First Prize Story
of the Teen Fractured Fairy Tale Writing Contest
READ "LOST" BY MALINA OLIVER
After all, her grandmother had only ever spoken of it with great fear in her eyes.
Emma understood that fear now. The darkness around her was tangible and dense, obscuring not only her vision but her thoughts as well. As her mind grew increasingly frantic, she strove to focus her grip on the torch handle, and on the light which emanated from its flame. Something howled in the distance. She suppressed the urge to turn back, and instead trained her efforts on masking her fear. She didn’t care that no one was there to see her: she put on the brave front for herself. She wouldn’t be a coward. She would die upright like her grandmother surely had . . . If I die . . . I’m not going to die! she resolved, just as something moved behind her, and she turned to face–
Nothing was there.
She quickened her step, cloak billowing behind her. Nothing is after me. I’m being silly. I’m not going to die . . . .
The shadow creature sunk low, its colorless eyes never leaving the foolish girl that dared trespass the forest. The pathetic child knew nothing, she was nothing, nothing but a mere child with a cloak who was trying to be brave. The creature could almost smell the child’s fear, see through the brave front into those dark brown eyes that told a different story.
Good. Flesh was so much sweeter when accentuated by fear. The rare, unfortunate squirrel that wandered into the forest had taught the creature that much. It could not even fathom what a human child might taste like with such great fear burning within . . . .
But there was something else there. Some other . . . emotion. Something like sadness, something like pain. But why, then, was there happiness, too?
Disgusting. The creature had forgotten how terribly complex human emotion was. It was unnerving.
The girl’s fear mounted. The creature extracted its claws. It wouldn’t be long . . . .
It was another warm summer’s day in the garden, and they had sat there in companionable silence for some time, sorting through runner beans, when Emma broke the silence.
“That cloak that hangs in your room. I was only wondering why you don’t wear it anymore?””
Grandmother didn’t hide her look of surprise. Emma grew increasingly curious at this: ordinarily, the older woman loved to tell stories about the different items she had collected over the years. Each seemed to have an epic story, at least the way her grandmother told them.
“I’m sorry,” Emma said when Grandmother continued to look shocked. “I . . . shouldn’t have asked.” Perhaps she had just brought up some terrible memory for her grandmother.
“Our family has a legend,” Grandmother said. “A legend of an ancient forest, infused with its own energy, it’s own power, if you will.”
“You mean, an enchanted forest?”
“Something like that.” Grandmother took off her hat and wiped her brow. Sweat glistened against her silver hair. The grey still took Emma aback sometimes; after all, her grandmother’s curls had only begun to lose their darkness in recent years.
“The forest is said to be invisible to the human eye,” Grandmother went on. “Or almost all human eyes, anyway, save those who are most gifted. The legend speaks of a great treasure in the center of the forest, protected by the most hideous of enchantments. Some say that within the depths of the forest live the most vicious of creatures. Wolves of a sort. Shadow dwellers.” Grandmother’s eyes filled with something that could only be fear, and she looked at her lap without another word.
“What kind of a treasure?” Emma asked, desperately trying to continue the conversation.
“No one knows,” Grandmother said. “Those who have gotten far enough to find out haven’t returned. There is said to be only one means of survival.” Grandmother leaned in closer, and she lowered her voice. “A cloak, infused with the blood of a wolf, among other magical herbs and the like.”
Grandmother raised her eyebrows. “There is a kind of magic in blood. Families pass their gifts through the generations. Fantastical creatures do much the same.”
“But . . . why a wolf’s blood?”
“Now, now,” said Grandmother, “not just any wolf’s blood, but that of a shadow creature. You see, those creatures are not born of nature. They are capable of feeling human emotion because that is what they once were. It is the worst enchantment of the forest. Those who allow fear to creep into their hearts become those creatures that most evoke fear. It is nearly impossible to override their savage tendencies. However, the cloak, that blood, can bridge a connection between a traveler and the wolf.”
“I still don’t understand.”
Grandmother looked at her with those blue, blue eyes. “I hope you never have to.”
The darkness intensified, until it was so thick that it smothered the torchlight and sent Emma to her knees, gasping for air. Whether it was all in her head, or she was truly suffocating on a lack of light she could not say, all she knew was that she wanted an end, the panic in her chest was paralyzing, she wanted out . . . .
“It’s all in my head,” she mumbled desperately, trying to gain control of the sudden onset of fear. She gripped at her knees as the world began to tilt and the darkness pressed in around her. The world felt strange and cold, she hated it all, the fear was too much, she would die here, she would be gone, she would be nothing—
The creature crept forward, watching as the girl fell to her knees in agony. The enchantments of the forest were plentiful, but none was so terrible as was the disorienting fear. The creature found pleasure in watching the girl suffer. Oh, to sink its terrible claws into the girl’s flesh, rip the pitiful cloak to shreds, it would do nothing for her now . . . .
It knew that cloak.
The day her grandmother died, Emma was sitting by the window, embroidering, and anxiously awaiting the return of the only mother she’d ever known. She didn’t remember her parents. She didn’t need to remember her parents. She had her grandmother, someone who cared about Emma more than anyone else did, her friend and her confidant. They shared a thousand beautiful memories, and Emma had no reason to believe those times had ended.
Until her grandmother didn’t come home.
Emma couldn’t explain it, but she felt in her bones that her grandmother was gone, consumed by those terrible forest dwellers, the creatures of which her grandmother had spoken in the garden that day so long ago. The wolves.
Entering her grandmother’s room, teary eyed, she smelled a mixture of fresh bread and flowers, of which her grandmother had always smelled. She fingered her grandmother’s jewelry. She wallowed in her misery, in the loss, and tried to explain away the feeling that the wolves had gotten her grandmother. Surely, there was no rational way she could know such a thing. She was only imagining it.
And then she touched the cloak.
The red cloak, which her grandmother said was infused with the blood of werewolves . . . .
It was as if an electric shock had torn through her, and then, she knew. Her grandmother was no more. The wolves had administered the final blow.
She fell to the ground, and wept, clutching the cloak to her heart like it alone would save her from the terrible pain she felt. It could not be true. Her grandmother could not be gone.
Memories . . . so many beautiful memories. All of it was a blur, now . . . . All the details of Grandmother’s life, her voice, her sparkling blue eyes, her caring presence, all of it was slipping away, like water through the fingers of a child desperate to keep it all . . . .
The cloak warmed in that moment, as she thought of her grandmother, though she was sure she had only imagined it.
The cloak, which she hadn’t been able to see until recently, which her grandmother had never mentioned, not until Emma had asked . . . Had it been there all along? And if it really did offer protection in that terrible forest, why hadn’t her grandmother taken it along? Surely, if she had, she would be alive and well, striding up the hill even now, tired but with a smile on her face and a warm hug for her beloved granddaughter.
It was not to be.
Emma would never know.
The cloak warmed around Emma’s skin now, just as it had the day her grandmother had died. The warmth spread up her body, calming her heart, bringing feeling back into her paralyzed body, bringing light and sense to the mind that had so refused to be calmed. She allowed thoughts of her grandmother to sustain her, which made the cloak warm further. She wondered again why her grandmother had not worn the cloak to protect in her journey through the forest. She had left one day, kissing Emma on the head and promising to return. Grandmother had never been a treasure hunter, but then, Emma suspected the treasure hidden in the forest was not the likes of a pirate’s hoard. Her grandmother had been spending much time in her room, looking at old books and maps. Emma rather wondered if her grandmother had finally figured out what was hidden in the center of the forest. It didn’t really matter. All she knew was that she had to find her.
Emma hadn’t known what made her hope her grandmother was still alive, not when she’d felt so distinctly that something terrible had happened, not when she trusted the strange magic of the blood cloak. Perhaps it was pure denial, or pure stupidity. More likely, it was the dreams.
They had begun not long after her grandmother’s death, and were as vivid as life itself. In the dreams, her grandmother was trapped in the forest, alone and afraid, and always, always the sound of wolves howling.
Emma felt a sudden hatred for the wolves of the forest, those terrible creatures of shadow her grandmother had described. Surely it was they, and they alone, who were responsible for her grandmother’s . . . death? Injury? Emma couldn’t say, she only hoped . . . . She knew there was always a chance . . . .
Something moved in the distance. Emma stumbled backward as the thick darkness began to clear, wary of the creature approaching her, hoping against hope that it was not what she thought it to be . . . .
It bared its teeth at her, which were bloody and yellowed, sharp as knives. Its ears pointed upwards; its claws were unnaturally long and also looked as if they’d been dipped in blood.
Emma didn’t want to run. Surely she couldn’t outpace the wolf, and what was the use trying? She would die anyway. Might as well take it head on, get it over quickly . . . .
The creature crept toward her, its eyes never leaving her; they had no color. There was nothing behind them; nothing but savage appetite. She would receive no mercy from this creature, of that much she was sure. Like her grandmother had received no mercy, she would be eaten alive, until there was nothing left of her.
She had felt such intense fear moments before, but it was nothing to what she felt now.
She tried to calm her mind as the wolf stalked ever closer, closer . . . .
Emma’s grief never let up. The pain was heart-wrenching; a thousand emotions all at once, pounding at her. Love, sadness, anger, happiness, sorrow; nothing was just one thing or the other, but a collision of feelings so overwhelming Emma could scarcely describe it. The dreams only made it worse, or perhaps, better in some selfish way, because she could see her grandmother. But to see her suffering . . . it was all too much.
Perhaps, like the feelings the cloak gave her, the dreams were true. Her grandmother had spoken of gifts, of a sixth sense. Had she meant these feelings? These instincts?
At last, she’d had enough. She took her grandmother’s blood cloak. She knew what she had to do.
The wolf crept closer, so close now, that she could see its eyes, its colorless, piercing gaze . . . .
Just when she thought death couldn’t come fast enough–just when she’d prepared herself for those knife-like teeth to pierce through her flesh, she saw a flash of blue in the wolf’s eye.
She knew that sparkling blue iris, though it was gone as quickly as it had come.
The cloak had warmed again.
The wolf paused.
Emma stood there, holding her breath, watching as the wolf’s gaze changed . . .
And then she knew.
Warmth was coming from that cloak.
For a moment, the creature saw the girl for who she was.
It was a fleeting notion.
The smell of the girl’s fear wafted up its nostrils, and it wanted nothing more than to strike . . .
But no, something was there now, a realization of sorts, this girl . . . this girl . . . .
Those eyes. That hair.
Emma dared to step forward, holding out a hand.
“The forest has twisted you. But you’re still there. I see it now.” Emma didn’t know if the wolf could understand her, or if there was indeed any chance that it would have mercy on her. But she couldn’t stay silent. Not when she knew who the wolf was.
It was watching her, its eyes, she thought, less savage. Or perhaps she only hoped that to be true.
Emma took a stealing breath. “You . . . you weren’t eaten by a wolf. You became one.”
Emma. The girl before her was Emma. The girl–Emma–was speaking.
She wore the cloak.
How she’d ever wanted to eat her granddaughter, her dear, lovely girl! she would never know. But why the urge was still there . . . she shook her head, willing it away. She needed to be strong. She couldn’t slip back. If she did, she may never return, nor be herself again . . . She had to try, she had to fight the wolf inside of her . . . .
The wolf was changing before Emma’s eyes. What was once matted fur became flesh and skin and torn clothing . . . claws became fingers, a snout became a face . . . .
Until there was no wolf at all, only her grandmother.
Her dear grandmother!
The woman was deathly thin, and bloodstained; her skin was graying, her wrinkles more prominent. Her hair was no longer gray, but white.
But the eyes.
She had those same, sparkling blue eyes.
Emma didn’t hesitate another moment. She ran to her grandmother and embraced her.
“I’m so sorry,” Grandmother whispered in a broken voice. “So sorry.”
Emma said nothing, only hugged her tighter.
“I was . . . foolish,” Grandmother managed, pulling away slightly. “Foolish. I only sought your happiness. I did it for you, for our family. But I was so foolish to . . . not realize . . . the only treasure I needed was you.”
“Never leave me again,” Emma whispered.
Her grandmother smiled sadly.
“We’re all meant to leave. But that doesn’t mean forever. The fear of the forest changed me. But . . . never again.”
Grandmother sunk towards the ground, clutching at her ribs.
“No!” Emma cried. “Please.” Her eyes welled up with tears. She pulled off the blood cloak, and wrapped it around her grandmother’s shoulders, supporting the weak old woman the best she could. “Please. Stay, don’t leave me again–”
Her grandmother smiled weakly. “I could never leave you.”
Emma smiled through her tears. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here.”
One lonely girl entered the forest that day.
Two left the forest, huddled under a single, blood-red cloak.