If You Go Down To The Woods Today
dark flash fiction
Author's Note: This short story doesn't have a nice tidy ending but instead is open-ended. If that's not your thing, feel free to read something else! ~ C
The book read like gibberish until Silvia found one word – the word that changed her destiny in the first place.
She had been looking through books for hours and they sat in piles all around her. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, not until she came across the page and she froze, her heart pounding painfully in her ears and chest. She felt hot and her skin prickled. Then suddenly gripped by an icy chill that swept through her entire body.
The word stared back at her like a dark eye in a bleached skull. Sylvania. She knew a Sylvania. It was who she was named after, after all.
But it couldn't be Sylvania. Not her Sylvania! It had to be someone else. She sighed long and loud, flipping the cover closed to re-read the words stamped there in flaking gold. She hadn't paid much attention to the titles of any of the books. She just knew she was looking for something, something important even if she didn’t know what. A shiver ran through her as she stared at the title. Like Sylvania's name, one word jumped out at her. Witch.
But that couldn't be possible! Witches didn't exist! If they did, it meant magic existed, and that was impossible. Magic had been banned centuries ago. Everyone knew that. And her grandmother, Sylvania, couldn't be a witch! She could picture her as clearly as if she was standing right in front of her right then, in the narrow gap between two of the book towers. Grandmama was tall and slim. Stately. Kind and soft-spoken. There was no way that her Sylvania could be a witch that knew magic! But she knew in her heart of hearts that it had to be. It would explain why she seemed to have stayed the same for as long as Silvia could remember. She hadn't aged. Not a single strand of her dark brown hair had turned silver, and Silvia knew her grandmother had to be fairly old, even though she wasn’t sure exactly (the women in New Constantine didn’t divulge their age after you turned twenty. It was custom). Silvia had never given it much thought but assumed her grandmother had coloured it.
She stood unsteadily, wiped dust from her hands onto her long skirts, and picked up the lantern that was perched perilously on top of one of the teetering towers.
She wanted to rush out of the library basement where all the dusty, forgotten books in the town were kept with this unbelievable evidence under her arm. But she had no one to tell. Or rather, no one she could tell. And the one person she needed to tell, to ask, to speak to about it and get answers from, Sylvania herself, was nowhere to be found.
At first Silvia thought it strange that her grandmother had suddenly disappeared almost two weeks before. She had never left the town before. She had grown up there, her mother had told her, and she had never left. There was no need to. New Constantine was a bustling, busy city. People came to it from other places, but people who lived there didn’t need to go anywhere else. It had countless factories, a large university, a few different other schools, more than enough churches (and sometimes unnecessarily too many Silvia thought). New Constantine had everything one could wish for.
Except a reason to leave, she thought glumly as she raced up the stairs, causing small eddies of dust to swirl up around her feet with the swishing of her skirts.
When she pushed open the heavy wooden doors of the main entrance, cool night air hit her like a slap, and her pale cheeks brightened with a rush of blood. She looked up into the half-moon that was shining as brightly as half a moon could on a clear cloudless night. Two weeks ago, the day that she realized her grandmother was missing, Silvia noticed that there had been no moon at all. She had asked her mother why she couldn’t see any moon, and her mother explained that Sylvania had always said that the moon had died and that it would be reborn again, as a new moon.
She had gone to Sylvania’s small cottage, in the rundown part of town that was humid with steam and oil and grease, to ask her about the new moon and its death and rebirth, but she found her grandmother’s house empty, the door unlocked. She had searched the house, but found no trace.
Silvia tucked the book securely under her arm and squeezed through crushing masses of people to reach the narrow ramshackle building that her grandmother had called home for all the years she had known her. She hadn’t seen her since she had disappeared, but she had to look.
She was surprised to find the door ajar. Her grandmother never locked it when she was home. Her heart jumped into her throat, hope flooded her. Had she returned?
Silvia stepped inside, her small feet squeaking ever so slightly on the wooden floor. “Grandmama?” she called softly, anxious. “Are you here?”
She tiptoed around the table that took up most of the small living room, heading towards the kitchen, Sylvania’s favourite place – she was always doing something with pots and pans, oftentimes something foul-smelling. But the kitchen was empty, all pans and pots hanging neatly where they should as if they had never been touched.
She felt a weight crushing her chest, squeezing out what little hope she had allowed inside.
A thin, watery ray of moonlight filtered through the grime of the single window. Suddenly that ray was blotted out by shadow that filled the room.
“Silvia.” The voice was harsh, loud and unfamiliar. The book, Witches and Other Monsters, fell with a loud clatter on the ground. Silvia glanced over her shoulder. A massive wolf, equal parts shadow and grey fur filled the room. She screamed.
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