Reedsy.com continues the fun with their weekly writing prompts contest! I decided to take another crack at it. While this offering received more interaction and comments it did not win the prize. And that's okay with me. You guys, I've realized I really like writing short! It's so much fun and very satisfying to accomplish a complete story fairly quickly. In my opinion this is a good way to work through writers block as well. I highly recommend giving it a try!
Without further ado, here is my latest offering:
Reedsy Prompt: Write a story that takes place in the woods.
Submitted April 15, 2020
Secret in the Wood
The moon lit the rough little path, but just barely. The peaks of the trees hid ground from sky. Mercifully, there was a full moon out this night and so the two carried on through the forest, searching. She didn’t like being here like this, being here in the dark.
“Why did we have to come at night?”
They stumbled around in the darkness, light from their flashlights darting back and forth in front of them. There was a chill in the night air and the thick forest seemed to hold in the cold. The woman shivered and pulled the neck of her coat up around her neck. She was concerned. She didn’t recognize the place. Granted, it had been years since they had been there, decades since they had seen the place. She had tried to forget it all, wipe the picture of that wretched place out of her mind and now here they were, seeking it out. She wondered if she were crazy to be here at all. But then... If they could find the place again she knew it would be worth it.
“Are you sure this is the way?”
He wanted to believe they were alone in the woods, but it was hard to know that for certain. He was uneasy, uncomfortable in this place. And this most certainly was the place. They were on the right track, he was sure of it. The memory of the trees, the narrow path through the wood, all etched in his mind as if set in stone. He’d spent years living through the nightmares that would wake him, fighting off the panic attacks in broad daylight. This most certainly was the place and he had determined long ago it was necessary for him to take this path again, to reach the end of it, to take what he deserved. He would take it without guilt because he deserved it. It was payment, restitution for what had been taken from him, what had been taken from his sister. Innocence lost in the deep dark of the forest.
“Is that it?”
She had seen it ahead of them and the sight of it had caused a shiver to go down her spine and she felt even colder than she already had. That was the effect the old cottage had on her. Even after all these years, there it stood, a rounded out little cottage with a double chimney. It looked like a stuffed mushroom, soft and round. The smoothness of it made it so inviting. But that’s not what drew them in as children. No, not the shape.
“I can smell it from here,” she said.
He didn’t shush her. He could smell it too and it stopped him from moving, kept him frozen in his tracks. He felt like a boy again. If he hadn’t been a fully grown man he may have wet himself in fear. When he had first seen the place those many years ago he had felt nothing but joy and excitement. After all, what child doesn’t dream of a house made of sweets?
“Let’s go in and get this over with,” she said.
He nodded and walked as closely to her as he could without bumping into her with every step. If he had been a boy he would have held her hand, gripped it for dear life. But he did not. Of his own will he took one brave step after another. The place smelled sickeningly of sugarcane and the heavy stench of molasses. It made him gag. She coughed a little too. As they approached the threshold they looked up at the roof, as if instinct told them each to be sure to check for smoke coming from the chimney. There was none and they both released the breath they had been holding.
They nodded at one another and approached the door together. It was not even latched shut and the two walked in without incident. The inside of the cottage hadn’t fared as well as the exterior all due to a hole in the roof. From where they stood they could look through the large opening and see the moon, lighting up the space. A large cage stood off to one side of the room and the man shuddered at the sight of it.
The woman was staring at the oven off to the other side of the room. The heat of flames leaping at her face and the smell of burning flesh were not-so-distant memories. She turned to her brother.
“Where is it?” She snapped.
He startled at the sound of her voice which had broken into his thoughts, thoughts and memories of a little boy, locked behind cold bars as an old woman prepared for her evening meal. He looked straight ahead from where they stood and saw that the items on the counter hadn’t moved since they had last been there. The bread box sat in its place on the shelf and he ran to it. She was close behind him. The secret would be there. He opened the box and took the envelope that was so carefully secured to the upper lid.
In the light of the moon they opened the envelope and together read the coveted recipe. This recipe that had been sought after, bargained for and thought to be lost. But the children who had been held captive here knew exactly where it would be. Now this gingerbread recipe belonged to them. The old woman had paid for it with her life. They had kept the secret of it all of their lives. And now, they held it in their hands.
“She’s rolling over in her grave knowing we have this,” he said.
He felt stronger. Braver, somehow. He felt vindicated. She felt calm and resolved as if this was meant to be. The witch who would have eaten them had they not shoved her in the oven, would now be feeding them with this recipe for the rest of their lives.
Hansel and Gretel stepped out of the cottage together. The smells no longer sickened them, the cold caused no discomfort and the darkness of the woods enveloped them like the hug of an old friend.