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Ghost Forest: Chapter One

December 16, 2008 by · No comments

Zlatko Enev

The Meadow with Three Exits

Photo: 8078381@N03

Read Ghost Forest – Introduction

Thump! Anne tumbled down hard onto the ground. Luckily, she had landed on a soft patch otherwise she would have been badly hurt. Still dizzy from her wild flight, she lay there a while before sitting up and taking a fearful look around. She found herself in the middle of a dense forest. Thick, twisted trees and thorny bushes surrounded the little meadow in which she had fallen.

The vegetation was so dense that if the meadow weren’t lit by cheerful sunbeams, it would surely have been a very dark, unfriendly place. The ground was covered by a thick carpet of fallen leaves. The tree branches were gnarled and crooked like bony old hands. They looked horribly menacing. But scariest of all were the forest noises: endless twitterings, muted screeches and low groaning sounds. Once or twice she even heard growling, which made her cringe in terror. For a moment she debated whether to cry or call for help. She decided it was safest to keep quiet, and began looking for a way out.

She didn’t need to look very long to discover that she could go in three different directions: three openings in the wall of trees and bushes presented themselves to her. The tunnels on the left and right were connected through a well worn path, but the one in the middle looked less used, so she decided to keep away from it for now. She was just about to take the path on the right when from overhead she heard a strange sound, ‘Pee-hew,’ and then something crashed down at her feet. Anne let out an almighty scream, fell flat on the ground and covered her head with her hands. The thing didn’t move, though, and little by little she gathered the courage to take a look.

At first she thought a dead animal was lying in front of her. Then suddenly she couldn’t believe her eyes; it was her little backpack. It must be said here that she wasn’t entirely mistaken in the first place. The backpack was made from a furry fabric and looked just like a fluffy bear cub. Her mother had bought it about a year ago, and even though it looked rather mangy, it was still her favourite backpack. Anne jumped for joy, grabbed the backpack and was just about to sling it over her shoulder when something very unexpected happened. ‘Rrrr!’ growled the backpack in a peculiar, faint but very angry voice. ‘Stop pulling out my fur!’

‘What was that?’ whispered a trembling Anne, although she had clearly understood where the voice had come from. ‘Who is it?’
‘Me, who else?’ said the backpack. ‘You’ve ripped out all my hair!’
‘But… you can speak?’
‘Of course I can speak. I’m not a baby! I used to speak before, too, but you just didn’t want to listen! I’ll say it again, I’m almost bald because of you!’
‘Wait, wait a second! You’re my old backpack, aren’t you?’
‘Huh! Your battered old backpack.’

‘And now suddenly you’ve started talking? You never said a word at home.’ Anne still refused to take seriously what was happening.
‘Never said a word? I’ll have you know I complained an awful lot, but did anyone listen? I shouted, I screamed. You didn’t take any notice. You pulled out my fur, you scribbled on me, you threw me all over the place and kicked me around like a ball. Now I look like something the cat dragged in, thanks to you!’

Although still rather confused, Anne felt her anger beginning to choke her. Who did that little twerp think she was? Did she think she could behave that way just because she had suddenly started speaking? Whatever the reason for the miraculous change, Anne was determined to put the backpack firmly in its place before it started getting the idea it could tell her what to do.
‘Don’t you talk to me like that!’ said Anne, putting her hands on her hips in a threatening pose. ‘If you’ve got anything useful to say, go ahead. Otherwise, shut up or you’ll find it’ll get a lot worse.’
‘I knew it; I knew you’d be like that. You’re a shameless bully. I don’t know why I bothered to follow you!’

Anne was on the point of giving the backpack a good kick to teach her a lesson when a new noise made her look around anxiously. Concealed in the tree branches high above her head, someone was singing in a squeaky voice:
‘Little girls are tumbling down,
Tumbling down,
Tumbling down,
Little girls are tumbling down,
My fair lady.’
The invisible singer chuckled contentedly, then obviously decided the time had come to introduce himself, because the tree branches parted and from between them emerged two figures so strange that Anne froze with surprise.

The larger of the two was a battered-looking wall clock. Its elongated body, composed of the box containing the pendulum, was supported by two short, thin legs that were the clock’s weights. His head was the round clock face that swayed freely on a thin spring hidden inside the box. Between the two piercing round eyes that were the winding holes was a key nose, which turned continuously in time with the pendulum’s swing. The clock’s hands were bent comically into the form of a handlebar moustache. The mouth beneath was full of the springs and cogs of the cuckoo’s works, which gave the impression of crooked, broken teeth. He sported tin wings on his shoulders that were obviously not just for show, as he was floating quite effortlessly through the air. He landed on the meadow in front of Anne and started looking her over with great curiosity.

His companion, also winged though considerably smaller, preferred to stay in the air. At first, she thought it was a kind of bat or maybe an unusually large butterfly. She soon noticed, however, that the strange creature’s wings were two huge, furry ears, and sticking out between them was a little potbelly. Protruding directly from the belly was a round head with a trunk and two bulging eyes, and it wore a hat decorated with several tassels and bells. The two ear wings were very flexible, and the strange creature used them like semaphore flags in order to speak to his bigger companion. At that moment, the creature made a quick series of movements while pointing at Anne and the backpack lying on the ground. The clock nodded in agreement.

‘You are quite right, my dear friend Boo,’ he said in an affected, theatrical tone. ‘It seems we have guests. Oh, what an honour, what a great honour! Allow me to introduce myself, young lady: At your service, Quirk – free spirit, dreamer and poet.’
Boo sniggered, covering his mouth with his furry wings.
‘Where am I? How did I get here?’ asked Anne timidly.
‘My dear lady, nothing would be easier to explain. But first, would you be so kind as to inform me of your name? Noblesse oblige.’
Mr Quirk clearly gave great importance to refined manners, but having so many teeth missing, he had acquired a terrible lisp. So, instead of ‘noblesse oblige’, Anne heard ‘no leather please’, which rather puzzled her.

‘My name is Anne, but everyone calls me Red.’
‘A delightful, charming name. I’m pleased to meet you, Anne. Extremely pleased, indeed. Well, now, back to your question,’ he added, seeing that Anne was getting anxious and impatient. ‘We are in the most splendid, the most secret and… the most terrifying enchanted forest in the world. Welcome to the Ghost Forest, Anne!’

Photo: mindfulness

In his effort to emphasise the effect of those last words,Quirk made his teeth clatter and his pendulum swing wildly, so that Anne became a little rattled herself. Of course, she didn’t like that, and struck back at him sharply with: ‘Fiddlesticks! I know it is just a game. And you know what? I don’t even think it’s very interesting. It looks like some sort of weird Disneyland to me. You can tell that to your boss Nerod Laptsev when you see him. And tell him he’ll be in big trouble when I get out of here!’
‘Disneyland? What poor taste!’ Quirk ticktutted disappointedly. ‘And this language! It’s quite obvious you are already attending school! Boo, do you think we should tell her a little about our marvellous forest?’

Boo hesitated slightly before forming one of his ear wings in the shape of a giant, downturned thumb indicating no.
‘Well then, let’s leave her to manage on her own,’ said Quirk. ‘Besides, we’ve got enough work to be getting on with.’ He turned his back on Anne, and took several steps in the other direction without saying goodbye.
Anne was livid. Those boneheads!
‘Oi, you! Wait!’ she yelled in a nasty, commanding tone. ‘Hey, you two! I’m talking to you. Don’t think you’re so special. Tell me how to get out of here, right now!’
‘Oh, how brave we are! How self-assured we are!’ said Quirk without turning around. ‘It will be so interesting to see what happens to all that when they appear – when the terrifying ghosts appear!’ He spun round instantly revealing a horrible grimace on his face and started bellowing at the top of his voice, ‘Wooooo! Waaaaaah!’

Anne took a frightened step backwards, but tried not to look scared and replied casually, ‘Ghosts, pah! That’s rubbish – there’s no such thing as ghosts.’
Quirk started at the insult. ‘Did you hear that, Boo? No ghosts, eh?’ He stepped back, and to Anne’s horror, unhooked his face from its spring. Then he turned in her direction with the clock face angled towards himself, and started to proclaim, ‘Alas, poor Yorick!… Where are your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning – quite chop fallen!’

‘Well,’ he added in a businesslike manner, while reattaching his face, ‘that chap Hamlet didn’t want to believe in ghosts either. And look what a dreadful mess he found himself in at the end. Boo, let us leave. Those fellows could be here before we know it.’ He turned towards his friend and, with some impatience, made ready to fly away. ‘The last time I lost two of my teeth with all the clattering.’
Boo, who had been shaking with fear during the entire performance, started to nod so vigorously his hat nearly fell off.

Anne forgot all her pride in her desperation. ‘Wait, wait, please,’ she cried with a tearful voice. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s all so confusing here, and I don’t know what I’m saying.’
Quirk circled round once and landed again. ‘What do you think, Boo? Would it perhaps be worth helping her?’

He didn’t hesitate for long, though. At that very moment, a long bloodcurdling roar, or rather an almost indescribable mixture of growling, shrieking and wailing, pierced the air above the forest, striking terror in everyone’s hearts. Quirk and Boo vanished immediately as if swept away by a broom. Horrorstricken, Anne dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball. The roar spread over the forest like an omen, like an awful message from some forgotten world full of pain and despair. It then died down just as suddenly as it had started. For a long while Red lay on the ground, her eyes shut tight, without daring to look up or move. Just every now and then she found herself whispering, ‘Wait! Please wait, I beg you! I’m so scared! I’m so scared!’

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