He stood slowly at the sound of pattering feet and giggling. A faint tinkling sound that flitted past his ears. He removed his gardening gloves and let them fall next to the plant he had been tending.
He gazed into the woods behind the house. The yard faded into tall trees and engulfing foliage. The wind whispered words through the straining branches. Dense, the canopy allowed no light to shine through.
Shadows writhed beneath trembling leaves. Occasionally a bird would wing its way between the trees, quickly disappearing from view within the darkness. Sounds muffled from between thick trunks, strange and distorted as they emerged.
His fingers clenched into fists, his muscles tense, but he made his way closer. When he was a child, he had never paid much attention to the woods. The low fence that separated the yard from the forest had held all authority, and he had never questioned its statement.
Recently, though, he had found himself staring into its depths with a scarily strong intensity. Sometimes he would blink back to awareness, his body stiff from remaining still for so long. He would glance at his watch and realize that he had spent hours gazing into the crooning darkness.
A shiver raced along his spine and he paused just shy of the white picket fence that now barely reached his waist. Again he heard the giggling, and for a moment he swore he saw something glimmer within the depths of the trees. He squinted, leaning forward, balancing himself with his hands braced against the wooden fence.
Something danced within the woods. Something that glowed brightly. A familiar light. One he had seen time and again. One that he had used in the garden his whole life.
He raised his hand in front of his face, and breathed. Golden swirls answered his call, sparking across his fingers, curling around his thumb. Slowly, his breath catching as he saw the other light pause, he reached his hand forward.
The light in the forest stilled, and for a moment he feared it would disappear. But instead it began to draw nearer. It was slow, like a mouse that knew the cat could not be far off. Or perhaps a predator that did not wish to scare off its prey. It walked a path that was almost invisible. Giant tree roots and shrubs concealed most of it, but he could see the small stones that lined the way.
The sun above encouraged the beads of sweat that crawled down his neck and past the neck of his shirt. His mother’s warnings echoed inside his head, urging him to back away, to return home. This was not safe. Whatever was in that forest was dangerous. It was no place for him to be playing. But his hand did not retract.
Closer it wove, hesitating at every inch. And at one point, it almost disappeared when his arm had begun to tire and he had allowed it to drop slightly. He hadn’t moved it since, despite the burning felt in his muscles.
His breaths came quicker as it approached the edge of the trees. He could almost make out a shape hidden in the shadows of the light. Lithe, delicate, it made no sound as it moved. It paused in the last of the shadows, wavering as it contemplated.
He stopped breathing momentarily, did not even blink as he waited. His heart fluttered like a startled bird’s frantic wings. He felt like he had waited for ages for this. What it was, he had no idea, but he knew that he needed to know. He needed to understand what it was that had him gazing for hours into the woods. What it was that had captured his mind so easily.
“Honey?” His mother’s voice had him jerking around, the light in his hand sputtering out.
He glanced back, and saw to his dismay that whatever it was, was now gone. He felt disappointment push his shoulders downwards, and for a brief moment, something ugly and dark, something resentful reigned as he glanced at his approaching mother. If she had not called his name, if she had not come, he could have gotten his answers. If she had not-
He saw the concern that she could not hide, the fear that lingered at the back of her eyes. Her gaze darted between him and the forest.
“Are you alright? You’ve been standing there for a while now…” Her voice was as unsteady as the hand that reached out, hesitating to cup his cheek, as if fearing it would disappear if she moved too quickly. In that moment, she seemed so frail. So noticeably mortal that it hurt. The lines on her face were prominent, highlighted by the white glow of her aged hair in the sunlight.
He felt his face soften as he held her hand in his. “I was simply lost in thought,” he replied with a smile. “Shall I help you prepare lunch?” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and guided her back towards the house.
She nodded. “If you please. These old hands of mine are not quite as good at dicing as they used to be.”
“Nonsense,” he laughed as he held one of her wrinkled appendages in his own. “You are young as ever!”
“Such a dear you have always been,” she chuckled, though it lacked the confidence she used to have. Her eyes drifted to the side as they climbed the stairs to the house. She saw the forest sway, the wind pull. She heard the promise she had made so many years ago, and she felt its weight tug at her. Soon, she knew, she would be unable to deny it. The day would come when she would have to let go.
But for now, she smiled at her son, she would hold on. Because she wanted to be selfish. Just a bit longer.
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