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The Spirit of the Woods
They say that every time you mention her name, she suddenly appears. You don't usually see her, but she is always listening. Sometimes you will catch a glimpse of pure white skin, or notice feathery hair blowing past your window.
I have been raised to believe these tales. I never once doubted her existence. She was believed in just as strongly as God, only she was more interesting. We dutifully read our bibles, said our prayers, and told tales of the Spirit of the Woods.
On cold, blustery nights we would gather around the fire and huddle close. We could hear the wind moaning like a dying child. The cold would seep in through the cracks of our log cabin. My grandmother would gather us near and begin her stories.
“Once, long ago, on a night such as this, a young woman stumbled into our village,” she would pause and look each of us in the eyes. “In her arms was a wee baby, just as tiny and frail as could be. She went to each house, looked in the window, and moaned louder than the strongest gale. Children shrieked, women shuddered, and even the men would lock their doors.
“I was just 15 years old. When she came to our window, I was mesmerized. My mother hid in the corner with my little brother. She looked so desperate and thin. I bravely took up my dinner, undid the latch, and stepped outside into the inky black night. No one was there. I ran back to my mother's arms and wept from the fright of it all. My mother said that she just disappeared, faded away like the morning fog.
Everyone was terrified of the phantom. When she appeared again, we wondered if she would ever leave. I hunted for her every day and stared out the window every night. But it seems she only comes when you least expect it.
I still see her from time to time. No one knows why she came or what became of the baby. She always comes when you speak of her. She is here now, listening.” Grandmother always ended that way, but this night was different. My grandmother looked up at the window and gave one quick nod of her head. I turned around, and stopped dead in my tracks.
There she stood, staring in at us, staring in at me. Her eyes held my gaze for half a second, then she was gone. My littlest sister, Maria, began crying hysterically. Daniel, Ashley, and Katy ran to get my mum and dad. I let out my breath and stared at my grandmother.
“What?” she asked, “I told you she was real. Did you think her pretty, Michael?”
I nodded, still dazed. My mind was numb and my heart was racing. Real. She was real!
* * *
I woke up the next morning with a strange feeling. I couldn't tell if what happened the night before was real, or just a dream. Daniel, age 7, ran into our room and jumped on the bed, “Do you think she'll come again?” It wasn't a dream!
“No, I don't think so,” I said as I began to dress.
I made my way past the girl's room, my parent's room, and grandmother's room. We had one small room with chairs, a table, and a fire for cooking. I was just thankful that we didn't live in a one-room cottage like some of my friends.
Every day I milked the cows, fed the horses, gathered the eggs, and carried the water before breakfast. Everyone in my family was up before the sun rose. When it wasn't picking or planting season, I could usually have my chores done right after lunch. I would pack my dinner and set off for town, where my friends and I would talk, hang out, and generally get in trouble.
But today, I felt different. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being watched. Once, I turned around just in time to see someone dressed completely in fur duck behind a tree. My imagination went wild and I could just see myself being scalped by an Indian. I raced to town, but that didn't stop my jittery nerves.
I left town early with my best friend, Jerry. I would have liked to stay longer, but there was no way I was walking home by myself. We walked in silence for the first half.
“Is something wrong?”Jerry asked.
“No, I just didn't sleep well last night,” which was technically the truth.
We continued on until I could see his farm house. “Will you tell me if something is the matter?” Jerry tried one more time.
“Yeah, don't worry about me. I'll go to bed early tonight and be bright and chipper tomorrow,” I tried to reassure him.
“All right, see you, Michael.”
Jerry strolled towards his house and I took off towards mine. Again, I had the strangest feeling that someone was watching me.
* * *
The week passed without much excitement. She was never talked about, and I began to wonder if I had, indeed, seen a person. Maybe Daniel was talking about someone else, I thought.
Jerry walked me home again, one fine Saturday evening. The air was crisp and the leaves were falling. I stared up at the cloudless sky, mindless of what was around me.
“Michael? Can I tell you something?”
“Sure, Jer,” I said as I glanced at him. “Are you okay? You're as white as my mum's sheets.”
“I saw Her.”
“Her?” but I instantly knew who he was talking about.
“The Spirit of the Woods.” By now we had stopped walking and were standing in the middle of the dirt lane.
“How do you know it was her?” I almost whispered.
“Liam and I were talking about how we couldn't believe something we couldn't see. Especially something as silly as a girl that goes around staring in your window,” he rushed on. “I started laughing and making idiotic comments about her. Suddenly, she was fifty feet away.”
“What did she look like?” I yelled excitedly.
“She was thin, beautiful, with long brown hair and a pale face. Her eyes were large and brown, almost black. She was completely clothed in fur, like an Indian squaw.” Could she be the one following me? I thought.
“Don't tell anyone else,” I replied, “they might think you've gone crazy.”
We finished the trek in silence, each to his own thoughts. I was quiet at dinner and went to bed early. I tossed and turned for hours. The wind was howling with a vengeance, and I couldn't help thinking of the first night I saw her. Finally, as the wind died down, I slid out of bed and down the hallway.
No one woke up as I crept out the door and set off for my favorite spot. The dew on the grass glowed and shimmered with the moonlight. Dry leaves crunched under my bare feet. I made my way past our dead fields and into the forest. Just as I was about to break through the treeline, I saw a silhouette outlined against the moon. I froze for what seemed like an eternity. She turned slowly and motioned for me to draw near. I tiptoed across the clearing and stopped only inches away from the large rock she was standing on.
“Are you real?” I breathed. She held out her dainty hand. I slowly reached out and brushed her ice cold fingers. “Why are you out here?”
“I am carrying on my mother's purpose.” Her voice was high and sounded like music. It danced like the wind, and it was more of a feeling than a sound.
“Then you are the baby?” She nodded and her eyes twinkled like the stars above. “Who are you?” I asked.
“I am the lost lover of every young man, I am the dead daughter of every passerby, I am the vengeful mother that haunts those who did wrong, I am every dream and every nightmare. I am the spirit of the woods.”
Her last words were swept away in a gust of wind fiercer than any I have felt before. When I looked again, she was gone. I trudged back to my log cabin, and my little room. The only signs that it wasn't a dream was the wet grass on my bare feet. Never again have I seen the Spirit of the Woods, but I feel her everywhere I go.