Twisted Fairy Tale: The Woods by Cait Greer
Welcome to the 8th annual #SpookyShowcase! The Spooky Showcase celebrates the dark minds of creatives around the world through short stories and artistic creations that are dark in nature, macabre, or horror themed.
This year’s theme is Twisted Fairy Tales. Expect twisted legends, creepy creations, and dark fairy tales that will keep you up at night. Visit each day in the month of October for a scare. The master schedule is here.
By Cait Greer
They always told us to say away from the woods.
The woods are dark. They are dangerous. They are full of things we do not understand, and cannot conquer; wild things, ancient things.
Things that call to me, waking and dreaming.
“You’re brooding again.” Jace accompanied her words with a not-so-subtle poke to my ribs.
“I’m always brooding,” comes the automatic reply, but my eyes linger on the woods. The pull has been stronger lately. It takes real effort to pull myself away.
Jace, ever observant, notices.
“It’s getting harder, isn’t it?”
I finally tear away from the woods to find green eyes full of worry. The same eyes that have seen through me since we were small. I try to force a smile, but I know she doesn’t believe it, and my gaze slides back to the woods behind us. “Yeah.”
There’s a heavy sigh, the smell and sound of grass ripping, but it’s gone in another moment as the breeze picks up, covering it with the darker scent of loam and decay. The seasonal turn has brought us almost fully into autumn, and there’s a shadowed corner of my mind that wonders if that’s adding to the pull.
“You’re going to go, aren’t you?”
My head whips back around to find Jace looking at me with an expression that’s full of forlorn resignation. “I—what? No!”
The words blurt out of my mouth in immediate response, but that shadowed corner of my mind whispers a different answer. Yes. Go, it says.
Sitting beside me on grass that’s no longer the bright green of summer, beneath a sky that’s overcast and chill, Jace squeezes my arm and smiles sadly. As though she can hear the voice in my head. “It’s alright. I think I’ve always known you’d go eventually.”
I shake my head, trying to drown out the whispers that suddenly feel deafening. “You know it’s off limits. I’m not allowed to cross into the woods even if I wanted to. And why would I want to? They’re terrifying! Dark, gloomy, who knows what’s in there…” Hungry, wild…
Lies, the voices whisper in their cacophony.
Jace shakes her head and laughs softly, and it’s the saddest, most sorrowful sound I’ve ever heard. “It’s the full moon tonight. The Hunter’s Moon. We…we could go together. I could go with you.”
The whispers crescendo and quiet all at once, a silence I don’t have words for overwhelming me at that single we. It’s shock, yes, but something else too. “We? Jace, no, I’m not going, and I’m definitely not dragging you in there.”
“Rowan.” Again, I’m fixed by those green eyes.
“No!” The protest twists in my chest even as I force the word out and the whispers roar a dissenting, sibilant, Yesss!
That sigh again, the one with the weight of the world behind it, and her impossibly green eyes shift away from me and towards the woods. “It’s been calling you as long as I’ve known you. And it’s only getting worse. Why not just see what it wants? Before it gets so loud you can’t ignore it,” she adds, looking back to me. “Because you know it will.”
In Jace’s eyes, I see summer and life, shrouded by an infinite sadness. The sadness bleeds into the small half-smile she gives me with another squeeze of my forearm, fingers sliding down it to my hand as she looks away again.
She shakes her head again. “I’d rather go with you while you still have a choice, than watch you go alone when you no longer have one.”
Than watch you leave me behind, are the words I hear, and the shadowy whispers clamor again. Go. Yes. Take her. To the wood.
Two words that set off a swarming beehive of whispers, and I know it’s done. We’ll go together, tonight, into the woods that have haunted me my whole life. It’s been hard enough to ignore the call, and I’ve never really been able to say no to Jace.
Even when it’s for her own good.
I swallow. “You know my father will kill me.”
Sadness still tinging her smile, Jace quickly kisses the corner of my mouth. Blood pounds in my head loud enough to drown out the whispers of the wood and my doubts, but not quite loud enough to cover her reply.
“Not if the woods get us first.”
Jace is waiting for me in our usual spot when I finally make it out of the house. It’s darker and later than I want, the whispers threatening to overwhelm me with their noise, but the risk of getting caught was not something I could afford to run. Jace, dressed in dark clothes and sitting on our patch of grass, pulling absently at the half-withered blades, seems to already know. Like she expected me to be late.
I nod into the darkness, full moon large and ponderous on the horizon. “He wouldn’t sleep. I kept thinking it was safe, and then I’d hear him again.”
Safe. Like wandering into the woods at night under the light of the Hunter’s Moon was safe. Safer to have been caught, despite the heavy consequences Father would’ve imposed. But even now I feel the heavy lure of whatever ancient thing lives in the woods, whatever thing calls me, hooks worked deep into my soul.
“I brought an offering.” Jace slips a basket into my hand. “Some of the stories, they talk about it. Bringing an offering to the woods.”
I should have known she’d been researching. The whispers roar their approval, subduing any last remaining strains of weak dissent I might have harbored. The woods will have me. I only half feel the tug of fabric as Jace pulls the deep red of my dead mother’s hood over my head, and the ghost of her touch as she takes my free hand.
Together, we step into the woods.
The Hunter’s Moon rises through the trees, a great enormous eye in the black sky, the better for us to see our way with. We wander on together, hand in hand, following no path but the whispers in my head, which shout as they pull us deeper. The wood is ancient, deep, dark, and terrible, but familiar and beautiful as well, and neither Jace nor I can help stopping at times to admire the strange splendor.
Night-blooming flowers that Jace weaves into a crown.
Will-o’-the-Wisps that dart and dodge between the trees, no doubt a lure for the unsuspecting. We stop and watch, but the voices draw me ever deeper. Jace stays by my side, hand firmly grasping mine.
The immense silence of the wood surrounds us, as though it waited, the better to hear our progress and trepidation, the better to hear our fear and longing. No leaves whispering against the breeze. No calls from night-born animals hunting.
Even the tread of our feet on the forest floor comes oddly, eerily silent.
Only the whispers shouting in my mind, dragging us ever onward.
Hand in hand. Until the world narrows to nothing but the whispers, the woods, and our hands, larger and larger in my view. The better to hold to each other with, the better to cling to each other as the night grows closer and the woods thicker, wilder.
The woods rise around us like giant teeth, the better to engulf us, swallow us whole. I know in my heart, knew before we ever set foot in the woods, that we will never leave here. We were consumed the moment we crossed into the ancient domain. The knowledge snaps at me in the light of the Hunter’s Moon, in the unnatural silence around us, in the deafening cacophony of the whispers that drown out everything else.
Everything but the feel of Jace’s hand in mine, and the deep darkness at the heart of the woods.
The whispers stoke the wildness inside me, the hunger. They rouse something ancient, something dark and unconquerable. The heart of the woods beats in my chest, a feral, untamed melody. And there in the depths of the woods, I understand.
The sound of my name on Jace’s lips echoes like a shot. Beside me, her green eyes glow. They glow with the warmth of summer’s last breath, the resignation of autumn’s march, and with a sadness I struggle to understand. Her free hand cups my face, momentarily soothing the wildness rising in me. “Your eyes are so wide.”
I struggle to find words, but the wood’s whispers know what to say. “The better to see the ways of the wood, and the better to see you.”
Jace shivers, and she caresses higher. “Your ears…”
They twitch against her soft ministrations, and I can hear everything. All the hungry whispers, all the excitement of the woods, the feral hiss of things that have no place in the outside world. “The better to hear the wild glory of the dark wood, to hear your soothing voice.”
She smiles sadly and squeezes the hand in my grip. “Your hand is so tight and strong.”
I clasp her wrist and pull her closer. “The better to guard the secrets of the wood, and the better to hold you near me.”
Jace’s fingers twist in my blood red cloak. Her breath shudders, and the whispers draw close and quiet, waiting, holding in anticipation, as though everything hinges on her next words. As though the spinning of the universe and the rising of the sun and moon stood hostage against the ritual of her utterance.
The woods grow tighter, more dense at the sound of the name, and it takes a moment to remember that Rowan is me. To remember the weight of the basket Jace had given me, resting in my other hand.
An offering, she had called it. Sacrifice, the wood whispers.
“Your teeth,” Jace murmurs, the two words half a sob.
My teeth. The teeth of the wood, teeth that hunger, made to tear and guard and gnash. I grin wide, my sharp, feral, too-large teeth glinting in the moonlight.
Sacrifice, the wood whispers again. An offering.
A growl starts in my chest, rumbling deep
Jace takes the basket from my hand, the empty basket meant to soothe the Rowan of before, and casts it aside. I open my mouth, ready to utter the words of the wood, ancient and sacred, spoken by rite for generation on generation. But her mouth closes on mine, tears on her face, our breath mingling as she steals the ceremony from my lips.
“The better for you to devour me with.”
They always taught us to stay away from the woods.
The woods are dark. They are dangerous. They howl and rage with things we do not understand and cannot conquer. Wild things, ancient things.
About the Creator
Cait Greer is an author, artist, and graphic designer. Her work primarily features and promotes queer stories in speculative settings. She is a gamer, a certified (and possibly certifiable) geek, and has taught more things than she cares to think about anymore. She currently lives in northern Florida and works full time as a freelance artist and designer.