Fragrant scents of Jasmine overpowered the cool evening breeze, sending the heady perfume through the sinewed trunks of the ancient trees silently watching my fumbled footsteps in their forest home. My shoes were not made for the uneven ground and I stumbled yet again on an unseen root sticking out from the slick moss covered path.
At last, a glimmer of light twinkled in the distance. The forest held its breath as I weaved through to my final destination, Grandmother Tree. Her wide, gnarled trunk hid a secret passage to the other realms, an escape from the world I existed in everyday. The light grew brighter as I stumbled over yet another hidden root, nearly ripping the long cloak I wore to protect the soft silk gown draped over my cold skin in soft fluted layers, perfect for the Masquerade ball.
A twig snapped behind me and I stopped. Listen! Another crunch closer still, this time heavier steps accompanying the death of the twig. They were close. I drew the hood of my cloak over my head, covering my body with its blackness that matched the dark shadows of the forest. Muffled voices permeated the wall of trees as I pressed my body as close to Grandmother Tree’s large trunk as possible.
Maybe they were using the portal too. Maybe they just wanted to find their way out of this enchanted forest. Maybe they wanted to slice my throat and retrieve the amulet I wore on a long gold chain, nestled between the curve of my breasts, so that they could break through the realms.
Voices became more distinct; the deep resonance of an older man and the soft squeak of his young companion. A cold shiver slithered down my spine. It was Brogan and the vile Timmins – notorious thieves and murderers, willing to go to any lengths to break through the keeper of the realm’s woven tapestry of worlds. Destroyers of all things beautiful. My worst and most dangerous enemies!
“She must be here, somewhere,” growled Brogan. “I can hear her heart fluttering like a trapped butterfly.” He sniggered, breathing deep. “I can smell the fear like ripe fruit for the picking. Come on Timmins! She’s close.”
Timmins stumbled over an oak’s crafty root, swearing and kicking at the bark of the tree. He rubbed his thin bristly face with long crooked fingers. A tongue swept over blackened teeth as he grinned at his large burly partner.
“Can I play with her when we catch her? You promised Brogan. Let me have her once you get the amulet!”
The whiny voice set my teeth on edge and I hugged the shadows, daring not a breath to give away my hiding place. Thankfully the light had dimmed from the secret door, a slight glimmer as they approached Grandmother tree. The pleasant scent of the night flowers was replaced with a pungent odour of sweat, faeces and sulphur as they stomped past, barely notice the portal door. It hit me like a solid body of disgustingness and I could barely hold still without tearing up. Only the distant stars could escape the smell of these fiends. Their footsteps were swallowed into the night and the smell moved on, leaving the forest to release its breath and for me to collapse against my beloved tree. My chest heaved as I tried to catch my breath without retching.
Slowly, I crept towards the humble light of the portal door, gently moving the baby ferns growing out of the gnarled roots of the tree. The light grew stronger as I pushed the door open, squinting against the brightness. Warmth wrapped itself around my cold limbs and I carefully crept through the small door in the trunk. I had to deliver the amulet to the keeper of the realm before Brogan and his sadistic friend could catch me.
Suddenly a large hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back, ripping the cloak from my shoulders. Sharp pine cones and soft needles dug into my back as I landed with a hard thump against the cold earth. My last memory was of my head connecting with a tree trunk and a thin raspy voice cackling in delight…
Part II tomorrow