Rhys watched the world roll by with wide, excited eyes as the towering trees grew thick around him. The skies were a powerful purple overhead, almost unnatural, and the clouds were fluffy and drifting slowly. Tinged pink with the haze of twilight. The breezy, early summer air whipped his dirty blonde locks around, the soft curls bounced against the flow. His beat up pick-up sped down the winding road, over the uneven terrain that broke through the rolling hills. It was a welcomed sight compared to the brick facades and iron street lights he was used to. True, he loved his hometown–its historic aesthetic and cozy vibes–but this was a much needed change.
Now that the sun was setting, he was able to roll down his windows and properly take in the view. The heavy tinting blocked out much of the scenery, and he was glad he timed his arrival well enough that he could see the horizon line painted orange and red as nightfall settled in. The wooden sign on the side of the road looked ancient, the carved letters across its surface read The Olde Wylder Woods in an overly cursive font. He turned his blue eyes to the map and studied his route, knowing full well that his GPS would be useless out here.
Somehow, he didn't mind it.
As Rhys turned onto a small gravel road that broke through the heavy tree line, he felt his heart race with excitement. The views were stunning. The forest was alive with bouncing leaves and tall, twisted trunks. He wanted to see the town, see what awaited him in the new place he would soon call home, but he knew his new property sat on the outskirts of the strange place known as Wylder Wood so it would have to wait. He was walking into this mostly blind, the only knowledge he had came from a conversation that occured on a snowy March morning a few weeks prior. It was nerve-racking and exciting all at once.
A small graveyard came into view on his right as he turned a bend that took him further into the forest. Most of the tombstones were mossy and slanted against the pull of time, but the grounds looked well cared for. That also excited him; he loved walking in cemeteries to clear his mind, and one with such a lovely backdrop would be refreshing under a bright, full moon.
Rhys drove about a half-mile down the curve and found himself in front of his destination. The farmstead had seen better days, but the land was spacious enough for a beginner and the small cabin at the center of it all was perfect for his needs. He pulled the truck up the short drive and parked it in front of the porch to help ease the burden of offloading his belongings. With slow motions, he slid out of his vehicle. He was stiff from sitting so long, tired of being cooped up and ready to try and make some sense of the irrational thoughts that brought him here.
He was thankful his belongings weren’t abundant and unpacking wouldn’t take too long, but it had to be done before he retired for the night, so he made his way to the front door to search for the key the land owner left for him to find. The second step creaked under his weight, and there was something ominous about the way the front door sat so perfectly in the middle of the home. The windows on either side were a bit dusty, a bit small, but judging by the direction of the setting sun he could easily tell that a good amount of morning light would trickle in. His plants would be happy here. He hoped he would be, too.
The key was taped to the bottom of an old terra cotta pot that held remnants of dried up roots belonging to what he could only assume was a perennial that died due to lack of upkeep. The key looked old, antique, and the lock was no better. He wondered if it actually provided any security. The cabin itself seemed old, the wood was worn from time and in need of new stain, but it seemed secure enough that it wouldn’t topple over on him. He unlocked the door and looked inside.
The open floor plan was lovely. A potbelly stove sat in the corner with a satchel of wood at its side. It was sparse, the kitchen counter was a bit slanted, and he was surprised to see a refrigerator and what appeared to be a working, fairly modern restroom. A large window seat was set into the wall across from him, near the stove, and that was all. It was empty, ready for new life to settle inside of it, and he was elated to begin that process.
Rhys slid his new house key on his keyring and walked back down the small set of steps to his truck. He surveyed the land, noticed plenty of farming equipment and what appeared to be overrun pumpkin plants that were dormant after the long winter. He was curious about the soil quality, what kinds of plants thrived in the environment, and the rich options for studying and learning here made his heart flutter. A simple shed could be seen between two large trees, and a small greenhouse was tucked back against the fenced property line, overrun by so much ivy and greenery that he couldn’t see inside.
Opening up the hatch of his truck, he quickly grabbed his suitcase and began the process of unloading his entire life into this tiny, dusty space. He didn’t have much; a large suitcase held his entire wardrobe, a selection of inexpensive boxed furniture sat waiting to be built, a few necessities to get him started were hidden away in containers, and his many, many plants filled the bed of his vehicle. He wasn’t sure he’d have time to build his bed frame, or any of his furniture, if he were being honest. It would have to come tomorrow, but the forecast called for rain so he could bundle up near a fire and handle those details after some rest.
He was excited to set up his new plant stand, to lay out his jars and oils, and get back to work. He wondered if the townspeople would be interested in his wares, in his soaps and tinctures and teas, but he stopped himself from allowing his mind to get too focused on those possibilities just yet.
The plants were lined up in front of the windows. Ivy hung limp and pothos needed to be unwrapped from carefully done bundles made for transport. He felt a bit foolish when he realized that the majority of his truck had been packed with plants instead of essentials, but the small cabin would have felt a bit lifeless without them. And, of course, they were the most important thing he brought with him. He couldn't leave any behind.
Once his boxes of food and cleaning supplies had been unloaded, he took a minute to catch his breath, “I should have started with the furniture boxes, I’m so tired,” he grumbled.
He brushed the sweat from his forehead and turned his eyes to the skies. Those fluffy clouds were growing thicker, and he felt a shiver run through his body.
Looks like the rain is coming sooner than I thought, he mused to himself. He walked down the steps and tried to pick up the pace.
The forest around him seemed a bit eerie now that night had fully arrived. He didn’t mind it, it was spooky in a delightful way, but he didn’t like feeling so exposed and out in the open—especially in an unfamiliar environment. He hadn’t allotted time to pay his respects to the area, to understand the land and what moved in the darkness, and he didn’t want to be rude. He could feel the wind pick up, so he stopped his musings and went back to work.
The lightest box contained new curtains, linens, and a pillow, so he hastily carried it inside. His sleeping bag was rolled atop it, and he felt as if the night would be a cold one despite the oncoming summer season. Time was running out to get his belongings out of the truck, so he needed to ensure he had a place to at least lay his head.
“Come on Rhys, you need to finish this tonight. You can do this,” he assured himself as he darted back out into the creeping darkness.
He returned to the bed of his truck. He grabbed the bed frame box and tugged. It shifted a bit but he struggled to hold onto it properly. His boots slid beneath him as he tried to stabilize himself. Stumbling a bit, he planted his feet in the earth and fixed his grip on the cardboard. With a slow exhale, he pulled again, but the box refused to budge.
He placed his hands on his hips and assessed the situation, “This was easier with two people,” he grumbled.
He leaned around the side of his truck and surveyed the land for a wheelbarrow or something to help him scoot the boxes up onto the porch With his hands in his jean pockets, he walked toward the shed to see if anything had been left by the previous tenant. Though the cabin was empty, the hoes and sickles still laid up against the well suggested that something may have been inside. Perhaps a plank he could lay on the stairs to scoot the boxes up and save the strain on his back.
The small building was rickety, definitely not as well kept as the home, and the door sat crooked on its hinges. Rhys grabbed hold of the door and gave it a small push. The panel hit something, drug marks across the dirty flooring, but didn’t move much as the old wood met something heavy. He pressed his shoulder into it and shoved. He felt his boot skid, and the door finally gave way as whatever had been blocking the door finally shifted. As the entrance slid open, a large stack of lumber came tumbling down atop him.
His eyes shut in a panic and he braced himself for impact, thrusting his hands up over his head to try and soften the blow. He was about to be crushed, and he was fully alone out in the woods. With tears welling in his eyes, he cursed himself for his hastiness and eager attitude. As he accepted his fate, he felt something wrap around him and pull him back. The lumber toppled to the ground with a resounding, thunderous noise.
Slowly, he opened one eye and looked up with confusion. He was met with a pair of startled, bright blue irises above him. The man was out of breath, his muscular arms were locked tight around Rhys’ waist. Rhys felt his body sink into the chest of the stranger and his lips part in shock. He finally inhaled after holding his breath for what felt like an eternity.
They locked gazes and, with a concerned voice, the stranger asked, “Are you okay?”