Short Story by: Shadow Summit
Goosebumps form on my skin as the cool morning breeze brushes it. My bare feet ache even as I try to manoeuvre my way through the woods without stepping on sharp twigs or stones.
I shouldn’t have raised my voice. For sure, someone had to stand up for my brother, however, I should have taken more time and gently calmed my father first. Anger had driven me to walk this far into the woods. I’d been so deep in thought that I hadn’t taken notice of where I walked. I had found the overhanging trees especially eerie at night.
My belly growls at me, and I growl back. If I’d known I’d get lost, I would never have entered these woods. I’m yet to see any sign of human life, except for game animals that seem to pounce out of the bushes just to scare me.
But what scares me most, isn’t any animal that may lurk in the bushes. There’s a legend about these woods, a legend that feels more real now that I’ve spent a night underneath its darkened boughs. A woman and her child tread these grounds, pale and translucent… ghosts.
Of course, ghosts aren’t real. I’d convinced myself of that. That didn’t stop me from shivering, or feeling the icy hands of the woman and her child clutching at my body; dragging me into their plane of existence.
I shiver once again, glancing around my shoulder furtively. There’s nothing but trees and underbrush.
The villagers said that once, not long ago, the woman and her child had lived peacefully in the woods. They’d even visiting the village often, until one day they stopped walking to town and seemed to just disappear. Then the rumours of a beast stalking around their cabin began. Groans and howls could be heard when the moon was at it’s highest point. No-one even dared to visit the cabin anymore, those who stepped foot on the land were sure to be cursed…or eaten.
Ridiculous! Superstitious rumours.
I break into a run as I see a clearing in front of me. However, I’m not greeted by the sight of my village. Instead I see a small cabin, wispy smoke rising from a single chimney. My heart and stomach twist and I’m glad I haven’t eaten anything. I begin to turn away.
“Stop being ridiculous, Silva.” I rebuke myself.
The cabin means shelter; the smoke means warmth and, if I’m lucky, it may mean food also. Right now I need all of those things. The woods offer none of those luxuries; in fact, it may just get me killed.
Gathering courage, I take a step forward and, before I know it, I’m knocking on the front door. There’s no answer, which makes me partially happy, and partially nervous.
“I’m entering,” I call as I open the door. “Hello?”
The cabin is warm and, as it begins to heat my cool skin, I lose all my reservation. I enter into a large room, which seems to be a dining room with a kitchen along one wall. On the far side of the room is a fireplace, where two rocking chairs sit with embroidered cushions. To my surprise, I find three bowls set out on the dining table, filled with porridge. One large bowl looks as if it has been partly eaten; then there is a medium bowl and small bowl which are untouched. The small bowl sits on the table in front of a baby’s high chair.
A pot of porridge is simmering on the stovetop, but otherwise, the house is silent. My stomach growls again, and it seems to echo around the empty house.
“Hello, I’m just going to make myself at home then.”
Once again my call goes unanswered, so I take a seat in front of the medium bowl and pick up the spoon.
Perhaps I should be more wary. I know that if I were the owner of this house, I wouldn’t want a stranger coming in, let alone eating my food. Yet, my stomach and hunger overwhelm my hesitation, and I dig into the porridge. I polish off the entire bowl and yet I’m still hungry, so I eat the smaller bowl too. Within minutes, like a dog with a bowl of fresh meat, I devour the meal, and my stomach stops its grumbling.
The warmth of the room causes a sleepy haze to melt into my tired body. I decide to go in search for a more comfortable surface. It doesn’t take me long since the cabin has only three rooms: the main room, a bathroom and a bedroom. The bedroom has one double bed and a cot in the corner. I need no further invitation.
I’m awoken by a sound from the other room. It takes me a moment to realise where I am since the blankets have become a cocoon and I can barely move. I try to wriggle out of my situation, and I hear the door to the bedroom slam open.
“Rene!” a raspy male voice calls out.
The blankets are practically torn from around me, and my body is left prone as I try to figure out what just happened. I’m faced with a beast of a man. A half-opened flannel shirt just seems to accent the fact that this man is huge. My eyes meet his, and I see several emotions flash across his face and in his brown eyes. First, there’s shock, then confusion, and finally a spark of anger.
“Who the hell are you?” he asks me with a deep frown.
“I’m Silva. I got lost last night, well yesterday afternoon, and then I came across your cabin this morning. I was so hungry and cold and tired that I just sort of came in. I did knock, but you weren’t here. So then I decided that there was plenty of porridge. I just had a bowl, and I felt like I was going to collapse from exhaustion, so I just went ahead and decided to rest for a bit. I’m so sorry though, and if you just direct me towards where the village is, then I’ll be out of your way in a manner of minutes. So please don’t be too angry. I’ll do anything…” I soon run out of breath.
His eyes seem to soften, and he raises an eyebrow.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, hugging myself.
He chuckles gently, but I sense a kind of exhaustion in it. He sighs and runs his hand through his ruggedly cut hair.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to eat you,” he tips his head slightly to the side as he speaks. “Silva, was it?”
“Yes, s-sir,” I fumble.
His eyes roam over my body and then back to meet my gaze.
“People get lost a lot in these woods. Come, I’ll make some coffee, and then I’ll take you back to the village.”
I follow him cautiously back into the other room, and he begins to busy himself in the kitchen. He turns momentarily from his task to motion me to take a seat.
“I’m Draven,” he tells me.
“Thanks,” I whisper back.
He starts preparing a coffee jug, and an awkward silence falls between us. I glance around and shift in my seat before I look at the empty bowls on the table.
“Is your wife on a walk with your child?” I ask, hoping to start a casual conversation.
His back tenses.
“No,” he answers bluntly.
Silence falls again, and I dare not ask anything further. Several minutes go by and Draven stokes the fire.
“They passed away, several years ago,” Draven says suddenly.
“I’m sorry,” I say as I squirm in my seat.
“It was an illness. It took my son, Elliot, first and then Rene soon after,” he starts, and I listen quietly. “It was so sudden, and then I fell ill too. That’s when people started the rumours about us. The village only ever saw Rene and Elliot. I’m not very social.”
“So the ghost rumo-” I stop myself before I blurt out further nonsense.
“I wish they were true…” he spoke softly. “At least then I’d be able to see them. Unfortunately, I won’t see my wife or child until I also join them in death.”
He moves around the kitchen pouring some coffee into two mugs.
“It’s a force of habit really.”
“What is?” I ask.
“The bowls, the meals and their beds. Everything was just a coping mechanism at first. I was crazy enough to believe that if I kept preparing for them, then one day they’d walk right in that door and we’d sit down and eat as a family once again. Grief does strange things to a person.”
I look at the two empty bowls, then I think about the beds, and I feel a shiver go up my spine. I glance at Draven’s back and sink my head into my hands. I wince at my own actions, and feel my cheeks and ears grow hot.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat for what feels like the hundredth time.
“You already apologised, it’s okay. It’s easy to get lost in these woods. I often have to show people the way back.”
“Yeah, but, because of me, you returned to a house with the breakfast eaten, and someone curled up in the blankets where your wife used to sleep…” I trail off, as Draven turns around.
He gives me a tired, weak smile.
“It was a shock, and I won’t deny that I allowed myself to be fooled into being hopeful. It just may be the shock that I need in order to realise that I need to accept it.”
We sip our coffees until the sun is high in the sky, but neither of us speak. We walk side by side and watch the life of the woods flow in its natural rhythm around us. Rabbits bound along the path and birds pause to watch us pass before continuing with their duties. Now that it’s day, I can see the beauty. The village comes into sight almost too soon, and Draven and I share a smile. No words form in my mind to say thanks to him, so I simply wave as I walk the rest of the way towards home. I turn around once, but he’s disappeared.
~ ❤ ~ ~ ❤ ~