It was an unseasonably foggy afternoon when Toby Rutherford disappeared.
Toby Rutherford was one of the Rutherford twins, a pair who were seen equally as rarely indoors as apart. Toby was older by six minutes and a half, a time span which seemed to have affected his maturity greatly. Of the two, he was a boy regarded formally by all who met him as an intellectual, clean and neat, the complexities of his mind slipping into the quiet twinkle in his eye, the quirk of his smile, while Samuel, the brother that had clung to the womb that six minutes longer, was almost comically his foil.
Both red haired, brown eyed, they were undeniably brothers by blood, and something by the elvish shape of their faces, their cautious, woodland creature like way of walking, the crinkle at their eyes at every toothy grin, was so familiar it was frightening.
There was differences between them, however. No one could say they were completely alike.
Samuel was human sunshine, a golden boy that radiated potential and fierce happiness, a kid you called son and loved everyone he met. He was a boy always balanced on the balls of feet, ready to jump, to spring at all times, run and shriek with laughter as he spent his boyish days bursting through the world like a comet through the night, a beaming smile spread on his face till his cheeks hurt.
Toby was the quiet moon to Samuel’s sun. Serious eyed and generally silent, he could be forgotten in a crowd if it you didn’t look hard enough. There was something unsettling about him, how you could see a whole net of worlds, a web threaded from trains of thought behind his glassy doe eyes, always too neatly contained to be read. His mind was sharper than his senses, nothing got past him,and most of all, he feared becoming a fool. He preferred the bliss of ink against paper, endless noting in scholarly journals, as his past time. And indeed, that was almost all he did.
The brothers, inseparable, worked fluidly and efficiently. It was a habit. Rosewood, that shrouded, mysterious woodland on the outskirts of town had been their playground since birth. Some children were drawn to sandpits and swingsets; The Rutherfords had been born with a desire for the unknown, wherever they could find it.
So it was like this, Samuel finding endless bizarre curios in the woods, Toby analyzing them, drawing conclusions and diagrams. Their room was cluttered with strange things, brightly coloured stones and pressed flowers with numerous petals, insects fluttering in jars, accompanied by Toby’s slanted writing stuck on with sticky tape. His notes, their photos made a mosaic of the walls only they could read. The brother had inklings about the magic in Rosewood. There was so much contained in this forest, the abnormalities they found being some of the energy that leaked out from containment. All of this was incredibly exciting, a glorious prize for little boys on an adventure.
The town of Rosewood had long ago pegged it’s woods as haunted. It was untouchable taboo. Still, if you wanted to know the mysterious enigma of the Rosewood forest? You asked the Rutherfords.
On that afternoon, a few days before their sixteenth birthdays, they crouched together in the heart of the forest,where the best, strangest things grew, barefoot in the columns of rolling white fog. In that white haze, the trees seemed ghostly. Though it was a little past two in the afternoon, the day had been washed down with something dark. They should have stayed home.
That day they were engrossed in the inspection of a cluster of mushrooms they found at the root of a tree. Tall stemmed, small capped, they were forest variety in shape and size; Only they were azure blue. Samuel pressed it curiously with a stick, observing the congealed liquid it released. Toby drew an image of it in one of his numerous journals, using one hand to slap his brother’s twig holding hand.
“Mushrooms are one of the most toxic organisms in the plant kingdom.” He chided. He did not look up from his sketching.
“Toby is one of the most boringest humans in the town of Rosewood.” Samuel retaliated, then considered his statement for a moment before adding, “Scratch Rosewood, the world.”
“You could at least wear gloves.”
“Come on, we eat mushrooms. They can’t be that bad,” Samuel grinned, mischief colouring his eyes, “I bet these ones taste like blueberries.”
Toby took the bait excellently, looking up from his work to glare at his brother with an indignant huff.
“I’m kidding, really, Toby, don’t make us look at some boring leaves again or something-”
From behind them there was a sudden rustle, and both boys turned instantly. Staring into the misty birchwood ocean revealed no source of disturbance. The humid heat suddenly shifted a touch suffocating, the tranquility of an afternoon spent alone in play suddenly one of incredible vulnerability.
Two little boys, alone in the woods.
“Was that a deer?”
They exchanged a glance, doubt flickering in their expressions. It hadn’t sounded like a deer.
The rolling fog around them continued to mist without any disturbance from the breeze.
No one else came into the heart of the forest like this.
There was a moment in which nothing happened. Silence resumed, and their limbs relaxed momentarily. So it had only been a gust of wind then.
And then the thing appeared.
A long, black cloaked figure, its face morbidly hidden by a dark mask drawn cruelly into the shape of a crow beak, materialised from the fog as if it had been there the whole time. White eye holes stared blankly at them, stark, apathetic moons that revealed no emotion.
“Good afternoon.” It greeted cooly. It’s voice was deep as a man’s, though something about it seemed inhuman. Too smooth, without the timbre of real voice.
“Hello, Sir.” Tried Samuel cautiously.He was always one to think the best of people, and he glanced at Toby. Manners! Said Samuel’s eyes. But Toby’s gaze did not reply.
There was silence.
The thing was staring at him in a ferociously blank way, stunning bright eye holes boring into gentle brown ones.
“Toby.” the thing said his name like an old friend’s, familiar, only lacking the warmth. It reached down a dark, clawed hand.
“We meet again.”
Toby did not take it’s hand, and found himself, for once, stunned silent and wide eyed with something. An emotion that Sam, for once, could not read on his brothers face. Something uneasy flickered in his stomach.
‘Toby! What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry, Sam.” Toby whispered. He took a step towards the thing, his eyes casting a glance towards his twin, “I have to go with him.”
“Toby? What the hell? Toby?”
Sam, confusion and desperation bubbling up to his throat like hot lava turned to face the creature, fisted its inky cloak, but found the fabric slip out if his fingers like black smoke.
“Where are you taking him?” he demanded.
“To where he needs to go.” It answered. It’s apathy was infuriating. Beside him, Toby stood in silence, his gaze pointedly to the floor.
It gently clasped its finger on the older boys arm and tugged softly.
“Come on now. We have a long way to walk. Say goodbye to your brother.”
“ Don’t cry Sam. “ Toby walked away now, and Sam found his legs stiff. Unable to move, he watched his other half step into the mist.
“I’m so sorry, I wish I could tell you why. ”
“When are you coming back?’ He demanded. His brother just shook his head.
“Don’t follow us, Samuel. You’ll get lost.” the thing said, “Find the other seers. They are all here. They’ll help you.”
All around him the fog began to envelop him in a suffocating way. As they walked, leaving the other speechless and frozen, there was no way to see which direction the two had gone. The mist like a curtain. Only when they were well and truly nothing in the fog, completely gone, Sam felt the blood rush to his legs once more.
Only, now it was too late.
He picked his brother’s journal from the ground, clutched it to his chest, and ran.
Four hours later, police sirens wailing outside their door, his mother white faced and mute, his father’s face in between his knees, a blue uniformed woman sat him down at the dining table and asked him where his brother was.
He told her what happened in the wood.
She rubbed her temples.
“Samuel. I need to know what really happened.”
So he told her a lie.
In that moment, Samuel knew the world would not believe little boys who looked for adventure in a forest. Toby was out there, and he had to find him himself. The quest they started, to know the secrets of the Rosewood forest, was now to be completed with a fervent passion.
Because now there was a reason to find it.