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Chapter 1:- The Woods
“When we were little, this was a lot easier,” Lydia said. She was balancing on one foot, on a tall stump of tree, maybe three feet tall and six inches wide. She was also holding a metal basin containing a flaming bag of herbs over her head in both hands. Naturally.

                She closed her eyes in concentration and in a low voice began to chant,

                “Come ye gods, ye gods of the forest

                And spend your eve with me.

                Come ye gods, ye gods of the forest,

                A roast of herbs and tea…”

                At this Jack burst out laughing. Lydia stomped her dangling foot in frustration and went sprawling toward the ground, the basin and bits of flaming herbs scattering around her.

                “Damn it, Jack,” she said as she stamped out the little clumps of fire.

                “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” It’s just… ‘Ye gods,’ and ‘roast of herbs and tea…’ I don’t know. Why would the forest gods even want tea? I mean, they’re gods; I’m sure they can get tea anytime they want, not to mention anything else they’d need.”

                “I didn’t make it up, Jack. It was in one of your books,” she said as she picked up the basin and the box of matches they’d used to light the tea (it was Sleepy Time, lemon honey flavored.)

 “You didn’t think it was so stupid when we were little—or last night when you practically begged me to come out here.” Lydia stomped out of the wooded clearing, her heavy boots crunching the brittle twigs and grass as she went.

                “I was drunk!” He shouted after her, but she was gone. He stood alone in the clearing, the white trunks of the forest surrounding him like walls. He hadn’t been drunk, though; he’d been feeling clearer than he had in years.


                The night before, he and Lydia had been sitting on the old red couch in his parents’ basement, just like when they were kids. His mother was upstairs clunking around the kitchen, probably making a drink for herself—not cookies, as it used to be. They had the radio on, soft jazz or classical or maybe metal streamed from the speakers. He wasn’t really listening.

                “Remember when we were little and used to play in the woods behind the school?” He asked innocently enough. He’d been planning the right way to innocently bring this up ever since he heard Lydia was back in town for Christmas break. Nothing about it was innocent, though. He knew that, and apparently she did too.

                “I don’t know that I would call that playing, really.”

                “Alright, well, do you remember when we used to go out there, behind the school and those fields?”

                Of course she’d remember. You don’t forget about real magic. Goblins, witches, pixies, spells, potions, warlocks…

                “It was fun pretending out there,” Lydia said coldly, as if seeing into his very thoughts. She got up from the couch and went to the fridge.


                He pointed at his nearly full Zima.

                “Ah. Right. Zima.”

                She grabbed herself a Budweiser and flopped back onto the couch, throwing her feet unceremoniously onto the coffee table. They sipped their drinks (Jack, maybe once; Lydia had about four beers worth of sips), and talked about their new lives. Lydia had gone off to Boston University two years before and was in the middle of her junior year. Jack, who’d always been a year ahead, was in his senior year at NYU. She was majoring in art; he was in business. And on and on. He wasn’t really paying much attention to what either of them were saying; he was waiting to put plan B into operation.

                Lydia set her fifth empty beer onto the coffee table. This seemed as good a time as any.

                “You want another beer?” Jack asked, already walking toward the fridge. He opened the bottle and handed it to her. She watched him suspiciously, albeit a little bit drunk.

                “You know, I was thinking about that one time we were out in the woods when we were about ten or eleven and we ran into that pack of… what were those little guys? What were they called?”

                “Gnomes,” she said. Her hand flew up to her mouth as though she’d accidentally said shit in front of a four-year-old.

                “That’s right. Gnomes. That was great, back then. We could pretend anything we wanted. Almost like it was real, huh?”

                She put down her beer.

                “Alright, Jack. Why do you keep bringing up the woods? I haven’t seen you in years; you haven’t even talked to me since like freshman year in high school; and you haven’t even looked at me since we were thirteen!”

                She was right. Jack found himself staring at his shoes.

                “What are you after?” She asked warily.

                He said it all in one long exhale, like the longest word in the world.

                “I know it wasn’t all fun and games, and a couple of times we ran into some real trouble, but I think by now enough time has passed… I just wanted to see if we might try pretending again, you know, out there. I’ve really missed… that.” He gestured vaguely in the direction he thought their old school and woods might be; really, he was closer to indicating an old, run down pillow factory. But there it was. He’d said it.

For a moment he thought she might hit him; but to his surprise, she just started laughing.

“Play? Pretend? Alright, Jack. Let’s go play in the woods again. Maybe this time we’ll get lucky and I won’t end up taken from my home by the big, bad, scary warlock. Maybe this time we’ll win the game.”

                He didn’t say anything. He’d tried to push this out of his mind for years, but there it was. She’d said it.

                After a while he felt Lydia’s hand on his knee. He looked into her eyes for the first time and saw that little girl, still stuck in the woods. And he’d left her there. As if she knew what he was thinking, she said the last thing that a scared, little girl would say.

“Maybe it has been long enough. Maybe you need to go back out there to put it behind you.” She’d never say that she needed this more than anyone.

 “I don’t know about you, but I haven’t tried a bit of magic since, well, since we were thirteen. If we do go back out there, we’ll have to really practice and we’ll have some preparations to make, of course. I suppose you still have all your old notes hidden away; we’ll probably need to gather some ingredients too…”

Lydia went on in the same serious-situation-business-manner she’d always adopted when they were kids.  For the rest of the night she listed the things they’d need to bring with them: old books he hadn’t thought about in years, spells, mixes of potions. He felt like he did when they were thirteen and sitting in his parents’ basement. Every time he heard his mother bang into something upstairs, he imagined that she was just clumsily making a batch of cookies. Every time he heard his father yelling from somewhere above, he pretended he didn’t know any better. He was young again. He was going into the woods the next day. For just one night, all seemed well.


                So of course he had to go and ruin it. After all of his planning; after all the years he’d dreaded and yet yearned to come back; he ruined it. He laughed at her.

                Jack stood in the clearing for a few moments, thinking of all of the ways he could say “I’m sorry,” without becoming redundant. The sun was slowly transforming the bleached white of the woods into something golden. It was still early and still well below freezing, though. Jack rubbed his hands together, not feeling a thing, and gathered up his backpack filled with old spells and books he’d probably never get to use again. He remembered a time when he was young and would have been terrified to find himself alone here. Not now, though. He was a man. He would no longer flee from false threats, from oppressive beings, he—

“Jack,” Lydia whispered from right behind him. He nearly jumped out of his skin. When he turned around, though, nobody was there.

“Jack!” It sounded like it was coming from the trees, hundreds of hushed voices bouncing off one another. They swayed as one, the remaining leaves falling to the cold, hard earth. There was no wind. And so he did what any fearless and experienced ex-wizard would do in his position. He got the hell out of there.    


                By noon, Lydia had missed, rejected, or flat out ignored ten calls and four text messages.

                Im sorry


                Lydia, Im sorry!


                I know I shouldn’t have laughed at u. pls. call me back. Need to talk to u!


                The next message was from her father, which was unnerving in itself. Lydia ’s parents had separated just a year before, and since then, her dad, “Greg,” as he told her she could call him, had been trying to be her friend. No, not even. He’d been trying to be her buddy. His discovery of text messaging was just the latest disturbing development.

                Hey, Lyd! Mom and I have some court bullshit to deal w/ today, so I will b in town. Want 2 do lunch?

                The fact that he still called her mother “Mom,” while requesting that Lydia call him by his first name was bad enough. The fact that he went out of his way to text words like “bullshit” in his messages, well, that was just the last straw.


                She knew she was being childish. Deleting an inappropriate text message from her father wouldn’t stop him from just coming to the house to force her into an even more inappropriate lunch. She had to get out of the house.

                Going out. Be back later.

                She stuck the post-it to the front door, grabbed her bag, and walked down the icy driveway to her car. Her mom would probably find it within a couple of minutes, seeing as though she was inside the house, so she had to decide quickly where to go. She didn’t feel like being interrogated by her mother, the high school counselor, at the moment.

                She cranked up the heat and watched the ice slide slowly off the windshield in one, big sheet, like an extra layer of skin. That’s when she saw the silver Mercedes approaching. Convertible. Brand new. Why in God’s name her father would need a convertible in Maine was beyond her, but his approach was enough to set her in motion.

                Lydia drove through the small town square and was momentarily surprised to see that many of the shops and restaurants were closed.

                Christmas Eve, she remembered.

 She ended up just parking on a little side street called Winston that seemed to be the only area of any real foot traffic in the town. She still didn’t know where to go, but she felt better just walking around among people she didn’t recognize; people who wouldn’t ask her the same questions she was asking herself.

            Why are you so upset with Jack?     

            Why do you despise your father?

            Why don’t you give anybody a second chance?

            “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer! Freak!”


            Lydia looked up, jolted from her thoughts, and found that she was leaning against a light pole with her hands in her pockets, simply staring off into space. Only, she wasn’t doing very well at the staring off part; she was looking intently at a group of girls, all caked in makeup, all wearing stilettos, and all laughing at her openly. They looked about thirteen. She was being laughed at by slutty-looking thirteen year olds. Time to go.

            She turned onto Main Street and caught a glimpse of her reflection in a darkened window. Jeans, black leather combat boots—perfect for the weather—a plain, blue sweatshirt, a long black pea coat that used to be her mother’s, and her red hair was mostly covered up by a dark green beanie with a little fuzz ball on top. Alright, she didn’t care much about fashion, but since when did that demote her to Marilyn Manson freak status? She was twenty-one. She was above the comments of a group of thirteen year-olds. Damn it.

            She turned the corner, away from rude thirteen year olds, away from darkened, self-debasing storefront windows, and walked purposefully toward the library. Her hometown had one public library at the end of Main Street . When she had first moved to Boston for school, the sheer number of buildings—museums, libraries, restaurants, hotels, etc—had been overwhelming. Now, coming home, she felt a little bit uncomfortable at the lack of businesses; the lack of culture. She practically ran up the library’s steps, which is why she practically ran into Mr. Higgins.

            “Oh shit.”

            “And hello to you too, Lydia . My, my, you haven’t changed a bit.”

            Was he staring at the fuzz ball on her beanie?

            “Hi, Mr. Higgins. Yeah, it’s been a while. I’m just going to the library…”

            He didn’t move so that she could pass. The stairway was plenty wide, but so was Mr. Higgins. He wasn’t fat or even overweight she supposed, but as thick as a brick house with a mop of black hair and glasses; and probably just as dense. He had been Lydia’s algebra teacher in high school. He was also one of the reasons for her parents’ divorce.

            “How is college treating you? You’re at Boston, aren’t you?”

            Before she could even politely imply that she had to get going, that she had no interest in making small talk in the freezing cold weather, with the man who may or may not still be sleeping with her married mother and half the rest of the high school’s staff, on Christmas Eve, Mr. Higgins interrupted her.

            “You know, I haven’t talked to Kathryn in a couple of weeks. Everything okay?”

            Mr. Higgins calling her mother Kathryn was almost as bad as her dad calling her Mom. She’d had no idea that they hadn’t been speaking, but she took it as a good sign.

            “Oh, I’m not sure. When I was leaving my dad was swinging by to pick her up.” She didn’t mention it was to finalize the divorce.

            “See you later, Mr. Higgins,” and she took his momentary shock to race by into the library’s double doors.

            She took off her coat and made her way back to her old, favorite area. It was a cozy little nook with two overstuffed armchairs, enclosed by shelves of mismatched books. She was just about to literally jump into a chair and make herself comfortable, when she noticed that it was occupied.

            “ Lydia , we need to talk,” Jack said.


            “So, you think the spell worked?” She asked after Jack finished his story.

            “I’m not sure about that. I mean, we didn’t even get a chance to finish it.”

            “Because you started laughing at me.”

            “Right. Well, I’m not sure that the voices had anything to do with the spell. They could have just…remembered us.”

            Lydia thought about this for a minute. She supposed the most important question was who they were. There weren’t too many options, as far as she knew. They could have been wood nymphs, centaurs, witches, ogres, perhaps members of the royal court, or perhaps even the trees themselves…

            Okay, there were a few options, but she had a hunch.

            “Do you still have that book about the creatures of the wood?”

            To her surprise, Jack reached into his backpack and pulled out a few books, one of which was simply titled The Creatures of the Wood.

            “That’s the one,” she said. As she reached out for the book, their fingers brushed. It was just for a moment, and as cheesy as it sounds, something magical passed between them. No, really, there was a small transfer of magical energy, kind of like an electric shock, and they both jerked their hands back and dropped the book. They bent at the same time to pick it up, and of course, banged their heads together like a couple of cartoons.

            “I got it,” Jack said as Lydia massaged her forehead.

            She closed her eyes and moved down to the bridge of her nose.    

            “Hey, look at this…” Jack said after a moment. She opened her eyes to a gigantic and rather out of focus painting of trees. No, not trees exactly, but…

            “Whispering Woods?” she read as she moved the book away from her face and out of Jack’s grasp. She read the description aloud and it seemed to fit, but she couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. Her hunch had been wrong. Lydia was never wrong.

            “‘Whispering Woods: Native to Fairy, but brought into the land of men by careless sorcerers thousands of years ago. The first record of Whispering Woods occurs in Heldebrand’s A Magical Maniac, published circa 805 AD. Though the book was mostly fiction, there is much evidence that Heldebrand himself encountered a group of Whispering Woods on a journey to what is now known as Finland.’ Blah, blah, blah, blah… Oh, here we go.

            ‘Whispering Woods live a life somewhere in between that of a plant and something sentient. They cannot move; they do not breathe; they do not think for themselves; but it is said that Whispering Woods remember. They communicate in whispers, spreading messages, gossiping as it were, amongst each other and all over the land. Their abilities to remember and share knowledge are often used as tools by more powerful creatures. But beware, these are not harmless beings! They may be used as tools, but also as weapons. They are old as the earth itself and know many secrets, damaging, deranging, and dangerous secrets! They often lure travelers in—’

            “‘—By whispering their victim’s name,’” Jack finished in a croak. He looked at the picture of these apparently dangerous creatures, and was a little relieved that they didn’t look so bad. No snarling fangs; no impaling limbs or claws. In fact, they really did look just like trees, except for a slight discoloration on each of their white trunks. He pulled the book closer and saw that on each tree were smudged handprints—children’s, men’s, women’s, several he didn’t even recognize as human. Years and years worth.

            “They lure you in…”

            He looked over at Lydia, hoping she would assuage the terror starting to grip him; say something like, “We don’t know that this is what was out there today! It could have been anything!” or provide some bit of foreign wisdom about Whispering Woods, like, “They don’t go after anyone under twenty-five. It’s a rule.”

           But she just said “I thought it was going to be something else. I thought it was…” and did not finish; instead she got up from her chair and cradled him against her chest, rocking him slowly like a child.

            Her heart was racing.

            Okay, maybe this was worse than he thought.
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