The witch of the wood


Emma Minnick, Editor

Peter did not like his new house. His parents said it was a catch, a bargain, “the real deal.” And maybe that was true. The house was shockingly inexpensive, despite its wonderful condition. But Peter knew that value meant more than money. He was only six, but he was not stupid. As soon as the beat-up van pulled into the driveway, he knew the house was bad news.

His parents were ecstatic, raving about the beautiful scenery, sturdy frame, and antique interior. Peter had to admit, the house was beautiful with its Antebellum-style pillars, large bay windows, and luxurious garden area. But something felt off. The rooms felt vacant, despite the abundance of furniture. The bedrooms were eerie and impersonal, and within them the velvet curtains drooped woefully.

“It just takes getting used to, Pete,” his father reassured him. “Of course the house seems sad now, but soon we’ll fill it up with all our things from back home. And then you’ll like it well enough, I’m sure.”

His father was right – the house did begin to feel more like a home – but the boy still was not convinced. Something was still wrong.

Peter spent the brisk autumn days outside, exploring his family’s new property. The yard was devoid of the house’s eerie feeling. The garden was peaceful, and the woods were perfect for exploring. “Maybe this place isn’t so bad,” Peter thought to himself. One October morning, Peter put on his coat, hat, and rubber boots. He was ready to explore! He kissed his mother and trekked into the woods, promising to be back for lunch.

The woods were magical. The trees were alight with sun, and a chilly breeze floated the scent of pine into Peter’s nose. Birds chattered above, and dead leaves eddied at the boy’s feet. But despite the lovely scenery, Peter suddenly felt sick. Something was wrong here. Just then, as if on cue, a branch snapped behind him. He whipped around, and saw… nothing. There were no ghouls in these woods, just a scared little boy with a red woolen hat. But still, a chill crept up his spine. “I’m getting chilly anyway,” he murmured, and started toward the house.

Peter spent the rest of his day in a trance. Those woods were not what they seemed. And he needed to go back.  That night, he lie awake in bed, waiting for his parents to go to bed. When he was sure they were asleep, he crawled out of bed, already dressed in jeans and a sweater. He quietly slipped his coat on, stepped into his boots, and pulled his red hat far over his ears. As he crept out of the house, he snatched the flashlight he had stowed away under the kitchen sink. He was ready.

The woods were almost unrecognizable at night. The only thing reminiscent were the spindly trees illuminated by the old flashlight. Peter suddenly felt very small and very trapped. “This was a bad idea,” he whispered, nearly jumping at the sound of his own voice. Just as he turned to flee, he heard it again: the snap of a branch. Peter looked behind him, slowly this time, and when he turned he gasped. His flashlight showed him a horrible sight: a woman who Peter had never seen before.

The woman was unnaturally tall, taller than his father by at least two heads. Her hair was long and matted, her face smeared with grime, her dress caked with mud and leaves. But beneath it all, there was something beautiful about her. Something enticing. She held out a thin, mud-stained hand, and like a boy under a spell, Peter took it.

As the sun rose the next morning, Peter’s mother knew something was wrong. As soon as her feet touched the floor, she was compelled to go to Peter’s bedroom. When she found it empty, she dashed to the kitchen. The bathroom, the living room, the garage. In a panic, she phoned her husband.

“Hello?” he answered as she dashed outside.

“Peter! It’s Peter! He’s gone! He isn’t here!” she cried hysterically.

“What do you mean gone? Slow down, I-” The phone dropped from her hand as she entered the mouth of the woods, landing in the leaves with a sickening crunch.

“Oh my God,” Before Peter’s mother lay a sight that made her feel sick; a red woolen hat lying among bloodstained leaves like a gutted fish. She swallowed sharply, holding back tears. She turned in shocked disbelief, ready to sink to floor before she heard something. Deep in the woods behind her, a branch snapped.