& the Order of the Dead-Wood Curse
Chloe brushed past hedges of prickly ferns, the taste of blood fresh with every scratch.
“Dragons…Dragons…” she shrieked just as she plowed head first into the soft golden belly of a red-spotted creature; stars filling her eyes just as everything went black.
After what felt like seconds the earthy smell of fresh rain and sweet cedar embers filled Chloe’s nose—in particular, the fragrant scent of a fire just after the flames had all but extinguished. Her mind went back to late nights full of roasted caramel-laden apples and scary stories, but today, this morning was anything but a child-hood dream.
Something soft tickled her nose sending her into a series of painful sneezes before drops of cool water splashed against her face.
She awoke with a start, in the haze were the looming faces of two oversized dragons standing over, tending to her wounds. Panic set in—Chloe was certain she was about to be eaten. The dragons were doing something strange. Were they salting her, rubbing her down with some sort of brine? Preparing to sink their sharpened claws into her fleshy-meat? She stiffened, holding her breath, readying herself for the inevitable.
“Don’t move dear, you hit your head,” began the soft, cooing voice of a lumpy, purple and green dragon named Ursula.
“Quite hard if I must say, almost toppled me over,” the other, red-spotted dragon added.
“My name is Fred, pretty simple, nothing fancy. You met my wife already,” he said, nodding to Ursula—“we were just passing through when you ran into us. Where were you going in such a hurry,” he asked eyeing her suspiciously.
Chloe cleared her throat hesitantly before answering, an obvious lump forming against the drying tears as she spoke in a panicked tone—“there were dragons, hundreds of dragons circling the castle, they’re going to kill us!”
Fred and Ursula looked curiously at each other; there were no other dragons nearby that they knew of. Surely they would have heard the sounds of dragon calls or the fluttering of wings overhead.
“Are you sure? Maybe you bumped your head?” Fred queried, looking back over Chloe's shoulder— no one else was there.
“Or, maybe you saw a gaggle of large birds or a school of flying squirrels or some other winged-creatures floating about. You know, it is gearing up for hunting season and with all the hubbub you never can be sure what is in the woods,” Ursula began, “I mean, look at us for example. Did you ever expect to see two more beautiful creatures as Fred and I? Granted we aren’t exactly ‘dragon material’ but we are dragons by blood,” she added, shaking the layers of her belly into a rippling frenzy.
“Counts for something,” Fred murmured, blowing a kiss Ursula’s way.
Chloe lay awestruck on a pile of freshly turned soil as she watched the two of them playfully banter back and forth, Ursula turning beet red as Fred spoke sweet missives in her direction, her wings fanning her uncontrollably as bits of dust swirled around them catching on the wet spots of mud plastered to Chloe’s face.
“Careful my dear, careful,” Fred laughed, a deep gut-wrenching laugh as he gently brushed Chloe’s cheeks.
“Lucky for you to have landed in my garden,” Fred insisted, his sunny disposition only slightly marred by the putrid smell emanating from his hands—“got you a ruddy good poultice here—made it from my own herbs and flowers. Just added a bit of hearty top soil and we were good to go...but be warned, the smell is awful but your wounds should heal by sun-down,” he added as though that would somehow quell Chloe’s growing disgust.
“You really should be careful out here,” Ursula cautioned as she helped the little girl up.
“The woods aren’t exactly a safe place to be if you’re all alone. How about we help you back home,” Fred motioned, heaving himself upward with the help of his two monstrous wings—each gliding gracefully as though they were made of the finest, most delicate silk.
“Yes, yes, that is a wonderful idea,” Ursula whispered, barely able to contain her excitement.
“We can walk with you, which way do you live?”
“I, I’m not exactly sure,” Chloe gasped, a slight grimace forming on her mud-covered face. She was lost, and not only that, she was in the company of dragons—unfamiliar dragons that may or may not decide to feast on her once they realized she was of no use to them.
Dozens of thoughts ran through Chloe’s mind, most of them bad. Her eyes darted furiously as she looked for any way out of this most recent dilemma.
“My dad’s going to kill me,” Chloe muttered as she made a mad-dash back towards a series of broken and heavily trampled bushes but something heavy stopped her, the weight pushing her deeper and deeper into the cold, fuzzy ground.
“My crawling Petunias,” Ursula cried; the sharp webbing of netted roots caught Chloe by the heels, planting firmly against her bare feet until she could no longer move.
“Solved that problem,” Fred huffed—“she dug them right up for me,” he added in a matter-of-fact tone as Ursula rushed to scoop up the limp pile of dying flowers.
“Ugly, bitter things that kill all my beloved water-blooms and frank-lilies,” Fred continued. The words had barely got out when an eruption of wailing tears exploded from Ursula’s heaping, hunched figure; handfuls of shriveled Petunias in her hands.
“Say you’re sorry,” Ursula howled.
“I’m sorry,” Fred gushed, his wings falling dejectedly at his feet.
“You don’t mean it,” the whimpering cries screeched.
Chloe wondered why Ursula had gotten so upset over something so trivial. The pang of heartache set over her as she felt her feet carry her towards the mountain of shimmering purple and metallic green slumped nearby. Hot tears had formed a river in the trenches Chloe’s feet dug, filling Fred's flower bed with almost a foot of water.
Chloe carefully placed a comforting hand on Ursula’s oversized shoulder.
“It’s okay, don’t be upset. I’m sure my dad can get you some more…” Chloe whispered, her eyebrows cinching together anxiously as she turned back to Fred who had failed to move as he stood once-more towering over Chloe, the look of rejection shadowing his otherwise calming features.
“There are no more,” he said, the words almost lost in the newest onset of Ursula’s cries.
“They were all that were left…” Fred began, a quivering line forming on his lips as they pursed tightly together.
“Left from what,” Chloe asked curiously.
“Nothing, don’t worry about it my dear. It was a silly accident,” Ursula started, wiping remnants of fallen tears from her face.
“It’s just flowers, they can be replaced by something else, for now—we just need to get you home,” she continued, rushing to her feet. Chloe stood off to the side, a feeling of shame washing over her as she felt smaller than the smallest thing imaginable.
“I’m really sorry about your flowers,” Chloe whispered.
“It’s quite alright,” Ursula said, scooping the girl up in a warm embrace—“I forgive you.”
“Alright ladies, now that we’ve made up, let’s get a move on, the skies are changing…” Fred motioned as he shooed Chloe ahead.
Fred had been right to worry; the skies overhead broke in heavy, heaving spells. Blistering drops of rain shattered against their skin as they ran for cover.
“Where’d you say you lived,” Fred yelled over the blustering winds as they huddled against the thickest tree trunks they could find. Leafy branches billowed around them, bobbing wistfully in the air. It was just another day for the woodland inhabitants.
“I live in a castle on the Doldriac Isle; you might have heard of it…Eyensworth Castle…” The winds were so loud Chloe had to shout that last bit out. Now that she thought of it, she had never, ever been this deep into the forest. Her parents had forbid her from ever traveling so far and yet, here she was—wondering how she had managed.
“You know the castle near Duddleroy…” Chloe stammered, “the one with the winged-gates?!” The dragons still looked clueless as they shrugged their shoulders—an air of indifference passing over them as they fought to hold their wings upright, a small measure of comfort to shield them from the pelting ice.
Ursula’s face contorted into the most helpful grimace she could muster, considering. “There aren't any castles nearby…” she began, “either way, I’m sure we can help you, you just have to keep an open mind.”
Ursula shot her wide eyes at Fred as though she expected him to say something—“right, right, sorry,” he began, “but first, there's something we have to show you."
A welling, sinking feeling took over as Chloe’s stomach dropped.
Fred and Ursula led her over to a separate clearing in the woods—a path that looked like it hadn’t been traveled in years.
“We never go this way,” Ursula chided, “it’s been a hundred years or so…but it's close enough to the way you came..."
Chloe turned to look at Fred—“what are you saying…what’s going on."
Fred stopped, his hand resting gently on Chloe’s back—“Chloe, you couldn’t have come from a castle in these woods, it's virtually impossible,” Fred replied—whatever hint of reservation surfaced briefly before leaving the conversation for good; it was time.
“Watch this,” Fred whispered, stepping through a pair of intertwining trees, his wings barely fitting between the tiny gaps as he contorted himself sideways until he disappeared completely. Chloe walked over to where Fred had just been standing; quietly peering behind the trees—nothing was there.
Fred was gone.
“Your turn dear,” Ursula interrupted, practically picking Chloe up, smooshing her shoulders together like an accordion fan as she pushed her nearer the two trees.
“Breathe deep, suck your belly in and wish yourself as thin as a blade of grass,” Ursula cooed, the whimsical tone returning to her voice and for the first time that afternoon Chloe felt a surge of comfort.
“I will be right behind you,” Ursula urged, pushing Chloe through the trees with such force she thought she would break in half.
More wind rushed past, Chloe floated up above a stone castle wall, sharp pointed spikes barely gracing her feet as she hovered by. Clouds of sheep and barrels of hay dotted the bare earth below.
It looked like her castle; there was even a portrait of stained-lead-framed glass gracing the front courtyard, jewel-tones of her family-crest washing over the cobblestones like a rainbow.
Why wasn’t she stopping? She couldn’t stop, Chloe tried to throw herself to the ground as she grasped at the metal grates but her arms wouldn’t budge. Moments later she came to an abrupt halt, pummeling towards the ground; landing inches from Fred’s copper colored feet.
These woods were much darker than the ones they had just been in. Thick reams of fog settled in every nook and cranny, enveloping them in a bone-chilling cold.
“Welcome back,” Fred yelled—a monstrous arm reaching down to help her up.
A loud pop ripped across the otherwise silent woods as Ursula dropped from the sky, her giant wings fully expanded and ballooning in a wild attempt to break her fall.
She landed with a loud thud.
“What good are these if I can’t work them properly,” Ursula sighed, as she flapped the sediment from her patchy wings—“sucks getting old.”
Chloe saw a sly wink dot Fred’s face. “What just happened,” Chloe asked, turning to demand answers.
“Well, you just had your first experience with fickle-firs,” Fred continued as though he was talking about something Chloe should already know about. As it were, Chloe looked even more confused than before, if that was even possible.
“The Quentenium Pestentuous,” Fred whispered over the solemn mood that hung in his heavy eyes.
“Magic my dear, magic,” Ursula cautioned—“enchanted trees can take you wherever you want to go. The one you must have stumbled into led you to our woods, the Abandoned Woods of Frottermeier, a place you can never, ever come to again.”
“Quintarium Pestonium?” Chloe queried curiously in a failed attempt to repeat what Fred had said. It was clear she wasn’t taking Ursula’s warning seriously; in fact, she wasn’t listening at all. In her excited state the words muffled into her ears like a raging ocean spray.
“Quentenium Pestentuous,” Fred repeated, slowly reiterating the pronunciation for Chloe before continuing on absentmindedly—
“Though…you came from a direction I hadn’t ever seen someone come from before, it’s a new one to add to the map,” Fred mused to himself as they walked along. The duo had led Chloe all the way back to the foggy end of the trail.
“You have to do this next part on your own,” Ursula urged, dumping a handful of dead flowers into Chloe’s hands— a sense of trepidation in her voice. “It’s not goodbye but you have to promise you will never, ever, ever try and come back.”
Tears welled from Chloe’s eyes as she held tight to the dried Petunia buds in her hand; they were much bigger than she remembered.
Ursula once more clutched at Chloe’s shoulders as though she was nothing more than a rag-doll, spinning her around and around before pushing her towards a set of arched trees— "remember what I said."
Chloe stumbled backward into the gap, her eyes glued shut as the prickling gush of wind and the sharp ringing of bells signaled the sound of hooves trampling along a nearby cobblestone pathway.
Ursula's voice trailed off. Chloe slowly opened her eyes just before landing— to her relief she was steps away from the familiar rising winged gates— Chloe was finally home.
About the Creator
Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.
& above all—thank you for your time
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