The forest was dark, melding in with the starless sky. The trees rustled softly, the night breeze breaking the unfathomable silence. It was no place for young women, especially those sneaking out to see their questionably older boyfriends.
Her coat, cardinal red, hid her black lace corset. She had styled the look with the sole purpose of tying in her newly acquired knee-high black platform boots. And of course, to lock in Chase. In her mind, she had completed the desired goal. 'Goth Chic', all the way, she thought as she carefully applied her now signature ‘Scarlet Moon’ double gloss lipstick. Puckering her lips to the bathroom mirror, she winked a heavily made-up hazel eye at her own visage before barking goodbye to her mother. She grabbed her rucksack, already filled with alibi cookies, and sauntered out of the rickety front door.
Living in such isolation on the edge of the Garnet forest, she had grown up well enough. Free to roam the land, assured in her footing. But it had also given her the wildness of the moon and a deep yearning for more than the damp earth.
At barely sixteen, boyfriends were still forbidden, unfairly, she thought, considering it was, after all, the 21st century. But her mother, having given birth to her only child out of wedlock at the same age, wasn’t taking any chances. They had moved to the forest to escape the temptations and trappings of the city. A new life for the young protector and her baby daughter.
And so Kamala had resorted to her teenage ingenuity to bypass what she perceived as draconian smothering. And her grandmother was a handy cover story.
She had met Chase at school. Well, not so much at, but after. He led the school clubs. Not long out of university, he had returned to Maikoh Heights, his old high school, to earn some much-needed cash before figuring out what to do with a philosophy degree.
In a moment of uncharacteristic spontaneity, she had signed herself up for ‘The Chess Society’. Having never been popular – well, in fact, having never really had a friend to speak of – she liked the idea of learning strategy and figured that life among the so-called ‘geeks’ might at least give her some semblance of social interaction, albeit slight.
He was the club manager. Of course. There was something about his dusky, contemplative eyes that had instantly tapped into her secluded spirit. He was both lost and found, together and broken in a way that she too had felt throughout her life in the forest. He was, for all intents and purposes, the only male she had ever encountered who had ever bothered to engage.
"Hi there, goblin girl," he had said, nonchalantly, easily. "Fancy a game?" tipping his pointed chin towards the table in the center of the room. Others might have been offended by his choice of salutation. She, however was not.
He was all charm.
Their relationship had played out on the monochrome squares, pawn for pawn, until the fall of the queen. She lost more than she won. In fact, she never won, but that only lured her more towards him. He made her feel as if she had. He made her feel like a worthy victor.
Chess became Chase, and lingering after evenings a little later than the rest, the inevitable came to pass.
Grandmother became an expedient cover story. The end game. But not the entire game.
For months they had met at the same clearing. The inner atrium of the forest where the moon filters light into a cascade of gold, protected by a battalion of ancient oaks. They had carved their names in eternity on the heart of the largest trunk. They had talked sometimes, but often just held each other, his hands straying a little further each time. She had resisted.
But tonight, as they embraced under the shifting glow of darkness, she could feel his chest muscles vibrating under the strain of his heart. Pound for pound. Beating into her. More vigorously than usual. His eyes seemed more intense, alive somehow. Yet darker, his pupils dilated. Instinct told her to run. Innocence and delusions of love told her to stay.
Grabbing her violently, he tore wildly at her clothes, ripping her coat with his teeth. She screamed, but her voice gave way to the clutches of fear. Silence could not help her any more than noise. Not in the confines of this heart.
She shoved him with as much strength as she could find.
It wasn’t enough; he hurled her backward into their tree, smashing her head into the rugged bark.
As she fell, she saw it.
The gnarly, matted fur, the silver glint of elongated claws, and the sharp steel of hungry fangs.
She scrambled frantically to her feet as the creature, with precision aim, hit its target.
Chase fell voicelessly to the furrowed ground.
She did not dare look back as she ran headlong through the blackness, her chest pulsating as her soul navigated the betrayal. She could not hear him behind her. Only her own feet pounding the shrouded earth, hacking through the reticence. And her pain. Caustic, screaming into nothing.
The route was subconsciously ingrained. Like a migrating bat, she flew past the elm that marks the beginning of Devil’s Lair, past the Torak bridge, and further through the sunflower orchard. Heads slumped forward under the penetrating gaze of an intoxicating moon.
It wasn’t until she reached the ramshackle wrought-iron gate that her thoughts turned breathlessly to Chase. She stopped herself before it could become cemented memory.
She stumbled painstakingly up the cobbled path before gently easing herself through the unlocked door.
As she tiptoed across the bare wood of the hallway floor, she noticed the faint flicker of candle flame coming from the doorway of the living room.
“I’ve been waiting for you, my dear.”
Inhaling, she composed herself, then walked towards the voice.
“Grandma Ylva…" She stopped dead in her tracks. "What the f…" Hesitating, “W-what in the world happened to you?”
Her usually composed grandmother was splayed half on and off the paisley sofa. Her usually neat grey hair was dishevelled and falling across her forehead. Her left arm was bleeding into a floral cushion.
Her glasses were missing. And her eyes were frantic, glazed with an eerie yellow glow.
They were eyes she had seen before.
“I could say the same about you,” Grandma retorted.
Kamala, desperately searching for an alternative truth where none was to be found, began to speak, "I..I.."
“Hush, child! Clean me up for heaven’s sake!” she held out a bony arm, “And when you’ve done that, clean yourself up!”
She did not move.
“What, Grandma? Nothing happened is all. Remember this, dear If I teach you nothing at all before I die. Remember this."
She sat bolt upright.
'Us women need to stick together. There’s wolves in them woods!”