bewildered as her. She looked past the shoulder of the person to her car. They needed to get away from this strange place with its strange people. Nora held Lydia's wrist and something told Lydia that she was thinking the same thing. They both ran to their car and Nora started the engine without looking back but Lydia did, just to see what oddity had to do but he was not there. She glanced at the nearby trees but he was nowhere to be found.
At home, Dad was talking about the new case which was dissimilar from any he had ever encountered before. Mom had made stew as Lydia and Mom ate in silence, listening to the rarity which Dad had to present. As they were on the dining table, the house felt incredibly silent despite Dad's words. The house smelt of the warm and delicious flavors of Mom's cooking. And I found myself eating one bite after another out of hunger.
"There is this new gang which we found out about today. They are very special. They stole the most precious diamonds of the city." Dad explained, taking a bite.
"Why does this make them so special?" Lydia inquired.
"They fooled the safest safe. Which could only have been broken by any type of bomb or any destructive substance. They got the affluents from inside the safe somehow, and managed to escape from the building without any proof of their presence there. When we reached there, there wasn't anything inside the safe but the safe was perfectly fine." Dad added.
"Seems like a villain from a movie." Lydia snorted, even if she didn't want to believe in what Dad was saying, she couldn't snub the growing interest which was boiling up inside her but she kept herself straight-faced. After the dinner Dad went to his study and Lydia helped her mother clean up.
A moss-coloured necklace laid on the slape. She turned back to her mother who was washing stained dishes. She took the necklace in her hands and ran her fingers through the fine details of it. She liked it. Without her mother's permission, she wore it.
When they were done in the kitchen, she sat on the couch and turned on the TV. Dad came out of his study, his glasses on his head and his eyes tired. It was clear he needed a good sleep and he was done for today. He went to his room in silent steps and after a few minutes Mom did the same and with that Lydia was left behind alone in the lawn. She counted till hundred before stepping in the study of her Father. The room smelled mainly of burned cigars and old books. In her childhood it was her favourite place to sit by her father's side and read his old books loudly during tea time. She pictured her younger self sitting on the small chair in front of the large table which held an hourglass, some documents in a blue binder and dad's cigar plate, reading dad books and wanting her dad's attention. She smiled at the silly thought.
She stepped ahead and reached out for the documents laid on the table. She knew some of them were for the recent case Dad told her about. She searched through the papers until she read the word 'Gang's raid' a paper's top. She read for anything which she could understand in the compact and cursive writing of her Father, but she only saw the amount of things which were stolen and some addresses where the culprits might hide. She was about to leave the study of her Father, without anything interesting in hand, when she laid her eyes on the familiar address, written on the paper. It was the same address which Professor Miller had given her, for the arrangements of the farewell party, in woods. She felt excitement increasing inside her as she turned off the lights of the study and closed the doors, speechlessly. She had the paper and with the little success she achieved, she took them upstairs.
The first person she thought of calling was Nora but she still dialed Levi. She waited for the rings but his phone was off. She tried multiple times but didn't get the answer. In the end she called Nora, she picked up on the second ring.
"Yeah?" She gasped and it seemed like she had been sleeping.
Lydia had this idea of telling the story so that there wouldn't be anything to question next so she did and waited for Nora's stirred voice but in return Nora was scared, vexed.
"Have you lost your mind, Lydia?" Her voice was no longer sleepy. "It is not a game we used to play in childhood or finding a person who cheated in a test in school. It is all real. Real. You can be in trouble. You forgot that strange person we found there?"
"I think that should not stop us from being there. Professor Mill-" Lydia tried convincing her.
"Professor Miller himself doesn't know about the place and I guarantee you that he hasn't even seen the place. He has lost his mind." Nora squeezed all of her anger in Lydia through the phone. She felt the anger being its worst form inside her. If Nora didn't want to go then she didn't have any right to stop Lydia. And most of all embarrassing her. When all these years farewell parties have been taking place in strange places and the people who were assigned to arrange it, they arranged it in beautiful stunning ways. Why should Lydia say no?
"And you are the only sane person left on earth!" Lydia couldn't hold it and said whatever was on her mind. She didn't want it to be that harsh but it came out that way. Without any assistance from Nora and Levi she felt somehow disturbed and lonely.
The next morning she took those papers and prepared to go to that same place in the forest. Most of the night she had been thinking about what she would do after reaching there but her mind was dizzy with fatigue. She sat in the car, her cheese sandwich in her mouth and she started driving. The windshield was the major solid for the condensation of the winter precipitation. The plants on fruits growing beside the main door of her house seemed to be happy with the light shower. The cerulean sky boasted its beauty and colours, from indigo and berry to slate and stone in beats. The roads were immaculately empty in the hazy morning and for once in her life she had wished for traffic.
It took her an hour to reach the forest. The forest was wide and fertile and the trees gave enough space for the car to proceed. She took turns as they were instructed by the professor until she was standing on that same spot, where Nora and Levi were yesterday. She parked her car in reach and closely scrutinized the area. The trees felt mint green and somehow lighter coloured than yesterday. The place felt occupied, as if she was surrounded by some living things instead of trees. A shiver of horror ran down her spine and the color drained from her face. Now as she thought about Nora's words, Lydia had the feeling that she was right.
It all felt awfully real.
There wasn't any need of going to a forest alone, in the quiet streets, without informing someone, she thought. She felt the presence of the emerald pendant on her chest and she gulped down the fear. She stepped ahead to the injured stairs. The stairs offered a scabrous surface under her shoes. She paced upstairs and her eyes widened on the unexpected scenery she acknowledged. She found eight rings peering at her. All of them aligned adequately in order for anyone to be on the other side of the rings, to go through them first. They were purposely made of dove-colored bricks, each having a feet distance in them. The light filtered brightly from the gap each ring had. She held the arc of one ring and stepped inside and welcomed the warmth and heat the first ring gave and with that each ring gave her the same sensation. Along with the snugness she experienced deeply, she felt the green pendant being muggy.
She gaped decently at the home which was made after the eighth ring. There was an unoccupied chair on the wooden floor and a showpiece of tree branches rested on the nearby table. She stepped inside the house. The reverberating of her phone caught her attention as she frowned at it. Mom was calling.
"Yes Mom?" She inquired.
"Mrs. Easton is here," Mom was hissing on the phone.
"So what, Mom?"
"Levi is dead." She trembled
"Mom, what are you saying?" She listened to her in horror. Her heart missed a beat on the mention of Levi's name.
"You heard me correct Lydia. You and Levi were out yesterday but he never returned. Where had he gone?" She interrogated her, she didn't know Nora had joined them too.
"Mom, he was the first one to leave. I don't know where he went." Lydia worried.
Before Mom had any other words to say, Dad was on the line and it felt like he was in a hurry when he said, "Lydia, tell me what does eight rings mean?" Her tongue didn't move a muscle. She was not in any condition to tell her Father. The eight rings mackled before her. The indignance and misery was effervescent inside her. She couldn't ignore the strange rhythm her heart was beating in. She ended the call and sat on the floor. She crawled to the corner of the room until the daylight was nothing but furtive. She placed her head on her arms as if not to show the room that she was broken-hearted and on the verge of tears. Her tears fell in ineffability and she couldn't stop weeping out the sadness she felt.
The curiosity for the answer of the murderer was immense. She thought about whoever knew Levi from school but after a couple of minutes, she couldn't place more than three boys who were his friends. She scratched her mind for whatever he said yesterday. Was he angry? Or was he not interested? While thinking her weeping had stopped and she only had one face in mind.
The red hair and the plum cloak.
That strange man in the woods was the one talking about anger issues and not coming back. Something told her that he was probably indicating Levi. And now that Levi is no more, he was surely talking about Levi. Her body began to shake at the thought of it. Her jaw and fists clenched, her tears burned in her eyes. She had found the address of this person in Dad's study and maybe she was in danger but she didn't care.
In a matter of seconds, she heard laughters. Her body tensed. She knew she was alone but still she walked ahead. The room extended to glass charcoal stairs with mahogany handrail, adorned with leaves. The wall string gave a brilliant view of the forest from this height. She followed the hissing voices. The sound of her shoes making contact with the marble stairs died within her vamps. She was hailed by six men sitting on the arcs of a cloth, on which a dozen of food rested. They were having a party. She was sure Professor Miller meant this area for the farewell. If a person entered this place not knowing his friend was dead because of the people living here, he would not feel any danger. That was the worst part of this place. Those six were surrounded by four couches. She sat behind one of the couches.
Her mouth went dry on the thought of what to do next. These men were way too strong from her and could knock her down with only their fingers. Her phone vibrated in her pocket and she lost her breathing. She quickly powered it off and prayed that nobody had listened but by the look of one of their faces, she knew she was in danger. She was shivering behind the couch out of terror, when one of them said, "Stop!" All of them stopped laughing and their faces turned grave. She hunched her shoulder and became as small as she could. "I think someone's here." Someone said seriously.
"No there can't be, nobody can go through those eight rings, we are safe here." They all agreed except the red haired one. "No, if he is saying someone's here, then it is possible someone roamed in here." Lydia held her breath behind the couch and closed her eyes.
She didn't know when one of them came and grasped her wrist, so tight that she was sure that it could break. She stood panic-stricken there, her screams absorbed by the growing fright. The man glared at her with such hatred, that she couldn't bear it. She heard footsteps growing. "How could you-", someone struck his shoulder from behind. When she looked over the shoulder of a man she saw her father, his eyes tired but his body alarmed. Behind him stood all of his policemen. She lost the power of recognizing each of them and focused on drowsiness which was engulfing her. Dad said something to the men with him. They took her to the innumerable police cars parked in the forest. On the side, she found her own car parked but before she could reach it everything went black.
When her eyes opened, she found her dad, driving the car and saying something, "I saw your shoes last night … the dirt on them … the missing documents … forest dirt … rapid action … ", before he could finish she drowsed off. When her eyes opened again she was on her mother's lap. Her eyes were teary and miserable. Lydia felt a sting of melancholy and guilt. Mom held her necklace in her hands and she whispered, "From childhood till now, once again my magic saved you." She felt that she could go through those rings because of this necklace and pulled her father near her. A feeling of gratitude and cheer washed over her as her eyes closed again.