The branches seemed to leap in front of her deliberately and swallow her deeper into the dark, empty voids of the forest, grasping angrily at her pale brown cape, like the sticky tendrils of a blind, hungry monster. The trees seemed to shift before her in a tangled and ominous dance, forming an endless maze of shadow and fear. The young girl stumbled to a stop and leaned her hand against a tree, gasping for breath. Her fingers were dirty and scratched from reaching for branches and dirt to steady herself as she raced through the forest. At almost every turn she lost her footing, fell and scrambled to stand and keep running. Her fingers told the story. Her blond hair had fallen loose from her bun, matted with leaves and dirt, and hung dirty and ragged around her young, pale face. She turned and leaned her back against the tree, resting her head against the rough bark. Her breath came out in heavy, wheezing gasps. Hot tears fell from her closed eyes, creating dirty brown rivers down her cheeks. She clenched her eyes tightly shut and willed herself to wake up, but all she saw was the vicious face of the predator hunting her.
The afternoon began with an innocent
hide-and-seek game at the edge of the forest with her 5-year-old little sister before
dinner. While the younger sister found her way back to the village on her own,
the older sister wandered deeper into the forest, responding to the reckless
craving of youth to explore and experience the mysteries of the unknown. She
was fifteen and more bold than she should have been, believing the dangerous
rumors of wolves in the forest were cautions only for the faint of heart. The
setting of the sun had mercilessly and sufficiently demolished her naïve
confidence in the invincibility of youth and launched her into a terrifying nightmare.
She heard the snap of a twig and
jumped, stifling her scream with her shaking hand, eyes wide open. Her heart struggled
to race faster than it already was. The force of adrenaline and blood through
her body was almost unbearable. She scanned the shadows surrounding her, blue
eyes wide with paralyzing fear. A snarl a few yards behind her shot enough
adrenaline through her to start moving again. She clutched the front of her
torn, yellow dress in her trembling hands and started running frantically, as
the prey before the predator. She looked behind her and couldn’t see any
movement but the horrible sound of pursuit pounded in her brain and seemed to
echo all around her. The snarling pant of the wolf behind her, ever-present in
her mind, screamed at her, “run!”
The wolf pursued his marked prey.
The trail she left was like a brilliant streak of light through the forest.
Though he could have taken his time and given her a lead, he was anxious. It
had been many long years since anyone had been foolish enough to venture this
far into the woods. He plowed through the trees with agility and enthusiasm. He
saw a flash of yellow fabric dash behind a trunk. It was tattered and dirty.
The sight of it thrilled him. He slowed his speed slightly and quieted his padded
feet, veering to the left. His surprise attack would come swiftly from another
direction. He was minutes away from his target.
Frantically, the young girl raced
on, pushing aside the underbrush that seemed to grow taller with every step.
The snarl so close behind urged her on. Each breath hurt as she sucked air into
her aching lungs. It was never enough and she began to feel light headed and
confused for the lack of oxygen. Panting and faint, her body involuntarily began
to slow down. Her head dropped and she stumbled over a protruding root. She
knew she was defeated when she hit the forest floor. It was eerily quiet and
the trees seemed to spin in a slow circle around her. In a daze, she raised her
eyes and saw a path in front of her.
She scrambled to her wobbling knees.
She recognized this path. It was well-used by those coming into the forest to
hunt, trap, harvest roots and herbs, or to find a place of solitude. She felt a
flicker of hope burn through her exhaustion and despair. Somebody might see or
hear her and come to her aid. In her focus on getting to the path, she never
heard the wolf attack from the side. The
wolf tore into her without reserve and relished the victory of the chase. He
pulled her back into the forest and shared her with his pack. After his
appetite was satisfied, the wolf searched the area for the young girl’s cape.
With her scared scent all over it, it was not hard to find. He left it near the
path, as a reminder and marker of his territory.
The same night, the villagers sent
out a search party. Walking the path, they quickly came upon the cape. It was
tattered and torn but easily recognizable as hers. It was no longer brown, but red,
stained with her own blood. The somber news of the young girl’s horrible death
spread like wildfire through the village. So did the new name of the forest,