This story is by Ashley Vajentic and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
There were two forests in Kiliad, but nobody dared enter the one the village people called Malum. The Dark Forest, they called it, or sometimes, the Void, because those foolish enough to enter were doomed to never return. Silas Seely was one of the foolish. He obsessed over journeying through Malum and reaching the other side, where creatures of beauty and light lived. There was even rumor that the first mortal to reach the Glowing Forest would gain riches, knowledge, and fame beyond comparison.
Silas lived under Malum’s shadow, in the cottage where his wife Penny had been raised. Each evening he watched the Dark Forest change as the sun eased below the horizon. Pinpricks of red and flashes of silver pierced the growing darkness like shining needles. Those anyone could discern, but Silas saw eyes, claws, and twisted bodies, the creatures that guarded Malum. Nobody else saw them; nobody believed him.
Although the Forest whispered to him, Silas wouldn’t enter until finding a safe route. He had reason behind traversing and returning from Malum.
“Daddy! Daddy! Look at me! Look!”
Vivian giggled from the midst of an enormous leaf pile. The auburn color of both her hair and the leaves blended together so that Silas couldn’t differentiate the two.
“Daddy has to go to work,” he said, reaching into the leaf pile and retrieving his daughter.
“I want to go into Kiliad Forest with Daddy!” Vivian pouted.
“You know you can’t. Not until you’re big enough to chop wood.”
“I can help, Daddy, I can!”
Silas was about to object, but Penny called from the house.
“Get to work, Dear! That storage cabin better be full by December!”
“Right, Penny. I’m saying goodbye to Vivian.”
“Vivi, come in here this instant! Let Daddy alone and come help Mummy with the chores!”
Vivian scampered off, and Silas started the two-mile trek for work.
The sky changed from pink-orange to clear blue by the time Silas reached Kiliad Forest. Chopping firewood was dull, and he thought of all he could do with the fortune waiting at the end of Malum. After hours of mindless toil, a flash of blinding light caught Silas’ attention. No bigger than his palm, a tiny woman hovered in the air beside an oak tree. Silas discerned a pair of thin silvery wings beating the air. Even in daylight, the fairy was glowing: golden light emanating from her blond head to her minuscule toes. When she zoomed past the oak, Silas pursued from a safe distance.
The fairy followed a winding dirt path that made the journey towards Silas’ house twice as long. As they traveled farther, he realized the creature was headed for the Dark Forest. He shook his head, halting. Impossible, Silas thought.
But the small creature flew straight into Malum like this was a daily routine. Silas watched her glow ignite the entire Forest. He saw those red-eyed creatures shy away from her light. His pulse quickened, and something dark as the Forest before him grew thick inside his chest. Something dangerous brewed in Silas as he considered the possibilities before him.
As midday slipped into evening, Silas trudged back to Kiliad Forest, collected three trees worth of firewood (Penny was going to scalp him), and headed home. He eagerly awaited morning, and the next day he left when the trees of Malum were fuzzy silhouettes against the sky. Silas worked until he felled and chopped ten trees, then waited, his eyes never faltering from the path outside the forest. By noon, he saw her.
The fairy buzzed over to the same oak as yesterday. Silas recognized her by her china-white face, her silver wings, and most of all, her light. He edged nearer, drawing a glass container from his knapsack. As he closed in on her, Silas unscrewed the lid, scooped the tiny creature into the jar, and slammed the top back on.
There she was, small and glowing. She pressed herself against the glass wall of her prison, glaring at Silas, bashing her fists against the glass while silvery tears slipped down her cheeks. He tucked the jar back in his bag and began walking. Nestled at the far end of Kiliad Forest, Silas owned a small cabin used to store firewood for Winter. He was the only one who visited it, making it a safe place to keep the fairy.
At the cabin, Silas decided there was a better way to enter Malum without the hysterical creature. After digging around in an old safety kit, he unearthed a child’s pocketknife, still sharp enough to draw blood. Removing the imprisoned fairy from his bag, Silas placed her jar on a wooden countertop. She had tired herself out by sobbing; this was his chance.
The fairy fought him. She scratched and bit his hands until blood trickled down his forearms. Silas didn’t notice. His focus was on the knife and his grip on the fairy. For the first time, Silas heard her. She screamed something more terrible than anything he could’ve imagined.
Minutes later, he set the creature back in her jar. She was still beautiful, but something was missing. Where there should’ve been two ochre eyes, there were empty red hollows. Ripped from their sockets, the fairy’s eyes would become tiny jewels with the power to help Silas navigate safely through Malum.
After finding an empty medicine bottle with a tight cork lid, he plopped the two bloody eyes inside, fastened it with a leather cord, and hung it from his neck. He locked the fairy’s glass prison within a toolbox and hid her behind a stack of wood, then exited the cabin, heading directly for Malum.
If all went well and Silas reached the Light Forest, he would finally be able provide more than firewood for his family. If all went well, he would finally be able to bring Vivian on her first adventure; he would finally be the father his family deserved.