11 Sep The Watching Woods
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"The Watching Woods"Written by Lazarus Hart
Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
The trail was too quiet. I knew she was watching me from somewhere either up the steep slope to my right or from the tangle of undergrowth to my left. I would have welcomed the snap of a twig to alert me to her position but she was the apex predator that humans aspire to be, navigating the forest floor on sylvan legs without a single misplaced step.
I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and slowed my sprint to a power walk as I gasped for air. It wouldn’t matter anyway, I was sure. My flight was merely an empty gesture of evolutionary futility like the fawn fleeing the wolf. Despite my best attempts at evasion, she could pounce effortlessly at whim. She was playing with me and I was quite certain that however small I perceived the natural law I had broken to be, she wouldn’t regret what came next any more than the hawk regrets pulling a field vole to strips. I replayed the events of the last week in my head trying to make sense of her alien logic.
* * * * * *
It was Halloween night when I first met her. I was hosting quite the bash at my crib. By crib, I mean small apartment. By bash I mean I had about a dozen friends and friends of friends over. With some 80s darkwave setting the ambiance and a glass of absinthe in my hand, I answered the tapping at the door. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Three taps in groups of threes. It didn’t strike me as significant until just now.
As the door opened, the most gorgeous creature I had ever laid eyes on stood there before me. I wasn’t sure what her costume was at first. Dark elf? Goth hippie? It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that jet black hair and eyes so dark they glowed red in the light from behind me. The straight bangs framed an impossibly porcelain complexion that I honestly thought was the product of makeup until later. Her hand was raised and I realized the tapping had come from the index finger of her long and wickedly pointed nails.
I blinked and cleared my throat before I could get any words to come out. “You must be Lana’s friend.” I winced even as I said it because Lana was expecting a date to arrive and I wasn’t enough of an asshole to make a move on my friend’s date no matter how attractive I found her.
Sensing my awkward attraction, she smirked and looked me up and down with what I took to be a lascivious twinkle in her eye. Maybe I was reading into things too much, I had to admit as I ran a finger around the collar of my costume. I was dressed as Brendon Urie from the I Write Sins Not Tragedies video but I wasn’t sure how many people at the party actually got the reference.
“May I come in?” she asked in a voice like tinkling bells and a slight European accent I couldn’t place.
“Oh, uh… of course,” I realized I was blocking the doorway. I hopped aside, removed my tophat, and bowed with a flourish.
“Thank you,” she all but purred, running her open palm over my cheek as she pranced past me, casting a batted eye behind her.
She didn’t eat or drink, I noticed. I was trying not to be that creepy stalker dude but no matter what I did, my eyes kept getting pulled back to her. She was just observing people, I realized. She didn’t look like she was actually looking for someone, although her eyes crossed mine with that same smirk she had given me at the door more than once. Lana nearly ran smack into her in a drunken run to vomit in my toilet and she didn’t even acknowledge Lana’s presence.
Finally I approached her through the crowd and she seemed to squirm excitedly at my advance. I propped myself against the wall by her side and leaned in so she could hear me over the music.
“I’m not sure if you realize, but that was Lana that just ran by you.”
“Actually,” she brought her lips so close to my ear that it sent a sensual chill down my spine, “I’m much more interested in you.”
“Oh! Well, in that case, what’s your name?”
“Izzy.” She fully pressed her body against my own.
And that was it. I was completely and utterly smitten. I forgot anyone else was even in my apartment. Izzy took off some time in the early morning and I crashed shortly after.
* * * * * *
I woke up with the sun shining too brightly in my face at 9 AM every day if I didn’t pull my blinds. I winced and rolled out of bed, stumbling out of my room. My apartment was less trashed than I expected and it was only Lana that remained, groaning overdramatically on my couch.
“Do you want coffee?” I asked, my own head pounding.
“Fuck, yes, dude,” she mumbled in response.
I started the coffee maker. “So, uh… you know that chick you were waiting on last night?”
“The one that stood me up?”
“Well, she didn’t exactly stand you up. She was here and you nearly puked on her.”
“Ah, crap. I take it she took off?”
“Not exactly. She hung around and we sort of hit it off.”
“You fucking whore. Just kidding, I blew it.”
I stared down at my forearm where a message was scrawled in ink:
High noon, Bowdan Trailhead ~ Izzy
“So, uh… you wouldn’t mind if Izzy and I went on a date?”
“Izzy. Is that her name?” I nodded. ” Ah, well, no one gives their real name on Tinder. You go for it, player.”
* * * * * *
I always requested the day after Halloween off from work. I was especially thankful for that today. I didn’t have a clear recollection of what plans were made with Izzy but given the scribble on my arm, I assumed it was a hike. I showered and put some extra time into straightening the Jewish mop I call hair. I pulled on a pair of black jeans, God Module tee, tanker boots, and a leather jacket. I paused to arrange a few stubborn strands of hair in the mirror by the door and headed out.
As I pulled into the small gravel lot, my heart fell a bit at the realization that I was the only car there. It was still fifteen minutes until noon, no reason to freak out. I found a bench by the trailhead and planted myself there.
Noon came and still no Izzy. I tried not to panic. People were late all the time, it didn’t mean she stood me up. I really wished I had gotten her number the previous night. I started focusing on other things for distraction. The wind rustled the autumn leaves, somewhere nearby crows were cawing, I could hear a train some miles away near the coast, and the sun had just reached the height of its arch in the sky. I jumped as Izzy leapt over the back of the bench and perched on the seat.
“You scared the crap out of me! Where did you come from?”
“Sorry,” she said as she pointed behind us into the forest. I turned and followed her finger with my eyes. Above where she pointed I could just make out the peak of roofs beyond the treetops.
“No worries,” I said, catching my breath. “I’m just glad you actually came. I was getting worried.”
She giggled. “I’m right on time, silly.”
I looked at the clock on my phone. “It’s, like, twelve-fifteen, but it’s fine.”
She squinted at my phone. “Oh, I see. I don’t really do clocks or phones. I meant high noon, when the sun is at its highest.”
“Oh!” Now I chuckled, somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that’s what that actually meant. I realized she was dressed fundamentally the same as she had been last night and there was something really sexy to me about the fact that she hadn’t worn a costume to my party. “So, what do you call your style?”
“What do you mean?” She looked confused.
“I love your clothes. Don’t get me wrong. But, like… are you goth? Hippie? Hipster?”
“I’m a fae,” she declared with a mischievous grin.
She was absolutely adorable and I knew just enough about otherkin to understand what she was talking about. If Izzy wanted to pretend to be a fairy, I wasn’t going to challenge her. Hell, she was hot enough I wouldn’t have cared if she was a furry. “Sooo… are we going for a hike, or are we just going to sit here?”
* * * * * *
We met every day over the next week. Either we went for a hike in the woods by her place or I picked Izzy up by the trailhead. We never went back to her place and that was cool with me. She was more than willing to go back to mine.
I learned on our second date that she was vegan. I made it a point to ask people I planned to spend any extended period of time around about dietary restrictions.
“I don’t eat anything stolen from animals or made by man,” she told me. Her unnaturally lithe frame made more sense then.
“That’s cool, but you’ll eat salad, right?”
“I eat plants, yes.”
“Is it okay with you that I eat meat?”
She thought about it for a second. “Humans evolved to eat the flesh of other animals. I can’t really ask you not to.”
So that became our routine. I’d take her out to dinner, she’d have a salad with no dressing, and then we’d go back to my place. I’m not usually the type to kiss and tell, but the kissing was pretty damn nice.
I was an atheist. I’m not sure if I can call myself that now, though. She told me she was pagan. At least, I think that’s what you call it.
“God is an asshole,” she’d told me. “I only believe in nature.”
* * * * * *
For our one week anniversary (yes, I was being that guy, don’t judge me), I decided to make her dinner at my place. She had agreed to just meet me at my door at dusk. The problem was, I was running late from work. I ran into the store on my way home and started grabbing ingredients. I was watching the sun set outside the store windows. Then, there it was, the perfect solution to my problem: a kosher Caesar salad!
I got home, put on some emo music, and lit some candles and incense to set the mood. I decided I was just going to have salad tonight myself, and plopped the package into two bowls. That would impress her, right? She only drank water, she had informed me, so I had a glass of filtered water for her and a glass of absinthe for myself. I was just in time too. Her nail tap-tap-tapped on my door as I was setting the glasses on the table.
As soon as I opened the door, she squealed and threw her arms around my neck. “Hey, you animal!”
“Hey, yourself, beautiful.” I gave her a long kiss on the lips. Alright, maybe I am the type to kiss and tell. “Let me show you what I have planned for us tonight!”
“Oh, everything looks so wonderful!”
I hung up her patchwork cloak and pulled out a seat at the table. She was chatting excitedly about some kind of animal she had seen that day called a fisher that was close to extinction but was now making a comeback thanks to human intervention. I, in turn, was babbling and laughing about the events that led to me working over that day. We both took a bite of the salad at about the same time. Chew, chew, swallow. I was thinking how much better this salad was than I was expecting. What was that taste? It hit me the same time I saw her face settle into a silent fury. It was chicken. At least it was kosher, right?
She stood and threw her water on me, grabbed her cloak, and slammed the door behind her in my face as I fumbled for an apology. I sank into the couch and started sobbing. How could I be such an idiot? I finished most of my bottle of absinthe and stumbled to bed.
* * * * * *
My alarm woke me at 7 AM. and I thought about calling in sick at work. I needed something to distract me, though. Izzy was all I could think about. I fumbled through my morning routine and heard something fall as I opened my door. Someone had written on a piece of bark and wedged it between the handle and frame. I picked it up and smiled:
High noon, Bowdan Trailhead ~ Izzy
That’s my girl, I thought as I reentered my apartment and closed the door. Not girl – fae – I corrected myself in all seriousness. A moment later the thought made me chuckle. I’d have to miss work but I had some sick time saved up and Izzy was worth it. I planned to be there early just to be safe.
* * * * * *
I had to keep myself from staring directly at the sun from my place on the bench as it rose ever higher in the sky. The wind was still; no animals made a sound. Only the sun moved. Alright, I thought, this should be it…
And there was her voice, calling me from somewhere not too far down the trail. I wandered for a bit in that direction and heard her giggle as I started to look around.
“Just a bit further, silly.”
And so a bit further I went. And another giggle and another word of encouragement. And a bit further I went. Again and again. Further and further. I was amused at first. Then I was annoyed although I tried not to let it show. Her voice began to change as well. It slowly lost its tinkling, replaced by a low growl from deep in her chest. It was then that I started to become concerned. I looked at my phone. It was now a little after 1 PM and I had no cell service.
There was movement to my right, up the hill. All I saw was a pale blur with trailing dark hair.
“Izzy?” I called.
“Yes, animal?” the growl came from all around me.
I saw movement to my left, from the marsh. A flash of glowing red eyes and teeth that were far too sharp. I took off running.
* * * * * *
I fall to my knees in the middle of the trail. At least now I understand what I did. I invited someone inhuman into my home, I gained her trust, I made love to her, and then I betrayed her most basic request. Was she a god? A demon? Something more alien entirely? I don’t really know. What I am certain of is that I’m no longer an atheist. Her nail touches my shoulder and I close my eyes. Tap, tap, tap. At least I have the honor of dying by her hand.
Credit: Lazarus Hart
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