By Melodie Senwesky (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)
No one had ever come out of the forest on the edge of town. In fact, no one ventured near it at all, and legends were whispered about monsters inhabiting it, or some evil too dark to even say its name. Some believed that that was where criminals spent their days to evade the law, and that you had to be either truly brave or truly desperate to go.
Emma was both, or at least that’s what she told herself as she packed her things. She’d had yet another fight with her parents about her plans for the future, and she just couldn’t stand it anymore. She hurriedly balled up items of clothing and shoved whatever she could fit into a bag along with essentials like matches, rope, and a knife. Emma mumbled curses under her breath every time she heard a pot clang or her father’s raised voice from downstairs. If only she was able to pack faster…she couldn’t wait to get away from all this.
Not that she knew exactly where she planned to go once she was ‘away,’ but Emma figured that she might figure it out as she went. She wanted to leave town, she knew that much. Most people in her town were likely to hand her right back to her parents before they’d ever consider taking her in or showing compassion. The only problem was that it was rather hard to actually leave town. The forest surrounded more than half of the town, and on the open side of town, there were guards posted who were far too vigilant to accept a bribe to turn a blind eye.
That left her with one clear choice: the mysterious forest. Its dark entrance stood right at the edge of town, threatening but never allowed to creep closer. The idea of braving the thick tangle of trees was only slightly thrilling to Emma, but what other options did she have?
Decision made, she crept out early one morning, bag on her shoulder, towards the forest. Her escape proved easier than she’d anticipated, since the thin stream of people walking up and down the street around her paid her no special attention. She traveled down the winding wooden path, hardly noting the gorgeous blooms of wildflowers in the field surrounding her in her intense focus. She followed the path to the edge of town and froze at the border. The forest was darker than she’d expected, the leaves seeming to block all rays of sunlight from coming in overhead. The tree limbs drew in dangerously near to the dusty path, which faded to a shadowy nothing only a few meters into the woods.
What am I doing? she asked herself. She nearly turned back toward the security of home, but something stubborn in her head wouldn’t let her take that first backwards step. Clenching her jaw, she turned to face the woods and walked head-on into the unknown. Her first thought once she was past the border was how dark it truly was. Her hands were outstretched, and she was navigating only through the soft crunch of dry leaves under her feet and sheer dumb luck. It felt like she wasn’t actually moving anywhere, until abruptly she was bathed in blinding sunlight. She blinked several times to clear the dark spots from her vision, only to realize that clearly she’d ended up very far from where she was a moment ago.
She was standing in a wide clearing, surrounded by trees that had silver bark and golden leaves. The forest around her seemed much less threatening and even the sunlight somehow felt warmer. Across the clearing stood a small, round blue door that appeared to be built into the tree behind it. As Emma stepped closer, she saw there were tiny tree-stump chairs and a table out front and couldn’t help but crouch down beside it to examine it more closely. It seemed to be built for someone smaller than herself, faeries perhaps? Had she stepped through some kind of door or…portal to end up in this strange place?
Everything was quiet and peaceful in these woods… It made her want to just sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the outdoors. Emma still had no idea how or why she’d ended up here, but she finally thought she understood why no one ever returned home from this place.