I untangle myself from the sweet, rose-scented body of Anastasia and shiver as a cool breeze sweeps over us. Spent and sedated, I feast my eyes on her delicious figure. The pale skin of her heaving bosom, is covered with my marks, my fingerprints on her skin, bite marks on her neck. I fight the urge to bang my chest like some fucking mountain gorilla staking claim.
She looks up, licks away a dark red pearl of blood that has appeared on her lip, and her eyes flash with contentment as her lips curl into a smile.
“Rough. Just the way I like it.” She gives me a copper tasting kiss, gets up, and walks naked into the narrow hallway. The thick fog flooding down the walls makes her feet and the ground beneath her invisible. “Come on, Big Boy is waiting.” Her voice echoes through the air, bouncing against the thick stone walls.
I gather my torn clothes from the floor, and barely manage to make myself decent as I stumble after her. The air gets cooler, and there’s something very familiar with the way the roots are creeping their way across the walls.
I follow her scent, the fog now too thick to see through. The floor that was hard beneath my feet has become squishy and then muddy. My foot hits something hard and I stumble face first into the putrid soil. I grab the first thing that my hand lands on, just to realize that it’s a human skull.
The ground swallows me whole, and for a brief moment I’m surrounded by an awful stench, engulfed in a darkness darker than the darkness of the darkest pits of hell. Then in a flash the world around me is rebooted, and I land with a thud on a cold concrete floor.
“Oh fuck, that hurt.” I groan as I crawl onto my hands and knees. The smell of decaying corpses evaporates and gives way to the sweet rosy scent of Anastasia’s skin.
“Sorry, I should have told you that the landing might be a bit rough.” She smiles as she brushes my hair off my forehead. “But you could’ve used the door.”
A familiar fur soon blocks my view, a hard tail wags against the side of my head as I fumble up from the floor.
“Hey Beast,” I pet the huge wolfhound. He growls at me, and bares his teeth.
“Big Boy. Behave,” Anastasia quips. The dog sits next to her and ignores me for the time being.
“He doesn’t like to be called beast, Grey. Being stuck within you really brought out the worst in him. Big Boy is such a sweet puppy.”
Enough about the fucking beast already, he’s no sweet puppy, I’ll tell you that. I’ve felt the way rage flooded through the both of us during the full moons, I think, but bite my tongue not to say it out loud.
“Where are we anyway?” I change the subject.
“The rage of his ancestors, not him,” Anastasia replies to my unspoken rant. Fuck. I forgot she could read my mind. “Don’t you recognize your father’s castle?”
“This is Grey tower?” I take in my surroundings and bits and pieces start to fall into place. The stones on the walls, the stench of unspeakable cruelties, and the fucking cold. It’s all starting to make sense somehow. “Are we…? When are we?”
“2015 of course, good to have you back, son.” Carrick’s voice booms through the air, and a flock of bats fly across the room.
I turn and see him standing by the door in the end of the room.
“So you survived? I figured you would.” He grins, showing off his two razor sharp teeth. “Did you get what you went for?”
“Yes.” I hesitate in my answer, because I’ve just realized I’m alone in the room with Carrick. Anastasia and the Beas…Big Boy have vanished into thin air.
“Good, because that means you owe me.” His eyes are like two pieces of coal, glowing red in the dark.
My heart becomes cold as stone. An IOU to Carrick is usually not much short of a life sentence in hell. In silence, I follow him up the labyrinth of dusty stairs. The cobwebs stick to my hair, and I have to kick away a rat or three on the way to his tower overlooking the everlasting darkness of the grounds of Grey castle.
“I need a few things from the forest.” He finally speaks.
“What things?” It sounds a bit too easy to set my mind at ease. “And which fucking forest?”
“Oh, just a few souls.” He says it like it’s no big deal.
“Um… Does Mother know about this?” I ask and take a few steps around the new coffin that Grace bought for him, placed in the middle of the room. The black silk is only slightly crumpled in the middle. It really is the Lincoln of coffins.
Carrick’s eyes flash yellow.
“No. And we better keep it that way.” He turns; his cape swooshes through the air, blowing out one of the few candles placed by the window. “I lost a poker game with… Well, you’re better off not knowing his name. Long story short, he took Mia and…” He pauses, and I hear his knuckles cracking. “That boyfriend of hers.” Carrick hisses the last words.
“The one in the wall?” I ask, trying to remember if we walked past the place where that poor bastard was embedded in the concrete.
“No. Not him. Ethan.” Carrick spits the name as if it was lethal.
“So, did I get this straight? Someone or something took Mia and Ethan, and you want me to go get them back? From a forest?”
“Yes. But not just any forest, son. The forest.” He waves towards the northern window.
A chill goes through my body, when I understand what he means. The Magic Forest, the lost and found of miserable souls, where the trees are made of people, and the people are made of wooden stone. It’s the place people forbid their children to visit, the place the people try their damndest to avoid as adults. At night, the forest is filled with cries of agony and despair as vile creatures go to collect firewood, breaking off arms and limbs of the poor fuckers stuck in rotting timber. Fuck. I haven’t been there in fifteen full moons. Last time, I barely made it out. Going there now, without the Beast in me, the odds for surviving are slim at best. Anorexic even.
Resigned, I grab a coat from Carrick’s closet and head towards the north gate. Desperate to see Anastasia again, I sniff the air for roses, but I smell none. I hope she wasn’t just a fabrication of my delirious mind; after all, I was under the influence of Carrick’s poison, not to mention the moonshine I had at the tavern, if that even happened.
Carrick’s spies, the annoying as hell group of bats, fly over my head and swirl against the dark sky, but even they are smart enough not to follow me when I push past the wall of weeping spruces. Chickenshit flying rats. I watch them do a half circle and return towards the castle.
The ground creaks beneath my feet and the wind carries the whispered tales of wretched destinies.
“Mia?” I holler and the forest becomes all too quiet around me. The whispers fall silent, the eyes and ears hidden between branches alerted by the sudden intrusion.
On gut instinct, I walk through the thickest of bushes. I try not to step on anyone, but that’s definitely easier said than done. The roots are everywhere, and in each, a soul is trapped. These bodies have long since become one with the trees holding them captive.
A familiar scent lingers in the air, and hope returns. Roses. Anastasia’s here, somewhere. Thank fuck.
A howl in the distance makes my skin tingle. I’d know that sound anywhere. That’s Big Boy. Stumbling over the rugged ground I search for any trace of her. Mia and her boyfriend are now a vague memory on my list of priorities.
“Help… Us… Please…” Three whispered words carried by the wind reach my ears. The hair in the back of my neck stands on edge; I’d fucking know that squeaky voice anywhere. That’s Mia.
“Where are you?” I whisper. The creatures around me are listening, and I don’t want to give them any more clues to where I am.
“Over… Here…” The words echo, and there’s no way to tell where they’re coming from.
I run tree to tree, and press my ear against the stems, until my lungs ache and my feet are giving way. I’m about to give up, when my gaze lands on two trees tangled together. The longer I stare at the trees, the more parts of Mia I manage to make out. A teardrop, or sap – who the fuck knows – is rolling down her cheek, but because she’s bound by strong branches she cannot wipe it away.
“I’ll get you out. Don’t worry.” I wipe the hardened cheek of my little sister and pure rage takes over. I grab hold of the bark, pull and twist, tear and beat the tree until branch by branch it starts letting go of her.
As soon as her hands get free, she joins me in freeing what I can only assume to be Ethan, from his wooden prison. All bits and pieces seem to be accounted for. I make a mental note of asking Gail to whip up brain bleach when I get back. Seeing my sister’s boyfriend’s johnson, on the first time meeting him, is by far more than I care to remember.
As the last vines are torn from their bodies, I feel a sharp sting in my back. I fall to the ground and see pure horror in both Mia’s and Ethan’s eyes.
“Go. Run.” I urge them to leave. The coldness is creeping through my limbs, and I know there’s no hope left for me. “I’ll be fine,” I lie.
My heart beats, and then it doesn’t. The colors of the forest fade into fifty fucking shades of grey, as I lie on the ground watching Mia and Ethan run to safety. I can’t move, I can’t breathe, but I’m still there. The hours turn to days, maybe weeks, I can’t really tell, and I don’t really care. I can smell roses, and it makes my mind at ease.
Days come, and days go, as I lay on the ground. The insects are getting a little bit too familiar with my body, and the foxes and ravens have been circling me for days. Something chews on my toes, and I suppose I’m going to be their next dinner. But I don’t care. I don’t feel anything. I just exist, or maybe I don’t even do that anymore.
A pack of wolves chase away the smaller animals that were planning their Halloween brunch. The wolves’ noses are cold and wet as they sniff me all over, their fur soft and thick as it brushes against my cold skin. The wolves inspect me all over, and then howl, before laying down by my body. The warmth of their bodies is comforting. And since they don’t seem to be interested in eating me, I relax.
The wolves stay, lying next to me and on top of me. And for the first time in days, I sleep.
I wake up to soft lips pressed to mine. A bitter liquid poured into my mouth follows. I nearly choke before my brain finally reconnects the synapses controlling my body. My heart starts beating, and my lungs are filled with fresh air. I open my eyes and my heart fucking soars.
The sun is high in the blue sky, and the forest has been filled with roses. But what really takes my breath away is the beautiful woman kneeling by my body.
“Anastasia.” I croak.
“Rise and shine handsome.” She kisses me anew, and I taste strawberries on her tongue. My muscles snap and crack, as life finally returns to my limbs, every single one of them.
And they lived happily ever after. Or did they?
With time travel, vampires, werewolves and witches running around, who knows?!
This was chapter four of my crazy Halloween fanfic. Writing it has been a fun exercise in stretching the limits of my imagination, hope you liked reading it too! You can find all the chapters here or over there.