Beware the woods, the adults say.
Don’t close your eyes,or look away.
Take one wrong step, you’ll surely pay,
For the woods are where the fairies play.
The fields had always been their favourite place to play. They were green as far as the eye could see. Tall grass to hide in, tall trees to climb. They could shout as loud as they wanted, and the wind would take their words and fly them far away. Perhaps as far as the next village. Perhaps far across the sea.
It was dark that day, but weather rarely stopped them. Their mother made sure they were both dressed warm in a coat and boots; she jammed a red, woolly hat atop the youngest head, and waved them off. No one in the village ever worried about what might happen in the fields. Nothing ever happened if you followed the rules. And you always followed the rules.
That day, they ran further than they ever had before. Down through the fields between the houses, the tall grass tickling their legs. Over the stone fence near the road, and towards the brush of trees in the distance. Beware the woods, the adults always said. Don’t close your eyes, and don’t look away. But there was nothing to be scared of in the woods.
The youngest was slower, but smaller. He darted through the tall, thin trees. Jumped over the stones and branches that littered the ground, laughing all the while. The oldest was faster, but took more care; he had scuffed his knees more times than he could count. He jumped onto a wayward log, arms held out as he walked across it before jumping off the end. Mud splashed up his leg, so he jumped once more and continued on his way, the youngest looping through the trees ahead.
The woods had always been quiet. The oldest often went hunting for rabbits with his father, chased foxes through the underbrush those early mornings they were spotted by the hen houses. But there was something different that morning. The woods weren’t just quiet, they were still. No birds flew through the trees, no branches rustled. But still, they ran on.
There was an old house down by the creek at the edge of the woods. It used to belong to a man and his wife until one day it didn’t. His father said the couple had moved on, but the eldest always believed they had died, and no one wanted to tell him. The house had stayed empty ever since; white walls with the window frames painted a bright yellow. A thatched roof, and a chimney with a bird’s nest on top.
They splashed their way down the length of the creek that ran past the house, jumping from stone to creek bed. The water was cold, but they didn’t mind. The old house sat in the distance, looking as interesting as it always did.
Something moved in the window.
The eldest stood in the creek, the water rippling past his boots as he stared. Something moved, right? He waded out of the water and onto the sloping bank, the house a stone’s throw away. The youngest kept splashing, shrieks of laughter every time he jumped. Beware the woods.
Was it one of the other children in the village? Or was it just his imagination? The eldest pulled his coat down with determination and stomped towards the house. He took four steps before he slowed. Why was he going to check? It wasn’t his business if someone was inside. What if it was simply new people? Or some of the older boys waiting to scare him again. He closed his eyes, rubbed them, and opened them again. Light danced in his vision. Something moved.
The laughter had stopped.