Young Margaret sat on her rump; skirt bunched up and wrinkled beneath her. Her mother wouldn’t like that. Every few minutes she would stop fiddling with her blocks and stare hungrily out the nursery window. Her mother wouldn’t like that either. In fact, her mother didn’t like a lot of things, unless they were as prim and as proper as she was.
Of course, Margaret was interested in the exact opposite. The thing that Margaret was most interested in was the forest. Beyond the shiny floors and white-washed walls of the Elswood Manor, across the neatly mown grass and past the perfectly trimmed rose bushes grew an enormous expanse of wild woods. It was here that the trees grew tall without hesitation, that the grasses and brush grew untamed and without inhibition, that the beasts lurked in the undergrowth, undomesticated and perhaps even unnatural. It was here that Margaret most longed to be.
Margaret looked up from her blocks again but this time it was to the corner where her nursemaid snoozed gently in the rocking chair. Margaret had a talent for exhausting those who dared try to contain her. Or at least tried to entertain her. As a test, Margaret carefully rolled a small block across the floor towards the nursemaid. She didn’t stir. Next Margaret threw a block against the opposite wall. This time the nursemaid’s eyes fluttered; Margaret waited. However, with a snort, the nursemaid resumed her slumber. Margaret grinned. Now came the fun, sneaky part.
Margaret tottered to her feet, her four-year-old body still slightly disproportionate. Her feet stumbled lightly over the mess of blocks scattered around her as she headed toward the door. It swung open silently and she rushed through, into the dark hallway. It was quiet. Her mother had probably already retired for the night, reading, or knitting, or doing one of the other boring grown up things she seemed to always be doing. Just to be sure Margaret tip-toed down the hall towards her mother’s room. As expected, a thin line of light leaked out from under the door. This would make things much easier. Margaret hurried back up the hall to the stairs. Here she slowed, making her way carefully down so as not to trip in the dark. It was lighter downstairs, the tall floor-to-ceiling windows letting pale moonlight stream in to the open drawing room. It was here that Margaret would make her escape.
Paneled between two of the windows were a pair of glass doors that led onto the back porch. Margaret fumbled with the latch, her clumsy toddler fingers trying to make sense of the contraption. Finally it was opened, and she lurched into the outside air.
It was a warm summer night, with a cool breeze that promised colder temperatures as the night drew on. The sky was still a [blue], but it grew darker every moment. Margaret walked towards the center of the yard, her toes tickled lightly by the springy grass. She was slow now, less rushed, letting the anticipation of entering the forest [seep] into her. She reached a row of dainty hybrid tea roses at the end of the yard, her mother’s pride and joy, and kept walking. The ground beneath her began to get rough, the grass more sparse. The encroaching trees loomed overhead. Margaret stopped and craned her neck to look into the high, dense branches. She grinned, enjoying the enigmatic feeling the forest gave her, as if its dark secrets were seeping into her. She took a deep breath and ran.
Wind and branches whipped past her as she weaved her way through the trees, gaining a grace not previously seen in the house. It was as if she was shedding her clumsy toddler body and releasing the forest wolf she was beneath. Her feet pounded over the underbrush, stinging with each twig and piece of bark they hit, but Margaret paid no mind. If anything it spurred her on, encouraging her to run further, and faster. The night made her strong, the forests energy and spirit permeating her being. For her this was the best feeling in the world.
Eventually she had to slow; even her wolf persona couldn’t handle running for too long a period. Her pounding footsteps, almost deafening to her own ears, dulled as her gait became a canter rather than a gallop. Soon she was able to slow to a walk, her steps becoming almost silent in the quiet of the forest. Her blood still thumped loudly in her ears, and her mouth hung open as she breathed heavily, almost panting. She walked a ways further, letting her heartbeat slow and her breathing return to normal. She looked around herself. She was in an unfamiliar part of the forest, further in than she had ever been. The trees above blocked out most of the dark sky above, but the crescent moon shone through the overhead canopies, washing the forest in pale blues and silvers.
The spell of the forest was beginning to wear off. The chill night air was beginning to bleed through her sweat-soaked clothes, making her shiver. Her mood shifted from elation to apprehension. Her mind struggled to remember why she had wanted to enter the forest so badly.
A twig snapped in the distance. Margaret stopped, her head snapping from side to side, looking for the source of the sound. The woods around her, enchanting before, now looked daunting and gloomy. Unknown creatures rustled and lurked in the leaves, scurrying just out of sight. Margaret’s heart began to beat harder. Another sudden sound behind her and she was off again, running even further into the gloom. This time she was weaker, clumsier, stumbling unwittingly into the darkness. Branches snatched at her hair and clothing, leaving rips and scratches that burned into her skin. Not even a hundred yards more a root caught her foot, sending her sprawling. She simply lay there.
On the ground the only sound she could her were her own ragged breaths, her heart beating wildly in her chest. She focused on the sound, ignoring the growing feeling that something was coming, coming for her. A quiet whisper came from around her. She squeezed her eyes shut. The whisper grew louder, and she was able to pick out words: “…up, don’t be scared, we’re here to help, come to us, we’ll keep you safe.” The whispers continued, sweet and calming. Margaret lifted her head, looking for the source of the whispers. She saw glittering lights overhead, twinkling and winking at her. She reached a hand out; if she could just touch them, they would keep her safe….
A ringing voice filled the air, causing the lights blink out of sight. Dumbfounded, Margaret looked for who had spoken. The only thing that seemed to be there were the tall trees towering above her.
However, the voice came again. “Do not be afraid. The fairies are a mischievous bunch, but they won’t really allow harm to come to you. Not unless they want to become wizened trolls.”
The voice sounded as if it was right next to her, but Margaret couldn’t see anyone at all. The voice was rich and deep, sounding more motherly and kind than even her own Mother.
“Where are you?” Margaret squeaked out, terror making it hard for her to speak.
A rustling came from the branches above, and Margaret had the feeling that it was laughter.
“Why, child, you are leaning on my bark! They call me Kamala, and I am a hamadryad, spirit of this tree. I can see that you do not know much about this forest. Perhaps times really are changing.” The leaves rustled again, this time as if in a sigh.
Margaret looked up at the tree she was leaning on. It looked just the same as the others, but she could feel a sort of energy emanating from within the trunk and spreading out along its branches. She could really believe that something really did inhabit the trees, giving it a new form of life. “The trees really are alive…” she whispered, recalling what her mother had said to her after one of her nursemaids, a native to the area, had tried to tell her stories of creatures and life within the forest. Her mother had thrown a fit, calling the stories “poppycock” and firing the nursemaid on the spot.
The tree seemed to smile. “Yes, something lives within each tree, each vine, and flower, and beast. There is something within you even… I can see it; the forest has made you strong. It has not yet matured, but perhaps with time….”
Margaret wasn’t sure what the hamadryad was talking about, but she did know that she wanted to go home. Kamala seemed to know what she wished as well.
“Before you leave, child, I have one request to make. Do not let the forest become obsolete. It can be a dangerous place, and I would advise you not venture this deep until you are old enough to make sense of the power you have. Even so, do not forget. Do not forget the forest, for it is perhaps the only thing left that links your world with mine.” The branches of the tree rustled again. “Do you promise me this, at the least?” she asked of Margaret.
The girl nodded, not quite understanding but knowing what was expected of her. The tree smiled again. Warmth began to waft into Margaret, making her skin tingle and her bones feel warm. Her eyelids drooped, head bent, and she began to fall asleep. As she drifted off, Kamala’s words came to her: “Remember your promise… Do not forget the forest….”
The next morning Margaret awoke in her bed. Hazy dreams tugged at the edges of her memory, but nothing felt real or concrete. However she was left with a new apprehension regarding the forest, and it wasn’t until years later that she dared venture too far into its shadowy depths.
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