A Cold Wind in the Forgotten Forest by Eamon Pereira

‘Hey, wait up,’ the boy called, skipping a little to pick up the pace. The girl in front of him rolled her eyes.
        ‘You’re the one who wanted to come. If you can’t keep up, just go back home.’
        The boy looked over his shoulder, trying to make out the Sylvan Glade through the trees, his eyes wide.
        ‘We’ve actually gone pretty far already,’ he said.
        The girl turned to look back as well, and frowned.
        ‘Where’d the Glade go?’
        The boy shrugged, ‘I guess we just walked pretty fast.’
        The girl chewed her lip, staring at the thick trees leaning in over the winding path.
        ‘Yeah probably,’ she agreed and turned back, her feet kicking up dust from the ground.
        ‘Do you think mum will be mad?’ He asked, his voice high pitched.
        ‘I don’t care,’ she replied, ‘she’s the one who never takes us with her when she comes here. It’s only fair we get a chance to explore as well.’
        The boy nodded quickly, and the two of them fell into a silence, walking side by side underneath the dark canopy. As they went, the trees grew more tightly packed and the branches stretched further across the path. The tweeting of birds that had sung so brightly when they’d entered the forest slowly disappeared.
        ‘It’s getting a bit darker, don’t you think?’ The girl said, her mouth twitching slightly with excitement. The boy nodded and moved a bit closer to her, his lip trembling a bit. She looked at him and smirked.
        ‘You’re not scared are you?’
        He shook his head.
        ‘You look scared.’
        ‘I’m not!’ He snapped.
        ‘If you say so,’ she laughed.
        Their feet slowly stopped crunching on gravel as the path transitioned into leafy, damp dirt, lit dimly by glowing mushrooms on the edges.
        They stopped, both of them taking sharp breaths. The girl spun looking for who had spoken.
        ‘Hello?’ She called.
        ‘Over here.’
        The girl peered at where the sound had come from, and took a step closer. She noticed a little light, floating near one of the trees, and she relaxed.
‘Don’t worry,’ she smiled at him, ‘It’s just a pixie.’
        A grin spread across the boy’s face. ‘It’s just like the ones back at the glade.’
        The girl nodded, and turned back to the pixie.
        ‘Can we help you?’ She asked.
        The pixie’s wings fluttered in annoyance. ‘Of course you can’t help me. But I can help you.’
        ‘Oh…’ the girl didn’t really know what to say. ‘How so?’
        ‘Go home.’
        A few moments of silence.
        ‘Is that your help?’
        The pixie’s wings were really buzzing with frustration now, little bits of golden dust flying off around it.
        ‘Yes that’s my help, and you and your brother would be wise to accept it.’
        The girl suppressed another eye roll. ‘Well thank you, Pixie, for your help, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline it.’
        The pixie hovered for a few seconds before spinning sharply with some sort of angry pixie sound. It flew back off into the dense undergrowth, its golden light fading.
        ‘It was quite an angry pixie,’ the boy said.
        The girl nodded. ‘Strange,’ she said, ‘most of the ones back home are so friendly.’
        They set back off, the conversation with the pixie sitting in the back of the girl’s mind.
        ‘It’s nice in here, don’t you think?’
        He didn’t reply but she went on.
        ‘I’m glad we came. I’m sure when we tell mum she’ll let us come with her next time.’
        He didn’t reply again and she was about to snap at him when she realised he’d stopped walking. He was standing a few metres behind her, completely still.
        ‘What’s wrong?’ She asked, an edge of concern in her voice. He raised his gaze to her, his eyes massive and pale.
        ‘Sis,’ he started, ‘what happened to the path?’
        She raised her eyebrows to the sky. ‘Nothing has happened to the path.’
        ‘I don’t see any mushrooms.’
        The girl paused halfway through a sigh, and she stopped, realising what he’d said was true. The little glowing mushrooms had vanished, and the forest was only lit by tiny floating spores and a few slivers of sunlight through the trees.
        ‘I don’t want you to get scared,’ she said slowly, ‘but I think we might’ve left the path.’ Despite her words, the girl could feel a coldness seeping into her gut.
        A cold wind rushed past them suddenly, sending fallen leaves billowing up around them. As the wind whipped around them the girl could’ve sworn it carried the sound of screams with it. When it had settled a thick silence settled over the forest. Whatever light had been before had disappeared and the air had become strangely chilling. The boy grabbed her arm, trembling. Howls echoed around them and the trees began to shiver.
        ‘What’s going on?’ The boy squeaked. Shadows around them, darker than the darkness of the forest itself, began to writhe and slither on and off the path and around the trees, so quickly their eyes couldn’t follow them. A branch cracked behind them. The girl wrapped her arms around her brother and crouched down, shielding him from whatever was coming at them from the trees. Then, with a roar, an enormous bear came bursting through the foliage, its jaws open, displaying rows of vicious teeth. Instantly the shadows vanished, flickering off, and a familiar warmth settled back into the trees. The girl looked up after a few seconds, letting go of her brother, and falling to her knees as she realised who it was.
        She rubbed his shoulder. ‘We’re safe. It’s Brom.’
        The boy looked up, and this time his eyes widened with awe instead of fear as he stared at the ancient bear.
        ‘What are two cubs like you doing this far in such a rotten part of the forest?’ His voice reverberated with power, feeling as if he was speaking through the trees themselves.
        ‘We got lost,’ the girl replied, strength returning to her voice.
        ‘Consider yourself lucky a pixie came to tell me of you,’ Brom said, with an undertone of accusation in his voice.
        The girl dropped her head a little, ‘I should’ve listened to it.’
        Brom said nothing.
        ‘Can we go home now?’ The boy asked.
        The girl nodded.
        ‘Just follow that path,’ Brom told them, and with astonishment the two of them saw a path had opened up next to them, packed with mushrooms. ‘It will take you to Landlocked. From there I’m sure you’ll find someone willing to help you find your way back to the Glade.’
        ‘Thank you Brom,’ the girl said sincerely. ‘I’m sorry. We have no honey to give you.’
        ‘Cub,’ he said ‘There is something very wrong in the woods at the moment. Something even I cannot fix. Something dark and terrible. I will not ask for payment for protecting you against that. But, if I ever see you in here again, I will not be so kind.’
        The two of them nodded furiously. ‘We won’t,’ the girl said, ‘we promise.’
        ‘Good. Now go.’
        They scrambled to their feet and began to run along the path. Not long after they came rushing out into a clearing, in the middle of which sat a huge, moss coated boat. Warm light trickled out of the windows and muffled music was playing inside.
        ‘We made it,’ she said.
        They looked back, but both the path and Brom had vanished. All they saw was a wall of trees, as if nothing had ever existed there.
        She took her brother’s hand.
        ‘Let’s go in.’
        They hurried up to the doors and pushed them open. The laughter and chatter and music all died as the two children walked into the pub.
        The girl shuffled nervously before finding some courage to speak.
        ‘What in the hell,’ a big man behind the counter bellowed. ‘Why are two kids coming out of the woods to my pub at this time?’
        ‘Me and my brother just got lost in the woods,’ she began, realising she was speaking to the pub’s owner, Captain Barnabas. ‘The path disappeared and then…’ she didn’t really know how to finish the sentence.
        ‘Brom saved us,’ her brother piped up and the girl blinked in surprise. ‘We were in trouble and he came rushing in.’
        The girl nodded and took back over from her brother.
        ‘He said there was something terrible and dark in the forest too,’ she said, ‘something he couldn’t even fix.’
        Captain Barnabas rested his hands down on the counter. ‘I have been hearing stories like that,’ he said, stroking his beard, ‘people vanishing. Pixie’s dying. Something’s certainly wrong.’
        ‘What do you think it is Captain?’ someone asked from one of the tables, but he shook his head.
        ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he scanned the rows of tables in the pub, as if looking for someone ‘but I think it’s time we found out.’