The forest was dark and cold like a corpse. Once full of hopes and dreams, the trees are now empty husks of bark. Dread and fear crept behind Olivia as she tip-toed. She lost sight of the rabbit ages ago, leaving her in absolute darkness. Not even the light from her flashlight can pierce through the shadows of this forgotten land.
It was too late to turn back. The trees closed off the exit with their slender hands. Olivia could only move forward and deeper into the woods. Deeper into the demon's den of horrors. Olivia's sweaty hands clenched on the flashlight. The very thought made her squeamish.
How can she let herself be lured in here? Like Alice, she followed the rabbit into the hole, but this isn't Wonderland. There would be no tea party with Mad Hatter or meeting Cheshire Cat; only despair waited for her at the end. The bugs and animals had already disappeared, leaving the girl alone with only her mind.
She wanted to prove to her parents that she was capable of being responsible. If she loses the book, not only would they never trust her again, Olivia would not be able to find the rest of the stars. The summer would be boring without it. Her drawings of star maps are not enough to keep her occupied, if only she had a telescope strong enough to see beyond the cosmos.
Olivia felt eyes watch her as she trekked through the maze. She frantically looked around her. She called out. Olivia could feel the vibration in her throat, but the sound was absent to her ears.
The hairs stood up as her body went cold. Her instincts told her to run. Deeper in the forgotten world, where lost children go. Is she eager to travel forward to the unknown? Olivia has no other choice. She treads carefully over the dead roots, and overgrown grass slowly gained pace. She steadied her hand, afraid that the flashlight would slip out.
She could sense hands trying to grab her. They hid in the shadows like demonic snakes, slithering and biting on her arms and legs. She ran as fast as possible through the forbidden woods. Olivia didn't care if it was real or imaginary. She would not let the demon take her, not until she finished her quest.
She saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Olivia sprinted as the claws scratched at her. The pain stings, but she persists. Gathering her courage, Olivia leaped as hands stretched towards her. She landed on her belly, groaning from the pain, and hesitantly got up. The tree's dead needles had blocked her in. She didn't feel the eyes anymore.
It's what Olivia expected the woods to be. Beautiful flowers in all different shades covered the ground beneath. The crisped air smelled of honey and maple. She put the flashlight in her bag. Tiny wisp floated around her, welcoming her to their realm.
She followed the golden wisps to a barren open field. Light streamed between the green leaves of the oak tree and landed on a large boulder. A boy sat with his knees up at the bottom of the rock, his scarlet hood covering his face. Olivia could hear him crying as she crept towards him. The wisps slowly went to him, making his red cloak glow.
She kept her eyes on him. It could be a trick. The demon lured her here and now is trying to lower her guard. But if this turns out to be someone like her, perhaps he can help.
"H-hello?" She asked, gaining the courage to speak.
The boy stopped crying. His tired grey eyes stared at her with satisfaction and fear. The wisps that surrounded him clumped together like ice. Olivia couldn't stop staring at him. He looked human enough, but his red masquerade mask with white and gold lines is too out of place. He also appears to be glowing. The wisps could be doing that, but Olivia doesn't remember the wisps doing that to her.
"Are you lost?" She asked.
He doesn't answer. A white wisp that sat on his shoulder began to blink. His lips straightened as he closed his eyes.
This couldn't be a trick, right? Olivia thought as she waited for him to respond. The stories about this forest are mostly rumors and fairytales. People who wander in here are never seen again, so how can they tell what truly happens in the woods? She took a deep breath and sat down.
"What's your name?"
He lowered his head.
"Why did you tell me your name?" He sounded shocked.
"Because you won't give me yours?"
He shook his head, "be careful who you give it to. You never know who will take it."
"Is that what happened to you?"
"Something like that, yes," He rubbed his mask.
"Why would someone do that?"
"Names are a powerful thing in this world."
"You're not the first human to enter the portal, and you won't be the last. But I must say that you're the first human that I met. I never imagined one to look so…."
He nodded, still staring at her with curiosity. The white wisp blinked gently.
"You should leave before they realize we met. They don't want me to have any visitors," he pointed to the trees, "it doesn't matter which route you take, as long as you don't stay."
He laid his head on his knees, voiding her gaze. Olivia can't leave him like this. They're both alone in this unusual world. Wouldn't it be better to be together?
"Come with me," Olivia suggested, holding her hand out to him, "you don't have to be alone."
"Have you tried leaving?"
"No," he frowned, the white wisp blinking in signals.
"Do you want to leave?"
"You ask too many questions," he took her hand, "that is going to be troublesome."
Now on his feet, Olivia saw how dirty he looked. His red cloak was torn at the bottom, his brown boots were old and filthy, and his white gloves were rough and damp. He must have been in the forest for a while, lost and alone. Would she have suffered the same fate if Olivia didn't find him? She clenched his hand tight. The warmth of it reassured her.
"Alright then," she smiled, "Onward we go!"
The golden wisp followed them as they sprinted out of the woods. Birds sang as they made their way towards the finish line. For a moment, she forgot about the book or her home. All she wanted was to find out more about this boy and the world that had abandoned him.
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