Lana and the Forest
I couldn't decide on an ending to this story so I wrote two. The second one, at the bottom, starts where the asterisks are in the main body of the story.
The little girl jumped off of the rock and tumbled to the ground. It wasn’t a high jump but she was still unable to stick the landing tumbling and scrapping her knee. She wasn’t much for crying but still the fall had hurt and she gasped as she lifted up all of the layers of her dress to reveal a red mark on her knee on which she had landed.
She wrinkled her nose when she touched it. I was warm and slightly throbbing with pain. She stood up and brushed the dirt off of her new dress and gasped once again when she saw the dirt and grass stains all over it.
Mama was not going to be happy, she thought as she tried to brush the mess off. She shrugged. She did not care what Mama thought or what happened to her dress. She didn’t like to wear them; all of the layers and petticoats were stifling in the summer heat. She didn’t like how they restricted her movements making it difficult for her to climb trees or run as quickly as she could.
Mama was always angry with her when it concerned her dresses. She was always scolding her on how messy and wild she looked whenever she came in from outside. Lana couldn’t help it. She wasn’t made to sit perfectly still and sow in the clean comfort of inside. She wanted always to be outdoors with the dogs and horses or alone exploring the grounds of their estate.
Papa understood and so did her governess Winnie. They understood that children needed to be outside that there is more benefit of the exercise of outdoor activity than sitting on a couch in a stagnant air-filled room sewing.
“She is only ten, Marianne. Still a child,” Papa told her Mama one day. “Let her be one.”
Lana heard the dogs barking in the distance and giggled as she ran down the hill after them thinking that it meant her father had returned from his trip to town. She skipped along the wildflowers trailing her hand in them feeling their soft petals tickle her hand. She stopped when she saw a purple one and picked it before continuing to where the dogs were barking.
She walked through the arched hedges that blocked her view of the dogs and turned the corner. There wasn’t a carriage nor was there kicked up dust from one having passed through. She paused when she saw them. All three of her father’s Great Danes were barking at the forest. She approached them slowly noticing the raised hairs on their backs and their defensive stances.
Lana looked into the forest but saw nothing but trees and darkness beyond that. In all of time she had been able to go out by herself she had never once set foot in the forest. She was forbidden to. Even her father never set foot in there.
She remembered asking about the forest one day and why no one was allowed to go in but no one answered. It wasn’t until her grandmamma was on her deathbed did she get any information as to why.
“Cursed by witches who were trapped there long ago,” her grandmamma told Lana, her boney, cold hand squeezing hers. “They can trick your mind into believing anything. A soul for a soul. You must never go in. You will never come out.”
That was only six months ago but Lana had long before that stopped believing in witches and goblins.
The dogs continued to bark, spit flying from their mouths their teeth bared as they stood facing the forest lurching out in front of them and then stepping back to their original spots. A chill ran down Lana’s spine as she watched them.
“What are you barking at, General?” she asked the dog closest to her, her favorite of all three.
The dog ignored her, focused on what he was barking at.
Lana reached out and gently patted him on the back.
General whipped around ready to fight but stopped when he saw it was her.
Lana jumped, afraid at his sudden movement and scared that he was going to hurt her. She had never seen General act so meanly before.
The dog gave her a single, low, whooping bark different from his previous barking and turned his attention back to the forest. It was as if he was telling her to walk away.
Lana gave a ‘humph’. She was too stubborn to listen to her mother so she wasn’t about to take commands from a dog.
She put her nose in the air and began walking past the dogs towards the forest. They might be too scared to enter, she thought, but I am not! She continued to walk defiantly towards the one place she was told never to go when she felt a great tug on her dress almost knocking her on her back.
She turned her head to see General with a mouthful of her dress pulling her back.
“Let go, General!” she said demandingly.
General released her dress and stood in front of her. Lana fully turned to face him, his eyes staring into hers, his nose almost touching hers with his great height. She stomped her foot and put a hand on her hip.
“Bad dog!” she said shaking her finger at him.
He whimpered and barked at her backing up. He motioned his head back towards the road that lead to the house once again making it seem as if he was beckoning her away.
“You’re not the boss me!” she said and turned running for the edge of the forest. She didn’t make it three feet before all three of the dogs were in front of her blocking her path. She had to stop abruptly before she ran into Colonel.
Sergeant pushed at her with his head making her take a few steps back.
“Don’t push!” she said.
All three of the dogs’ ears pricked up and they turned back around recommencing their barking.
She stuck out her tongue at them, another behavior her mother was not fond of, when something in the forest caught her eye. She looked up past the dogs and scanned along the thick tree trunks for what had moved, but everything remained as it was.
She pouted and shook her head. “Dumb dogs,” she mumbled under her breath something else mama couldn’t stand. She turned to return to the house realizing how hungry she was when she heard a voice calling out to her.
“Don’t go,” the voice said faint yet somehow audible over the incessant barking of the dogs. “Please, come play with me.”
Lana froze where she stood. How had she heard it so clearly? She could barely hear the breeze blowing about her over the dogs and yet she still somehow heard this small voice.
The dogs began to bark more frantically.
They heard it too, Lana thought as she took a few steps forward. “Hello?” she shouted over the dogs.
“Please, come closer,” the voice said.
Again the voice was clearly audible as if the person talking was whispering in her ear and yet Lana saw no one.
“I want to play.”
Lana took a step forward. The dogs paced back and forth as they tried to block Lana from the forest, but she was still able to push through causing the dogs to whimper and bark simultaneously.
Lana felt excited as she approached the forest closer and at the same time a strange sense of dread came over her. Even though her heart pounded wildly in her chest, her throat tightening and her eyes welling up with tears, she could not stop herself from walking closer to the forest. It was as if something was pulling her in.
The dogs were behind her now. General once again grabbed at her dress ripping off a piece of the fabric, but Lana would not stop. And then she was at the edge of the treeline taking her last step before she fully entered the forest. Lana gasped in amazement as she seemed to pass through an invisible wall separating her world from the world of the forest. The temperature had cooled and the air was damp and pleasant against her skin. She glanced over her shoulder to see the dogs still pacing the line of the forest. She could see their mouths moving as if they were still barking but she could no longer hear them.
Lana looked out in front of her unsure what to do and where to go. The forest was dark despite it being so early in the afternoon. She hadn’t even been called for lunch yet. She looked up to see if she could see sunshine poking through gaps in the trees but was amazed once again that she couldn’t make out the sky at all. From the outside the trees looked full and green, but from where Lana stood the only leaves the trees had were the ones on the top blocking out the sun. Most of the branches were barren making them look like scraggly hands reaching out for something they couldn’t quite reach.
She heard a twig snap somewhere in front of her making her more alert of her surroundings. “Hello?” she whispered.
A head poked out from behind a tree a few yards away making Lana jump.
The little girl came fully out behind the tree smiling. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” she said coming closer.
Lana squinted in the dark. “How did you get in here?” she asked.
“I live here with my family,” the girl replied.
The little girl was finally close enough to fully see making Lana gasp.
It was like looking into a mirror. Even the girl’s dress was the same as hers, torn in the same places.
“My name is Alana,” she said grinning.
Lana blinked at her before cautiously telling the girl her name. “What does your family do in the forest?” Lana asked walking around the girl to study her.
The girl remained cool, a continuous crooked smile on her face. “We watch mostly,” she replied.
Lana looked up into her eyes and felt her heart skip a beat. “Watch what?” she asked. She was about to take a step back when the girl took her by the hand.
“Let’s play,” she said.
Lana tried to take her hand away but the girl was surprisingly strong pulling her further into the forest.
“I can’t stay,” Lana finally said as trees flew by. The only sound was the ‘woosh’ they made as they ran by them. “Mama will be worried if I don’t come in for lunch. She worries a lot about me.”
“But there is so much to do here,” Alana replied. “So many trees to climb and hide in.”
“Yes, but I’m not allowed to be in here. Papa told me that I am not allowed to go into the forest,” Lana replied.
“Do you want to see the lake?” the other girl asked ignoring what Lana had said. “It’s very pretty. It’s where the unicorns go to drink.”
Lana struggled against the girl. “Unicorns aren’t real,” she replied.
“Of course they are real if you want them to be,” the little girl replied. “Don’t you want unicorns to be real?”
Lana finally found the strength to rip her hand out of Alana’s and stopped moving. “Why do you look like me?” she asked.
The little girl tilted her head to look at Lana. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Why do you look like me?”
“Does your mother make you wear dresses that you don’t want to, too?” Lana asked innocently.
The girl nodded, the smile still on her face. “Let’s go find that unicorn,” she said trying to get Lana to venture further into the forest.
Lana lifted a brow. “But they aren’t real,” she said.
Just then the sounds of twigs and underbrush snapping caught her attention as a silver unicorn emerged from the trees in front of them. Lana gasped and pressed her hands to her mouth as the magnificent creature approached her. It was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. The unicorn walked right up to her pressing its nose on her forehead ever so gently. Lana giggled.
“Isn’t it magical?” Alana whispered her crooked grin spreading across her face.
Lana furred her brows confused and angry. The way the girl had spoken made her feel uncomfortable and she wished more than anything that she had listened to General and gone back into the house. Then she swallowed hard as she remembered her grandmamma’s words. “They can make you believe anything.”
Lana shivered as she looked back at her unlikely twin. She gave another glance at the unicorn seeing its red empty eyes and her lip quivered. “I have to go,” she said quickly, turning around before the girl could say anything and ran back the way they came.
It was dark in the forest but she was still able to make out the shapes of trees enough to avoid them. She ran and ran terrified that she was lost. She didn’t think that the girl had dragged her in so far when she finally saw light. Her heart leapt with joy as the opening of the forest came into view and she was finally able to see the dogs still barking at its edge. She smiled as she ran promising that she would never set foot in the forest again if she could just make it.
The edge approached and Lana made a final leap crying out as she hit something hard that made her tumble back. She groaned as she picked herself up not sure of what she hit. She brushed herself off and took the few steps that she stumbled back and again hit something hard.
“No,” she whispered as she looked into the eyes of General who was barking wildly at her. She tried to put her hand out to touch him but there was something she couldn’t see in the way.
She pressed both hands on the invisible wall and pushed before she began pounding on it with her small fists. Lana slid down the invisible wall that gave her a view of her freedom but wouldn’t let her pass, tears streaming down her face. She had never wished she was in the confines of her house before but at that moment she wanted nothing more than to be sitting with her mother sewing in that stuffy room.
She cried and begged on the forest floor pathetically hitting at the wall she could not see while General pawed at it frantically from the other side.
“You can’t leave,” the girl’s voice said behind her.
Lana screamed and pressed her back against the wall. “Please,” she said. “I want to go home.”
“Home?” the little girl said sneering. “I haven’t been home in four hundred years. Four hundred years today, put here by your self-righteous family. For four hundred years my sisters and I have watched from these woods as the world changed around us. As seasons came and went without us, cursed forever to be stuck here in these woods only to escape when another soul dares to enter on the anniversary of our capture.” A strange mist formed around the little girl and Lana pressed herself harder against the wall as she watched her grow into a full figured woman, her face and hair changing into her true form. “That day is today, Lana,” she said. “And you are my soul.”
Her form changed once again into a shadowy figure, her face stretched into a shrill scream as she flew towards Lana who had curled into a ball on the ground.** Suddenly the air changed around her as General jumped through the wall tackling the woman to the ground. He barked at her ferociously, spit flying into her face.
“Get off of me, you beast!” she yelled from the ground trying to shield her face. “How did you even get in here?”
“Forgetting something, sister?” came a voice from the darkness.
General continued to growl as he backed up from her standing between her and Lana.
Lana peeked through her fingers to see three dark figures emerge from behind the trees.
“My sisters,” Alana said stuttering and trying to push herself up. “You have come just in time to save me from this wild beast.”
“Save you?” said the oldest looking one. “Why, we let him in.”
Lana stood placing her hand on General.
“Let him in, Georgiana?” Alana said. “But I was about to be free.”
“Do you think we would let you leave without us?” another one of her sisters said.
“Margery, I would never. I was planning on coming back with others,” she explained breathlessly. “I would never dream of leaving my sisters here to rot.”
“We don’t believe you,” the third one said. “We haven’t believed you for four hundred years.”
“Not since you got us stuck here in the first place,” Georgiana said.
“Corinna, Margery, Georgiana, how could you?” she stammered.
Lana took a step back as the air in the forest became electrified. She could feel the intensity between the sisters.
“It was your misdoings that landed us here trapped inside this hell!” Corinna yelled.
“You had to put a spell on all of the men in the village seducing them and making them do your biddings,” Margery said.
Alana tried to laugh. “It was just a game, a silly little game. I wasn’t going to keep them like that.”
“You killed a child, Alana,” Georgiana said. “You killed an innocent. All because of your stupid pride!”
“You promised us that it would end. That you would no longer practice the dark arts and yet you continued,” Margery added.
“He should have married me!” Alana yelled pointing to herself angrily. “That terrible woman stole him from me! I needed to get him back. The child was not supposed to get hurt. All I needed was a small amount of blood but I became scared!”
“Let this child go, Alana,” Georgiana said.
“No!” Alana yelled. “This one is mine! I will get out of here! It’s too perfect, don’t you see?” she said. “Her name is Lana, mine is Alana. Fate has shined upon me!”
“When we put the spell on the forest trapping you inside we did it so you wouldn’t hurt another child,” Corinna said. “We trapped ourselves with you so that we could watch over you and make sure you never got the chance to become free.”
Alana let out a hurt huff. “You trapped us in here? All of you?”
Her sisters nodded.
“We left the girls family in charge of the forest to protect it and make sure no one sets foot in it,” Margery said.
Alana screamed. “No! I want out! The three of you can stay in here and burn for all I care but I am getting out!” she turned to grab at Lana when two of her sisters were on her wrapping their arms around her and whispering into her ear.
“Go now, child,” Georgiana said looking down at Lana. “Do not venture in here again.”
Lana nodded as Georgiana opened her hand and blew from it a strange, sparkling substance causing a bright white light to envelope her before her world went dark.
Lana groaned and rolled over where she lay.
“Lana, where are you?” she heard again.
She opened her eyes slowly and looked around. She was lying on the knoll next to the rock where she fell earlier in the day. She groaned again when General’s large tongue ran over a soft spot on her forehead.
She sat up and held her hand to her head feeling a bump.
“Lana!” she heard her governess call.
General stood and barked.
“There you are!” her governess said at the bottom of the hill. “Lunch was an hour ago! We were all worried. Your mother was about to have Mr. Roberts run into town for the constable.”
Lana slowly stood and followed General down the hill.
“Lana!” gasped her governess. “What have you done to your dress? Your mother is going to be furious. What is that on your head? Oh, you poor thing!” She tilted Lana’s chin up so she could get a better look at her injury. “Your mother is just going to be beside herself! She will probably call in the doctor to look at this! We better hurry!” She took the girl's hand and led her towards the house.
Lana looked around and smiled, General walking right next to her. She patted his head with her free hand. When the three of them passed the arch in the shrubbery General and Lana both glanced at the forest before exchanging glances themselves while her governess continued to gabber about her disappearance and how worried her mother was. General gave a playful bark bending to nudge her hand and Lana knew that it wasn’t a dream.
**Lana put her hands up in defense just before she passed out.
The little girl screamed as the dogs growled and barked at her baring their teeth. She tried to run from them but they were faster and she cried out when they surrounded her.
“Lana!” a concerned voice cried out. “General, Colonel, Sergeant, back! What has gotten into you three?”
A young, pudgy woman came running to Lana’s aide, batting at the dogs with her bonnet.
The little girl began to cry. “It was awful! They just started attacking me for no reason.”
“Oh, my dear girl! Your mother is going to be furious when she sees how dirty your dress is. These silly dogs. What is wrong with them?” The lady took the child’s hand and led her towards the house as the dogs continued to bark.
General was whimpering and facing the forest pacing nervously before running back to the girl to growl and bark at her.
“I’m scared!” the girl exclaimed burying her face in the woman’s arm.
“General, you stop this!” the woman said landing an open palm on his snout. "What has gotten into you? It's Lana! You love Lana."
He yelped and backed off but continued to bark at the forest and then turn to bark at the girl.
They arrived at the front entrance to the great house which was situated very peacefully on a knoll. The little girl let go of the woman’s hand and ran gleefully to the door to let herself in.
“Lana! Do not let your mother see you like that!” the woman called after her. “Go to your room immediately to get changed!”
General felt defeated as he barked and cried pacing the edge of the forest. His companions, Colonel and Sergeant had given up hours ago and lied on the grass under the fading sun, but General continued to paw at the forest line.
Lana wiped away her tears as she helplessly looked on from inside the forest at General who sat in front of her whimpering. She put her hand on the wall hoping to pet him. She was cold and alone in the darkness of the forest and unsure of what was to become of her.
The little girl could just make them out from her new bedroom window and sneered. She was finally free.