My buddy Clint writes roleplaying games and Don’t Walk In Winter Wood is one of his latest ones.  It’s brilliant, as some of us discovered last night (though, we had a Wine and Winter Wood party, so we may not have fully discovered just how brilliant as, wine being what it is, we finished the wine before the game).  It’s not like a D&D type game, no.  It’s a story-telling game.  About spooky stuff.  If you’re anything like I was as a kid, you loved hearing ghost stories.  Well, in this game, we all sat around by candlelight and shared in telling a ghost story.  This is what came of it.  I cleaned it up and streamlined the scenario I wrote for the group a little, but this is the nuts and bolts of what happened. (Er, well, would have happened.  But, like I said.  Wine.)

It’s too long to be a flash piece, I know.  Apologies.  Hope you enjoy anyway.

*     *     *     *     *

Few ventured into Winter Wood.

Every villager, from childhood, knew the stories of those who crossed into that shadowy forest.  Legends grew in the telling, of demons and angry spirits, unseen observers and strange noises.

Of monsters.

Fear would not take Thatcher Drummond, however.  At thirty-five, nearly an old man in those days, Thatcher singlehandedly hunted Winter Wood for the good of the village, keeping their larder filled in preparation for New England’s harsh winters.

“I’m charmed!” he was fond of saying, “No evil thing, neither living nor dead, dares bar my path there.  Winter Wood holds no fear for me!”

Until the winter of 1738.

Two weeks before the snows were to arrive, rats had infested the larder, devouring the village’s source of life in the harsh cold.

Thatcher looked on it as a challenge.

“I’ll go this very morning, into the woods.  I’ll see to our survival.”

Gathering his equipment and accompanied by his faithful hound, Beauregard, Thatcher made off into Winter Wood, whistling a tune as he went and promising to return by day’s end.

Three days went by.  Thatcher had not returned.

Natalie, Thatcher’s sister, convinced herself that she would go into Winter Wood and look for her brother.  She called a meeting with the village elders to get their blessing and to see to it that someone looked after she and Thatcher’s place while she went to find her brother.

“I’ll come with you.” Benjamin, the blacksmith’s apprentice spoke up.  Natalie thanked him and turned to leave.

“As will I.” Josephine, wife of the town drunk said, standing up.

Confused but happy for the extra support, Natalie agreed and the trio left for Winter Wood.

The forest was cold as they entered, the bite of the cold on exposed flesh only heightened by the smell of dried, dead leaves on the forest floor.  The noise of their footsteps the only sound to be heard, the small group tightened their cloaks about them as they warily wandered down the only path they could make out.

Hours passed.

Natalie could feel someone watching her.  She turned her head quickly, trying to catch whatever was at the corner of her eye.  She saw nothing.

Josephine’s eyes darted back and forth, scanning the wilderness in front of her for sign of Thatcher.  He was always kind, Thatcher.  Not like some of the other villagers who mocked Josephine for being married to a drunk.  When Thatcher smiled at her, she felt warmth spread through her.  That warmth was the reason she kept the things that she and Thatcher did, in the dark, in the hidden, a secret.

Benjamin halted the group as they reached a creek, flailing his arms out to his side and stopping short, his eyes locked across the ice-filled brown water.

“The Lost Sisters.” He whispered.

There, at the water’s edge across from the trio, stood two young girls.  Only, not girls.  They were pale with moldy, peach pit eyes, set too far apart on their faces, and dirty rat teeth smiles that chittered.  Their too spindly arms twitched as they twisted their heads on too spindly necks like confused dogs, staring at the travelers.

Watch for the little one. She bites.

“Who was that!?” Natalie screamed as she looked at the madness across from her.

“Who was who?” Josephine turned, asking Natalie.

“I – I heard someone.  A whisper.”

Benjamin turned to Natalie only for a moment, but when he turned back, the Lost Sisters were gone.

“Sour Mutters.” He said, still looking across the creek, “Voices.  Whispers without bodies.  They mimic what they’ve heard here.  Try to ignore them.  No good can come from listening.”

They walked on as the path in front of them gradually disappeared.  Deciding to make camp, each ate their provisions quietly.  Natalie kept first watch, sitting by the fire and praying for her brother’s safe return from those wretched woods.

See you.

Natalie prodded the fire, trying desperately to listen to anything beyond the Sour Mutters.

Hiding, waiting.

Hungry.

Josephine dreamed.

In the dream she was back in the village, just outside Benjamin’s cabin.  She could hear someone speaking in an angry voice.

You know.  Everyone knows.  One mustn’t walk in Winter Wood.”

Josephine dared a peek into the window of Benjamin’s cabin in her dream, seeing a young, beautiful woman standing before a roaring flame in the fireplace.

“But I allowed him passage,” the woman continued, fuming, “to be the hero of his village, to feed you all, because he said he was mine.  That we belonged together.”  She pulled a burning log from the fire with her bare hand and turned toward Benjamin who, in Josephine’s dream, lay asleep in his bed, “He lied.”

As she watched the woman walk toward Benjamin, the flame on the log growing bigger, brighter, Josephine tried to wake up.  She didn’t want to see what was about to happen.  Couldn’t see it.  Wouldn’t see it.  She just wanted to wake up.  Benjamin screamed in her dream as the flames danced about his face, his hair.  The fire was a living thing, carving his flesh with burning, white-hot teeth.  The woman laughed.

Josephine retched as the smell of Benjamin hit her and then woke up to find Natalie trying to shake Benjamin awake.  He screamed the same scream she had just dreamt about.

Finally, Benjamin lay silent, lifeless – smoke from an unseen source poured out of his eyes, nose and mouth.  Natalie sat dumbstruck over his corpse.

It was then that Josephine saw Thatcher.  He was looking at her from just outside the firelight.  He looked lost. Confused.  He turned to stumble away into the night.

“Thatcher!” Josephine shouted, running into the woods after him.

“Josephine, wait!”  Natalie turned from Benjamin’s body as Josephine stepped out of sight, into the dark.

Josephine ran toward shadows that looked like Thatcher, only to turn and see him lumber off in a different direction by the light of the moon.  If she could just catch him.  Just get him home.  She heard Natalie shouting her name but dismissed her.  She would save Thatcher on her own.

Within minutes of leaving the fire’s light and with no moon to see by, Natalie had completely lost Josephine in the forest’s shadows.  She continued screaming after her in a vain hope that she could call Josephine back, but to no avail.

Natalie was alone in Winter Wood.

Josephine followed Thatcher by the full moon for what seemed like hours as he stayed just out of reach.  Finally, they came upon a rock face and in it, a cave.  Josephine could make out firelight as it danced within and she watched as Thatcher stumbled inside.

“We’ll get warm in the cave,” Josephine thought, “I’ve saved him!”

As she stepped into the cave, Josephine saw a woman, sitting with her back to Josephine, warming herself by the fire.  She didn’t know how she knew it, but she knew this was the woman from her dream.

“Come in, child,” the woman said, her voice cold now, ancient, “warm yourself.”

Josephine looked around the small cave.  The rock walls were covered in red.  Covered in meat.

“Yes,” the woman spoke again, “he said we belonged together.  He said he was mine.  But he lied.  He laid with another.  He laid,” the woman spun around, “with YOU!”

Josephine’s scream echoed into the night.

Bowwrow!

“Beauregard!” Natalie yelled, hearing her brother’s dog just through the trees, “You’re never far from Thatcher!  Thatcher!” She yelled into the moonless night, “Thatcher!”

Bowwrow!

Natalie ran toward the sound of Beauregard’s baying.

“Thatcher!  Beauregard!” she tripped, uncaring as she hurried through the trees.

Bowwrow!

Natalie came into a clearing suddenly.  She could hear water.  Suddenly she felt hands all over her, pulling her down as she screamed.  Chittering rat teeth sank into her face.

Watch for the little one.  She bites.

Advertisements