Don’t Walk in Wyver Wood
Danny’s fingers slipped into mine as we drove up the bumpy dirt road. Outside, the sun was setting over rust-colored fields.
“Sure you’re up for this, Bex?” he grinned.
“I told you, I like hiking.”
“Yeah, but in a haunted forest?”
We’d been dating for a year. Danny had recently started using the F word— “forever” —just as I’d started thinking of ending things. Maybe he’d picked up on my feelings, because lately he’d been taking me on these very elaborate dates. The “moonlit walk in a haunted forest” thing felt like just another desperate bid to keep me interested.
“What’s so haunted about it, anyway?” I asked, humoring him.
“Supposedly the trees grow at strange angles. All bent and twisted. Just… wrong, somehow.”
I rolled my eyes, and Danny tried harder. “And they say people lose time there. I heard that a little girl wandered in, went missing, and turned up fifty years later. She hadn’t aged a day, but she’d gone completely insane.”
We turned onto a side road, which narrowed into a trail. A wooden sign ahead said “Wyver Wood” in hand-carved letters, and we parked and climbed out.
“You sure you’re not scared?” Danny whispered, flicking on his flashlight.
“You wish,” I said. We started walking.
I breathed in deeply. The autumn air felt good and the moon was rising through the straight, neatly spaced trees. “So where are the weird ones? These are all perfect.”
“Maybe they’re farther in. It’s still kinda spooky, though, huh?” he said.
“Hey, look at that.” He pointed his light at a nearby trunk. “That tree’s kinda weird, right?”
“It’s got that knobbly thing.”
“Doesn’t it look like a face?”
“It looks like a knot.”
After a few minutes, an owl hooted. Danny grabbed my hand. “Whoa! Did you hear that? Creepy!”
“It’s an owl. It’s nocturnal,” I said.
Danny sighed and stopped. “Y’know, I’m just trying to make some fun memories.”
“I told you, it’s nice.”
“Why do I feel like you don’t enjoy hanging out with me anymore?”
“I don’t know.”
“Bex… are you going to break up with me?”
“Can we not do this right now?”
“You are, aren’t you. I knew it.” His eyes welled with tears. “I can’t take this. I’m going back to the car.”
“I just need a minute, okay?”
“Alright. I’ll… hang back, I guess.”
He disappeared down the trail, and I sat on a log. I liked Danny, cared about him. But he just wasn’t…the one. Not my forever guy. And the sooner we both came to terms with that, the easier things would be.
After a few minutes I got up and followed him. We’d only been walking ten minutes or so, and around every bend I expected the car to appear.
But it didn’t.
Had Danny driven away? Left me here? Sure, I’d hurt his feelings, but to abandon me in the woods at night? I hadn’t even officially dumped him! I walked faster, thinking I’d hit the dirt road we’d come in on.
But I didn’t find the dirt road. Had I gone the wrong way? I must have, because with every step I took the path seemed to be getting narrower and more overgrown, until there was no trail at all. Finally I was forced to stop and turn around.
And when I did, every inch of my skin went cold.
The trees were not straight anymore.
I tried to stay calm as I looked at the path I’d just come down—but which I couldn’t have come down, because the trees all jutted up from the ground at unnatural angles, leaning and crossing each other across the trail like interlaced fingers, so thick I couldn’t have gotten here without climbing over, and under, and around them…
“Danny!” I shouted. “Danny, are you still here?”
Nothing. “Danny!” I called again, my voice cracking with fear.
And then I heard him shout my name.
I melted with relief. “I’m here!”
I followed the sound of his voice, climbing around the twisted trees. “Where are you?” I called, but he just kept shouting my name.
And then there was another voice.
It was my mother’s, and she sounded afraid.
“Rebecca, sweetheart! Where are you?”
But she didn’t seem to hear.
Soon there were more voices. It sounded like a search party, dozens of voices calling for me, looking for me. Some of them were so close I felt sure I should be able to see them, but it seemed like the trees were condensing, somehow, pressing in closer, and each step was more difficult than the last as their twisted trunks and branches blocked the path.
I called back but the people didn’t seem to hear me. Then their voices faded away, and the forest was silent. I started to panic, tried to run, but the trees were too tight, now, pressing in at all sides, their trunks bodies branches arms reaching around me, grasping me, immobilizing me.
And then I saw him. Through an inch-wide gap in the branches, there was Danny, just a few feet away. He was sitting on a log, head in his hands.
When he looked up, I gasped. Danny looked different. Dark circles under his eyes, his cheeks gaunt, an unkempt beard crawling down his neck.
He’d been clean shaven half an hour ago.
“Bex,” he whispered. My heart leapt, but when I looked into his broken eyes I realized he didn’t see me. Couldn’t see me.
“I can’t keep coming here,” he said. “I know I said I wouldn’t give up, but it’s been three months now, and I just… I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
I tried to call out to him but the trees wouldn’t let me.
He stood, looking around at what to him must have seemed a perfect, peaceful wood. “And I want you to know that I love you, Bex. Forever.”
Ariadne Blayde is a playwright and fiction writer. Her play “The Other Room” won the VSA Playwright Discovery Award and has been produced 300+ times around the world. Her work has been shortlisted for Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Prize, Lark Playwrights week, and more, and her story “Shinichi’s Tricycle” won the 2020 Quantum Shorts Competition’s People’s Choice Award. Her debut novel, Ash Tuesday, is due out from April Gloaming Publishing in early 2022. Ariadne moonlights as a ghost tour guide in New Orleans, which is every bit as fun as it sounds. Find out more about Ariadne here.