Tales from Kilgour Forest
Daniel returned home to research faeries and other spirits. He poured over stories of Baba Yaga, whose hut stands on chicken legs, crafted from the bones of children she devoured. He read about the jinni of Arabic folklore; if captured, they would give their captor three wishes. Then there were the samodivas from Bulgaria, whose power was stored in the mantles they wore and could be stolen when they bathed.
None of the stories fit Elias’ recollection.
Born into an era rich in small comforts, Daniel conducted his research with a warm cup of tea in hand, well worn slippers on his feet, and ensconced in a fuzzy robe.
Even the darkest stories felt long ago and far away, and in the safety of his room Daniel soon drifted off to sleep.
He awoke to his phone that rang in his ear. He lifted his head, confused that he was in his chair rather than his bed. Spittle on his hand marked where his head had been.
Daniel picked up his phone but his hand was still asleep. His fingers fumbled and the phone fell to the ground with a thud. He cursed under his breath.
“Daniel?” Daniel could not place the voice.
“This is Detective Gibson.”
“Um, yes, sorry, what can I do for you?” Daniel’s words felt far away.
“I was just wondering if you had any news on the boy, Arman.”
Daniel looked at his computer. On the screen was an article on the practice of placing horseshoes on houses to ward off evil spirits.
“Oh, um, No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
Gibson sighed, “It’s ok. I just figured I aught to ask. Jim just…when he needed something, God seemed to listen a little more closely. I was hoping maybe you had got some of that luck too.”
Daniel hung up and looked out his window. The stars shone crisp and clear. The moon, a bit past full, still hung round and low on the horizon.
Daniel looked at his bed, not a foot away from him. His neck was twisted from sleeping on his hand. Tomorrow night he would set a plan to explore the woods.
He lay back in bed. The kink in his neck smoothed out and his bedspread filled up with the heat of his body.
As he closed his eyes the face of Arman’s mother sat into his mind’s eyes. He turned on his back, and pushed the image from his head.
The anxiety in Gibson’s voice now crept into the back of Daniel’s mind.
“Goddamit,” he said to his ceiling.
Daniel slipped into shoes and put on his jacket. He loaded up his backpack with cloves of garlic, a mirror, and salt. He felt more prepared for a vampire than a woodland spirit, but if he was going to indulge Elias’ theory and Gibson’s faith in him, he figured he should be prepared for anything.
He took a blanket from his bed, an iron shovel from the garden, and snuck out the back gate.
Daniel was a strong believer that fairytales were metaphors for people long ago to cope with illnesses they could not see and natural phenomenon they could not explain. He was more concerned should passersby question why he biked with a shovel at this time of night.
The streets were quiet. The streetlights cast pools of orange that cast the houses into hazy purple forms, and gave the road a dreamlike feel. With each pedal forward Daniel felt he might snap awake, still in his bed.
He stopped his bike close to where he had noted a copse of birch trees the day before. With only his cell phone light, he headed into the woods.
Not five steps into the forest and total darkness surrounded him. The moon cast weak beams that could not reach the forest floor, but floated like ghosts along the treetops.
With each step leaves crunched underfoot. A family of deer, roused by his racket, peered at him from the gloom, and then shot off into the night.
He came to the copse of birch trees and pulled up his notes. Witchy things tended to be done three times.
Daniel walked around the copse of trees three times.
He looked around. Nothing.
“Silvadaem! Silvadaem! Silvadaem!” he called out.
In answer an owl hooted and flew from its perch, white wings faded into the gloom.
The sweat from his bike ride cooled on his skin. Wind crawled into the cracks and crannies of his jacket.
Unable to come up with any other plan to draw the spirit out, Daniel turned back to the direction of the road.
Head filled with images of his bed, his feet moved too quickly and he slipped on his shovel.
His hands caught on harsh stones. A thorny branch pushed into his eye.
It was then he heard it. A distinct but clear giggle.
He looked down at the ground and saw the tree’s roots move out of his way, as if to taunt him that he had tripped on nothing at all.
In his head he might have concocted grand fantasies that he would conquer the spirit that had bested three other men.
In reality adrenaline took over and he bolted upright. He ran for the road, ran faster than he had ever run in his life.
Along the way he dropped his shovel. He was not going back for it.
The road appeared with sweet relief.
Daniel pedaled for home. Each foot tried to move faster than the other and made his pedal motion erratic and painful.
Not an hour before he had entered that forest with the sure confidence of the modern man who lives in the world of the testable experiment.
But he had heard that laugh. Perhaps he was tired. Perhaps it was a wild owl. He tried to explain away the noise.
And he had seen that tree move. Maybe it was actually an animal that moved off. Maybe it was a stone he had moved out of place.
Try as he might, no explanation could stave off the shivers that ran again and again down his back. Even back in his room, his body still felt he was not away from danger.
The memory of what transpired in the forest followed him into his dreams. Vines wrapped around his wrists and ankles. He was lashed to the forest floor, all while that haunting laugh reverberated through the forest around him.
In the morning he rose and went to the outpost. Dark rings sat under his eyes and his hair was askew.
“Elias, I believe you.”