“She’s missing!” I yelled to a group of neighborhood kids playing in the park near the pine forest. “Have you seen my sister? I can’t find her!” I cried again to the disinterested children who were in the middle of a rudimentary version of baseball.
They all slowly gave up on their game, beginning to realize the extreme nature of my cries, and blinked at each other before mumbling, “No, sorry, haven’t seen her.”
Hot tears started welling up in my face, as I reached my third hour of searching for my younger sister, who had disappeared on my watch. I thanked them while trying not to let my voice crack, and started jogging away when one of the kids shouted, “I bet the old wizard took her.”
This being my first and only clue, I eagerly latched onto the child’s folktale in my desperation. “Who is the wizard?” I asked.
“You don’t know about the wizard?”
I shook my head and said, “No, my family just moved here a few weeks ago.”
The other children whispered to each other, excited that they knew something I did not.
“Well,” the oldest boy of about nine began, “there’s an old wizard that lives there in the Pines.” He pointed toward the dark woods that stretched endlessly only 50 feet from where I stood. “He’s been there long as anyone we know’s been alive.”
“And he likes children,” a young girl added.
“He don’t just like children, stupid! He eats them, too,” the older boy chimed in. “My Grandma said her brother got taken by the wizard when they were kids. She says I’m not supposed to leave Clara alone ever because of him.” The boy flicked the back of the girl’s head, teasingly yet lovingly.
Not knowing what else to do and with no other leads, I asked him where I could find this wizard.
“Well no one’s ever found his house, on account of him being a wizard and all, and no one’s stupid enough to go chasing after him in the Pines. People get lost and die out there.”
I gazed over at the looming pines, dark from the great shade of thick branches. I thanked the children again, and started running towards the forest. One of the kids yelled that I was crazy, and maybe he was right, but I hoped that maybe my own sister had run off into the woods to play and got lost. Either way, it was worth a shot.
Before I could reach the edge of the forest, the young girl ran up next to me and said she had something to tell me. I bent down next to the little girl, and with both hands cupped against my ear as though to tell me the darkest of secrets, she whispered, “Follow the red light,” and ran back to the group of children who had already continued their game.
Not sure what to make of the girl’s information, I continued into the Pines. The trees grew thick very quickly, much like a drop off in the ocean. Pretty soon I was deep enough in the forest that I could no longer see or even hear the children, their small voices muffled by the thick of the trees. I was running at full speed now, as what little light broke through the branches was fading and if I didn’t find her now, she’d be all alone in the Pines for the night.
I shouted her name, hoping she’d hear and come running, but I knew my voice wouldn’t carry far in here. The sun must have dipped below the horizon, because the last of the sunlight was blue, which meant it was twilight hours and I was running out of time. At this point, I started panicking, and ran in every direction without thinking about how I was going to get home. I became lost myself, and with nothing else to do, I dropped to the layer of soft needles that blanketed the ground and began to weep.
Just as the first long wail escaped my throat, I saw something glistening away in the distance. I wiped the water from my eyes and saw what looked like a lamp glowing. With no other source of light in the woods now, I hoped at least that it was a lumberman who could help me find my way home. As I grew nearer, I noticed that this wasn’t an ordinary light; it was red. Remembering the omen the girl gave me, I moved quicker towards the glowing light, which was now only seconds away.
I was extremely confused and disheartened to find that the light was not a lamp or a lumberman, but in fact one of the neon exit signs which decorated the halls of large buildings, meant to guide people from danger. Under the sign was a door. It was a totally plain door, except for the fact that it was freestanding and that it led to no visible structure. Without knowing what to think or what to do, I approached the strange door.
As soon as I opened it, I saw that this was truly a very strange door. Instead of more trees, what I found on the other side was a long path guided by tall hedges and a lush garden. I walked through the hedges, which opened up to the expanse of the garden, which was so large I couldn’t tell where the entrance was. Ruby red roses and white daffodils contrasted against the bright green of the foliage, and it appeared that this was a very well-kept garden. As I looked around some more, I found that a house sat atop a hill far off in the distance, yet still in the garden. I also saw what appeared to be a woman strolling through the garden. Excited to find someone who knows the area, I called to her.
As soon as I called, she stopped and jerked her gaze in my direction. A silent moment stood between us before she started running at me full speed. I was a little put off at first, but upon seeing the whites of her teeth as she grew closer I decided to run. I ran towards the house for sanctuary, but this woman was relentless in her chase and only when I leaped into one of the hedges while she was around the corner was I able to lose her. I sat quietly for a few minutes to be sure she was gone, and when it was over I crawled out the other side, just in case. Here, I saw I was now farther away from the house, and that there was not only the woman walking aimlessly but also a man and another woman, stumbling about like zombies. I found a small walled gazebo, and crawled inside to wait until the zombie-like people had walked off into another part of the garden.
Just as I caught my breath, I felt a small hand grab my own. Scared that it was another zombie, I turned to scream and run off but another small hand clapped my mouth shut, and a young boy looked me in the eyes and shushed me. He wasn’t like the woman I had encountered in her viciousness. He smiled at my relief, and then beckoned me to follow him out of the gazebo. Quietly, we crawled out to the garden once more, and dodging the zombies I followed him through a maze of rose bushes and hedges until we came to a large foxhole under a shrub. The boy waved me over to it as he crawled down into it. The hole was large enough for a child to squeeze into, but I was almost a teenager and found that I could barely crawl in.
With some perseverance I managed to get through the neck of the hole, which flared out now and I could easily manage squeezing through. The boy led me through the damp tunnel for some time before evidence of an exit was visible. We climbed out of the foxhole, which mysteriously led just outside of the house I had seen in the distance before, although it did not feel as though we had come that far.
“Where are we?” I asked curiously.
The boy hesitated, then stated, “This is the wizard’s house.”
Shocked and in mild disbelief, I asked him if he had seen my sister.
“Yes, she’s in there,” he said. I asked him if he could show me, but he said he couldn’t go in the house.
Disappointed, I accepted his refusal, but wanting to thank him I asked him his name.
“George,” he offered, before running off back into the depths of the garden.
I wanted to call for him, but fearing one of the zombies might hear me and wanting to find my sister, I remained silent and walked up the front steps of the house.
Inside the house all seemed normal. Perhaps slightly disheveled, but otherwise quite homely and lavish. I walked through the foyer, into the living room, then the dining room and so on until I came to the basement door. It screeched as I opened it, echoing throughout every room. I stepped down into the basement, which was very dark. Upon feeling for a light switch, I noticed the walls were as damp as the air. As the light flickered on, I saw that the basement was just a concrete hole beneath the house, and that in the middle of the room was a pile of bones.
From what I could tell, most of the bones came from dogs, thanks to the fanged skulls that were scattered about. Some smaller skulls existed too, maybe a cat or a raccoon. Nonetheless, it was eerie and I felt a wave of unease wash through me. Nervously, I walked around the pile of bones, which was spread out throughout the entire basement. As I reached the far wall, I saw a larger round white bone amidst the sea of smaller bones. Simply out of curiosity, I poked at it from afar with a femur. The bones surrounding it moved to reveal the nature of this strange bone, and in fear I screamed and fell back until I hit my head on the concrete wall behind me. The pain throbbed, but I was in such a shock that I didn’t even notice.
There, lying in a pile of animal bones, was a human skull. It was small, maybe that of a child’s, but it was so yellowed that it must have been here for centuries. My mind was eased with the thought that it could be my sister. While I stood hugging the cold wall, unsure what to do, I heard a faint mumble coming from the pile of bones. Panicking once again, I tore into the mass of yellow bones to find a dog cage. Inside was the withered body of a child. The skin was paler than the surrounding bones, and the child was extremely malnourished to the point where if it didn’t have skin, I might have thought it was a part of the pile. Weeping at the thought of my sister in such a state, I broke off the lock on the cage and held the small body against my own. After I had embraced it long enough, I turned its small face towards my own in hopes of finding some consciousness.
Upon doing so, I found that this was not my sister. It was a young boy. Actually, if he wasn’t so thin or so pale; I might have even recognized him as George. My god, I thought. This was George. I must have seen some apparition out in the garden. But, then, where was my sister?
Before I had the chance to even stand up, I heard a husky voice come from somewhere in the room. “Give me the boy,” it demanded.
Scared, I looked around the room to find the source of the voice, until I noticed that in the shadows stood an old man. He was tall, and especially gangly, and from the number of wrinkles on his face I would have guessed he was a hundred years old. I thought maybe he was staring at me, but when I looked at his eyes I recognized the white opalescence that belonged to the blind.
“I’m not giving you anything,” I retorted confidently, “until you give me back my sister.”
After a long pause and some heavy breathing, the old man said, “Very well,” and as a ghost walks through solid walls so did my sister, staring as blankly as the zombies I had seen in the garden.
Knowing she was safe, but feeling as though I had some leverage, I also demanded the wizard let us leave, and in doing so I would hand George over to him.
“The door stands behind you,” grunted the ancient beast, who flexed a bony finger towards a door that looked much like the one I had encountered in the Pines, although I was sure it hadn’t been there before.
Above the strangely ordinary door was a glowing red exit sign. I hurriedly tried to devise a plan, and with cunning I said, “Alright. On the count of three, you release my sister, and I’ll throw the boy to you.”
In his silence, the old wizard agreed and I started to count one. As I pronounced two, I picked up the yellow skull that sat just beside me, careful not to make any noise. On three, I shouted the number and as the wizard released his magic hold on my sister and she came running to me, I threw the skull at him, which he caught with bizarre precision. Without hesitation, my sister and I, clutching George, ran for the beaming exit sign. Behind us, I could hear the thwarted beast scream with a thousand windpipes. I opened the door and a thick white fog poured out, and the three of us bolted into the white mist which did not seem to be in any place in particular. I slammed the door shut just as the wizard had come winding up to the door, and we ran as fast as we could, away from the fading pounding on the door we left behind.
I grabbed my sister’s hand, and we ran through the nothingness of the white fog until it slowly began to dissipate, and we found that we were again amongst the Pines. We didn’t stop running until we reached the edge of the forest, again in the park where I first encountered the children. We were greeted by a host of mothers, fathers and policemen. My mother ran up to us, kissing us both hard and sweetly on the foreheads, then suffocating my sister in an endless embrace. A policeman approached me while I was still out of breath, and began asking me questions about our disappearance. Before I could answer, he asked, “Who’s the kid?” referring to George, who lay limp on my shoulder.
I was still catching my breath, and just as I was about to explain, an elderly woman pushed through the crowd of gossiping people. Upon seeing the withered boy in my arms, she began to tear up before whimpering “George?” I nodded at her, and she ran over to me and grabbed the boy. She held him just as lovingly as my mother held my sister, but with less of a protective attitude and more of a remorseful and grateful one. She smiled through her tears, and started talking to George, saying, “Oh, how I’ve missed you. Can you forgive me? I only let you out of my sight for a second.” Then the nine-year old boy I encountered in the park broke through the crowd as well, hugging the old woman from behind and soothing her.
After much hugging and kissing, and attempting to explain to the police what had happened, the crowd eventually scattered until it was only my family and the old woman with her long-lost brother George and her grandkids. I let my mother comfort my sister some more, who was still in shock, and I looked back at the Pines from which I had so daringly entered and escaped. As I did, I saw the young girl who had given me the advice and, wanting to thank her, I walked over to her.
When I was right next to her, I could see that she was also staring off into the Pines, although her countenance was one of uncertainty and fear. She must have felt my presence next to her, because without turning to look at me, she whispered, “He’s still there. Waiting. In the Pines.”
Kyriakina Valavanis is a second-year Fine Arts major at SVA. “I believe that dreams are the purest form of creativity, so all of my stories derive from my dreams.”