【 Chapter Two 】
The problem with Amber’s foster parents was that they were just too small-minded in their opinions and attitude towards the world they lived in.
Theodore just wanted to make his Mazel pleased, and have the company he worked for rise to the top of the tech industry. Mazel wanted to create trends and have her ideas for fashion noticed in as many places as she could. And when the couple wasn’t at work, they spent most of their free time with each other, but to go to private adult parties and demos at gatherings, where small glasses filled with expensive fizzing drinks are served every ten minutes and the seats are a comfy butter leather. Although they did value their children and made time for them when they could, that time spent was often limited, which they’d learnt to accept. It was the kind of situation adults could change if they put in the effort, but often dismissed when it was brought up because it was too big a change in routine. People usually try to avoid complicated things, but whether that’s a good or bad trait depends on the situation.
Theodore and Mazel didn’t dream of a land of mystery and enchantment, with indescribable wonders and longings of the seemingly impossible. Lightning sparked in one swift gesture. Communicating without words or gadgets. If things like that were ever suggested, they would simply laugh it off, as most adults do. Because with most grown-ups, their reality hovers around possessions and work, entertainment and friends and families. Perhaps it’s because they’re used to the way things are, the way things continued to be ever since they were brought up in it as children. And it’s much harder to imagine things like Amber did when you’ve never seen or thought about it before. Who in the Tudor Period would’ve believed someone from the future talking about electricity and the ability to talk without sending messengers or letters?
It makes a lot of sense when you break it down, really. So Amber didn’t blame adults like Mazel and Theodore.
Even children, like Amber’s foster sister Meadow, longed to grow up admired and as a famous fashion designer, walking in the footsteps of her mother, having fun and living in luxury. Luckily for the youngest, Jackson, he was not yet moved or poisoned by the common, everyday views of others. He’d read about tamers of wild beasts and lions, and even saw it on TV once, and since then he made the firm decision of doing just that when he was older. No buts.
Every so often, Jackson came along with Amber and Marcel in their treks to the forest, collecting uniquely coloured leaves and attempting to climb smaller trees with Amber, camouflaging in mossy beds coated with tall flowers whilst playing tigers with Marcel. He was fascinated by the stories Amber read him from his fairytale books and studied the detailed illustrations on the right-hand pages of dragons, witches, fairies, and lost princesses. Amber wasn’t too keen on the princesses, and rolled her eyes when she read about their running away from evil stepmother and their round eyes for the princes who just so happened to be passing by.
“I don’t get it,” she thought aloud after reading Sleeping Beauty to Jackson in the forest, swinging her legs lightly from a sturdy branch. “What if she didn’t want to wake up? Who would? It’s always midnight, and always a kiss. No one ever thinks of leaving the poor girls till a sensible time in the morning and maybe shaking them a bit to wake them up.”
Jackson snorted with laughter at that. “That’s not how the stories go!”
“It should be,” Amber said with a smirk. “Why so petty? Give the witches a good kick instead of cowering, and tell them to push off. It could work. You never know until you try. And why talk to the animals like babies when they’ve probably braved more in one day than the princesses themselves have in their entire lives? The only one I don’t mind is Belle.”
“I think Belle might be a lot like you, Ambie,” Jackson commented with a grin. “I could tame the Beast guy - I bet I can roar louder!” He roared at Marcel and burst into a fit of laughter as Marcel barked back at him, and soon they were rolling around the forest floor, grass-stains smeared on his cheek and shorts, and shadowing some of Marcel’s thick fur.
Mazel took one look at them when they came in and rolled her eyes, exasperated.
“For heaven’s sake, what do you two look like? Jackson, darling, what have you done to your new shorts? And your face! Honestly, Amber, can’t you ever do anything normal with your siblings? It’s not a good example, you know, romping around in those woods all day long. You’ll end up hurting yourselves, and I’m the one that has to pay for new clothes There’s never anything decent out there - except for our fashion brand, obviously...”
She picked Jackson up, dusting the hidden leaves and moss from his hair, and Amber raised her brows, bemused.
“He was having fun. He’s five years old.”
“And you are a young adult, so it’s time you acted like one. Look - why don’t you join an extra-curricular club, like your sister? At least then you’ll be doing something useful.”
But Amber had no intention at all in joining an after-school club, to be mocked and questioned, or in the middle of some sort of wild eraser-flicking game. She preferred to sit alone and undisturbed, often choosing to stay in the library, drawing in her sketch pad and reading new thrillers and sci-fi novels, enjoying her own company. Her teachers were aware of her so-called ‘antisocial’ behaviour and expressed their mild concerns to Mazel, who immediately tried to sit Amber down and have a motherly talk about it. It didn’t change anything, but Mazel was a little too busy working on the next season’s range to bring it up again. So that was that.
“It’s just that all you do is fantasize over fairy tales and goodness knows what else. This is the real world, and you need to realise that. You’re not getting any younger - you’re sixteen now, Amber. Make the most of the opportunities you’re given, and start acting your age. I won’t be the only one telling you this when you’re out of school and getting interviewed for jobs.”
“You don’t need to be young to think in a different way.”
“Different is one word for it. I’m telling you this for your benefit, Amber, because when you’re at the legal age to work and all you do is zone out and daydream, or sketch whatever is you draw in that book, be assured that someone else will break it to you, and not in the patient way that I am.”
“How would you even know?” Amber questioned, annoyed now. “The only creativity you have is to do with fashion. But in a world without fashion, where would you be? Why did you even adopt me in the first place? We’re nothing alike, no matter how much you want me to be. Was it because it was a trend, fifteen years ago, to adopt kids?”
Mazel scowled, opening her mouth to retort, but Theo raised a hand in interruption, putting down his newspaper with a sigh.
“That’s enough now please, Amber. Why don’t you go and do your homework upstairs or something, there’s a good girl. Look, Maze-”
So she did go upstairs, but only to quietly climb back down again after grabbing a torch and her sketchpad, crawling past the couch where Mazel and Theo sat talking about her, trolling her eyes as Theo discussed the difficulties of being away from blood-family, and to give her more time. Marcel was fast asleep in his dog basket in the hall, tired out from his long walk earlier. Amber crept out of the back door and left it subtly unlocked, before running off to the forest again, its trees and splashes of nature illuminated by the softly glowing moonlight.
But this time, it was different.
A tree had fallen down right where she usually went further into the forest, near the outskirts instead of straight forward in case she got lost.
Amber sighed, rolling her eyes impatiently before glancing back at the way she’d come. She didn’t want to go back, not yet. She didn’t hate it there, but she hated everyone’s mindset and attitudes towards everything. She didn’t want to be like that. She never would, even if she tried. It just wasn’t her.
“Just like a reprise of Beauty and the Beast,” she muttered to herself with a small scoff. “I guess this is where the adventure starts. Not even midnight yet...”
Rain began to come pattering down as Amber took the side entrance and walked along the path to the centre of the forest, moving forwards, deeper and deeper in. She didn’t really know where she was going, but at that point, she didn’t care. There was hardly going to be any drug dealers or drunkards around there. Maybe at the park or in the dimly lit streets, but not in the middle of the forest. Maybe she could sleep there - she wasn’t squeamish when it came to bugs, and there was hardly going to be any real dangers and wild animals ready to pounce. It was raining though. Perfect.
Amber pulled up the hood of her deep red hoodie, tightening the white laces on either side of her neck as the raindrops slid down the material instead of in her dark auburn hair. Lightning started flashing every so often, and thunder clapped and boomed, rumbling through the forest and ruffling the leaves. Amber wasn’t deterred and kept on going, her eyes roaming about the forest floor and the trees and bushes beyond. She had a kind of motivation to keep moving onwards, like a kind of pull to go on walking, as if she was trying to reach a goal or prize at the end of a game.
And that was exactly what she did, the type of game she was partaking of was one she really couldn’t describe. After what seemed like forever, Amber slumped against a tree trunk to catch her breath, feet aching a little in her Converse high-tops, not looking up from the darkened mossy ground.
But when Amber did finally look up, her brows furrowed and eyes squinted in confusion and curiosity.
Past the long stretch of trees and the dozens of dimly shaded bushes scattered amongst them, the ground sloped down suddenly, creating a large dip in the ground where dirty looking water and dead leaves laid. The water looked almost black, and bubbled every so often - but what drew Amber’s attention was what hung ten feet above it. It was an old-looking, ivy-ridden bridge. Thin vines hung from the damp rope on the upper sides of the uneven wooden slats, trailing down into the murky waters below. Several trees sprouted from the lower ground, and their long, spindly branches twisted and coiled around the bridge, almost hiding it from view. The bridge seemed to stop at a different part of the forest - most likely an unreachable part, if not for the bridge itself.
Amber quickly got back onto her feet, and grabbed her torch, switching it on while still staring adamantly at the strange, unseen sight. She’d never came across this before. Was it new? No, it can’t be new. The construction of the bridge and the natural growth around it seems like its been there for years.
Her torch’s luminous white light ran effortlessly across the forest’s mossy floor and the rough trunks of trees. She steadily held it up to eye level, and sure enough, the bridge was there and quite real. Amber glanced back the way she came in a moment’s hesitation, but then scoffed lightly to herself, turning back to the bridge and breaking out in a motivated run towards it.
Now, if any other child, teenager, adult - or a person of any age, really - were to spot the bridge, their view darkened by the night and made even darker by the skies being hidden by branches above, they’d most likely turn back the way they’d came, sensing the danger of the unknown. Because, as we all know, fear’s foundation is, put simply, the unknown. But that’s if they were influenced enough to be out in the middle of the night in the forest, where most horror stories and fairy tales meet their villainous threat. But Amber kept on sneaking forwards carefully, curiosity filling her senses as she cautiously took a step onto the jagged wood of the bridge. It groaned silently under her weight, but didn’t give way at all. She advanced forwards, craning her neck to see where the bridge ended, the torch’s light not revealing very much apart from the numerous branches that hung in her way.
The water below the bridge and her feet rippled suddenly, and a twig snapped loudly, breaking the silence for a fleeting moment before it resumed. Amber’s eyes widened a fraction as she looked around her, the bright light from the torch scanning the area around her swiftly.
Nothing. Amber shivered, a little unnerved as she thought about her situation, but she couldn’t very well turn back now, could she? And this was a forest, after all. Home to wildlife and animals? They wouldn’t stay still and halt their nightly routines for her benefit, would they?
As she walked onwards, as aware of her surroundings as she could be - which wasn’t very much - her breath caught in her throat as she caught sight of the forest at the end of the bridge, the trees’ branches shorter and not as wild as the rest of the forests’. It seemed somewhat tenebrous there, and more nocturnal, if it were possible. And she couldn’t be sure, but when she held her torch up to follow her gaze, she made out a faint silhouette of a small house.
That didn’t make sense. That didn’t make sense at all.
No one actually lived in this forest, did they?
But before Amber could go any further, the bridge suddenly shook and swayed, as if a heavy weight had been dropped onto it, knocking her off her feet so that she landed roughly on the grimy surface of the thick, wooden strips. Suddenly, she felt a burst of electricity hit the back of her head in full force, like a strong bolt of lightning exploding in a crackling, energised cloud. She yelped in pain, dizziness fogging her vision as she felt the darkness of the forest grow darker and darker... until there was nothing left but the pitch-black emptiness of closed eyes, awareness escaping her as she fell unconscious.