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I met a boy in the moods.

Well, not so much met as crashed into. He had been running. I had been running. And objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside source. We were each other’s outside source. We had not seen each other. We slammed right into one another. My back still hurts from hitting the ground, and my legs ache from all the running we have done.

It is not morning anymore.

The sunlight has warmed into a honey afternoon. 

Summer heat creeps up our legs and makes us sweat under thick cotton t-shirts. The boy walks ahead of me. We came upon a cabin in the woods and he said he knew it. He said he knew it meant that we were almost home. I have not thought about home since I left it this morning. Now, I cannot stop thinking of Mother in the window. She was red-faced angry. Raw-throat angry. The more I think about her the more I do not want to go back. 

But when the boy says home, he means his home. He means a house on Verbena Drive. I don’t quite know where that is but I hope it is far from Mother. I hope it is far from her rage.  

“Are we going the right way?” I ask the boy.

“You tell me,” he says, because I have been marking our path by scraping bark off of the trees. I look around and all the trees I see are untouched. I touch the closest one. I peel away a strip of its bark and let it fall to the floor.

“We haven’t been here before,” I say.

“Then we’re going the right way,” says the boy.

“We could be going deeper in the woods,” I say.

“I don’t think we are,” says the boy. I want to believe him. I don’t want to believe him. I want to escape the woods. I don’t want to go back with Mother. I think about following him all the way to Verbena Drive. I think about Mother finding me there. I think about running as far as I can. I think about never going home. “Where did you come from?” the boy asks me.

“Home,” I say.

“No shit,”  he says. “I mean, what are you doing out here?”

“That’s not what you asked,” I tell him.

“It’s what I meant,” he shrugs. 

“I saw you walking alone,” I tell him. “You shouldn’t go in the woods alone.”

“Because of the stories?” the boy asks.

“Mother says the stories aren’t real,” I say, “but the woods are still a danger.” 

“My dad said that, too,” the boy says. “Kinda.”

“Is it true?” I ask. “That the stories are all fake?”

“Truth?” he asks.

“Truth,” I say. 

“I don’t know anymore.” We return to our silence. He walks two steps ahead of me, and I keep tearing bark from trees. The woods make all their sounds: the birds shaking the leaves, the wind weaving through the branches, the skittering of little animal feet across the ground. The boy turns his head at every sound. His breath hitches up in his throat each time he does. 

“What was chasing you?” I ask him.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“An animal?” I ask. 

He stops in his tracks. He looks over his shoulder. He says, “That.”

I turn around, but I do not get a good look before the boy grabs my wrist like he had when we met and begins to run. I stumble. I almost fall but I catch myself and his hold on me keeps me moving. I scramble to fit my feet beneath me and force my legs to run. I try to look behind us, but I can only see the blurry trees and the shape of some strange shadow moving through them. It is animal. It is a tree. It is a person. A person. A girl. It is a girl. 

“Who is that?” I shriek, but the boy does not answer. 

We run and we run. The girl runs after us. But she doesn’t run. She glides. She floats. Her hair is a wild mane around her face and her mouth is open in an angry, animal snarl. She flits behind one tree and appears behind one three trees ahead. 

“Keep running!” the boy yells. He darts between the trees, too, like he’s trying to shake her off our tail. We run and run and run. My lungs burn. My legs burn, too. My whole body is on fire but I will not let it stop. I cannot stop watching the girl. She screams and it is the loudest, most awful thing I’ve ever heard. It makes my ears ring. 

“What is that?” I yell.

“We’re almost there!” the boy says. I do not know where there is, but when I look ahead I can see the thin gold line of the forest’s edge. We are almost out. I force my legs to go faster. We are sprinting. The girl is, too; or whatever her strange version of sprinting is. She is not winded like us. She does not look tired or red-faced or sweaty. 

She is close. She reaches out a hand and her fingernails look like jagged claws. She grabs for me. She scratches my wrist and I scream, and the boy pulls me forward and shoves me at the treeline. 

We stumble into the light like newborn deer. 

I fall onto my knees. I am breathless. I am bleeding. There is a cut along my wear the girl scratched me. The red leaks out. I stare at it, wide-eyed.

The boy is doubled over beside me. He is breathing heavy. I listen to his breaths and I try to calm my own. I look back at the woods. I cannot find the girl in them. It is as though she has vanished - as though the dark has swallowed her whole. 

I look down the street. We are where we began. 

Mother is standing on the lawn with the phone to her ear. My heart jumps back into my throat. I feel my chest go tight. This time, it is my turn to grab the boy’s wrist. “I need to go,” I say, and then, “We need to go.” because, surely, if she sees us together she will have his head, too. The boy gasps. He tries to pull away, but I hold on as tightly as he held me and, again, we run.


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A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

They follow the slivers of sunlight that poke through the dense, leafy canopy above their heads. They tip-toe around the shadows like they are sleeping beasts. They pass each other, but are too far to see such truth. Their hearts beat hard against the cages of their ribs. Their breath quickens with their frantic steps. Dead leaves and snapping twigs crunch beneath their feet. The girl is barefoot. She walks on her toes and steps cautiously around tree roots and nests of fallen leaves. She sees a flash of something in the dark and she follows it. She thinks that it is the boy. She followed him into the woods, but has lost sight. Now, she loses sight of the flash of the something. She spins around, and around again, but she cannot find it.

She is surrounded by the dark. 

She looks up. She spots of a spill of light in the distance ahead and she runs. She runs and she runs, and she does not know that the boy is also running and running to that same thin stretch of sunlight breaking through the trees.

A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

They are running.

They collide.

They fall back against the dirt and grass and leaves and all the air flies from their hard-working lungs. The boy scrambles quickly upright. He looks over one shoulder and then the other, and then the first again. He can hear his blood pulsing like roaring ocean waves in his ears. It drowns out the sounds of the woods and no matter how hard he tries he cannot hear the sounds of footsteps like he had before. He looks deep into the shadows. The shadows do not look back.

The girl sits up. She asks the boy what he is doing, and her words shock him into motion like an electric current. He grabs her wrist and pulls and she goes flying to her feet. She stumbles and struggles to keep up as he begins to run again, his hand on hers.

“Where are you going?!” she asks. The boy does not answer. He runs. They run. 

A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

The girl tells the boy they are going in circles. The boy tries to argue, but he does not know that he is wrong. The girl begins to pull bark from the trees. She leaves bare bald spots behind, “So that we know we’ve been here.”

They stop running. The boy keeps looking over his shoulders, but he does not answer the girl when she asks what he is looking for. His blood stops pumping so hard in his ears and he can hear again. He reacts to every little noise, pulls the girl away from any tiny sound.

“Is there something in the woods?” asks the girl. The boy’s silence is an answer in itself.

They walk together for what feels like hours. They loop through the winding trails, their pacing slowing the longer they walk and the farther they go. When they find a cabin they thing that it might be a mirage, the kind that explorers see in the desert when they are hot and tired and desperate for the cooling waters of tropical oases. They share a glance.

“Should we?” asks the girl. The boy shakes his head. 

“I think I know this place,” he says. “I think we’re close to home.”

“Where is home?” the girl asks.

“Verbena Drive,” the boy says.

A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

They turn away from a little cabin that promises they are near home. They do not turn around. They do not look back. They walk side by side and keep to the sunlight poking through the trees. Behind them, as they walk away, the cabin lights flicker.


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The Tower

something wicked
part two | (read part one)

The morning mist hangs heavy against the window. It makes the sun look hazy in a dreamy sort of way. I watch it paint watercolors across the hardwood floor. Below that floor I hear soft, shuffling footsteps. I hear the clink of a teaspoon in a coffee cup. 

It is summer now. The schools have closed their doors.

I know this because the weather has warmed, and because I saw all the kids spill into the streets in droves. They zipped by on bicycles and skateboards and scooters, all of them hollering and high-fiving one another. I wondered what it might be like to be down there with them. To be a part of their crowd. To run out of the large, red double doors of the school and celebrate two whole months of freedom.

Mother does not believe in school.

“They’ll teach you bad morals,” she says.

“How can morals be bad?” I ask, but she never answers. She tells me, instead, to recite the poems I was to memorize last night. To do the algebra equations she has written on the rickety easel chalkboard in the living room. To go upstairs and to read.

Mother has stocked shelves upon shelves of books that I’m allowed to read. She reads them all first, to make sure they are acceptable, and then lets me have them. I keep my favorites lined in neat little rows on the high shelves in my bedroom. Mother tells me that I should not read the same books over and over again, but I do it anyway. Why have a favorite book if you cannot visit it from time to time? If you do not peek your head back into its world, you may forget its wonder. That’s why I read fairy tales again and again. Adventures. I dip my toes back into worlds were the princess escape their towers and slay their dragons and marry princes who love them. I read them and I imagine myself in them. 

I am to read ten pages before breakfast. I do this as I listen to Mother in the kitchen. There is a sizzle on the stove. The tap, tap, tap of an eggshell cracked against a ceramic bowl. 

I read two lines before I notice a shadow down there on the street. 

I leave my book face-down on the bed, brave heroine paused mid-heroic, and lean over the sill. The morning mist is settling now into a soft dew across the grass. There is a boy on the sidewalk. He looks determined. He is on a quest.

He is heading toward the woods. 

Woods, I know, are dangerous. 

“You are never to go in them,” Mother says, and all the books I’ve read have backed her up. But the boy is going to the woods, and he is going there alone. This is dangerous. I know this, too, because in all the books lonely adventures end only in tragedy. I look down the road but the boy has no friends behind him. I strain to see ahead but there is not one in front of him. 

Downstairs, I hear a needle drop into the tiny groove of one of Mother’s records. I hear her humming. I am to go downstairs when the record stops. This is our routine. Mother likes routines. She likes schedules that are strict and girls who obey them. 

I listen to her humming and I watch the boy walking down the street. I watch him approach the tall trees. I watch him hesitate at the mouth of the woods and, overcome, I yank the window open.

“Hey!” I shout. Then I bite my tongue.

I wait, but it seems that Mother has not heard me. The boy has not heard me, either. He steps into the woods. Anxious, and a bit thoughtless, I climb onto the roof. “Hey!” I shout again, but the boy does not hear me. I scale the roof like the hero of an action-packed adventure novel. I dangle from the gutter and I count to three. I let go. 

The ground knocks all the breath from my lungs. 

I lay there, stunned, for one second and then two and by the third I suck in air like it is my first time breathing, like I am a newborn shocked by the cold of the world. I bolt upright.

I see Mother’s shadow in the kitchen window. She is scrambling eggs. She sips her coffee. She looks at the window and then down at the stove and then, to my horror, back at the window. 

She screams my name, “Rose!”, but it is muffled by the thick glass.

I scramble to my feet. My ankle hurts but I run away, lopsided and lame. I run down the road where the boy had gone. I cannot see the boy anymore, but I run as though I can. I run as though he is the moth-flame I am drawn to. The wind blows back my hair and my lungs burn like two small fires in my chest. 

I run past the trees. 

I run into the dark.


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The Woods

something wicked
part one

She has become more grave than girl: that’s what the legends say. All those bedtime stories that raise more nightmares than sweet dreams. We were warned as children not to go into the woods. She lives in there, you see. It is where she died, centuries ago, and where she is said still to roam. Some say she is a ghastly sight, but more say she is lovely.

She was beautiful in life. In death, the stories deviate. That happens when people die. The ones left behind all remember them differently, and they all tell their conflicting stories, and somehow all those stories create a lasting memory - perhaps even a legacy. 

“She comes looking for the old woman,” they say, “who killed her in that woods.”

I used to ask my father why someone would kill the girl, but he never liked to answer. 

“Don’t worry yourself with nonsense,” he’d say. “There’s no girl out in those woods.”

I am ten years old when he tells me this. There’s no such thing as ghosts, he says. The girl is just an urban legend. She is meant to scare you. “She does scare me,” I said, and my father says that means she’s doing her job. He says that because the woods are dangerous, parents want their children to stay out of them, so they made up the story of the girl whose awful step-mother killed her. They say that she roams the woods and will eat anyone who crosses their path. “Why would she eat people?” I ask my father, and he says that it’s part of the legend. All the old monsters in all the old stories eat the children who disobey the rules. 

This is what I tell my friends on the very first day of summer.

We hang out near the woods. Not in them, of course, because no one is supposed to go in them. There are bears and hunter’s traps in the depths of those woods. “And the dead girl,” Ben reminds us, and I tell him that she isn’t real.

“Bullshit,” says Joey. 

“It’s true,” I say. “My dad said so.”

“Your dad’s a liar,” says Joey.

“Is not,” I say. “My dad doesn’t lie.”

“Well I’ve seen her!” Joey says, and he cross-his-heart swears that it’s true. 

That’s a lie,” I say.

“I have!” says Joey.

“When?” I ask, and he says it was two years ago when he snuck into the woods with his brothers. They knew about an old hunting post with a cabin that the older kids sneak into. It’s supposed to smell like cigarette smoke and cheap booze, but I don’t really know what makes cheap booze smell different than the expensive stuff my father keeps in the back of the liquor cabinet for special occasions. It had been near dusk, when the sky gets purple-hazy and porch lights start to flick on one by one down the streets. 

“I heard something,” Joey says, “and I thought it was a deer. But every time I turned around, there was nothing there. It was like some...some invisible person was following me.”

“Then you didn’t see it,” I tell him.

“I’m not done,” Joey says. “It kept happening, and I started walking real fast, and my brothers are making fun of me for being scared. But when we got to the cabin they locked all the doors, because they were scared, too. And they had this case of beer their friends stashed, so they were drinking, and I tried some, and we didn’t hear anything until later. Then we heard something., tap tap tap.” Here, he taps his fingernail against the lens of his glasses. “On the glass,” he says. “On the windows. And we all looked at each other. Like, like what the shit, right? And we all turned around and no shit. We. All. Saw. Her. She had her dead face all pressed against the window. And she was tapping on the glass.” Again, he clicks his nail against his glasses.

“What’d you do?” asks Ben.

“Turned out all the lights,” Joey shrugs. “Waited for her to go away.”

“That’s bullshit,” I say.

“Is not!” says Joey. “My brothers don’t even go out there anymore. To that cabin? Their friends all go out still, but they won’t go. They think she’s waiting for ‘em to come back.”

“Why doesn’t she get their friends, then?” I ask. “If she’s waiting?”

“I said that’s what they think, asshole,” says Joey. “Point is we all saw her.” 

The conversation shifted from there- to the new machines at the arcade, the summer reading we didn’t want to do. The shadows grow long and the sky goes from pink to purple to deep, deep blue. We all walk together to the split between Peony and Verbena. Joey turns left, and Ben and I walk right until we reach his house.

“Do you believe it?” I ask before he goes inside. “The dead girl?”

“I don’t know,” Ben shrugs. “I believe Joey.”

“Why?” I ask.

“He’s never lied before,” says Ben.

I think about this all through dinner. I think about it when I wash the dishes and when I brush my teeth, I think about it when my father says goodnight and that he loves me. I think about it when he turns out the lights. Every small gust of wind outside sends the tree branches bending and bowing and rattling against the roof and against each other. I think about a whole forest full of those sounds. I think about the dead girl, lost out there, wandering around. I think about Joey tapping his glasses, and about how he swears she tap, tap, tapped on the cabin window in the woods. 

In the morning, I get up early, because in truth I had not slept.

I tell my father that I am going to Joey’s. This is a half-truth, because I will go see Joey after I walk the woods and tell him about how the dead girl isn’t real. I walk to the woods and I watch them for a moment, or two moments, perhaps even three, because they are as deep and dark as the stories even in the golden daylight. Then, I step inside.

I don’t know how long I walk. 

The woods are quiet. There is soft grass growing off the beaten path, the one the hunters walk, and the hikers when they want to see the leaves turn fire-colors in the fall. I stick to the path as best as I can and listen for the footsteps that Joey swears he heard. They do not come.

Satisfied, I turn around. 

I realize I am lost. 

I thought that I had stuck to one straight path, but when I turn around I cannot find my way. There are forks and deviations I cannot make sense of. I walk down one way and hit a copse of trees. I go down another and find a stream. I turn around and around and still I cannot find my way. 

That is when she comes. 

She is shadows first, and then she is a girl. 

She is porcelain-doll pretty. She is ghastly. She is beautiful. She is dead. 

She stands at the end of the path and I am frozen stiff. I want to turn into one of those many trees tower all around me; I will myself to grow roots, beg my skin to turn to bark, but it does not happen. She watches me with her glass marble eyes. She smiles. I stare at her, and I as I star at her I think with fascination how none of the legends ever mention she has fangs.