Saturday, 7 June 2014

Short Story: The Forest of Shadows and Souls

Happy Saturday, dear readers! Following the tradition of many other bloggers I very much admire, I've decided to share with you a little short story I wrote a few years back--very rough and unpolished, but there are ideas in it that I love writing about. The desperate nature of humanity, guilt...redemption. I hope you enjoy it--it's rather eerie, if I do say so myself. 


From Pinterest

THE FOREST OF SHADOWS AND SOULS
Rebeka B.

The village lies on the north side of the Forest of Shadows and Souls. No one visits there, and no one leaves there. Not even the oldest villager can remember when the Forest appeared, but all remember the day the first child wandered in and never came back.

That was long ago, and her name is long forgotten, as are the names of the many children who followed her. And not just children. Young men and women, the elderly and the weak – something about the trees and their deceitful whispers draws people in.

Only one girl has ever entered its depths to return.

Her name is Salome.

At least, that is what people think.

“Mary has disappeared! What if the Shadows have gotten her?”

“Go to Salome. She can bring her back.”

“My father has wandered off.”

“Salome will find him. She’s the only one who can. She knows the Shadow Forest better than anybody.”

And she does, but at a price.

“Where does Salome live?”

“In a little hut at the edge of the village. She lives there with her sister, Rose. Be careful, though. She’s a bit odd.”

“No wonder, after what she must have gone through to survive that wretched place.”

Yet the villagers always come, not pausing to wonder how their endless demands might affect the girl whose memories never end in sleep. She stands by her door every day, waiting. Because she knows that even when she fails, she is their only hope. Even when all she can bring back is the tattered red hood of a vanished child, she still offers closure.

“Why do you do it, Salome?” her sister asks. “It kills you. You look horrible.”

Salome turns her head, a faint smile tugging her lips. Once she might have been beautiful, but now you have to squint to see what men once saw. A full mouth has tightened and thinned, deep blue eyes have been worn down by restless nights. Her white-blonde hair now lies under her bed in a box.

When Salome does not answer but for that enigmatic smile, Rose remarks, “You haven’t been the same since you returned from the forest.”

Who ever is? But then, who has returned? Salome shrugs and rubs her bald head, the roughness of returning hair scratching against her palm. It is Velnian tradition that a woman must grow her hair until she weds. Salome is wed to her duty.

She is wed to her guilt.

Rose sighs over this. She often wishes her older sister could flirt and smile like any other girl. Beyond this village, there is no existence for them. Why deny yourself the little pleasure life affords? “You need a man to lighten you up,” she says, puttering about the kitchen.

Salome does not flinch. When she first returned from the forest, Rose’s remarks upset her. Now she knows they are as empty as the cooking pot – as empty as her heart.

“Rose?” she asks.

“Yes?” The younger girl drops onto a bench, flipping out her hair and staring at Salome expectantly. If she wishes for some light-hearted banter, she will be disappointed.

“Do you know why the Shadows want the villagers?”

Rose’s face darkens. Yet there is a curious light to her eyes as well – fear masked by questioning. Salome can tell. It has been one of the effects of the forest; she sees things differently – how shadowed the world is instead of enlightened. Shadows do not exist because of sunlight, but the sun was created to counteract the shadows. Shadows are everywhere, even where sunlight cannot reach. “Why?” Rose breathes.

Salome shivers. She has not told this to anyone. It weighs on her, burdening her with a secret too vital not to share. “So the shadows may become human.” There. It is out of her. She gasps for breath, feeling like a traitor, and yet not traitorous enough.

Rose sits up. “Why would they want to do that?”

“To gain souls. Shadows might live forever – but one day the world will end, and they will with it. Human souls last beyond the end of the world – into the next life and beyond.” Her body tingles with the thrill of truth. She’s had these words memorized since before she learned to talk.

Rose stares at her hands. “They’re monsters.”

Salome winces. “Not all of them.”

Rose inhales sharply. “They took Mother and Father.”

“Yes,” Salome says carefully. “But do you not feel sorry for them, a little? One day they will be extinguished.”

“Oh really? What about the ones who stole Mother and Father’s souls? They’ll still exist! It’s Mother and Father who will perish!” Rose begins to sob.

Salome stands still, waiting for the weeping to pass. Part of her whispers to embrace the girl crying on the bench, but she pushes it away. A knock echoes through the hovel, and with a sigh of relief, she walks to the door.

“Salome?” She glances over her shoulder at Rose’s question.

“Yes?”

“Did the Shadows hurt you very much, when they captured you?”

Salome stiffens. The truth wheedles her, pricks her with shame. Murderer. “Yes,” she says. Her voice cracks. She clears her throat and opens the door.

#

The forest towers over Salome’s head. She is not afraid of the trees, of the monsters lurking beneath their leaves. What frightens her are the memories wafting through the air – the screams, the pleas, the struggle of a maiden to keep her life.

Already she sees the girl’s ghost wafting through the trees, a strand of mist trapped in this world. Her soul, and body with it, has been stolen, keeping her here until the world ends and she along with it.

As always, she approaches as Salome enters the woods. Deep blue eyes watch as Salome dodges shadows and tries to pick up an old man’s trail. But she is distracted by the white-blonde hair trailing down the ghost’s back, fluttering in a breeze.

The ghost smiles that enigmatic smile and rubs her head.

Salome straightens, chills creeping up her spine. “I’m sorry,” she says. “But I can’t give it back.”

The ghost says nothing. But the leaves stir in the wind, whispering, Murderer.

Salome flinches. If she had known that the longer Shadows remain human, the more vulnerable they become, she may never have ventured to steal the ghost’s soul. To steal the true Salome’s body.

“Salome?”

The ghost flickers, and Salome whirls around.

Rose stands there, a torch in her hand and a dagger dangling from her fingers. “You forgot your…” Her eyes widen. Salome realizes she can see the ghost, can see what was once her sister. In that moment, Rose knows the truth. Salome’s knees buckle with relief. The time of pondering death and clinging to her miserable existence is at an end. No longer must she float between salvation and life.

Now she can decide. She chooses salvation, if such a thing is possible for a monster. Her body hits the ground and she closes her eyes. The last thing she sees is the glimmer of a dagger hovering overhead. The last thing she hears is a scream. What she does not see is another shadow rising from the ground, waiting for its chance.

#

The village lies on the north side of the Forest of Shadows and Souls. No one visits there, and no one leaves there. Not even the oldest villager can remember when the Forest appeared, but all remember the day the first child wandered in and never came back.

That was long ago, and her name is long forgotten, as are the names of the many children who followed her. And not just children. Young men and women, the elderly and the weak – something about the trees and their deceitful whispers draws people in.

Only two girls have ever entered its depths to return.

One’s name was Salome. Now nobody knows where she is. One day she went into the forest and never came back.

The other’s name is Rose.

At least, that is what people think. But leave them with their thoughts, because often it is too painful to dig into the truth. If they did, they might know what is obvious to you and me, dear readers: Often only the shadow of a person is left to tell the tale.