Every so often I come across a writing prompt that triggers a story almost immediately. This photo prompt came across my screen as I was browsing through twitter, and the story began itching its way through my brain immediately. I saved the photo but forgot to note who had posted it, so I apologize for the lack of props on the prompt.
Vacation in the Woods
I came to a stop in the gravel driveway. I’d finally arrived. Somehow, I’d managed to swing that vacation I’d been dreaming of.
The quaint little cottage stood just inside the edge of a beautiful old forest. The trees stood tall and majestic against the setting sun. Their leaves glinted like diamonds in hues of greens and blues. The thick trunks were more shades of brown than I’d ever known.
I felt a peaceful calm wash over me in their presence. I grabbed my duffel and laptop from the backseat. I slipped the key from my pocket as I headed toward the door.
The old steps creaked beneath my feet as I climbed them. The cottage’s white paint had grayed with age. It was chipped and peeled. It gave the home a loving lived-in look as opposed to one of neglect.
The key turned easily enough in the recently oiled locks. The knob groaned when I turned it, and the hinges creaked in protest as the door swung open.
I blinked into the darkening space beyond the door. I fumbled along the wall for a light switch. I found none.
In the dusky light, I could just make out the shape of a small lamp atop an equally small table. It was only steps away. I fumbled beneath the shade for the switch.
The lamp cast pale yellow light across the small abode. A small but plush sofa sat in the center of the room. It was adorned in silky upholstery dotted with small pink rosebuds. A matching chair sat at an angle slightly wider than ninety degrees from the right arm of the couch. A small oval table with an array of magazines was set askew in front of them.
I found a tall lamp tucked into the corner of the room. It cast a milky hue to everything. The yellow light turned a sickening shade that resembled a tornado brewing sky. I turned off the small lamp. The milky hue brightened.
There weren’t a lot of places to go in the small cottage. The small kitchen was separated from the main space by an island counter. Two stools had been placed at the small counter. The kitchen itself took up only one wall.
Against the far corner stood a small stove. Next came a strip of a counter, a small sink, and then another strip of counter. A small refrigerator with rounded corners and a freezer cabinet hidden inside was tucked into the other corner.
Above the sink was a rather large window with a perfect view of the woods beyond. On either side of the window hung small kitchen cabinets. I’d been a bit surprised when the leasing agent had offered to stock the kitchen, but the cabinets and fridge had been fully stocked with the groceries I’d requested.
A glass percolator was set on a back burner of the stove. Coffee was just what I needed after the long drive, so I set it to brew. When the stove wouldn’t light, I began to worry a bit, but I soon located a tin full of matches and had a small flame burning in no time.
While the coffee percolated, I set off to locate the last two rooms. Across the small main room stood a wall with three doors. I assumed this was where I would find them.
The door on the left opened to reveal a small bathroom done up in peaches and cream with small shells as the main decor. On the right was a clawfoot tub with a transparent shower curtain encircling it. The shower was attached directly to a pipe that came out of a hole in the wall.
To the left were a toilet and a small pedestal sink. A medicine cabinet with a mirror hung above the sink. Though it barely fit, a small, shell-shaped peach bathmat was stuffed into the space between the tub and the sink.
I opened the next door to find a closet stocked full of linens. A stick vacuum leaned in the corner. There were a few bars of hand soap, a spare bottle of dish soap, and a stack of paperbacks. Planning to check out the titles later, I closed the door and reached for the third knob.
The bedroom wasn’t as small as I had expected it to be. It wasn’t as large as the one I shared with my husband back home, but it was a comfortable space. The four-poster, full-sized bed was topped with a plush mattress. It was draped in a powder blue duvet over cornflower blue sheets. Everything was trimmed with delicate lace.
A small oak nightstand with a tiny drawer was set on either side of the bed. A brass lamp hung on the wall above each. A long oak dresser that matched the nightstands stood against the wall. I caught a glimpse of myself in the large oval mirror that adorned the dresser. I promised to shower before climbing into the inviting bed.
The smell of coffee was starting to permeate the air, so I turned off the stove. The sun had finished setting as I took my coffee –heavily laden with sugar and cream– and settled back on the sofa cushions.
It had been a long drive. I was exhausted. I finished my coffee, rinsed the cup, and left it in the sink to be washed in the morning. After a quick shower, I crawled into bed. I was thinking about a hike into those beautiful woods as I drifted off to sleep.
I had such bizarre dreams that night. A man called to me from the woods. A woman cried for help. The trees told me to trust no one. The man begged me to come with him. The woman screamed in agony. The trees whispered their dire warnings.
I awoke feeling well-rested. Though most would probably feel uneasy, my dreams did nothing to warn me off from my hike in the woods. I ate a couple of muffins I warmed in the oven and drank entirely too much coffee, just as I do every morning.
I found a cute little picnic basket on top of the fridge. I put together a picnic lunch; a sandwich, potato salad, a thick slice of chocolate cake, and a bottle of iced tea. I dressed in jeans and a warm sweater. I slipped on a pair of comfortable hiking boots. After I secured my hair in a ponytail, I grabbed my picnic lunch and slipped out the door which I left unlocked in spite of the key in my pocket.
The cooler temperatures had arrived the previous week; just in time for my well-deserved vacation. The air smelled crisp and fresh. The true arrival of fall was still weeks away, and very few leaves were tipped with autumnal colors as yet. I thought I smelled a hint of rain, but the sky was blue, and there was nary a cloud in the sky.
I walked slowly at first, enjoying the sights and smells of nature untouched around me. I examined mosses on the trees and patches of mushrooms near their roots. I listened to the songbirds singing and the answering buzz of insects. The air smelled lush and green. I felt energized and excited.
Soon, I was skipping along the natural paths created between the trees. The animals tittered and tutted as they watched me frolic. I got the distinct impression that some were even laughing at me.
The trees shook out their long branches as they joined in my jubilee. I broke out into a song as though I’d been singing it my whole life. I knew every word though I’d never heard it before. It both comforted and alarmed me.
I stumbled into a clearing. It was a carpet of green grass and purple violets. A family of bunnies nibbled on the tender stalks.
I did my best not to disturb them as I spread the small blanket out. I folded my arms behind my head as I lay across it. My butt hung over the edge and I bent my knees in an attempt to keep it off the damp ground.
I closed my eyes and felt the warm rays of sunshine wash over my face. A curious young bunny sniffed at my ear. I held perfectly still and enjoyed the shared moment. I think I drifted off for a bit.
When I awoke, I was famished. I sat up; making sure my bottom was planted on the blanket. I unpacked my lunch and devoured it with a hunger I was unfamiliar with. I attributed it to the fresh air I so seldom got in my busy every day.
I looked around the field. The bunnies had abandoned me, and I found myself alone. Clouds had moved in, and the brightness of the day had dulled. Across the field, the trees were scrawny and barren. A single path snaked between the desolate-looking trunks.
Curious, I abandoned my blanket to follow it. I’d barely ventured down the path when I came upon a set of iron steps that led to an iron door. The door swung open invitingly.
Inside, I could see a perfect wood. The trees were lush and full of bright green leaves. There were large, thick bushes in the distance. The path that led through the door continued beyond it. In the distance, I could see a beautiful castle against a summer sky backdrop.
I hesitated there at the precipice. I considered the path in front of me before glancing back where I’d come from. I took a step backward, examining the door further. I saw something in the peripheral. Had that tree just moved?
“Come…” a whisper came from the other side.
I squinted, searching for the movement I’d just witnessed. There. That tree. Were those eyes?
“What are you waiting for?” that whisper crawled up my skin.
The tree was grinning at me then. Have you ever seen a tree grin? It’s the most unnerving thing to see a tree spread its leaves into an eerie grimace.
I slammed that iron door so hard it echoed through the woods like a gunshot. I turned and ran down the stairs and through the trees back to the clearing. I scooped up the blanket and basket as I booked it across the field of purple and green.
I picked the path I thought was most likely to lead me back to my little vacation cottage. Only when my lungs began to feel like they would burst did I slow to a walk.
The path seemed so long as the sky changed to shades of orange and purple. I was barely dragging my feet when the cottage at the end of the woods came into view.
I was so glad I hadn’t locked the door as I tumbled through it and then turned and collapsed against it. I secured the lock and sat in a heap on the floor.
In my busy city life, I had forgotten how invigorating, exhilarating, and exhausting a walk in the woods could be.
Love Sick: Stories is out now
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Love Sick is a multi-genre collection of stories about the love we find ourselves caught up in.
What would you do?
What would you do if you came across that door in the woods? Would you venture through it and see what was on the other side? Would you leave it behind there in the woods to tempt the next traveler? Would you destroy it? The possibilities are endless!
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