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The Bride's Forest

no longer...

By Cathryn DennisonPublished 4 years ago 13 min read

“Boo!” I nearly jumped out of my skin as Tommy screamed and jumped on me before I started to hit him off of me.

“Get off, meat-puppet!” I groaned, shrugging him off of me as Josh and Steve started chuckling from behind us. Tommy laughed even as I shoved him off; probably because it took nearly all of my strength.

“Aw. Scared already, Keith?” He laughed, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and tussling my hair. Frowning, I threw his hand off of me as we kept walking through the dark and damp woods. I wish they would shut up already. Our feet against the leaves were already making enough noise to be heard from the next county over.

“No!” I whisper-yelled, walking ahead of them to prove I wasn’t, but I stayed a few feet away from them to not get lost. “I’m here aren’t I?” Though I’d rather pay a thousand bucks not to be. These woods have always freaked me out.

Josh chuckled lightly before patting my back as he caught up to me. “Come on, man. It’s a right of passage. If you want to get the team’s blessing, you’ve gotta do it.” Next to Tommy, my brother, Josh has known me the longest, and he probably could tell that I was on the verge of wimping out.

I shrugged, trying to play cool as if I didn’t care. “I’m here, and I still say it’s a load. I highly doubt all of you had to do this kind of hazing when you made the team.” We kept walking deeper and deeper into the woods as they kept trying to hype me up. They kept saying nothings going to happen, and they’ll be nearby the entire time.

It wasn’t even five minutes before they stopped walking and handed me the flashlight and bouquet of red roses as Tommy got into his whole spiel of ‘tradition’ while holding his lantern in the air. The others watched, their faces reflecting the mood and eerieness.

“We come here, to the Bride’s Forest, on the night of the new moon. For the past two hundred years, these woods have been owned and haunted by the Madame. We all know the story of the Madame…” The others nodded while I was trying not to focus on the sounds of the leaves crunching from the wind.

“She was a brothel owner right here in our home town. More specifically, her husband owned the building, and she ran the business. One day, she found her husband with one of the girls, and in a fit of jealous rage, she burned the brothel down. The only thing that survived the fire was her metal chest of memories, and inside, her wedding dress.” Tommy’s voice started to get eerily quiet as the wind started to calm down, silencing the forest and putting me even more on edge.

“Taken over by grief and guilt, she put the dress on and entered these very same woods, where she and her husband were married, and searched for him, thinking he would be there waiting for her again. But she never found him. To this day, her spirit searches for her husband. That is how we test our own courage.”

Tommy grinned at me as he handed me the lantern finally before he and the others took a step back, ready to finally leave me while my heartbeat could challenge a rabbits’ and win. “Everyone knows the Bride approaches men when they are alone in these woods. If you see her, you have to be careful to not anger her, or your soul will burn like her late husband's. You have to stay here for one hour before finding your way back.”

I tried to put on the bravest face I could, one where I didn’t seem to care at all, and I nodded. Josh waved with a small grin. “Good luck. See you back at the house.”

“Or will we?” Tommy said in a fake ghost voice. Rolling my eyes, I flipped him off before they continued to walk back the way we had come. I stayed planted where I was, the center of the forest, while I listened for as long as I could to their footsteps.

A part of me was trying to make sure that they weren’t going to double back in a cheap attempt to scare me, but...there was an even bigger part of me who was hoping they would so I wouldn’t actually be alone.

Their footsteps were loud and heavy on account of their size and shoes; they were all die-hard football players, after all. So, I could hear them for a little while, but...their footsteps shortly disappeared except for the faintest sounds of leaves crunching and twigs snapping.

A few more gusts of wind kicked up, making it even harder to hear them and giving me a chill in the process. I cursed the weather silently, wishing for it to go away quickly so I can focus on the one sense I still had a decent amount left: my hearing. Finally, after a few minutes, the wind died down. Although, it was completely silent now.

There were no footsteps. No sounds of leaves crunching. No twigs were snapping. It was just me, my lantern, and the now calm winds. It was so cool out, the insects were silent, and there weren’t many animals in these woods on account of how close they were to the town. You might be lucky enough to see a deer or two in the area, but the regular hunting season made them skittish enough to stay away most of the time.

After a few minutes, I gave up trying to hear something that wouldn’t come. They would have scared me by now, and they wouldn’t have had enough time to make it back here quietly when the wind was blowing earlier.

Willing myself to try and relax, I walked over to a fallen tree and sat down, not wanting to stand the whole time but also hating the loud sounds I was making to get as comfortable as I could while I had to wait.

I can’t believe they made every new member of the team do this. I was hoping that because I was Tommy’s brother, they would let it slide for me, too. I guess Tommy wasn’t about to let that happen, though. He’s always teased me about being too scared to go into these woods ever since we were little. I couldn’t help it, though. I always got the strangest feeling from this place...like something was watching me.

Just as I thought that, there was the fainting sound of...something...It was so soft but happened so fast that I was instantly on edge and alert, trying to hear anything and everything around me. My brain played the sound back in my head, trying to decipher where it came from and what it was.

It sounded like...fluttering...like...wings maybe? It seemed to come from in front of me and stop just ahead of me. Looking up, I tried to use the lantern to see, but it was no use. This cheap thing wasn’t worth the thirty dollars Tommy had spent at the sporting goods store at our mall. I couldn’t even see more than a few feet in front of me. Why’d they have to give me a lantern instead of a flashlight?!

Tradition, Tommy’s teasing answer rang through my head. Tradition sucks.

I waited and waited for another sound. Movement. Anything. Maybe it was just a bat or a bird. It would make sense with what it sounded like. And it didn’t sound like it was on the ground either…

I tried to force my inner anxiety down with rationality, but too many thoughts were running through my brain at a speed that just made it feel like I’d be spending the next decade in these woods.

Then, another sound made me jerk my head in the same direction again. Leaves were crunching in the distance. I heard...footsteps. They didn’t sound close at all. I probably was forcing all of my hearing to become near superhuman quality just to pick up the sound.

Putting the lantern behind me, I willed my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Maybe I could see whoever it was walking by. It was probably one of the guys...but...what if it wasn’t? What if it was the Bride? Would she come over here? Should I put the lantern out?

The footsteps continued, but I still couldn’t see too much further ahead of me. Then, I saw a little flash of movement in the tree in front of me. My eyes darted up, and just a few feet away was a barn owl. It was perched on the lowest branch and staring straight at me. Its black eyes seemed to be looking straight into my soul, sending chills through me far more than these cool winds ever could.

I felt frozen in place until...it started to screech, the pitch and volume making me jump out of my skin. It was only for a second before there was nothing but silence again. No more footsteps. No crunching leaves. Nothing…

Until, the footsteps in the distance quickly continued, coming closer and closer to me. I panicked and grabbed my lantern, ready to forget this stupid tradition and any teasing that would come from me not staying another minute alone in the forest; even if those footsteps were from Tommy, Josh, or Steve.

I took a few steps away, but it felt like whoever was coming after me had lightning speed and was right beside me. My heart pounded as the adrenaline rushed through me before I felt something push into me and shove me to the ground.

Leaves crunched as I landed on my stomach, hearing a soft, uncomfortable groan before more leaves rustled and softer footsteps rushed over to me before I could get up. “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” Raising my head quickly, I was instantly floored as I saw a young girl, probably around my age, was reaching her hand out to me.

I couldn’t help but feel instantly relieved. It wasn’t the Bride. I was just letting my fear get the better of me again. Putting my hand in her cool ones, she helped me up and brushed me off after picking up my lantern. All the while, she was ranting with tears in her eyes. “It’s so dark out here, and I only just moved here. I got lost, and when I heard that owl, I got even more scared.”

I shook my head, relief still washing through me as my adrenaline was taking a little to wear off. “It’s okay. Really. I’m fine.” I looked over her. “Are you okay? You weren’t hurt right?” She was wearing a really big and puffy fur coat; clearly not a faux one by the look and feel of it. I’m surprised her hands were so cold when she had such a nice coat. Maybe it was because she was wearing what looked like a thin, white skirt underneath her coat? Her legs were probably cold.

Shaking her head, she smiled gently, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “No, I’m alright.”

I nodded, a little concerned and worried. I looked around, wondering if she had friends near here. “Are your friends nearby?” She shook her head, looking more upset. Feeling a little awkward, I held my hand out to her, nodding towards the way I had come. “It’s okay. I know the way out. I can show you. My name is Keith, by the way.”

Looking relieved and a little scared, she nodded. “Thanks. I’m Mary.” As she took my hand, I raised my lantern and started leading us out of the woods, grateful that I had an excuse not to spend one more second in here. “So, Keith, why were you alone in the middle of the woods?” She asked, sounding like she desperately didn’t want to listen to the silence around us.

I chuckled, trying to seem confident and put her mind at ease. “It’s sort of a tradition. A test of courage the football team does to see if you’re tough enough to earn your place on the team.”

“That’s a little stupid. It’s dark, cold, and you could get hurt out here! I fell and nearly hurt myself by the stream before I found you.” She seemed a little hurt and angry.

I shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, but my brother did it, and he’s always telling me I need to toughen up. That’s why I joined the football team. Though, I don’t really like to play that much.” I helped her over a fallen tree carefully, eager to change the subject. “What about you? What were you doing out here?”

She grimaced before landing over the log and stopping. Sighing, she looked down at my hand. “I was going to break up with my boyfriend...but my parents said they’d disown me if I did. They want me to marry him, and he’s just...the worst. I got upset and ran off.”

I frowned before rubbing her back, trying to comfort her. “I’m sorry, Mary. Your parents sound like jerks.” She chuckled and nodded, giving a small smile.

“The biggest.” We continued to walk, and now, we were probably halfway to the edge of the forest. “I want to go back and tell them how awful he is to me, but I’m afraid they won’t believe me. They think he walks on water, and that he’s my prince charming. He cheats on me, and he’s hit me.” She was starting to cry.

Stopping again, I gave her a gentle hug, though I didn’t know why. I was normally very shy and awkward around girls. The traits of a teenager, I guess. Still, I felt like my body was moving without me even thinking about it. “Hey, it’s okay. Your family will understand. They shouldn’t have to force you to do something you don’t want to do. Just talk with them, and tell them how you really feel.”

After a few minutes, she calmed down and hugged me back before shyly pulling away. “Thanks, Keith. I think I really needed to hear that.”

I smiled and nodded. “Any time.” Nodding, I put on a big smile to try and reassure her. “We’re almost near the edge. Let’s get out of here.” Agreeing, we held hands again before we continued to walk out of the forest.

Just as we saw the edge and the street lights peaking through them, I couldn’t help but release my sigh of relief at the sight as Mary let go of my hand and did the same. Looking back at her, I gave a small smile while we took slow, careful steps towards the edge. There were a lot of large sticks and more fallen trees here than the rest of the woods.

“You know, if you don’t feel like seeing your parents just yet, you can come back with me, my brother, and my friends. We were gonna hang out, maybe watch a movie, and play some video games.”

She smiled and shook her head. “No, I think I’m ready to see my parents. I’m still a little scared that they’ll be mad at me or disappointed...but it feels like forever since I’ve seen them and being lost in these woods has been a nightmare.” Reaching forward, she gave me a quick hug. “Thank you so much, Keith. I hope you and your brother will get a chance to talk things through. You should tell him how you feel about football.”

I gave a small hug back, feeling a little more confident. “Thanks, Mary.” As she pulled away, I gave a weak smile, feeling like I wanted to keep talking to her. “Hey, do you want me to walk you home? It’s pretty dark.”

She shook her head with an amused smile. “No, thanks. I know the way now, and I wouldn’t want you to get lost, too. I’ll be okay now.”

Before I could say anything, I heard Tommy’s voice call out. “Keith! There you are! Where the hell have you been?!” Turning around, I saw the guys running over with their flashlights looking relieved and worried at the same time.

I frowned, confused. “In the woods, obviously. Sorry. I didn’t stay in for the full hour, but she was lost and needed help.” I said, nodding to Mary behind me as Tommy rushed up to me first, looking over me as if he expected me to be maimed.

“Who was?” I looked behind me to gesture to Mary...but she was gone. It was like she had vanished. I craned my head to see if she was hidden behind a tree or already walking to the main road, but...the trees here were way too thin. There was no one by or at the road. She was just...gone.

“Keith, you’ve been gone for three hours!” Steve all but screamed in a panic, and I shook my head, confused.

“No, I was only in there a half-hour,” I mumbled as I fumbled with my phone to check the time.

“No, bro. You’ve been in there for three hours. We went back twenty minutes after the deadline, and you weren’t there. We looked for you, and we called your name, but there were no signs of you.”

As I listened to Josh’s rampant explanation, I stared at my phone in disbelief. I really was gone for three hours. But...I had stayed on the main path of the forest, and I hadn’t moved from the spot. I hadn’t heard any of them, either. They had to be messing with me.

Frowning, I looked straight at Tommy who was looking at me for answers. “Is this some sort of prank?” I asked, getting angry.

Tommy shook his head, looking furious and scared at the same time. “I was about to ask you the same thing.” Sighing angrily, he nodded to his phone. “Come on. Mom and dad have been texting me nonstop. We gotta get home now.”

Thoughts of getting grounded or in worse trouble crossed my mind and we booked it home, but as we ran the rest of the way out of the woods, I looked back. I definitely didn’t imagine Mary...my hand was still cold from hers…

That’s when I remembered the name of the Bride as I started to rethink everything she had said and how she looked...The Bride’s name was Mary.

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    Cathryn DennisonWritten by Cathryn Dennison

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