The stench of stale rain on the crisp decay of the leaves which crunch underfoot; feet crushing their delicately veined, chestnut spines with each step further into the shadowy realms of the woods. The darkness perpetuates itself. The anorexic bark and long, thin, fingers which stretch upwards towards the sky: the trees might be grasping for the light, or strangling it.
Celia steps forwards, still.
Her fingers reach out too, grasping, strangling, his hand enclosing her desperate fingers. She holds on as though letting go would mean surrounding to the forest. The rough, callous skin of his hand feels oddly hot. He seems so solid. He pulls her forwards, deeper under the cover of the trees. A lump rises in her throat. The woods are so very dark.
For the first time she notices that he isn’t wearing any shoes: there is something horrifying about his exposed feet moving across the mud and the leaves and the tree roots rearing their ugly, twisted heads about the earth. It is primal. It is unnatural and wrong.
Celia digs her fingernails into the back of his hand tries to stop the tears welling up in her eyes; to cry would be to admit to herself that something is wrong. Celia would like to convince herself that there is nothing wrong. Her short sharp nails, bitten to a jagged edge, break through the back of his palm.
He stops suddenly. He turns towards her with his features arranged in a harsh, uncompromising, fierce expression. Everything is sharp. Too sharp.
His eyes blaze orange in the growing darkness.
“Just look at the beautiful flowers which grow around you; why do you not look about you? I believe you don’t hear how sweetly the birds are singing...” She stopped, distracted by a sudden movement from beyond the window. Without thinking she stood up and pressed herself against the glass. Eager. The silly, naive eagerness of a girl younger than her years.
He was there.
He had infected her. Infected her with this eagerness, this blind stupidity and this all encompassing love.
Their house bordered the edge of the wood: a real, mystical, deep wood that was both more and less than a personification of a childhood nightmare. The sort of place that invoked an archaic, instinctive fear; the trees absorbed all sound, the eerie silence punctuated by your ragged breathing. All logic of perspective and scale was lost amongst the stark surface of the trees. It was a place you would not wish to be alone at night. It was the projection of all Cecilia’s fairytale worlds, right outside her door; a dark place that should not or could not be explored further.
Once, she and her friends had played dares there (back before they were nearly adults, when childhood still held them tightly in place). She had entered the woods then, and still remembered the odd pressing silence of the place – as though she was submerged. Underwater. The games had been stopped. The boy had gone missing. The family moved away. No one went into the woods. Especially not the children.
He was the only one she knew that wasn’t afraid of the forest.
He lived there.
She eagerly pushed herself closer to the glass, willing him to seek her gaze. The glass yielded little for the sake of her enthusiasm: she wanted to be able to push through the distance, reach out and pluck him from the outskirts of the forest. She wanted to keep him. More, though, she wanted him to keep her. She wanted him to look at her; devour her with that intense expression in his eyes. He did look at her. He raised a hand from where he stood, just free from the shadowy embraces of the trees that stood guard at the edge of the wood. Her fingers gripped the windowsill with excitement as she drew even nearer. He nodded once – such a small, barely visible gesture that meant so much.
“Celia?” Her sister demanded, clambering upwards to see what had distracted her from reading. He retreated immediately into the forest. He hated to be seen, he was as secretive as the woods itself: a living enigma that breathed and thought and lived in some strange world that she wasn’t privy to. She didn’t mind his concealment much – he was her secret. He was hers and she was his.
“Sorry,” Celia said quickly, sitting back down on her chair and waiting for her sister to clamber into bed again. “Where was I?” She asked with a secret smile playing across her lips, “And Little Red-Cap opened her eyes; and when she saw how the sunbeams glanced and danced through the trees, and what bright flowers were blooming in her path...”
She rolled the idea over and over in her head – he was hers and she was his. He was her fairytale; the epitome of a handsome stranger. Better, she supposed, than a prince. He had a story, a dark past, something horrible lurking in those orange eyes of his. He was more than a happy ending; he was a romance novel in its entirety: and she would smooth out his pages and absorb every word, enthralled by the twists and turns. Waiting for the conclusion, waiting for that final chapter where everything slipped into place like a delicate foot in a delicate, pristine glass slipper.
Celia stumbled over the words until she gave up well before the four stories she had promised her sister than night. She couldn’t help it; the excitement of seeing him was as overwhelming as it was frightening. It would happen tonight. He had promised her next time he visited it would be the night. Tonight was the night. The conclusion, or perhaps just a beginning, but it was something... and it was entirely hungrier, more pressing, more important than her sister’s story books.
Celia had never been extraordinary. Sometimes she was sickened by how ordinary she was: she wanted to be like the girls who believed in animal rights and world peace... or ones of those girls who cut their hair short and stuck safety pins through their ears. She could never do that. There was not a single outstanding feature which defined her: she was not pretty or passionate, or kind or fair, or delicate or intelligent. She was nothing. That was part of why she was so drawn to him. He made her interesting: he was older, sophisticated and experienced. She’d seen the scars across his chest and had begged him for an explanation as to how they had gotten there. He had refused to tell her. The mystery only made her love him all the more; the taster of something deeper, or something more enthralling and disturbing, the intrigue of possibility.
He was a tortured soul and now, by association, she was an interesting person. She’d dreamt of love and here it was. Real and everlasting. It had already changed her in more ways than she could have imagined. She had surrendered herself to that change: sacrificed herself on the altar of love and walked away as someone entirely different. Once, he’d complimented the way the colour red contrasted with her pale skin. The compliment seemed to fester in her blood stream, pull on all her trains of thoughts... and she had found herself stood in the chemists, the weight of a bottle of red hair dye weighing heavy in her hands. She wanted to please him. Needed to please him.
He’d laughed at her and she’d been so upset she couldn’t help but cry. She’d wept – she couldn’t help it. A sense of reality had infringed on her fairytale world, where dark red hair was not a romantic gesture, but an act of silly desperation. And then he had ebbed the flow of doubt.
He’d professed to feel stupidly guilty and had brought her the red coat to match. She’d barely taken it off since. She wore it school, ignoring the whispers that followed round her, and she loved it wholeheartedly. She cloaked herself with it, imagining it to be his lucid embrace. Sometimes she’d sit and run her fingers over the red material and just dream of him. That was what love was for Celia: the colour red and her beautiful, mysterious tortured soul.
Her little secret.
Celia pinched her pale cheeks with her fingers to try and add a little colour to her face. It hurt a little, but her skin had turned the colour of paper. She concluded it must be the fault of her excitement, which reminded her so starkly of a blank page of a book (a story waiting to be tired) and cursed her body’s betrayal. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Her hands were shaking slightly as she tried to apply her make up; painting on a new face. She drew away and appraised herself: a perverse amount of effort had been spent trying to ensure an alluring, suggestive appeal. He had been corrupted by some dark history and Celia would always be trying to catch up. She’d donned her boots, more make up than she was normally comfortable with, she had borrowed her mother’s red lipstick.
She looked like a school girl. She looked even younger than her seventeen years. Her eyes sparked tears without permission: nervous, excited, dreadful tears that rolled down her cheek. She wiped the lipstick away on the back of her hand and chastised herself. There was nothing to be scared of. Tonight... tonight was supposed to be perfect. It was supposed to be the best night of her life. The beginning of her life as an adult.
She threw the lipstick into the sink and drew up one of his other compliments from her reservoir – I like you just the way you are Celia, just the way you are. She had no reason to worry. No reason at all.
He loved her.
Her friends didn’t believe her at first. In fact, they were convinced she made every last word of it up. They’d didn’t believe in her talk of mysterious strangers and thought, if he did happen to be true, then she should stay well away from someone who lived in the woods and had unexplainable scars and gave her no answers to her questions. They were not lulled in by the alluring scent of a story to be told, a possibility. And yet, they had not met him. They could not understand.
He’d approached her, all those months ago, and he called her over to him. He’d been hurt, she remembered – wounded, stumbling out of the woods with a deep gash across his chest. She’d run home and brought him bandages. She’d dressed his wounds and watched as his blood fell onto the snow. The stain had been so vivid in its exuberance she had thought it might permanently turn the grass below blood red, but it had melted just as snow always does. There was no memorabilia from their first meeting. He had talked to her – directly to her – and somewhere along the line she’d fallen in love with him.
He cared about her more than anyone in the world. He was the only person who truly loved her: her mother and her sister knew nothing about her compared to him (his harsh, thick voice seemed to whisper that in her ear; they don’t understand you, Celia, they will never understand you). She’d told him everything: the silly crushes, the jealousy and her deepest secrets. His visits were sporadic. Sometimes he’d be there night after night... and sometimes he’d disappear for weeks and weeks. She wrote long rambling letters to him in his absence and then ripped them into pieces to prevent her mother from reading the content. The words of their story seemed diminished, anyway, when confined to paper: mere words could not convey the magnetic pull towards him, the sense of encroaching doom, as though he would ruin her and she would be set free in ruin. He missed her just as much – he told her so – and hugged her close to his raggedy chest.
Physically, they remained platonic. Sometimes one of his hands would rest on her back for a little too long. Occasionally he’d send her a long hungry glance until all Celia wanted to do was melt into a puddle in front of him: she wanted him to consume her, completely, wholly so she no longer had to remain so separate from him. She’d dreamt of him kissing her. Lying in bed she’d imagine his arms around her – his rough skin brushing against hers as they slept. She longed to be able to reach out and touch his coarse, cruel lips but... In her mind Celia supposed their relationship was deeper and more meaningful than physical intimacy. It was worth more. He respected her too much.
Celia’s mother returned home at around seven. Celia pulled her red coat over her dress and fastened the buttons quickly; fingers fumbling with nervous excitement. She flew down the stairs and greeted her mother with a smile. “Mum, do you want me to go take Grandma some fruit or something?” She asked, struggling to disguise the excitement from her voice. Celia had no real intention to visit her elderly relative. An excuse. A reason. She needed to be permitted to find him. She could not wait until night fall, to escape from her window. Sooner, rather than later. “It’s not dark yet,” She added, “I’d be back by eight.”
“Is your sister in bed?”
“She’s reading.” Celia said, nervously fiddling with the bottom of her coat. She was conscious that her mother must not suspect anything suspicious. No one must know. Her little secret.
“Oh, all right.” Her mother conceded. It seemed to take an eternity for her mother to put together a basket of fruit, and a few flowers, and a jar of homemade strawberry Jam. It was at least enough time to begin to make Celia feel guilty about deceiving her mother and aboutnot visiting her beloved grandmother. It heightened her anxiety to a fever pitch and kept her bouncing on the toes of her boots impatiently.
Finally, it was done and Celia took the basket in her arm and headed towards the door. Her mother watched in bemusement. “And don’t go near the Woods, Celia!” She called after her. Another pit of guilt opened up inside her, because Celia was going to go into the Woods tonight, Celia was going to go to the very heart of the woods. Her and him... they were going to go together.
And she would definitely not be back by eight.
Jane had caught a glimpse of him last Thursday. Before that her friends had ridiculed her to a degree above what she thought possible about her ‘handsome stranger.’ Jane had been searching for something more to goad her with, but the plan had backfired and now her friends had no choice but to believe her. The same old, worn out conversations were repeated with responses of awe and shock rather than disbelief and sarcasm. They’d apologised repeatedly for their lack of faith and each one of them had begged to meet him.
Celia had remained cold because she was still hurt that they hadn’t believed her in the first place. “Well what did you expect us to think?” Jane had questioned, “With a name like Fenrir Greyback.”
They’d all laughed at that, even Celia.
“How old even is he?”
Celia blushed, “Nearly thirty?” and with there had been even more breaths of shock and amazement and horror.
“No, no... he’s never... he’s never even kissed me.”
“I thought you said he loved you?” Jane asked sceptically. Celia resented her scepticism. Anyway, her friends didn’t understand: they’d never been in love. They’d never met Fenrir. They were too immature to understand something so complicated. Yes, the age difference was... a problem but... They were in love. What did it matter?
“He does,” She answered fiercely, “And next time he comes... he’s going to show me where he lives and... and we’re going to live happily ever after and I might never come back here again.”
“Oh Celia,” Jane laughed and Celia had felt so cross that she hadn’t talked to her since. They didn’t understand, but they would. They’d see. Everyone would see.
Celia pulled her arms around herself as she approached the edge of the wood: ever since that boy’s disappearance she’d been nervous around the Wood. She had been young. He had been older. She remembered playing with the little boy in question, once. They’d never found a body... they’d never found anything. The Lupin’s had left and the boy had, as far as Celia knew, never been recovered. The thought sent a cold sensation creeping up her skin. She reminded herself that those stories, about Remus Lupin and the woods, were just fairy stories: nonsense.
She ventured another step towards the woods. The sheer volume of colours deviating from the same strict pallet, the pressing silence, the vague acceptance that she was leaving the usual laws of the world behind her as she stepped into the mystic place. Fenrir stepped from the shadows, seeming as though he had existed as a shadow moments previously, and offered her that same serious smile that she loved so dearly. Sometimes he looked older than his age and sometimes there was a glint of something in his eyes that was youthful and full of anguish: her Fenrir had a troubled past, a hidden anguish, and Celia knew that she would be the one to heal him once again. Smooth over the wounds of old, together, before stepping into a future.
“Celia,” He smiled. His voice was always low, raspy and dangerous. “I didn’t expect you until night fall.” she could quite tell whether he was disappointed or not by the fact, but shook the thought from her brain. His voice gave little away. He was a master of concealment. He revealed himself by degrees; the slow, painful process of stripping away his mask had been the most mesmerising journey Celia had ever taken. She still thought him, his humanity, to be utterly stunning.
“I wanted to see you,” She said her voice emerging weak and squeaky from her throat. She never intended to sound ridiculous in his presence but it seemed that was the effect he had on her. She blamed it on love. She could drown and choke on her love.
“Yes,” Fenrir murmured, “and I, you.”
“Will you show me then?” Celia asked, nervously glancing towards the wood, “Your home?”
He nodded. He held out her hand. She took it and together they stepped into the woods.
Celia had never had a proper boyfriend. She felt, at the age of seventeen, this was a shameful fact that should be kept well hidden (another little secret). She’d kissed boys before, yes, and even ventured a little further than that... but she had never been in a relationship.
Her friends had the ability to become jelloid under the effects of some of the boys in their class but as far as Celia was concerned they were immature and beneath her standards. There had been one boy, once, who’d caught her attention; he’d sat next to her in history and always let her borrow his homework when she forgot (not that this happened very often).
He’d been blown out of the water the day Fenrir had found her... how could he compete with his orange-yellow eyes? With his chest which always seemed to be bursting from his clean, white shirt? With his stubbled chin and dark brown mass of hair? No, Celia was smitten.
Nobody could have changed that.
The dregs of summer were blocked about by the woods, an unnatural ability to block out the light. An eclipse, of sorts, as the canopy of slowly-crinkling leaves casts enchantments of shadows across the carpeted floor. No noise. Breathing. The woods were endless: ancient and yet renewing themselves, continually. The woods were never the same twice. The woods could consume and devour more readily and more sneakily than any monster or creature of the forest. She shivered.
“They’ll be a full moon tonight,” he said, looking at her so intently that she felt as though he were absorbing her very substance. The look was hungry, deliberate and thrilling. Celia did not say anything; she was no longer sure she was capable of speech within the midst of this dark, dark place. “Are you scared?” He asked.
She nodded foolishly.
He took her hand... his thick coarse skin was warm and the weight of his hand in hers was enough to make her forget about the thickening forest for quite some time.
Celia Woodhall used to be a sensible girl: she listened to her parents and her teachers. She was respected and liked by her friends. She nearly always completed her homework and rarely did things that would get her into trouble. She knew about strangers. She knew about not walking into woods. She knew all about older men.
She used to be sensible.
The woods had thickened to the point where Celia could see nothing but tree after tree: the world had become a stark gallery of ash-brown bark that stretched in infinite directions and quantities. There was nothing but tree after tree and Celia began to feel her heart thud in her chest once more; ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. All colours dulled to grey in the expanding gloom and Celia could not remember the way they had come – how was she to get out? To get home? She squeezed his hand tightly and looked upwards. Snatches of the sky were still visible through the gaps between the leaves, but even the sky had turned from blue to an ominous purple sunset. Ink. Stories. Fairytales. It should have been beautiful. Ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum.
“Don’t you trust me?” His deep velvety voice asked her softly.
And they walked on.
Jane was worried. She was not always a nice girl but she, like Celia had once been, was sensible. She knew that strangers from the forest were not good news and... and as much as Jane hated to be so good she couldn’t help herself. She fancied herself as a teenage rebel who pushed the boundaries and disrespected her parents, but Jane was also increasingly worried about Celia.
She walked as far from the edge of the wood’s as possible on the road up to Celia’s house. She knocked on the door and waited for her mother to answer the door. She swallowed her pride.
“I’m worried about Celia.”
The colours of the sky were beginning to fade into twilight and Celia was still walking. The trees were closer together and sometimes Fenrir had to go first, and she had to follow second – clutching hold onto his hand like a lifeline. She stumbled twice. A tear slipped from one eye. She began to wish very hard that she had gone to visit her grandmother. The sound of their footsteps had intensified until it filled up her ear drums and sounded louder than any noise she’d ever heard: every cracked leaf, and every stumble made her wince.
“Celia,” Fenrir murmured, “what’s wrong?” Celia dropped his hand and hastily wiped the tear of her face, feeling angry at herself. She’d wanted this. She could no longer remember why. “Why don’t you put down your basket?” He asked gently. She did so. She left it there on the ground: the fruit, the flowers and the homemade strawberry jam.
“You’ve got to trust me.” Fenrir growled.
“Always,” Celia whispered her voice quite even in the silence of the night.
The light had nearly all fallen away and Celia was no longer pretending not to cry. An avalanche of the dying day.
“Stop here,” he ordered, “Sit,” Celia didn’t want to. The ground was dirty and she did not understand. The trees had thinned to the point where she could see the sky again but they definitely weren’t anywhere that could be considered a home. Celia had half a mind to protest and to argue, but she was beginning to realise that she had already walked too far. “Sit.”
She could barely breathe.
Fenrir bent down over her. His breathing filled up her mind. He pushed the red material of her coat off her shoulder leaving it exposed. She was cold and scared and confused.
She stared at him. His golden eyes seemed to glow in the darkness of the forest. “W...what orange eyes you’ve got.” She mumbled, bawling her hands into her fists – anything to distract him, to stop him. It was colder now with night descending upon the forest and with Celia’s skin exposed to the sharp air. The air had teeth. The whole wood was poised to attack: to snare her and trap her and lock her within.
“All the better to see you,” He smiled widely. For the first time in Celia’s life she saw his teeth – sharp and fang-like. Feral and carnivorous. A shudder of fear travelled down her spine.
“What... sharp teeth you’ve got.”
Fenrir snarled, a guttural, animalistic noise. Not human. He pressed his lips against Celia’s neck, then her shoulder and then... and then there was a sudden stab of pain and Celia jerked away from him –staring at her arm. She was bleeding. He hadbit her.
They both watched the trail of blood fall down her arm. His breath still on her skin. He was much too close. She remembered the way he’d complimented the contrast of her pale skin and the colour red.
Celia felt sick.
His fingers curled around her wrists so that she was pinned against the tree.
“Take off your shoes.” He demanded.
Celia took them off as quickly as she could with her hands pinned to the tree. Her heart thudded. Bad-dum. Bad-dum. Bad-dum.
Then he kissed her, forcing his lips upon hers. Celia couldn’t think anymore. She could hardly comprehend how something had gone so dreadfully wrong. She kissed him back because she didn’t know quite what else to do, so she kissed him back with everything she had and tried to ignore the rough bark against her back, and the way his teeth cut into her lips. Blood.
She was sobbing now.
Fenrir Greyback jerked backwards suddenly and stared up at the inky sky. He growled and looked upwards: the lines of his face contorted in sudden pain. His whole figure shuddered in pain and Celia scrabbled into a better sitting position – she started at his figure, Fenrir, her Fenrir... and...
The moon rose majestically into the sky, the silver scattering across the clearing and illuminating each line of pain on his face. He groaned, howled almost, and his teeth bore together in agony.
Run, Celia, Run.
Celia roughly grabbed hold of his face and forced him to look her in the eyes. Her cheeks were flushed from fear, cold and the tears streaming down her face. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? How can I help you? Fenrir, tell me how I can help you, tell me... tell me...”
His gaze hardened. His fingers locked around her wrists again and his eyes turned savage. She could see the red of her coat reflected in his orange glassy eyes, eyes that seemed to be growing in size in his face. And the hands, the fingers swelling disproportionally until he could no longer grasp onto her wrists and instead pressed his palms against her shoulders, pushing her to the ground once more.
Bones shattered, growling, snarling, and Celia frozen on the forest floor.
You need to run Celia, run, run or he’ll get you.
The moon glares and you reallyneed to run Celia. Fenrir Greyback is not the person you always thought he was: Fenrir Greyback never loved you, never cared about you; Fenrir Greyback never meant to take you home, never thought of anything but tearing your flesh apart with his teeth.
The wolf rears upon its hind legs, orange eyes glowing, and then it sinks its teeth into your arm.
And then you bleed.
And then Celia, you run for your bloody life.
If you go down to the woods today, fight past the arms of the trees that block your way and follow the intoxicating stench of spilt blood and panic you might stumble across a trail: a basket, a pair of boots, a red coat, a girl; broken, bloodied, still breathing. Remnants of another fairytale; scattered.
A/N - written for tell_me_what_the_truth_is's Horror/Dark challenge.
The two quotes in italics (“Just look at the beautiful flowers which grow around you; why do you not look about you? I believe you don’t hear how sweetly the birds are singing...” and And Little Red-Cap opened her eyes; and when she saw how the sunbeams glanced and danced through the trees, and what bright flowers were blooming in her path...”) are from 'Little Red-Cap' by the brother's Grim. They are not mine.
2012 edit - no longer much chance of this turning into a longer story, I'm afraid. Too much on my plate. But, it needed a good edit anyway. Reviews would be lovely :)