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They were strange. The people in the woods. Beautiful but strange. They come to town every Sunday dressed in their best, they would be on the last pew, looking as serene as ever, keeping to themselves the whole mass. They’d be dressed in colorful clothes of expensive silk. Bright green, yellow, fiery red, orange and royal blue, these are the colors they usually wear.
Ours is a small town, where everyone knows everybody but the funny thing is, nobody seems to know their names. They’re simply the people in the woods, they’ve been in the woods for as long as anyone could remember. They were there long before our town exists. I was always fascinated by them, I’d go to church just to watch them, God forgive me, but they were really beautiful and peculiar.
Sometimes, I’d ask my Mom about them but she would just hush me as if asking about the people in the woods was forbidden as if it was a sin or a big mistake. Other people in town doesn’t seem to know much either or if they do, they’re keeping it from me.
Once, when I was eight, I decided to follow them home, unable to resist the pull of curiosity, I told my mother a lie about visiting a sick friend before slipping out of her grasp. She was busy talking with Mrs. Merriweather, the widow who lives just down the street so she didn’t see me follow the people in the woods.
They seem to be normal though they talk in a language I couldn’t understand. Their language sounded strange and old like the Latin prayers that we say in mass, most of which I couldn’t understand.
The adults were talking to each other while the children laugh merrily, they were conversing with each other as well. Oh, how beautiful they look! The women with their wide skirts and perfectly coiffed hair and the men in their regal bright clothes, they were like the princes and princesses in the stories I’ve read.
I wished I was as beautiful as them!
I was so engrossed in following them that I hadn’t realized that we’re nearing the end of the town and the woods was drawing closer and closer. The woods was dark and forbidding, the town’s children were not allowed to enter the woods for there are wild animals there or so the grown-ups say but the woods couldn’t really be that dangerous, could it?
These people live there and the children are just as old as I am, some even younger! They wouldn’t be living there if it was as dangerous as Mom said.
I was a few paces away from them, though they were so engrossed in their own conversation that they didn’t notice me yet.
The woods’ entrance was sealed by a series of oak trees growing as close to each other as possible. Most of the trees were covered by thick vines that look like thin snakes coiling around the thick bark and hanging down from the branches. The ground was covered with knee-length grass, ferns and broad-leaf plants.
I hesitated for a bit.
Should I continue?
Of course, I should.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s nothing to be afraid of. I chanted in my head.
I took my first step into the woods, the grass made my limbs itch but I ignored it.
It was darker in there, the sun’s ray barely penetrated the canopy of trees so it look like twilight instead of noon.
I could hear the gentle sighs of the river from here, that, mingled with the children’s laughter calmed me down and gave me the courage to follow. Though I couldn’t see them anymore, I could easily follow the sound of their voices.
The forest floor was covered with leaves and twigs that snapped whenever I stepped on it. I took a deep breath and pulled the skirt of my dress higher so that it won’t get snag on the bushes.
My stockings were already ruined, my mother would probably kill me for this but I was too excited to care. I’ll face the music later, for now, I still have something to do.
I went deeper and deeper into the woods until I was close enough to the People that I can see them, I hid behind a tree, watching what they will do.
They had formed a line in front of the tall, thick bushes that seems to mark the end of the forest for there was no way they could get through that wall unless they cut it.
One of them, the guy who always acts like the leader of the group put his hand on the bushes as if groping for something.
Finally, as if satisfied, he put his hand down and to my astonishment, the bushes shifted, moving on their own.
My jaw dropped as I caught a glimpse of what’s beyond.
I saw a beautiful garden, roses, chrysanthemums, violets and poppies, all of the flowers I could name was there and on the middle was a huge house with pointed spires and huge glass windows, the kinds of which I only see in huge cathedrals in the city and beyond that was a river, the sun glinting on it, the line of trees stopped outside the bush for I saw no trees beyond it, just lush neatly trimmed grass and flowers with butterflies flying here and there.
The People followed the man except for one boy who lingered behind. Before he entered, he turned and smiled at me, my heart almost stopped beating, I thought he was about to say something but he just winked, walked in and the bush closed once again.
I stopped. Starstruck by the boy’s smile, I was too young then to fall in love but not young enough to be able to resist the charms of a handsome mysterious boy.
I didn’t know what happened next that day, everything was hazy, all I remembered was the boy’s smile, his blonde hair that looks soft to touch and his twinkling cornflower blue eyes.
My mother told me that they found me wandering in the forest that afternoon, I was so dazed and fevered that they thought I was struck by a rare flu.
After that day, she forbade me to go anywhere alone.
The People of the Woods still went to church every Sunday and now I look forward to the mass even more for I really wanted to see the boy.
I think that he looks like an angel and even more handsome or perfect than the statue of the saints on the altar.
Oh! God forgive me but I can’t help it.
Night after night I dream of him and always whenever the dream ends he’d smile at me and I’ll want to sleep more to be with him.
I started to hate the times when I wake up and I hate it even more when I can’t remember anything in my dream except his smile.
Night became my favorite time of the day, it is only at Sundays that I become excited at the prospect of waking up for I can see him then though he acts as if he doesn’t know me. They were still the same, they laugh and talk in their strange language and was aloof with other people.
I longed to be like them more. I wanted to laugh like them, to be as beautiful as them, to wear their clothes, to live in that beautiful house and most of all, I wanted to be with him.
My mother got worried with my strange behavior that she suggested I take a vacation at my Aunt’s place in the city.
“No! I don’t want to be in the city!” I protested.
If I go to the city, I wouldn’t see him!
“Honey, you need a change of scenery, you’re not all that well, I think it would be better if you go there. Your Aunt has a friend who is a Doctor, he’s a good doctor, he’ll make you better and then you’ll be home in no time. Please, honey.” My mom pleaded.
My eyes turned into slits as I looked up at my mother. She looked guilty. Why would she want me to see a Doctor?
I’m not sick.
I feel alright.
Is she implying something?
“I’m not sick.” I told her.
“Honey, you haven’t been right ever since you got that… that flu. You need to see a Doctor so we’ll be sure that it’s totally gone.” It was my father who spoke this time.
I looked at him, betrayed by his reaction.
My Dad had always been on my side, he calls me his princess and I’m a Daddy’s girl. But I hate him now. I hate him because he’s siding with Mom. I hate him because his taking me away from him.
“No! I’m not going to a Doctor, you’ll have to kill me before you’ll take me out of here!” I screamed at them before running to my room and locking my door.
That night, I cried and cried.
I didn’t eat anything despite my parents’ coaxing, I remained in my room and cried until I fell asleep.
Finally, I saw him again in my dreams.
We were in that beautiful garden, sitting on a swing while he was smiling at me.
Oh, it feels so good!
We were talking about something and I was so happy though I couldn’t remember it.
I was laughing though I couldn’t understand what he was saying, all I know was I feel light and my problems are all gone and we’ll be on the swing forever.
It was strange how his smile affects me, it was as if my problems all disappeared and there was no pain, just wonderful blissfulness that settled over me.
I woke up in an unfamiliar room with white ceiling and walls. I was lying uncomfortably on a single bed with a needle jabbed into my hand connected to a transparent container with what seem to be like water inside.
Then, I realized, I was in a hospital.
“Mom!” I called out in panic.
The doors opened and my Dad went in.
“Honey, you’re awake.” He said, relief evident in his voice.
“Where are we?” I asked him though I already have an idea of where I am.
“We’re in a hospital, Honey. You were unconscious for three days, for some reason, we couldn’t wake you up and we got worried so we brought you here. Your Mom went to get coffee, she’ll be so happy you’re awake.”
“What day is it, Dad?” I asked him.
“It’s Saturday, hon.” He answered as he gently smoothed my hair.
I sat up. It’s Saturday. I need to get home tomorrow. I’ll see him tomorrow. I need to see him tomorrow. I’ve just been awake for a couple of minutes but the dream seems so far gone that I could barely recall it and I need to see him like how I need to breath or eat to live.
You might think that I’m exaggerating, that I’m overly dramatic or something but I’m not. This is just how I feel and I don’t know why, I just feel it.
“Dad, can we go home now?” I asked my father.
“I don’t think so, honey. The Doctor still needs to check you up.”
“Where’s the Doctor?” I asked him.
His frown deepened.
“Why are you so impatient to go home?”
I was quiet. Though I was so deeply mesmerize with the boy, I didn’t tell anyone about him. He’s mine. He’s my secret alone and as far as I know, I’m the only one who has seen him smile that way. And I’m not willing to share him with anyone.
“I just want to attend the Mass and see Father Eugene.” I lied smoothly.
I like Father Eugene, he was a kind man who loves kids and every end of the mass, he would hand out candy to the kids.
“Oh, so you like some candy, huh? You better watch out, young lady, or you’ll be having a trip to the dentist soon.” Dad said mock-sternly.
I forced out a laugh at his manner and he seems to be satisfied by that.
I managed to convince the Doctor that I’m fine, he prescribed some medicine before allowing us to leave. He also warned me against tiring myself or thinking about things that would stress me out. I barely heard him, all I know is that I need to go home before Sunday.
Finally, we were out of the hospital. We travelled back home, I fell asleep in the car and once again, I dream of him. When I woke up it was already morning, I was so excited that as soon as I heard the church bells, I headed for the car pulling my bewildered father’s hand.
“Let’s go, Dad! We’ll be late for mass.” I told him.
“Relax, princess, what’s the hurry?” He asked as he opened the car doors.
I jumped on the passenger’s seat, beating my Mom to it.
She sighed and fussed over my wrinkled dress.
“Leave it, Mom. We’ll be late for mass.” I said pushing her hand away.
“Don’t stress yourself.” She told me before heading to the backseat.
I didn’t answer, I was too impatient to care.
When we arrived, the mass was already about to start.
As we entered the church, I throw a look at him, he was there, looking as serene and handsome as ever, his eyes were focus on the altar and he didn’t look at me but it was enough to get just a glimpse of him.
This went on for years.
My feelings didn’t wane as years went by, instead they grew as I did. Eight years later and the feeling is as strong as ever. I have other suitors but they were nothing compared to him. I’d look at the other boys and see their flaws. Even the hottest boy in school has no effect on me.
For it was him alone that I wanted. Even if he does not notice me, I’m contented in dreaming and wishing, as long as I see him every Sunday, I’ll be fine.
He had grown even more handsome as years went by. He wore his hair longer now and he was tall, lean and muscular, his skin tanned and his eyes were just as blue as ever.
He never smiled at me again ever since that day and I doubt if he did know that I was the girl who had spied on them eight years ago.
Then, one day as I was walking home alone from school (I never had much friends, the other girls thought I was so strange with my head always in the clouds that they tend to avoid me) I bumped into him.
I had just gone out of the gate and suddenly he was there. My books fell from my hand but I didn’t notice. I was just staring at him unbelievingly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” He said.
His voice sounded like it did in my dreams, low but powerful with a melodious ring to it.
“I-it’s okay.” I said when I finally got my voice back, my hands were still shaking out of excitement and happiness.
I felt like I could cry out of joy.
He had talk to me, he had smiled at me again for real.
I pinched myself.
This is real, not a dream!
He quickly bent over and took my books but he didn’t give it back, instead he offered his hand.
“Blare Lockwood.” He said with a smile.
I took his hand in mine and grip it shakily.
“It was nice to finally talk to you, Michaela Kaft.” He said, his eyes sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
I caught my breath, he was beautiful!
“You remembered…” I uttered.
“Of course I do, I’ll never forget a brave girl like you.”
“B-but why didn’t you approach me then?” I asked.
“Because it’s not the right time yet.” He answered.
I frowned. Right time for what? I looked at him, he was still smiling and I smiled back, I couldn’t help it, his smile makes me feel safe, happy, secure.
I forgot what I was going to ask in fact I forgot everything, there was just him and me in the world and I’m fine with that.
“Will you come with me, Michaela?” He asked, his eyes pleading for me to agree.
“Yes! Yes, I’ll go anywhere with you!” I said, unable to stop the words from pouring out.
“Anywhere?” He confirmed.
Everything was going too fast but I couldn’t stop myself, I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I was a kid and now it is happening.
Oh, how glorious I felt even more glorious than I felt in my dreams.
“Go to the forest at noon tomorrow. I’ll meet you there then you’ll meet my clan. They’ve been dying to meet you ever since.”
Tomorrow is my birthday and my parents had promised me dinner in my favorite restaurant in town.
“I will but… we should be quick. If you want, you could come too. So you’ll meet my parents as well.” I suggested.
He took my hand in his and whispered in a gentle voice.
“I would be honored.”
He walked me home and I was happy now that I’m with the man of my dreams. He told me about the beauty of the woods and the animals that live in harmony there.
Oh, I could let him talk all day without getting tired of his voice.
When we arrived in my home, I asked him in but he declined saying that he need to be home, I was disappointed but I reminded myself that we’ll be seeing each other tomorrow.
I could barely sit still the next day, I showered early and fussed over what to wear.
Finally, I choose a light green dress and a simple black sandal.
I curled my hair and put on some light make-up.
I could feel butterflies in my stomach and I’m starting to feel queasy.
By eleven o’ clock, I decided to go out of my room.
“Honey, you look beautiful today.” My mother said in admiration.
I smiled at her.
“Happy birthday, Princess. We thought you’d sleep late.” Dad greeted me as he handed me a small box wrapped in a bright red wrapper.
“Thanks Dad, Mom!” I gave them a quick hug.
“I have something to ask, a friend of mine invited me to their house today, I promised I’ll go but don’t worry I’ll be back before the sun sets, can I?” I couldn’t help myself from blushing as I said this.
Dad and Mom looked at each other before looking at me.
Both of them looked teary-eyed but they were both smiling.
“Oh, honey, of course you can.” It was mom who spoke first.
“And when would we meet this friend of yours?” Dad asked sternly.
“You’ll meet him later.” I answered.
After answering a couple more questions, I bid my parents goodbye and headed towards the woods.
When I arrived at the entrance of the woods, he was already there.
He was wearing a silk white robe trimmed with gold embroidery, on his head was a wreath of olive branches, I caught a waft of chamomile and jasmine when I got close enough.
I find his outfit a little bit strange but it fitted his mysterious personality so I didn’t say anything about it.
He smiled and offered his hand to me.
“I’m glad you came.”
I smiled back, my heart is beating fast my hands are cold as I took his.
He smiled once more and guided me towards the woods.
“You’re wearing the color of Nature.” He stated as we were nearing the bush walls.
I looked at him, approval was on his eyes and I was glad that I’ve chosen the right dress today.
He touched the bush walls and it opened.
My eyes widened, though I’ve caught a glimpse of their home before, I still couldn’t help but be amaze by what I see.
The flowers were still there, all in full bloom, and the butterflies were freely flying all over the garden. In front of the house stood a number of people, all dressed in white silk robes, the men had olive wreaths on their head while the women have a crown made of jasmine. All of them were smiling at us.
I become nervous. Would they like me? I’ve watched them for years and now, here I am, about to talk to them.
We halted in front of a curly-haired blond woman and a man who looks like the older version of Blare. I guess this must be his mother and father, they must have married very young for they look like they’re still in their early thirties.
“Mother, Father, I present to you, Michaela Kaft, my Chosen One.”
I shivered at what Blare said, not because of fear but because of delight.
He called me his chosen one and I found it very romantic.
I secretly pinch myself and realized that I’m not dreaming.
The woman took my cold hands in hers and smiled at me.
“I’m glad you accepted my son’s invitation.” She told me.
“It was nice to finally meet you, Michaela.” Said Blare’s father. He was smiling too.
I smiled back and told them that I was pleased to meet both of them.
“Blare, you can present her to the rest of the family.” His Dad gestured towards the other family members.
I felt like I was an art piece being presented to be judge by the critiques and I felt shy though I tried hard to act calm.
Blare then introduce me to his older sisters, Isabella and Annabelle who looks just like the female versions of him and then to his younger brother, Flint who has the same features as him but only with dark hair.
Then to his Aunts and Uncles, he had so many cousins that I forgot their names and finally to his great aunts and great uncles who all look not a year older than forty.
All of them smiled and nodded their approvals to me.
When I was introduced to everyone, his great aunt Mary spoke.
“Now that all of us had met Michaela, we should prepare her for the feast. Isabella and Annabelle, it will be your task to prepare her.”
I frowned and look at Blare.
He smiled and pressed my hand.
“Everything will be fine.” He assured me.
Isabella and Annabelle moved forward and took my hand from Blare’s.
I reluctantly went with them inside the house, once we were inside, the others followed.
The house was large and most of the furniture was old.
The huge windows that resembled those of the churches were covered by thick huge light gold curtains.
I was lead towards a bedroom on the second floor, the bed is circular covered with immaculate white bedspreads.
On the middle of the bed is a plain white dress.
“Come on.” Isabella pulled me towards a door, when she opened it, I saw that inside was a huge Victorian bathtub.
“W-what are we doing here?” I asked in confusion.
“This is Tradition.” Annabelle said pushing me towards the bathroom.
I reluctantly entered.
How strange are these people!
On the other hand, none of them ever go to school or socialized with anyone in town so I understand them.
Are they an old tribe?
They seem awfully wealthy which made me wonder how they got it.
None of them work, nor do they own any business that I know of, so where could their wealth come from?
“You should bathe.” Isabella said.
I stared at her, not sure whether I should be insulted or not.
She stared back at me, her face warm and welcoming, devoid of anger or unpleasantness.
This is all for Blare, I should do what his family wants to get their approval.
And I really want to get their approval, I want them to think that I’m the right woman for him, though it’s too early for me think of that.
I self-consciously strip and step into the tub.
The water was lukewarm and pleasing and there were rose petals floating on it. It smelled of roses and jasmine, a scent that was oddly relaxing.
The two girls rub scented oil on my back then they washed and dried me.
They lead me back to the bedroom and told me to wear the white dress.
After I’ve dressed they sat me on the dresser and brush my shoulder length dull blonde hair.
“Why don’t you go to school?” I asked them, unable to control my curiosity.
“We’re happy here.” Annabelle answered with a gentle smile.
“Have you been in this forest for long?” I continued my interrogation.
“Yes. We live here for generations.” She answered. Her voice was soft and serene and she was humming a tune that was slowly making me sleepy.
Annabelle produced another jasmine wreath they rub scented oil on my hair before putting the wreath on.
Finally, Isabella told me that we can go and they leaded me to the dining room, downstairs.
The dining room was huge and though the windows were thrown wide, there were still white candles lighted on the golden candleholders on the table.
The dining table was long, long enough that it allowed everyone to be seated around it. It was also laden with different dish, vegetable salad, turkey, roasted chicken, stew, three kinds of soup, smoked ham, grilled pork ribs and at least twenty bottles of wine. On the middle of the table was a huge crystal bowl filled with fruits. There are green and red grapes, apples, oranges, different kind of berries, peaches and dates.
Blare’s great aunt Mary sat on the head of the table beside her husband whose name I forgot, beside him was Blare’s parents and on the other side of Aunt Mary is Blare’s uncle with his pregnant wife.
“Let us now feast.” Aunt Mary said then she nodded at Mr. Lockwood.
Mr. Lockwood stood up, then everyone followed.
He bowed his head and started praying in their language, after the lengthy prayer he sat and the feast started.
Blare talk to me all the time, he told me about his childhood, when he played in the woods with his older sisters.
He talks of Earth as if it was a person, not only a person but a deity, he calls it Earth Mother.
I smiled, I was barely listening to him but I love the sound of his voice, I could listen to him forever.
He offered me a glass of wine from a golden chalice, I drank it and he talked more. Everything disappeared, the chatter of his relatives, the gentle whispers of the wind, the sound of the river, I was not aware of those, I was only aware of him.
I was getting dizzier as I drank more of the wine he offered but I didn’t care.
I’m happy and I felt that if I stopped drinking then he would stop talking or he would look away and I’d be back to reality and I don’t want that.
More wine was given to me and my vision was getting blurry but his face was clear in my mind so was his voice.
“Will you do what I want, Michaela?” He asked.
And in my mind, he was smiling, his eyes pleading for me to say yes.
I opened my eyes and saw that the image in my mind was accurate.
I laughed giddily.
“I will, of course, anything.” I said.
“Will you give your life to Earth Mother? Will you give your life force to keep the Earth Mother alive?”
“Yes, yes. Anything.” I answered, anything to keep him with me.
I was handed another chalice full of wine, I drank it all in one gulp.
Blare had started humming and his hum was joined by others.
Then, he was singing in that language I don’t understand.
I imagined that he was singing a love song to me.
I closed my eyes again and bob my head to the tune.
The beat was slow and the words were good to hear even though I can’t understand it.
Or maybe it was because of Blare that I love the song.
I felt Blare’s hand in mine, he was pulling me, so I followed.
He was still singing and so were his relatives. My vision was blurry, and I laughed whenever I stumbled over loose rocks.
Blare always caught me and put me up right again.
Then, I found myself humming the tune they were singing, I was lead to a platform, I opened my eyes and looked down, Blare’s relatives were down there, looking up at me, smiling gently as if encouraging me.
Once again, I was struck by their beauty, none could have more perfect features than them, their faces looked as if it had been sculpted by the greatest sculptor in the world their hair were beautiful and vibrant, their eyes shone like gems in the afternoon sun.
Blare took my hand and I look down at him, he was a step lower than me.
“Serve the Earth Mother well. You’re one of the lucky ones who were chosen to serve her. You are our offering, do you accept your duty, Michaela Kaft?” He asked sincerely.
The wine had really affected me that I can’t help but laugh.
“Yes, yes, of course.” I said in between hiccups.
He started to sing another song, this time it was more upbeat and accompanied by guitars and drums, when I looked behind him, I saw that his sisters and female cousins were dancing, while the males are singing and the children are beating on drum.
I felt something slipped on my neck but I didn’t mind it.
Older women were now joining the dance and I marveled at how good they were, they were all synchronized and they all looked happy.
Blare touched my cheek and I looked back at him, he was staring at me with a proud smile on his face.
I closed my eyes and I thought he was going to kiss me but instead of his soft lips, I felt something tightened around my neck and I was yank unto the air.
I struggled against it but it just keeps on tightening.
My feet were dangling on the air and my hand is frantically clutching the rope but I couldn’t loosen it.
I looked down, everyone was cheering.
One of Blare’s male cousins blew a kiss at me.
“Give our regards to the Earth Mother!” He shouted and another cheer erupted.
My vision is starting to darken, I can’t breathe!
Blare! Help me, Blare! Blare!
I wanted to scream those words but I don’t have the strength to do so. The last things I saw was a girl who Blare had introduced as his third cousin, she kissed him full on the lips and they started dancing to upbeat tune of the song.
30 years later……….
Bryan Coaster stopped outside the woods. It was dark in there, a good place to explore. Unlike other eight-year-olds in town, Bryan is not easily scared. He’s the kind of kid who can hold snakes without fear or walk in the dark alone.
He had always been an eager explorer.
The woods was surrounded by barb wire with big no trespassing signs on trees.
The townspeople never talk about the woods, all Bryan knows was that thirty years ago, a girl took suicide there on her sixteenth birthday. The woods had been closed ever since.
Bryan carefully took a hold of a barb wire, debating whether he should explore or not. He looked back, he could see his house from here, a big white clapboard house but he did not see his mother on the front lawn. She’s probably inside, cooking something.
Dad is not around either, his probably in the garage tinkering with his cars.
His Dad love cars more than anything and during the weekends, he spends his time in the garage.
Bryan turned to the woods once more.
It was dark, forbidding and tempting to young adventurers such as him.
Suddenly, the wind blew and the leaves shifted.
Bryan’s mouth dropped as a little girl step out of the shadows.
She was beautiful, more beautiful than any of the girls he knew.
She had long wavy red hair that shone in the sun, her eyes were the color of autumn leaves, warm and inviting.
She was wearing a long flowing dress and she was smiling at him.
She must be just the same age as him but her movements were those of a lady and not of a child.
Bryan felt his heartbeat doubled in speed and he blushed.
He wanted to talk to her but he couldn’t find the right words.
Then she turned, went back to the shadows and she was gone.
But not from Bryan’s mind, he stood there, staring into nothingness, thinking about her smile, her beauty, her eyes, everything about her.
He wants to see her.
He’ll do anything to see her.
And her smile was burned in his mind, disturbing both his dreams and his waking moments.