Hello, I'm John.
I wish I could tell you something interesting about myself as an introduction, but I'm really just a boy. Sixteen years old and only getting older, I guess. I live in the forest with my dad. It's nothing amazing. There are plenty of families who grew up here. We're just one of them.
It's kind of like a widespread village. Finding your way around here can be tough for a newcomer, but navigation becomes easy once you've been here for a while. We're only a few minute's walk from our neighbor's house, and the school is near the center of the forest, easy to reach by everyone. If we feel lonely, there's the main village that's actually just a huge market surrounded by smaller homes and inns. It's a two hour walk, though. Most of the tradesmen have caravans and even jeeps to get them to their stores, but with little to no roads, and even fewer places to buy a car, the rest of us have to go by foot.
But yeah, you'd probably be more interested in the other kids. My life is dull and routine. I spend all of my time at home, or more likely in the woods. In fact, I don't talk to the others much. Most of my friends are online, and I don't mind that. As nice as the forest is, it's gets old after a few years. It's even more fun learning about the big cities, and about other cultures through people on the internet.
Oh, but there is one thing that's interesting about my life! Well, you'd probably laugh. Most of the other kids did when I told them. But I dunno, maybe I trust you? You seem like you'd listen.
You see, there's this legend. Or really, many legends with the same idea. They all say that there's a spirit that lives in the forest. Some say it's a frightening monster that eats small children who wander too far from their homes. Others say it takes those children, keeps them as pets. Another legend mentions how the children aren't eaten or kept at all, but instead transformed into little demons to help the spirit watch over the forest.
I wonder why all those stories had to do with lost children. I think it was just to scare us. But old man Harley had another legend that was more to my taste. He said the spirit was in fact, a singing bird. One's whose song could bring life to the dead, and heal those who were hurt. The bird takes care of the forest and keeps the plants lush and the animals breathing. Without it, the forest would fall.
I have my own reasons for believing in this particular legend. A personal one. It's kind of a long story though. Go ahead. Grab a seat. Maybe dad will bring us some cake or something. You can have as much as you want. I am not really fond of the stuff. Anyway...
One day, when I was five or six, I had gotten mad at him, my dad. I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was stress? Everyone was a little high strung that week. All the children were kept on lock down, only allowed to leave the house with a guardian. A kid had gone deep into the forest and never came out. I know. Another lost child story. Go figure.
I don't know who he was, but his absence gave the folks around here quite a scare.
Maybe it was by that kid's influence, but that night I decided to run away. I wasn't used to being told to stay still. I hated every second of being stuck at home. And besides, the forest looked welcoming that night. In fact, it was almost as if it was trying to lead me inside. It was in the middle of the summer, and the covering of the leaves kept the forest floor cool. There were fireflies flitting about too, so it wasn't dark.
The trees seemed to part as I walked deeper in, and there wasn't the tiniest peep from any of the forest's horrors. It was peaceful, for a while. My dream of running away was chased away as I watched the fireflies. After all, my attention span wasn't the best at that age. I don't think anyone's is. I wandered off the path, hunting down small bugs and animals. I almost caught a rabbit, and was shocked by a deer who trotted off into the distance as I came too close. I'd never been in the forest in the middle of the night. It was more exciting than the day.
I kept going until the trees became unfamiliar and the grass, thicker. The fireflies began to disappear, and the darkness set in. It got harder and harder to see or walk. I thought it was still safe, but I had begun hearing sounds. A snort here and a growl there. They all scared me, making me want to turn around and go back home. But there was a problem- I didn't know where home was anymore.
I was too young to know much about reading the forest for signs of life. No one ever told me not to go where the grass grew too tall, or where the trees became twisted and knotted. Some of those without leaves looked like black hands reaching up towards the sky, as if in agony. It was a nightmare, but a fascinating one. Why did the forest change the further you went in?
I looked up to where the trees were reaching, and my eyes flew open in horror. Storm clouds were brewing, and I could see the lightning strikes from only a few miles away. Panicking, I started searching for shelter. The leafless trees would be of no help, and from what I could tell, there wasn't a house in sight.
Soon, after breaking through some tall grass, I came across what looked like a small temple. Vines crawled up the sides, and dirt caked it's entrance. If it was used for anything before, it certainty wasn't used for anything then. Sweet relief flooded my mind, and I desperately made my way towards it.
The first drop of rain for that night fell, and with it, any hope of returning home to my father. Without much thought, I slipped into the small cave, or ruin, or temple, or whatever it was. It was hard to see inside, but I could tell there were little inscriptions on the wall. Pictures of birds and children that lit up as the storm grew closer. They really didn't do much to help me in my fear.
Taking deep breathes, I leaned against the wall. I waited, watching as the rain got heavier and the lightning began to strike all around me. As a child, storms were horrible things. The loud noises hurt my ears. The fog made it impossible to see outside. I was scared. I started crying, though soft as it was. My dad always told me about not making a lot of noise in the forest. I had to be quiet if I didn't want to get eaten.
For a moment, I thought I was safe in the little cavern, and I stopped sobbing. I rubbed at my face with my muddied sleeve to try and dry the tears. I attempted to stand, but the roof of the temple was surprisingly low. I hit my head on it, yelped, and rubbed at my aching scalp.
Then, I heard a squeak. I thought it was just a mouse. What other animals would make there home in somewhere as dark and dank as this? But the sound came from above. My young mind wondered if mice could climb up walls. I looked up.
I then thought, 'When did mice grow wings?' and then asssumed that they were asleep. I was wrong. Suddenly a barrage of bats came flying down from the ceiling. I screamed as they flew into my hair and my clothes. The shrieking was loud, almost louder then the storm outside. I was forced out of the temple by the small beasts, into the chilling rain.
My gasps and yells, I thought, couldn't be heard over the gushing wind. I ran, back into the forest and away from the bat-filled temple. The further I got, the darker it seemed to get, and soon I was bumping into trees and tripping over rocks.
At one point I fell over a giant tree root. I didn't get up, I just curled into myself and began to sob. I was wet, tired, cold, and more than anything, I was scared. A confused child, barely older than an infant, lost in the forest. I didn't know it then, but the chances of surviving were near impossible. I didn't know that I was deeper than anyone had ever gone. No one would think to look for me here.
I stayed there for a long time. I never opened my eyes, but I pushed up on my glasses, which had grown slick as the rain continued to slide down my skin. The cold seemed to set my veins on fire as the shivering made it's way to my heart.
But even in panic, I could make out the sound of growling. At first, I thought it was thunder, or the wind. But it got louder, coming from all sides. I opened my eyes, looked up, and ceased breathing. I was face to face with a wolf, it's huffs of breathe creating clouds of chilled air that curled around my face.
Chalk it up to not knowing how to count very far, but I had no idea how many there were. Just that there were a lot, and they all looked hungry. I wanted to run, but the fear kept me frozen. I was like a deer caught in the headlights. And where was there to run? I was surrounded.
Pain exploded in my side as one of the wolves came down on me with it's paw, knocking me into the mud. I screamed, but it wouldn't have done any good. They were all on me in seconds. My skin was being ripped apart by teeth and claws, and damn it, I was only a child. You could only imagine what it was like, being torn apart by monsters when you hardly knew what they were. I thought they were demons.
My voice grew hoarse as I begged them to stop. Blood loss soon had me weak and delusional. I could taste the stuff in my mouth, feel it dripping down my face, my arms, my stomach... But the pain kept coming. Maybe it would never end.
As I cried and cried and cried some more, the assault began to slow. I thought I was dying. I had stopped yelling for help long ago, knowing that it was pointless. One by one the wolves left, and it didn't occur to me then that it was a strange thing. Leaving the prey, uneaten and whole, to lie on the forest floor where it could be stolen by something bigger. I didn't move. I couldn't. It hurt too much to even think.
My eyes were closed, but my ears were open. I stopped sobbing, because another sound pierced it's way through the forest. It started off low, barely audible through the storm, but as it got louder, I identified it as a song. The sound calmed me, warmed me, and the fear and the rain and even the intense pain all left me at once.
With a shaken breathe, I opened my eyes, once again. Instead of wolves, my vision was blurred with orange. A lot of sparkly orange. It was hard to tell what it was because my glasses had fallen somewhere during the onslaught. But the song. It was coming from that thing. And though it had wings, or at least, I thought those huge fuzzy things were wings, it must have been human too. Small hands had laid themselves on my cheeks, and the creature was studying me. It's song reverberated through the forest, silencing everything. I think the storm stopped, and maybe all the creatures had fallen asleep.
That's what the song did to me. Soon my eyelids got heavy, but I tried to keep them open. I wanted to see this creature, know what it was. Back then, I couldn't recall the legends. That wouldn't happen until much later. All I knew was that some pretty orange bird-thing saved me, and I had no way to thank him.
Struggle as I might, the combination of the pain, the warm feeling of those hands, and the entrancing song was just too much. I opened my mouth to say something, but I can't remember what I wanted to say. Maybe it was a thank you, or maybe I wanted to ask if I would be alright.
I woke up in front of my dad's cottage the next morning. He was bent over me, checking me for damage. My wounds were healed, but my clothes were still torn and bloodied. My glasses were nowhere in sight.
Through my sleep-addled mind, I tried to tell him about what I'd seen. I don't think he believed me, just like no one would, but maybe I'm fine with that. It's my little secret, about the spirit in the forest. I wanted to meet it again. Just one more time.
I haven't succeeded. Sometimes even I think it was a bad dream. But no, I can remember the pain of the wolves, the fright, and icy rain breaking through my skin. It was real. All of it. And even if the memories weren't enough, I went back in that forest years later. I found the hidden temple, which I now know was over-shadowed by what had to be the biggest tree in the forest! It's trunk extended past the canopy, and it's covered in the most greenest and shiniest moss I've ever seen!
I'm telling you, this place exists. I go there all the time. I think it's home to the spirit, and maybe one day it'll show itself to me. But the temple is proof that everything that night happened. The spirit exists. It has to, for how else would I have survived?
I never did forget its song. And I'll never forget it's kindness that one stormy night.