Needwood: A New World Fairy Tale

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Savvy

Staring eyes in the darkness.

Sickly, green, and malevolent.

Yellowed fangs in slavering jaws.

Coming closer … coming for ME?

No! NO! NOOOOOO!

Savilla Morgan bolted upright in her bed, a scream of terror still howling from her throat. Gazing wildly around the room, she sought to assure herself that the creature she had seen was not real. Her vanity stood in the shadows beside a tall armoire and her rocking chair remained still on the Persian rug. Everything looked as it should.

Savilla sighed with relief as a bead of sweat trickled icily down the back of her neck. She shivered violently from the sensation and wiped away the perspiration with her hand. Then she threw off her blankets and stepped onto the floor. The cool boards felt soothingly firm underfoot. Savilla walked to the window and gazed up at the gibbous moon hanging swollen in the sky. Its glowing light bathed the countryside in colorless white and Savilla scanned the shadows cast by the trees for the creature she had seen. Beholding nothing, she ran her fingers through her long damp locks and ruminated on her dream.

Seeing eyes when she slept came as nothing new to Savilla. Ordinarily, though, she spied a woman with an elvish-looking face and long blonde hair staring at her. The strange woman never spoke, but neither did she threaten. She merely smiled and watched.

The thing that haunted tonight’s dream, however, looked altogether different. Savilla could still see its wicked gaze in her mind, glaring greedily at her like prey. Only nightmares could conjure eyes like that.

Clutching her nightgown, Savilla returned to bed and flipped her pillow to the side not soaked with sweat. Then she laid down to stare at the ceiling. No one had come to her room when she screamed. Her father, Edward, slept soundly at all times, especially when he had been drinking, and that was something he had done a great deal more of since Magdalene had died. Then there was Missus Higgins, Savilla’s nanny, who lived in the servants’ quarters downstairs. Her room was too far away, though, so she could never have heard Savilla scream. No, thought Savilla, she was alone now.

Summoning her mother’s face, Savilla remembered Magdalene’s kind smile, her high cheekbones, her narrow chin, and her magical eyes. Her mother had always said her eyes were her best quality and Savilla did not disagree. Once when still an infant, Savilla recalled crying in her basinet. Magdalene had appeared above her and after gazing into those enchanting purple irises Savilla found herself giggling with joy. Her mother then lifted her up and hummed to her in a velvety voice.

What was the name of the song? Oh, never mind. The memory was too old and Savilla had been too small to learn it properly. Nor did it matter. Simply the thought of Magdalene provided enough comfort to soothe Savilla’s jangled nerves. She nestled against her pillow and pulled her blankets close, telling herself that although her mother had passed from this world she would yet protect her dreams.


“Toodle-oo, darling, it’s time to get up!” sang Missus Higgins upon opening the door to Savilla’s chamber.

Sweeping into the room like a sudden burst of wind, the nanny threw open the curtains to allow in the sunlight.

“Tsk, tsk!” clucked Higgins when Savilla cracked open her eyes. “Out of bed, now, Savvy. Your father wants you downstairs for breakfast.”

Issuing a yawn, Savilla greeted Missus Higgins and asked the time.

“Why, it’s almost seven-thirty, my dear. Come along now.”

Higgins threw back Savvy’s blankets and pulled her upright. “Oh, dear child, you have circles under your eyes. Didn’t you sleep last night?”

Savilla sleepily shook her head. “No, ma’am, I had another nightmare.”

Higgins’s brow furrowed and sitting on the side of the bed, she put a comforting hand on Savilla’s knee. “You poor thing. Ever since your mother passed, God rest her soul, you’ve had trouble sleeping. Was it the same dream you’ve been having? The one with the female stranger?”

Again, Savvy shook her head. “Not this time. Last night, the thing I saw had terrible green eyes and it slobbered dreadfully. I didn’t get a good look at it. Just the eyes and the teeth that came at me out of the darkness.”

“My word, that sounds awful!” gasped Higgins. “But it was only a dream, Savvy. You’re safe now.”

“I know. I’m not scared anymore. I just wish I could rest through the night.”

“That’s right, dear girl. Tonight I’ll make some chamomile tea before bed to help you sleep, but now you need to dress and come downstairs. Your father is waiting.”

Higgins rose from the bedside and went to the armoire where Savvy’s clothes hung in disarray.

“We really must do something about this closet,” she muttered.

“Leave it alone!” commanded Savvy. “I’m thirteen now and old enough to dress myself. Tell Papa I’ll be down soon.”

Hands set firmly on her hips, Higgins glared at Savilla, knowing from experience that it was no use arguing with the girl once her voice had taken on that defiant tone.

“Indeed, young lady, there’s no need to be rude!” she huffed, and lifting her skirt hem in both fists she stalked from the room.

Savvy watched Higgins go and crawled out of bed. Pulling off her nightgown, she reached for a pair of trousers that lay thrown across an overstuffed chair and tucked in her camisole after slipping them on. Then she pulled a linen shirt over her head, tucked in the tails, and snapped suspenders over her shoulders. Catching the reflection of unruly hair in the vanity mirror, Savvy sat down to comb smooth her long ginger tresses. Her icy blue eyes scrutinized the freckles on her cheeks and she gritted her teeth as the comb worked through a knot. It soon cleared and Savvy gathered her hair into a ponytail. She tied it off with a length of blue silk and reached for her worn ankle boots. Flecks of mud from the previous day’s exploration of Needwood cemetery dropped onto the carpet as she laced up the shoes. Then Savvy threw a last glance at herself in the looking glass and after nodding cheekily she rushed from the room.

Downstairs, Edward Morgan looked up from his newspaper as Savvy came toward him around the long dining table. Looking dapper in his jacket, tie, and paper collar, Edward dropped the broadsheet into his lap and hugged his daughter.

“Good morning, Savilla. It’s about time you came down,” he said.

“Good morning, Papa. I’m not that late, am I?”

“I guess not, but the sun’s been up for quite a while and normally you rise with it. Did you have a good night’s sleep?”

“No, Papa, I didn’t. Bad dreams kept me awake again.”

Edward frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that, my dear. It’s been hard since your mother—”

“Yes, Papa, it has, but there’s need to speak of it. Mother’s gone and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“As you wish, Savilla.”

Savvy reached for a piece of toast and a moment of silence passed between them before Edward changed the subject. “I see you continue to insist on wearing those boy’s clothes. You’re such an attractive young lady, why not wear a nice dress and shoes?”

Savvy stared down at her plate and heaved a massive teenage groan. “Not this again, Papa. How many times do I have to tell you that I like these clothes? Lacy dresses don’t suit me. Have you ever tried climbing a tree in a dress?”

“Why, no, of course I haven’t!” gasped Edward. “Why would I have cause to wear a dress?”

“Exactly, Papa. Why would I have cause to wear a dress either? I’m busy all day doing things that are completely unsuited to dress wearing. These clothes work for me so why should I change?”

Edward burst out laughing. “I could say you have cause to wear a dress because you are a girl, but I know that makes no difference to you; so very well, my dear, I’ll argue with you no longer.”

“Excellent,” Savvy grinned before taking a bite of her toast.

“Now that we’ve established your dress code,” winked Edward, “there’s something I need to tell you. I’ll be leaving today on business.”

Savvy slurped juice from her glass. “Again, Papa? How long will you be gone this time?”

“I’ll be away for several weeks, I’m afraid. My partners and I are starting a new business venture out west.”

“Oh,” said Savvy, dropping her toast onto her plate.

“Now, now, don’t be sad. I need to do this. Your future is at stake.”

“I know, Papa. I miss you when you are away, though, and now that mother is gone I’ll miss you even more.”

“I’ll miss you too, Savilla. If there was another way to get this business done I’d take it, but there isn’t. This is something I need to do.”

“I understand, Papa. Just promise me you’ll be safe, alright?”

Rising from his chair, Edward circled the table to embrace his daughter. Despite her curious habits he loved her dearly. Perhaps even more so now that she was all he had.

“I’ll take care, Savilla. You’ll not lose me too, I promise,” he said while softly caressing her hair. “But now I need to finish getting ready. There is some business I must attend, so give your father a proper hug.”

Savvy rose from her seat and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. Then she squeezed him tightly around the waist. Edward returned the embrace, but then struggled to pull away.

“Savilla, you’ll need to let me go,” he chuckled.

Savvy unlocked her fingers and stared up into her father’s eyes. “Yes, Papa,” she sighed. “Farewell and have a safe journey.”

Savvy bolted from the table and raced upstairs to cry. She remained in her room until some time later a carriage pulled up the driveway and she pushed away from her tear-stained pillow to watch the coachman secure her father’s luggage. Then Edward stepped down from the porch in top hat and cloak and stopped at the carriage door to gaze up at Savvy’s window. Spotting her there, he blew her a kiss, which she promptly blew back to him, the tears still streaming down her cheeks. Edward caught the kiss and held it to his heart before climbing in. Then he ordered the driver to proceed and the carriage trundled down the tree-lined road until the last that Savvy saw of her father was his gloved hand waving to her from the carriage window.

When Edward’s carriage pulled out of sight Savvy turned from the window and went to her vanity. Sitting down at the mirror, she stared down at a framed black and white photograph of her parents. Magdalene and Edward sat stiffly in the image with their baby, the infant Savilla, cradled in Magdalene’s lap. Savvy picked up the photo and touched her mother’s face.

“Oh, Mama, why did you have to die?” she whimpered.

Returning the picture to its place, a twinkle of gold caught Savvy’s eye and she reached for a necklace that hung from one of the spindles holding up her mirror. A square pendant missing a triangle-shaped piece in its top dangled at the end of the chain. Three other triangle-shaped pieces snapped into a thin metal frame to make up the rest of the square. Savvy turned over the pendant to read the inscription on the reverse side.

The angels will protect you.

M

The “M” stood for Magdalene, of course, but Savvy had never been able to figure out the meaning of the other words. What exactly would the angels protect her from?

Flipping the pendant back to its front, she read the names inscribed on each piece of the square – Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel. The missing piece must be the name of another angel, Savvy mused, but which one? Father Anderson had taught them in Sunday school the names of seven archangels in the Bible. These included Michael, the demon slayer, so the missing name could be his or any of the other remaining three.

Savvy pondered the pendant for a few moments, then she shrugged and hung it around her neck.

“Mother said that I should always wear you,” she said, patting the cool gold against her chest. “And after that nightmare, I believe her. Speaking of dreams, I wonder if I can find anything about it in my books.”

Rising from her chair, Savvy went to a tall bookcase across the room and scanned the shelves for a volume on dreams. Her family’s wealth bequeathed to Savvy many advantages, but none that she treasured quite so much as the luxury of having expensive books shipped from Baltimore city. Magdalene had accumulated dozens of volumes over the years and Savvy read through these with great interest. She did not know why her mother had sought out tomes on magic, astrology, and mythical creatures, but she was grateful that most of those books stood before her now. They provided a welcome distraction from the tedium of schoolwork and challenging Bible passages.

Failing to find the book she sought, Savvy checked another stack on the floor by her bed.

“Oh, I don’t see it anywhere. I hope I didn’t take it to Alistair’s attic,” she said as she pulled aside one volume after another.

Finally, she reached the book on the bottom.

“A-ha, here it is!” she exclaimed. “Why is it always the last book I’m looking for?”

Savvy plopped onto the floor with the book and opened the back to scrutinize the index. “Eagles … eerie … ether. Eyes, there it is. Let’s see, it says here that seeing eyes in dreams is a form of self-scrutiny. The eyes represent the dreamer’s mind looking on in reflection.”

Savvy slammed the book shut. “Hmpf! Little good that does me unless I am some evil monster seeking to do myself harm. It certainly doesn’t sound like what I saw.”

Replacing the book atop the stack, Savvy despaired of discovering what it was that had plagued her sleep that night until Missus Higgins suddenly called to her from downstairs.

“Savilla, you have a visitor!”

“I’ll be right there!” Savvy shouted before climbing to her feet and hurrying from the room.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Savvy smiled to see her best friend, Alistair McCad. The son of Needwood’s lone shopkeeper, Alistair and Savvy often spent whole days together exploring the countryside. The two friends also shared an abiding interest in magic and folklore, poring for hours over Savvy’s books or mixing potions in Alistair’s attic room from ingredients that he would steal from his father’s storeroom. Alistair was the closet thing that Savvy had to a sibling and at that moment she needed his company more than ever.

“Hiya, Alistair,” she waved.

“Hey, Savvy. Can you come outside?”

“Sure. Missus Higgins, I’m going out with Alistair.”

“That’s fine, Savvy, but don’t go too far,” said Higgins. “Your father told me to keep a close eye on you.”

“Alright, I won’t,” replied Savvy, shooting Alistair a wink.

The two friends hurried out of the house and down the porch stairs. When they hit the gravel driveway Savvy shouted, “I’ll race you to the pond,” and took off running. Alistair lit out in pursuit and soon the house had disappeared from sight behind them.

On the path to the village, Savvy took a detour toward Needwood Pond and scaled a tree whose long limbs stretched out over the algae-covered water. Alistair climbed up beside Savvy and there the two of them sat with their legs dangling over the pond.

Scratching at an itch in his mop of brown hair, Alistair asked Savvy what she wanted to do that day.

“I’m not sure,” Savvy shrugged. “I’m kind of tired.”

“Tired? Why’s that?” asked Alistair.

“I had a nightmare last night and it kept me awake.”

“Gee, Savvy, that’s awful. What did you see?”

“I saw eyes—cat eyes to be exact, but they weren’t like the eyes of any cat I’ve seen before. These were green and wicked. I saw sharp teeth too, drooling spit between them.”

“Yuck. That’s gross,” scowled Alistair.

“Yeah, they were disgusting. The worst part of it was that the thing I saw felt evil too.”

“What do you mean it felt evil? How do you feel in a dream?”

“I mean it felt real and menacing, like it was going to hurt me. It almost felt like it was in the room with me.”

“Ugh. That’s creepy, Savvy. I hope you don’t dream about that thing again,” said Alistair.

“So do I. You know what really worries me, though?”

“What’s that?”

“What worries me is that the thing I saw might not be a dream. What if it’s real? What if it wants to hurt me or you or my father?”

“Aw, c’mon, Savvy, how can the thing in your dream be real? It was in your head, that’s all.”

“I’m not so sure about that, Alistair. Do you recall what happened before my mother got sick?”

“Yeah, I remember. You had a dream that she died.”

“That’s right. I saw her lying in bed. Her face had gone the color of ashes and her eyes had dark circles around them. It was just like she looked when she died for real. What do you make of that?”

Alistair shook his head and glanced down at the pond. “I don’t know, Savvy. It could have been a coincidence.”

“A coincidence? Really, Alistair! What about the time I dreamed there was going to be a fire at Mister Wilson’s house. You remember that, don’t you? I tried to warn Tommy Wilson in school that his house was going to burn down and what happened?”

“Err, his house burned down. Yeah, I remember that too. Boy, Savvy, you got into some trouble because of that. Tommy’s dad thought you set the fire until Missus Wilson told him that a candle had tipped over and lit the drapes.”

“Was that dream a coincidence too?”

“I guess not,” Alistair shrugged as he stared down at the insects skating the surface of the water below. “So that’s what you’re afraid of now? You’re scared that the nightmare you had is showing you the future?”

“Yes, Alistair, that’s it exactly. I’m afraid this thing I saw is real and it’s going to come after me or someone I love.”

“But what can you do about that? We don’t even know what the thing is.”

Savvy shook her head and gazed down at her ankle boots. “I know, Alistair. That’s what scares me most. I’m afraid it’ll come to Needwood and take people by surprise. They won’t see it coming and I can’t warn anyone about it. All I can do is wait.”

“Wait and do what?” asked Alistair.

“Wait and hope that I’m wrong.”

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