The kingdom had a forest. A deadly, scary forest. No one knew what lurked inside. People feared it. To keep that fear alive, they told stories about it.
With time, the stories kept on changing but the message remained clear: Never go into the forest.
Many had claimed that nasty creatures lived in it. On a few rare occasions, they left the confines of the forest and ventured into the neighboring cities. They hunted people. They killed people.
Whether they actually killed people was still a mystery because those who were supposedly dead, had disappeared and no one saw them ever again. Also no one saw the monsters as well.
I understood the danger. I picked up my pace and tried to run as fast as I could. I needed to be at home. Before sundown. This part of the kingdom had winters for almost nine months, and even when the days would get warmer, the chilly winds never stopped.
I had just completed my education and was looking for work. Although I was an intelligent student, I was having hard time getting a job.
A teacher of mine told me about the Marsons -- the wealthy family in the town. They needed a tutor for their twins. I went there. Then everything went the downhill. The twins were evil little creatures. They were rude. They were not to blame but their parents, who never stopped them when they crossed the lines. The five-year-old little devils thought that throwing food on the guests was acceptable.
I still smelled like a sauce. Ugh!
Their parents expected me to teach their kids manners as well. Well… I loved kids in general but sometimes some little devils are a lost cause.
I was disheartened as I couldn’t land this job. I needed a job to earn and support my family. I had two younger brothers. Eleven and thirteen years old. They were still in school, and their education was getting expensive day by day. My brother and I lived with my grandmother and paternal uncle.
They both had been doing their best to keep the roof on our heads and food on the table. I wanted to find work to ease their burden. My uncle worked in a local weapon making factory. He was a skilled at making lethal weapons. But with his age, he was unable to put long hours at work.
My grandmother took care of the home. My brothers and I often helped her. We were surviving by sharing each others’ burden.
However, survival wasn’t good enough anymore. We needed stability, but without money it was difficult to attain.
The cold wind penetrated the thick fabric of my coat. I could feel the chill in my bones, and the setting sun wasn’t helping me either. I was only person walking this road. It ran parallel to the forest. The boundary was merely a mile away. It wasn’t a safe distance. I would glance towards the forest every few seconds.
There was no sound. Utter silence was spooky. I couldn’t even hear my footsteps as I walked. This was the effect of the forest. It would appear as if the forest would absorb everything. Even the sound of your footsteps. I never understood the mechanisms behind it. It seemed surreal. How could the forest absorb the sound. No matter what the explanation was, this peculiar nature of this giant forest always scared me.
I wish I could fly away. Far away from this nightmare. I had begged my family many times to relocate somewhere. It was a big kingdom anyway. But no! The elders always refused. There was no life in this dying town. Our town wasn’t considered worthy enough of a sympathetic glance from our ‘beloved’ king. The best and the most fierce warriors served under him. Fought wars for him. Died for him. And he had left us dying after the last war ten years ago. Our town fell into ruins so quickly that many wouldn’t believe their eyes. It was once a beautiful town, attraction to tourists despite that nightmare of a forest. But now, the forest remained the same. Everything had changed. People changed. Their view of life had changed. It seemed as if something or someone had cursed our town. Sometimes I could feel a strong presence lurking near on home.
Picturing a future in this town was hopeless, but my uncle and grandma were adamant living there. I knew we needed to get out of here. Especially my brothers. In a few years, the conditions would worsen. They wouldn’t have a stable future here.
I picked up my pace as wind blew colder. My hands were loosing the nerves. The thick woolen gloves provided no warmth. The frigid air hit my legs like a shrapnel.
I blew my breath in my gloved hands to keep them warm. A pathetic attempt. My teeth clattered but heard no sound. I nearly ran when I saw that I had approached the town market. The shopkeepers were already packing up. Customers were trying to rush out of the market. As I neared it, it was almost empty. I passed brief smiles to the passers-by. Everybody knew everyone in this town.
Cade waved at me. He used be our neighbor, but eight years ago his family left town and settled in the nearby city. But they had a shop here, so they continued their business here. Now Cade handled the family business.
I waved back. That made him smile. He gathered his bag quickly and walked in my direction. I knew he wanted to tag along. I knew he had a crush on me. But I didn’t have time to daydream about a boy. My family needed my focus. Also, his family wasn’t my favorite type of people. They were obnoxious, especially his father. I had always ignored them. I was over the moon when they sold their house and moved away.
I didn’t know much about Cade. I didn’t know what sort of personality he had. He could be nice, but he could be pretending for all I care. I nearly ran to avoid him.
“Elora,” he shouted. “Wait, I have to give something to you.”
I groaned inwardly. I would flung whatever it was at his head if he bought me any gift. I was determined. He had tried it in past. He had thought that by giving me a piece of jewelery he’d bind us in a relationship.
“What is it, Cade?” I sounded impatient. The chilly air was piercing into my bones. I didn’t stop though. I walked bit slower. He caught up with me.
“Your uncle came to the shop today. He needed this dagger. It was out of stock, so I told him that I’d get one for him. Could you please give it to him?” he asked politely.
“Fine.” I grabbed the dagger covered with a black rag. It was heavy. “Whoa! What is it made of? Stones?”
He chuckled. “No, it is iron.”
I was baffled. My uncle worked in a weapon factory. Why would he buy a dagger from the market? He knew how to make a dagger. He could have easily made it himself.
“Okay. I’ll give it to him. How much do I have to pay you?”
“Nothing,” he replied immediately. I might have looked at him sharply because he explained, “he has already paid for it. I was just going to deliver it to him. Then I just saw you and I thought why not I give it you and you give it to him.”
The more Cade spoke, the more agitated I became. My uncle would never pay in advance. I knew that.
Why would he buy a dagger from the market?
This thought kept on nagging me.
“Where you’re coming from?” Cade asked.
“I don’t answer you.” I gritted my teeth. Who the hell was he asking me that question? My personal life was none of his business.
I needed to be at home. It was getting darker, and I didn’t want to be near anybody, now. It seemed as if Cade had picked up mood. He turned left, and walked down the street leading to the city road.
I exhaled. I might have walked for a few minutes when I felt a sensation creeping up my spine. I perceived danger. But there was no one.
My senses might have been acting up once again. Living in fear wasn’t unusual for me. It had been a part of my life.
When turned into my home street, I let my guard down. It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that because the next thing I knew I was falling down as the darkness consumed me.