When I was a child my grandma would tell me stories about the woods behind our house. She would warn me never to wander too deep; that it was a dangerous place. Late at night, she would tell me fantastic stories about the horrible creatures that lived in the deep, dark places of the woods.
There were goblins that hid in caves and under large fallen logs. If you passed too near they would reach out their grotesque, bony arms to grab you by the ankle and drag you away for their supper. Gnomes lived in secret little houses high in the trees, but for the most part were harmless; except for their obsession with anything shiny. Grandma told me they would rip off your finger just to steal a ring. Worse still if you were foolish enough to wear a necklace.
There were dozens of stories my grandma would tell of all the mythical creatures that lived in those woods. But my favourite story of all was about the fairies. Now when most people think of fairies, images of Tinkerbelle come to mind. Happy, cheerful, little things that flitter through the air in balls of light. But the fairies in my grandma’s stories were different. They were mean pranksters who would torment humans that wandered into their realm and if you were lucky they would let you leave again.
She told me a story about how a fairy stole her brother’s voice. One of the dogs had gotten loose and he had gone in the woods to find it. He followed the sound of barking deep into the woods and soon was lost. The trees in that part of the woods are so thick he couldn’t even make out the direction of the sun. Panicked he started calling out for help.
Another mistake. You should never talk any louder than a whisper if you are in the woods.
He was on the verge of tears when he heard his father’s voice calling out his name. Relieved he called back, and suddenly his throat tightened. Too late he realised his error. Their father was away at sea; there was no way it could have been his voice.
You should never talk any louder than a whisper, and you should never, ever call out if you hear someone call your name. Fairies are clever; they will try to trick you to get what they want. But safer still, just never wander into those woods.
As a child I used to stare out my bedroom window at night and imagine all the creatures hiding in the dark, staring at me while I stared at them. But as I grew up I realised that they were just stories. After all if grandma’s brother had lost his voice how could have told them what happened?
* * *
It was a hot summer’s afternoon. My friend Ryan and I had been hanging out at our friend George’s house. He had a pool so we had pretty much spent all summer there. We had been mucking around and didn’t realise how late it was until we noticed the sky slowly starting to change colour.
“Oh no, Mum’s gonna kill me!” exclaimed Ryan. “We’ve got family over for dinner tonight and I was supposed to be home early.”
We quickly grabbed our stuff and started jogging for home. With every step we took the sky grew ever darker, seemingly racing against us, and winning.
“There’s no way we can make it back in time.” I panted as we paused to catch our breath; running had never been my strength.
“What if we cut through the woods? That would get us home in no time.” Ryan suggested, also struggling to catch his breath.
At the mere mention of the woods my blood turned cold. I knew that the stories I had been told by my grandma were only stories, but when you grow up being afraid of something it can be hard to shake.
I hesitated, my apprehension clearly written on my face.
“Ha, you are such a wuss. Do you still believe in those stupid stories your grandma used to tell? Next you will tell me you still believe there are monsters under your bed.” Ryan teased.
I knew that if I refused that Ryan and George would tease me about it for the rest of my life. And Ryan was right, they were only stories. It was just woods, a regular, ordinary woods.
Despite my resolve I could not help but glance at every movement and search every shadow. My grandma’s tales of goblins, gnomes and fairy were replaying in my head. I noticed that Ryan was wearing a silver chain around his neck, and how it seemed to catch every ray of the waning sun to shine through the gloom. Every time we jumped a fallen log my stomach tightened, expecting a pair of arms to grab my legs.
But nothing happened.
We ran deeper into the woods. The trees got thicker and the air grew heavy, but there were no monsters lurking behind them.
As we ran deeper still we started to fatigue. We slowed to a quick walk as we tried to catch our breath. Beneath the canopy it was hard to gauge how much time had passed.
“Hey Ivan! Come check this out.” Ryan called from up ahead. The voice of my grandma sounded a warning in my head. You should never talk any louder than a whisper. I ignored it, just a story like the rest, and jogged the short distance to catch up to Ryan.
Of all the stories my grandma had told me over the years, the one that frightened me the most was about how fairies would kidnap people. What the fairies did to them after was unknown because none ever returned. She would tell me stories about how they would lay a trap like a hunter would set a bear-trap. But fairies were more cunning. They did not want you to just accidentally step into their trap. They wanted to tempt you, entice your curiosity. My grandma had called them fairy circles and to step inside one was to be lost forever.
Looking up ahead I could see Ryan standing at the edge of a perfect circle of bright blue flowers that almost seemed to glow amongst the shadows. My mind screamed with warning. I pushed my legs as hard as I could but they felt like I was running in water.
“What do you think did this? Maybe it was the goblins your gran was always talking about.” Ryan called out, but his voice sounded so far away.
How could that be, he had been beside me only a moment ago. My legs burned with effort and yet I seemed to get no closer.
“Haha, do you think I’ll be able to see the fairies if I jump in the circle?” Ryan was laughing, but not from joy. It sounded almost manic.
With one great leap he landed inside the ring of blue flowers. A sudden gust of wind blew dust in my face and when I opened my eyes Ryan was gone.
Surely he was just playing a joke on me. He was hiding in the bushes and would jump out at me and tease me for being scared. Well it wasn’t going to work. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
But he didn’t jump out.
“Ryan. Ryan where are you? It’s late we need to get home.” I called out softly hoping he would give up on his silly prank.
A sudden noise came from behind me. I spun around but saw nothing.
“Ryan, was that you?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper.
“Ivan! Where are you? Help me!” Ryan’s scream exploded in my ears, full of fear and confusion.
“Ryan, I’m here!” I called back, yelling into the shadows. I gasped as my throat started to burn. It was a struggle just to draw breath. From all around me the sound of laughter echoed through the trees. Fear took over me and I ran as fast and hard as I could and I didn’t stop until I reach my backdoor.
The police were called but they never found any sign of Ryan. They questioned me multiple times but I could never properly explain what happened that day, deep in the woods. My grandma had warned me not to wander too deep into the woods, never talk any louder than a whisper and never, ever call out if you hear your name.
Years later, when I pass by the woods I can hear them taunting me and worst of all they taunt me with my voice that they stole.