Legends say that one day the forest suddenly sprouted out of nowhere. There used to be clear paths that led to each connecting town, but then one day a giant expanse of tall, tall trees suddenly covered it all.
Since it was the quickest route rather than simply going around it, people traversed through the forest. Most didn't make it all the way through. The ones that did told terrifying stories of the events that went down while they were in there: animals with misshapen faces, deformed plants, and the one who they called Willow.
As usual, tales were a bit rocky from town to town. While my town stated Willow as an evil spirit who killed all who entered, the neighboring town listed her as a troll who crushed living things for fun.
No one knew the true story, but they knew enough to stay out of the forest.
There's a path that goes around the forest, and that's the road most people take. The safest route.
The road of the living.
Today is my grandmother's birthday. She's turning 98. It's a miracle she's lived to be this long, honestly. In this day and age, medicine wasn't exactly the most reliable, and most only lived to be around 40 or 50.
My grandmother lives in one of the neighboring towns. She, along with my father, are one of the only ones to have gone through the forest and survived.
My father says that when he was a child, he and my grandmother traveled through the forest after hearing the crying of an infant echoing inside. They never found the baby, but they found something else entirely.
He says that Willow is a tricky killer who you must handle accordingly. "She'll lure you in with her beauty and song," he used to tell me. "Never look at her directly, or else she'll have you in her web." But he would never tell me what exactly Willow was.
Maybe I didn't want to find out.
My father is already at my grandmother's house, as well as my mother. I was left behind so I could finish up the school week, my grandmother's birthday thankfully falling on the weekend.
As I gathered up my things, I made my way towards the path.
The path around the forest broke off one of the main paths that lead directly into the forest. I looked into it, feeling a shiver run down my spine as mist curled itself through the branches of the tall trees. It looked cold and dark inside, but I couldn't help but feel drawn to it. My curiosity was slowly getting the best of me, and once I took a few steps forward, past the safe path, I felt myself be ensnared into the forest's traps.
Once I started walking, I couldn't stop. Once I entered the forest, I still couldn't stop. The forest was beautiful and mysterious, yet terrifying and threatening at the same time. The trees seemed to glare and smile at me, while the wind that blew through my hair was chilling but strangely welcoming. I wasn't sure how to feel.
I knew I should turn back, but I couldn't. It was as if there was a magical field around the forest, keeping me inside as I continued to stare and slowly becoming mystified by its wonders.
Then, suddenly, I heard crying, and was promptly snapped out of my daze. I was sure it was one of my father's tricks from the stories he told me, but what if it wasn't? If someone was in trouble, and I just ignored them, what kind of person would I be?
I felt awful, a pit settling in my stomach. The feeling only grew as I followed the sound of the crying, clenching my coat tighter until my knuckles turned white.
There was a shadow in the distance. As I drew nearer, I could make out the form of a young girl. The crying got louder, and I quickly realized that she was the source of the crying.
Was this Willow?
The young girl had her back turned to me, her beautiful red hair tied up delicately into pigtails. She was dressed in a torn green dress, and her legs had bruises on them.
I shut my eyes tight, moved to the far side of the path, and began to walk past her. I could feel a cold presence coming from her as I passed her, and could hear the noise that came from her throat - somewhat akin to a growl.
"Turn around," I heard a voice whisper into my ear as I slowly tread along the path. But I refused to listen. I focused on the sounds of nature; the taunting blowing of the wind, the faint chirping of birds hidden beneath the leaves, the crinkling of leaves as my boots crushed them.
I could feel the girl getting frustrated, and I was certain that this was Willow. I wasn't going to die here, I decided. It was my grandmother's birthday, after all.
"LOOK AT ME." Her voice was angry, demonic, and inhuman. She had jumped directly in front of me, and I flinched as her cold hands brushed my cheeks. She let them glide across my face for a few moments, when finally they reached my eyes. When I realized what she was trying to - pry my eyes open forcefully - I smacked her hands away and ran as fast as I could.
I could her hear furious scream as I exited the forest, a wordless promise of future revenge.
My hand was shaking as I knocked on the door to my grandmother's house. My mother opened it, and she smiled at me. Once she saw my pale face and shaking figure, she soon frowned and gently led me inside by the shoulders.
My family asked what had happened, so I told them I went through the forest. My father was furious, and scolded me for doing what he specifically told me not to. My mother just seemed frazzled.
My grandmother, however, looked curious. She asked me what had transpired inside the forest, so I told her. I told her about Willow, about the crying, about the beauty of the forest, and about how I could practically hear Willow's scream of revenge even though she spoke no words.
She just nodded in understanding, and I felt guilt wash over my body.
That night, I stared up at the ceiling in silence as my mind flashed with memories of the forest. For a while, I simply tried to focus on the mystic aura the forest had possessed, the wonderful sounds of nature, and the beauty that blossomed throughout it. But my mind kept drifting back towards Willow, so I gave up and let it do so.
With Willow still in my thoughts, I closed my eyes.
There was something looming over me. I could feel its presence. Stupidly believing it was one of my parents, I opened my eyes only to see something horrifying.
A faceless creature, with only an outstretched mouth that contained dozens of blood-coated, razor-sharp teeth, was staring down at me, even without eyes. Its pigtailed red hair hung in its face, and its tattered green dress was stained with blood and some other black substance. In its hands was the head of my grandmother, the right side of her face seemingly eaten off, her eyes missing, and her mouth open in a silent scream.
Blood dripped from the corners of the creature's mouth, dripping onto my face. My eyes wide, my hands trembled as I quietly whispered, "Willow."
Then I could not whisper anymore, for Willow had sunk her teeth into my flesh and tore it off like paper.