*A note to everyone who has followed along with the Madnes Solver series: THANK YOU! Really words cannot express how much your comments mean to me, and how thrilled I am that you enjoy this series! And I am thankful for all of you patient BlogBattlers out there. If it were not for Rachael’s Blog Battles I wouldn’t have gotten around to writing this series, and it’s the weekly battles that continues to push me to write it. I plan to publish Madnes Solver in the near future, and it’s thanks to you. 🙂
Chapter 27: Cursed Forest
Read all the chapters here. Enjoy!
Previously: Pockets of space connecting Okinala and Wonderland are increasing. Cheshire must investigate the cause, and meanwhile Madnes is left on his own to handle the office and any arising problems…
Rain pattered down, and three small figures huddled under a large cardboard box, taking shelter from the wet and cold. “Where are we going to live now?” a young boy asked, auburn hair plastered damp around his face.
“Anywhere is better than that orphanage,” the young brunette sat glowering out at the rain from their cardboard cave, her lips tight. “I’m tired of being bullied, and hardly getting anything to eat…” A stomach growled.
The third child shook his head reassuringly, ash curls swaying, “We’ll find a place, Nagato. Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry? Ever since we ran away last week, we haven’t found a place.” Nagato frowned at him, then at the rain. “You talk as if homes are so easy to find…” he growled under his breath. Ash didn’t reply.
“I’m cold…” The girl rubbed at her bare arms, as if doing so long enough might drive the cool moisture out of the air. Ash curled an arm around her shoulders—body heat the only source of warmth he could offer her.
“We’ll find a place, Drisel,” he told her, and she closed her tired eyelids. “God won’t abandon us; we just gotta keep searching.”
Nagato shifted and turned away from them, anger and hurt burning behind his eyes until they finally closed for sleep.
Nagato jolted awake at a crow’s cry. The rain had stopped, and early dawn made scattered puddles glow like eerie mirrors beyond their shelter box. He shifted and saw his companions were still sound asleep. Without a sound he crept out into the cool, early air still heavy with moisture. A crow cawed from a chimney on one of the houses lining the alley they’d sheltered in, and the black bird stared down at him. Its eyes were blue.
Kaw! “Home!” It said, then flapped and flew away from the alley. Did that bird just speak? On impulse he ran after it, following as it glided away from the edge of town and over a path cut through woods and farmland. It opened out onto a bare field, and there at the edge stood a forest. He halted; it was different from other forests, though he couldn’t be sure how just looking at it—more of a feeling in the air and a scent on the breeze. A mist curled around its dark edges, trees and foliage rising up thickly just beyond.
He stood at a distance, staring. Kaw! He glimpsed black feathers, and suddenly there was a young man off to his left: blonde hair slicked back, a black frock overcoat wrapped around him. “Home,” he said to the child, “That is what you are looking for, hm?”
Nagato nodded, dumbfound.
“I know of a place, a wonderful place, filled with all the things you could ever want in life. And every person—no matter who they are—is welcome, even orphans such as you,” spoke the mysterious older boy.
“Where?” Nagato asked, entranced.
The older teen leaned forward, stray blonde strands falling into his thick eyelashes. “Wonderland,” he answered, “and there’s only one way to get there.” One hand taking Nagato’s shoulder, he steered the boy around facing the forest. “You have to go through this forest. Wonderland awaits on the other side.”
Nagato stared across at the forest; trees resembling foreboding arms rose up to the sky. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw something glow—a white orb peering through the overgrown mass of brush and mist, watching him, before it blinked away. The hair on the nape of his neck stood up. “What’s in that forest? People call it Forest of the Haunted, don’t they?”
The young man shrugged. “Same things that are in any forest, I would think,” he said. “It’s a short walk before connecting to Wonderland.”
“How do I know Wonderland is a real place?” Nagato’s gaze cut sideways up at him.
With a flourish black wings unfolded out of the teenager’s back, out from under the overcoat. “Because it’s where I live—my home. The place where people like us belong. There is no real curse, only adult superstitions.”
Nagato looked from him, and the startling pair of wings, back to the forest. A place to belong—a home—they could finally have one. No more searching, no more sleeping outside in the rain and dark of night. God was taking too long to help them, so he would do it himself. “Will you guide me?” he asked the crow person.
A smile tilted Oz’s lips, but it did not reach the cold light burning behind his eyes. “Of course.”
Drisel found a scrap of used paper when her hand crunched down on it. Curious, she smoothed it out and looked, and then her face went still with fear.
“What?” Ash noticed her look, and reached for the paper. She stared out at nothing as he read, and turned when she heard the paper crumple in his fist. “How could he be so stupid…” he murmured. “I’m going after him.”
She jolted at his statement. “No! No, you can’t go there!” She pleaded, chasing after him out the cardboard cave and alley, splashing through rain puddles.
“I can’t leave him alone out there, getting into trouble,” Ash shouted, bare feet taking the path out of town. “Curse or no curse, he’s family and I’m going after him!”
“You’ll die!” she shrieked behind him. “No one who goes in that forest comes out!—they vanish as if they never existed.” Drizzle beaded her vision as the overcast sky grayed above. “The forest is evil,” she struggled across the field after him, the Forest of the Haunted looming ahead swathed in mist churned by the light rain. “There are things in there—undead things—the cursed ones of the forest—”
He stopped at the very edge, head tilted back, taking in the forest so thick it could have been a jungle from another world. “Aren’t you worried about Nagato?” he asked. She halted a pace behind him, and wrapped her hands together.
“Yes! But if it’s too late—”
“I’m the only one who can help him. No one else cares, Drisel.”
At that she was silent, though her mouth worked, fishing for words. “I’ll be back with him.” Without hesitation, he sprinted forward across the boundary of mist and into the undergrowth. To her it seemed as if the limbs and leaves drew back, allowing him through, before stretching out and blocking him from sight like a curtain of green drawn forward.
“No…” Her breathing quickened, and she shrieked at the pelting rain. “Ash…!” Only a peel of thunder answered her desperate cry.
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© copyright 2015 E. Rawls and Rawls E. Fantasy, All Rights Reserved
This is my entry for this week’s #BlogBattle challenge by the wonderful author Rachael Ritchey, where the challenge is to write a short story based on that week’s chosen word. This week’s word was: “Cave.” Check out the link, read other great stories there, and VOTE for your 3 favorite to win!
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