“Ooh, I love a chance to do a little fantasy writing!”
It was that woodland gate you pass every day on the way to work. The one with the sign reading; ‘Danger – no unauthorised access!’ The gate that nobody ever went through or emerged from. The mysterious, forbidden place you just had to explore.
Today was that day. Rhys pulled on his cargo pants. He thought they should be called baggy trousers with pockets. They always poked and stuck out all over the place. He loaded the pockets with his penknife and compass, a small torch, and some chewing gum.
Putting a khaki jacket over his black shirt, he left his home and set off down the lane.
On an ordinary morning, he’s be headed to college. Today he didn’t go as far as the bus stop before he arrived at the gate.
“Time to find out what secrets you hide,” he said to himself while scanning the mud track which disappeared into the linden and silver birch trees.
“You’re not going in there are you?”
The feminine voice made Rhys flinch. He turned and smiled at a blonde girl somewhere near his nineteen years of age. He thought she looked cute wearing those little denim shorts with the flower motif. A slice of her belly was visible beneath her white vest. Her ponytail resting on the shoulder of the blue bolero cardigan made her almost irresistible to him.
“I have to. This something mysterious in this forbidden forest. I just have to know what is,” he said while trying to look confident. “I’m Rhys by way.”
“Ugh, stupid boys!” the girl smiled while readjusting her Bluetooth headset, “I’m Keeley. I was going for a walk around the park. You can join me if you like. It’ll be safer there.”
“Ugh, girls. Always being sweet and safe,” Rhys mocked.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist.” Rhys felt his feet trying to go in different directions. His left, enchanted by Keeley and ready to walk everywhere she was. His right preparing to climb the gate and explore.
“It’s okay. You coming?” Keeley nodded her head in the most alluring way.
Rhys planted a foot on the gate and vaulted into a seated position on the top rail. “My heart desires to follow you everywhere. However, I have to see what’s in here. I’d love it if you’d join me,” he replied while holding a hand out toward her.
“But then we’d both get in trouble,” Keeley frowned.
“Well, no fun getting in trouble alone.”
Keeley seemed to think for a moment. Then nodding, she took his hand and scrambled over the gate.
Rhys jumped down beside her and smiled, “Thank you, you just made this a special adventure.”
“Aww, you’re a sweetie.” Keeley took a deep breath and gave the woods a suspicious glance. “I hope there’s nothing dangerous in here.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” Rhys felt buff as they set off down the track.
“You better. My dad will kill you, not me if anything happens!”
“Oh, shit! Why do I get the feeling he’s like a seven-foot-tall wrestler, all of a sudden!” Rhys gave her a sideways look as I followed the track around a bend. At that point, all sounds of the road vanished. It was as if nothing existed beyond the woodland from then on.
Keeley giggled, “He’s not that bad. I haven’t seen my last boyfriend since he sorted him out for hurting me —”
Something crackled in the woods.
Rhys took his penknife from his baggy trousers as he studied the gloomy green world beneath the tree canopy. Spurs of sunlight sparkled upon flies and bees lazily hovering above the undergrowth. Seeing nothing ominous, he felt a question on his lips, “Are you insinuating I’m your boyfriend now?”
“We’ll see?” Keeley grinned. “First you have to be a gentleman and get me out of here alive!”
“The pleasure will be all mine, milady,” Rhys tipped an imaginary hat.
The two giggled as they walked on, always following the track as it meandered through the forest.
Just as Rhys was beginning to think this was nothing more than a private forest made to look dangerous to keep people from trespassing, the track split.
“Hmm, which way?” Keeley placed her hands on her hips while switching her eyes between the left and right forks.
Rhys looked from her to the track. It was just occurring to him there were no vehicle marks present. No indication of humans ever coming this way. Yet there was something. “Look —” he pointed to small bare footprints.
“Those are weird looking!”
“No kidding!” Rhys crouched. “They’re smaller than mine but oddly wide. We should follow them.”
“Okay, but we need to be careful.” Keeley’s voice trembled, betraying her fear.
Rhys rose and took her hand, “Come on.”
Leading the way, he enjoyed the feeling of her nestling close to him. He was glad she was there. The sensation of eyes watching, following him through the trees left him feeling unnerved. Her presence was all that stopped him running, not that he’d tell her that.
The path continued between rhododendrons. Potent smelling honeysuckle was rampantly climbing over yew trees in this area.
Soon the eerie woodland began to lighten as the canopy thinned into a clearing. Oxeye daisies grew here amid meadowsweet and campion flowers.
Rhys picked a stunning yellow and white daisy. “For you,” he said as he tucked it into her ponytail. “Beautiful!”
“Thank you, sweet-ahh!” Keeley flinched and backed into him. “W-whats that?”
Rhys followed her direction and gasped.
Rising out of the grasses at the edge of the clearing was a monstrosity. Carved from the remains of an ancient tree, was it a humanoid being. It was roughly the size and shape of an average human teenager. Yet its disproportionate muscles and facial features were closer to that of a gorilla. A five-petal flower not unlike the daisy was carved into its chest.
“Whoa! That’s weird,” he said as his feet lead him closer.
“Is it some kind of forest spirit, do you think?” Keeley asked as they came to a stop in front of it.
“I think it’s time people started reading warning signs and stayed out of places they’re forbidden to be in,” answered a new voice.
“I’m sorry, I love forests and I couldn’t resist finding out what was in this one. It’s not her fault. I made —” Rhys had turned to face him, instinctively putting his body between the newcomer and Keeley to protect her. Nothing and nobody stood there. “— her come with me.”
“So, you wish for me to let her free while I kill you for trespassing?” The voice came from the opposite direction.
Rhys spun again, “Nobody has to die. You can just let us leave. We’ve seen nothing but trees,” Rhys glanced about him mystified. “I can’t even see you. If you must punish, please punish me and let Keeley go.”
“Humans cannot see past the end of their noses half the time. The other half of the time, they see only what they want to see regardless of the horrors which lay before them.”
“Please,” Keeley began.
“Stop your begging. You’re giving me an earache!”
“Sorry. Look, I came in willingly. Rhys is being gallant but we both trespassed and we’re both sorry,” Keeley squeezed Rhys’s hand.
He looked into her eyes, and at that moment, he saw being. “It’s behind you,” he whispered.
There in the shadows, it stood like a living tree.
Keeley spun into Rhys’s arms.
The being vanished in a cloud of leaves. “You stumbled upon an ancient reservation today. One of the last safe places for fae-folk.”
“You saying you’re a fairy?” Keeley questioned.
“Fae-folk are more than just fairies. We are tree spirits, goblins, elves and so much more.”
“No wonder you want to kill us,” Rhys sighed, his shoulders sagging with the enormity of the situation. “If the humans realised you live here they would tear the woodland down to catch you. They’d want to subject you to hideous experiments and exterminate you as they do to so many of Earth’s precious creatures.”
“Quite. The humans do know I exist. Certain ones anyway. They created the no trespassing signs to keep me safe.”
“Are you alone here then?”
“Not at all, Keeley. There are many of us here. Very few choose to ourselves humans. Some of us must protect the secret.” The being stepped from the woods like a gangly teenager gorilla created by a woodcarver with no grasp of anatomy.
“I understand. My death is worth your survival,” Rhys said.
“Mine’s not. I have lots to live for. Let us pretend we never saw you. We’ll leave and never come back,” Keeley offered.
“It’s no use. He has to kill us,”
“Not too bright, is he?” said the being winking at Keeley.
She grinned, “He’s a typical boy.”
“When you’re both done insulting me. Would you care to tell me what’s going on?”
“If Owlsey was going to kill you. He’d have done it before you even realised he was here.”
Rhys gasped at Keeley. “Wait! You know his name?”
Keeley nodded. The air around her began to shimmer with pink sparkles. Her clothing transformed into an enchanting dress of woven silver birch bark.
Rhys watched her ears rise into cute points, “I don’t believe it. You’re an elf?”
“Yes, Hominus-Elvira. Part human and part elf. I can transform between the two at will. We’ve been watching you growing interested in this place.”
Owlsey rolled his eyes. “She fell in love with you.”
Rhys shook his head. “Now, it all makes sense. Your previous boyfriend had to disappear because he threatened to reveal who you are, right?”
Keeley giggled, “No, I never had a boyfriend. I was testing you to see if you would care for me. I’d like you to be my first boyfriend. Owlsey is my forest guardian. He’s here to ensure my choice in boys is safe. So, will you be my boyfriend?”
Rhys thought for a few moments. Sure beat dating a normal human girl anyway, “I accept. Wait until my parents hear about this!”
“I can forget about not killing you, you know!” Owlsey said making claws of his chubby fingers.
Rhys laughed, “Just kidding!”
“Good,” Keeley reached in and kissed him. “I’m going to enjoy you being part of my world.”
Holly Ward Investigates, The Steam Train is available to order on E-book and paperback now!
Thanks for reading my friends.
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