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Deeper Than the Unknown

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"Are you kidding? Why in the world would you name your frog Penguin?"

A joyous laughter came from Gregory as he stuffed his newly found pet frog safely into his satchel. "Maybe a new name will come to me, so I won't have to think anymore!" He chimed, obviously confident in the fact that that will become true. I shared a laugh back, and ruffled his hair. The sounds of our giggles and the dry autumn leaves crunching under our shoes were enough to muffle out the sounds of a muttering teenager behind us. As the two of our joy calmed, Greg tugged on my shirt and used his thumb to point back, motioning towards his older brother, Wirt. Greg shook his head in a disappointed way. It was apparent how Wirt was less enthusiastic about being lost in the woods than Greg and I were. In fact, he was far from it. The boy barely spoke ever since we had confirmed us losing our way, and now all he did was walk about ten feet behind us and sulk. I wasn't much of an optimist myself, but I had to keep Greg happy, for seeing his smile was enough to brighten the sun on a cloudy day. Greg tugged on my shirt again, and I decided that he was signaling me to do something about the depressive aura coming from behind.

"Wirt?" I asked. He did not answer. I swiveled on my heels and began to walk backward. My voice was projected more this way, and I spoke louder. "Wirt!" This time, the boy perked his head up. His cheeks and nose were a tad rosy from the crisp fall air. His hair went every which way, likely due to stress. Wirt tended to be stressed quite a lot. Greg flashed a smile as his brother walked up to pace with us. "Wirt! What do you think we should name my frog?" He said. "I'm thinking something fancy now!" Despite the little boy's attempt to connect with the other, Wirt did not answer directly. "What does it matter." He began, whipping his head up to look at the passing tree branches. "That frog will probably freeze to death before we do. It's best to not make connections- also it probably has germs, probably." Wirt tended to speak in a funny way. He was either being truly formal and reciting poems that he had most likely written, or he was being an informal teenager like every else back at home was.


My thoughts froze on the word. "Wirt." I said, motioning to Greg as to subtly ask him not to say such despicable things in front of his younger sibling. Wirt eyed me, then Greg, and then back to me. "Hey.." I began, finding the right words to comfort him. "We'll find a town soon, and ask for directions. Doesn't that sound spirit-lifting?" Wirt looked to the ground now, watching the roots that swiveled through the ground as we walked. "If we do get that lucky, I'd hope it would be soon. The sun is going down- we only have a few hours left of daylight..." He muttered. I reached a hand out to squeeze his arm. "Don't worry." I said those words, yet I was certain they weren't true. I was scared myself that we'd have to sleep in the unforgiving nature, where horrifying creatures slip out at night to feast on prey. Prey, that would be us. Once again, I had to remind myself that I was keeping an unusual level of hope to save the boys from suffering any sort of discomfort. Then again, maybe I was doing it for myself, so I wouldn't lose my sense of hope.

The walk until the break of dusk was mostly silent. The few times we did speak was when we were discussing the perplexing story of how we even got lost in the first place. We did recall being at a Halloween party, yet anything else was fuzzy. It seemed like we fell asleep, and woke up in a completely different world. Wirt didn't seem to care about how we got here. He just wanted to know how to leave. I noticed Greg was stumbling. "Greg, you alright?" I asked. I heard a sleepy "mhm" in return and smiled. "Sounds like someone needs to be carried." I commented. Greg refused, yet I scooped him up against his will and placed him on my back. I held his legs as he draped his arms over my shoulder, and yawned. Minutes passed, and the boy was asleep. Now, I could really talk to Wirt.

"Wirt. We really need to talk about how to get out of here. We've been walking for hours and there's no sign of life besides the trees- a-and it's already dark!" I had no idea, but by the time I picked Greg up to when he fell asleep, the sun had vanished, leaving us vulnerable to the night. Wirt didn't answer me. "Wirt. Wirt can you even hear m-"
I widened my eyes. "Did you just shush m-" This time, Wirt repeated himself and placed a hand over my mouth. "I hear something." When those words slipped past his lips, I was in frozen fear. Images of the worsts kinds of beasts ripping us limb from limb had me in shock. But then, I heard it too. It was deep singing. "We have to check it out." Wirt decided for us and took my wrist in his grip. He pulled both Greg and I to an area behind a thick tree. A light flicked past us, and I set Greg down by the base of the trunk. "What is it?" I asked as I watched the older boy lean past the tree and stare towards the light's source. I watched his body reactions. He was on edge. His pupils were dilated, and his hands were shaking as they gripped the tree. "Wirt what's going on?" My words sounded almost demanding. Wirt spoke softly. "Come here." I obeyed and crawled up behind him, staring at what he was. My body froze too.

It was a man. He looked to be middle-aged, maybe even elderly. He was collecting wood from a fallen tree I had inferred that he chopped down. Sure enough, once he strung the sticks on his back, he fiddled with an ax that was wedged into the lifeless stump and pulled it free. Wirt placed a hand on my shoulder. It felt like he was preparing to push me back if the man took notice of us. We were quiet as we studied The Woodsman. Suddenly, I heard leaves rustling beside me. "Mmm- Is it tomorrow yet?" A shrill voice all too loudly. Wirt and I both whipped our heads around to shush Greg. The boy stood up and yawned, gaining his energy rather quickly. "What are you all looking at? I want to see!" He begged as he climbed on us. "No Greg- Greg please be quiet!" I hissed at him. Wirt growled. "GREG!"

Out of nowhere, a fourth voice was heard. "Who goes there?" Almost as soon as those words hit our ears, the three of us were petrified. We were silent, but that did not work, for The Woodsman shined his lantern towards the tree, and Wirt's cone hat shadowed throughout the leaves. "Children?" Now when the man said that, Wirt grasped fistfuls of my shirt and stared me in the eyes. "He's going to eat us! O-Or give us to his dogs as toys! I can't die!" Judging by the sweat and pained whisper voice he was using, I could tell this boy was about to pass out. I had to save them. I gently removed myself from Wirt's hold and stood up, fully showing myself to The Woodsman. "We're sorry to have interrupted you- W-We're just three kids trying to get back home and we were maybe hoping to ask you for directions?" My voice continuously cut in out from being confident to that of if a mouse tried to speak. The Woodsman cleared his throat and coughed in a frail way. "You... You kids are far from any home." He told me. I gulped, and heard a squeal behind me that could have belonged to either one of the boys. "Come with me, you look lost and deprived." I blinked as he spoke. Deprived? I assumed he meant of sleep- but I wasn't even tired. I reached a hand out behind me. To that, Greg grabbed hold before Wirt, and I pulled him out from behind the tree. "Wirt, the kind man is going to take us to his home so we can rest... Get up...!" Wirt finally stood up meekly and came into the lantern's light. If it wasn't for all the panic, I could swear I heard the lantern making strange, upsetting noises.

As we walked behind The Woodsman, Wirt leaned in by my face. "Do you think he's some kind of crazy ax murderer?" He asked. I gulped. "I-I hope not- but let's try to not think that. Maybe he's just a nice guy who-" Before I could finish my sentence, the man spoke in a booming voice. "Do you kids know where you are?" He asked. Greg wasn't paying attention, and I assumed I did enough talking to strangers for the day. I nudged Wirt, and he yelped. "Oh! Uh- N-No. We don't. That's why we were going to ask you because we just kind of... ended up in these woods." To this, the Woodsman grunted and gripped his ax harder. "I'll explain once we get to the mill."

"The Mill?"

Sure enough, through the trees a humble mill shown throughout the night. Wirt gripped my shirt like a child needing comfort from his mother. I could feel him shaking. The four of us stepped inside. Almost immediately, The Woodsman darted towards a stone fireplace and began settling up a fire. "You children... Are more lost than you think." He uttered. Confused, I spoke up. "What do you mean by that, sir?" The Huntsman stood up and dusted himself off. "These woods are unlike others. They contain horrid things... Horrid things like The Beast." My heart began to pound. I was sure Wirt was already passed out on the floor, but he stayed standing tall.. behind me. "An unforgiving monster haunts these woods- stalking its victims like you kids yourselves." As The Woodsman continued talking to me, Greg persistently poked my thigh with a piece of candy he had pulled from his trousers. "Not now Greg-" I muttered. I heard a frog's belly croak from across the room. Greg interrupted The Woodsman as he giggled and ran after his pet, out the door. "I will be back- I have work to attend to in the mill. Mm- Make yourselves at home-" Then, it was Wirt's turn to interrupt. "Can we leave?" He asked. The flare in The Woodsman's eyes frightened the both of us. "Leave if you must- But beware... The Beast." At these words, he turned and exited through a door that barely hung on to the wall.

When the door shut, Wirt threw himself onto a nearby couch. "There's no way we'll get out of here- did you hear him? We basically trapped here forever!"
"He said we could leave if we wanted to-"
"No! I mean we're never going to get home."
I was stunned by his words. Wirt almost never raised his voice at me in a serious manner. I let out a sigh, and sat at the foot of the couch, on the armrest. Wirt put his head back. He began to recite poetry he had just then conjured up in his head. That was a way of calming him down, and I couldn't possibly comment on it without him becoming angered again. The two of us sat in silence for a few heartbeats after Wirt had finished talking. The tension in the room was almost too much to live under. I broke the quiet.

"Wirt." I muttered, placing a hand on his shin. "Look... I know things are bleak. So what if we have to spend a night in a worn-down mill? We'll be out tomorrow with directions and daylight. I just- need you to be there for Greg. I'd hate to see him get worried." Wirt did not respond to this. "Wirt please for the love of god answer. I hate it when I talk to you and you don't even-" Before I could finish, Wirt sat up. He stared at me in the eyes, his solemn brown irises glowing in the light coming from the dim-lit fire. I widened my eyes and felt my heart race. How close was he to me again? Only a few feet, but it felt like inches. "Greg." He spoke, his voice fading before he could finish the word. "Greg- Where is Greg?!"

I blinked, realizing that the joyful spirit was not present in the room- or the house for that matter. My breathing began to speed up. I had no idea. "He wanders off sometimes! He's a kid! He'll come back to-"

The door to the cabin swung open. Wirt and I craned our heads over to face it. Greg was standing in the doorway. He showed us his palm, which had a mild gash in it. "I got an ouchie." Wirt blinked and was at a complete loss for words. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. "Greg- What happened?" I asked. Greg sniffled and pointed behind him. Simultaneously, a throaty growl rumbled behind him. Wirt "eeped" and grabbed onto my shirt, pulling me closer to him. I narrowed my eyes at the door, and ushered Greg to come to us. "Maybe it's The Woodsman just trying to play a joke on us, right?" Wirt suggested, his voice suggesting that it was dire to be true. The second door next to the fireplace swung open as well, and The Woodsman stood proudly in the doorway, gripping his ax. All three of us screamed, and the man's voice boomed over ours. "What was that growling noise?! Who made that?" He demanded. Us three pointed to the door, and as we did, a horrid monstrous face came into sight. It could be compared to a dog. Its teeth were jagged and its mouth was salivating for flesh. Wirt was in shock. "It's The Beast. I-It's The Beast!" He stuttered. The Beast-like creature's fur ruffled on its back as it got into a position of attacking. It roared. Acting fast, I grabbed the two boys, Wirt by his collar and Greg by his hand, and ran behind The Woodsman, past him, and into the main mill area. The three of us were faced with winding pipes and tubes, levels of machinery, and countless bottles. Some were filled with ominous black liquid, others empty and clear as day. Greg noticed a ladder. "Hey! I like to climb these back at home! I usually fall off but it's still fun on the way up!"

That's it, the ladder! "Wirt, take Greg! I'll see what The Woodsman is doing-" Wirt took a deep breath and shook his head. "You take Greg." I widened my eyes. "Wirt-"
"Please- There's no time to argue. I trust you with him more than I trust him with myself."
I didn't want to waste time. I nodded and took Greg's hand. As Greg and I made a break for the ladder, I heard the teenager mutter under his breath "I guess I'm really doing this".

Wirt darted for the door, and that was the last Greg and I saw of him before we got up to the second floor of the mill. "Greg- How did you find that thing?" I asked. Greg smiled and put his hand in his trousers and pulled out a piece of colorfully wrapped candy. "Maybe he was hungry for candy!" He said. I brushed the thought off as being ridiculous and darted my eyes to the door. I heard yelling. My heartbeat quickened, but I couldn't let Greg know I was scared. "Greg, let me see your hand." The boy quickly gave me his palm, and I looked at the cut. I had no medical items with me, so I resorted to using the end of my shirt to wipe up the blood and dirt. "You goose..." I mumbled.

Without warning, a shrill screech came from the room Greg and I were not present in. "They must have gotten The Beast!" I exclaimed. I was far from correct. Wirt stumbled into the room with The Woodsman's ax. Seeing Wirt with the man's ax gave me a gut feeling The Woodsman wasn't winning the battle. I shuddered in panic as Wirt aimlessly swung the ax at the creature. Once I heard the ax slice through flesh, I turned Greg away from the sight and covered his ears. I turned my head to look at the action. Wirt had left the ax in the creature's skull, and it began to scream with agony. With little time, the teenager climbed the ladder. "There has to be another way out of here!"

The poor kid was frazzled beyond belief. I scanned the room for escape routes and found the perfect way. A doorway to the ceiling. "Up there!" I cried out, scooping Greg up off the ground and running towards our life-saving escape. Wirt feverishly began hitting the door until the lock chipped, and finally pushed it open. He climbed up, I handed him Greg, and he reached his hand out for me to grab. My heart pounded. The squealing and horrid sounds below me became louder as I grabbed Wirt. He pulled me up with difficulty, and I popped out of the mill, landing on top of the teenager and rolling a few feet down the roof. We managed to stop ourselves from falling and getting into real trouble. I looked up at Wirt, who was laying on top of me. The moonlight gave me the same gorgeous view of his face just like the fireplace did. The two of us were panting and I watched a smile crawl to his lips. "We- We did it!" He chimed as he sat up. The teenager pulled me to my knees and threw his arms around me. I suddenly felt a lighthearted bubbly laughter build up in me, and I let it out. Greg chimed too and ran over to join the hugfest.

The joy did not last long, for the screeching animal busted through the roof. The three of us screamed in unison once more and were quickly ripped from our false sense of comfort. We were slowly being cornered at the end of the roof. "Oh God- We're actually going to die." Wirt said, his tone dry as a desert. I did not answer. I just gripped Greg close to my chest. Then, the boy in my arms wriggled free. "Greg, no! Wirt and I screamed at almost the same time. Greg boldly reached into his pants and threw a piece of candy at the beast's face. It bounced off and rolled down the cold, unforgiving roof before plopping down in the water below us. The world seemed silent at this time, as we waited for the animal's reaction. The creature looked at the direction where the candy had been thrown, and jumped after it. I was not sure of what happened next. All I was able to hear was the sound of an animal crying in agony until it went silent. I didn't have time to cover Greg's ears. He was at the mercy of the true world them.

The silence seemed to have lasted centuries. The three us sat on the roof in disbelief. "Greg..." Wirt said softly. "You... You lead that thing here with your candy in your pants-" The teenager sounded angry, but this was no time to start blaming. I looked at Wirt. "Wirt- We killed it. It's gone. We're saved- and so is the Woodsman!"

The Woodsman.

My eyes widened as I recalled Wirt entering the main mill area, but not The Woodsman. "Wirt, what happened to him?" I asked, curiously. Wirt swallowed dryly and looked at Greg, then me. Maybe now wasn't the best time to discuss that topic. Us three safely climbed down from the roof and looked ahead of us. The world was quiet. Peaceful. The only sound interrupting it was a nearby dog barking. "Do you think we'll get home now?" I asked Wirt. The teenager sighed deeply and reached out to grab my wrist.

"Home, yes. Alive, no."
I didn't want to accept that. We were quiet again and Greg wandered off to play with turtles in the water by of us. "You were brave, Wirt." I told him. I looked in his general direction. Wirt looked back at me. He wasn't smiling, yet he wasn't pulling a frown.

"Thanks. You were too."