Written By: AngieCake
September 16, 2014
Kailee ran through the forest, outpacing her friends easily. The sunlight filtered through the trees and painted the forest floor in shades of dusty gold and green. The leaves would turn soon, withering and falling to carpet the hard-packed path, but for now it was clear, and the air was warm, and Kailee felt like she could run like this for hours. Running was her escape, and with each step she pounded into the path she channeled her rage and pain into getting a little further away. Away from her friends, and her town, and her tiny little broken home. When she ran down these paths, she felt like she was in control. She loved coming out here. She loved her time alone beneath the trees and the sun. She loved these woods. It wasn't until she heard Jessie and Rose calling her that she skidded to a halt. She listened, but all she could hear was her own harsh breaths slowly evening out. As her pulse returned to normal, she considered her surroundings. She wasn't on the path anymore. She couldn't be sure when she'd left it, but it must have been a while ago, because she couldn't see it, and she didn't recognize the landscape around her. Shit. The last thing she needed right now was to get lost in the middle of the forest. Cursing her inability to pay attention, Kailee pulled out her phone. She was about to text Jessie that she'd gotten lost when she noticed the time on the phone. According to her phone, she'd been running for four hours. A strange feeling filled her chest. No. That couldn't be right. She hadn't been running that long. Surely it was only an hour at most. Rose wasn't on the track team like her and Jessie. She would never have let them run for that long. Kailee glared at the numbers, but they refused to give. In fact, they refused to move at all. After a moment, it occurred to her that the clock was broken. A wave of relief crashed over her and she actually laughed out loud. It was ridiculous. Kailee swiped past the clock to reach her messages and cursed. She had no reception. Sighing, Kailee looked around to determine which direction she had come from. Failing that, she tried to figure out which direction would bring her to a road fastest. The forest near her town wasn't even that big, more of a wooded area, bordered by highway on three sides. She couldn't be that far from civilization. Off in the distance there was an area with more sunlight, so Kailee figured the trees probably got thinner and eventually led to one of those highways. She set off in that direction, hoping it wouldn't take too long. If she got home late her mother would be pretty angry. She tried to avoid that as a rule. Kailee shoved that subject out of her head and started to wonder where Jessie and Rose were. They'd give her hell for disappearing tomorrow at school, but for now they were probably worried. She rubbed her hands absentmindedly over her arms, ruffling the light jacket and avoiding the area that was no longer bruised. That strange feeling filled her again. She began to glance around uneasily, worried, of all things, that someone was watching her. Kailee looked up, suddenly terrified someone was in the trees just above her. A fat raindrop plopped onto her nose. Kailee blinked. Rain? It wasn't supposed to rain today. The forecast was clear and sunny. But the sky was gray and flat, like an oppressive iron cloud had stopped just above her. It blocked the sunlight, leeching the color from the trees as it started to drizzle. Kailee shivered as a strong wind howled through the forest around her. The drizzle intensified to a steady pour, and Kailee started to run forward, eyes closed against the sudden downpour. It was ridiculous. Running blindly had gotten her into this mess, and here she was, doing it again. She hated this weather. The ground quickly turned to mud, churned up by her heavy footfalls. It sucked at her shoes as she tore through the trees, desperate not to get caught in a flash flood. As the slimy substance touched her ankle Kailee stopped short and stared at her feet. She couldn't understand what she was seeing. The wood was choked with fallen leaves, shades of yellow and red rotted into brown all around her. The trees above were stripped of their canopy, allowing the now powerful wind to rip at her jacket and hair. Kailee stumbled back and her foot shot out from beneath her. She crashed to the ground. She pulled her hands forward to push herself up, and her hand touched a familiar fabric. There was something beneath the leaves. Pulling it up into the dimming light, her jaw dropped. It was a raincoat. It was her raincoat. She recognized the ripped pockets, the stripes, the koala zipper tag. But she hadn't worn this since she was eight. It had been her favorite jacket. Kailee rose shakily to her feet. She hadn't seen this jacket for years, not since she'd tried to burn it, full of shame and confusion and anger when she couldn't get the fabric to light, burying it instead, shoving it under a tree and vowing not to see it again. Not since the night when her mom had come home from the station, smelling heavily like the gross juice adults always drank, and there was something wrong with her words and her mouth and she had seen Kailee playing adventurer in the living room and started shouting and... No. It was someone else's jacket. They had bought the same one and they'd left it here, in the middle of the woods. It couldn't be hers. Kailee dropped the jacket like it had burned her. She looked around, frowning. She didn't want to be here. She wanted out of this wood. She needed to get out of this wood. Kailee brushed her hair out of her eyes and turned back to the path she'd been on. She hadn't noticed, but the rain had stopped. In fact, it was even a little sunny. Not as much as it had been earlier, but certainly not the grim storm she'd just been caught in. Taking a deep breath to clear her thoughts, she struck out in her earlier direction. The ground became gradually more substantial the further she went, until there wasn't even a hint of mud. Kailee kept moving and glanced back. She couldn't see the jacket anymore, or the place she'd fallen. She turned around and stopped short. She'd been just about to walk straight into a tree. God, she really needed to work on this whole paying attention to where she was going thing. She turned to walk around the tree and nearly tripped over a wicker chair. Bile rose in the back of her throat. Kailee looked around. This chair hadn't been here a second ago, she was sure of it. It wasn't even behind the tree, just next to it! She would have seen it. In front of the chair was a patio table and another chair with the same patterns on them; a matching set. Kailee drew her hand across the table top. It was familiar. Her breath shuddered as she let it out. Crouching down, she felt along the base until she touched a few shallow notches. Right there, carved into the leg, were the letters R.S.+K.S. Kailee swallowed back tears. She was sitting at this table when Riley told her she was leaving. The long brown hair Kailee had always envied had fluttered around her sister's face in a light breeze, and Kailee's heart had stopped. She still remembered her high-pitched voice catching in her throat. "You're leaving?" "I can't stay." She had thought they were a team, destined to take on the world together, her and her badass big sister, but Riley had shattered that idea when she took Kailee's hand and squeezed it and said "Good luck." You didn't say good luck to people you were taking with you. Kailee stood slowly. She turned and ran. She wasn't going in the right direction and she didn't care. The wind seemed to roar past her and the ground disappeared beneath her feet and that awful pain in her chest rose up and threatened to crawl up her throat and out her eyes and she shoved it down and shut her eyes and ran. The back of her neck began to prickle and a shiver ran up her spine, but she ignored even that uneasiness and just kept running. After a long time Kailee became aware of being watched again. She slowed to a stop and looked around. There was no one in the area, just that breeze again, like it was playing with her hair. She ran a hand over her eyes and shoved her hair back from her face. "I know you're there!" she shouted. "If this is some kind of sick prank it isn't funny! Just leave me alone!" Her words echoed through the forest and she suddenly felt very stupid. She was shouting at the trees. It was ridiculous. Her cheeks burned when she realized she'd probably gotten herself even more lost. She needed a concrete idea of where she was going. She pulled out her phone again. The clock was still broken, but this time it was stuck on four hours before she'd started running. Kailee frowned. That was weird. Not that her day had been super normal, but still. She flicked to her messages and stared. There were none. All her outgoing messages, her texts, her emails, even her voicemails; they were all gone. There was no trace of them. And she still had no reception. With a wordless cry of frustration, Kailee flung her phone at the nearest tree. It hit squarely in the middle and cracked, loudly, falling to to the ground in three pieces. She stared at it again. She hadn't thrown it that hard. She didn't think she could. Moving over to the phone, she reached to pick it up, and recoiled in shock. There were leaves inside her phone. Bright, healthy, sprouting leaves. There were acorns too, and a twig. Kailee slowly backed away from the unexpected foliage. That same uneasiness returned to her, bubbling beneath her skin, making it hard to breathe. She needed to run again. She needed to find the highway. She needed to get the hell out of these crazy woods. Kailee turned around and screamed. A girl slightly older than her stood not a foot from her face. A beautiful girl, a foot taller than Kailee. Her eyes were large and almond-shaped, with dark irises. She had high cheekbones and smooth skin and a symmetrical face. And pointed ears. And no nose. And fangs. She grinned at Kailee. "You...you..." Kailee stammered. If possible, the girl's grin widened. She nodded emphatically. "Yes," she said, her voice high and tinkling. It reminded Kailee of a set of wind chimes she used to have. "Me." Kailee fainted. When she opened her eyes, the girl's face hovered not an inch from hers, so close the ends of her short green hair brushed against her cheeks. Kailee held back a scream and looked into the girls eyes. They were wide with excitement and watched Kailee without blinking. After a second, it became clear the girl was not going to back away without Kailee moving first. So Kailee sat up. The girl finally took a step back. Kailee stared at her. "What are you?" she choked out. The girl laughed. "I am the spirit. I am the woods." She grinned again. "I am the dryad of this forest." Kailee tried swallowing and couldn't quite manage it. "You're a... a dryad?" "Yes!" She laughed and twirled in a circle. Her dress fanned out around her, a frock of purple and red leaves slowly giving way to spiderwebs and twigs and finally ending in a flair of green and pink buds. Kailee focused on breathing. "Why... why am I... why are you talking to me?" The girl stopped and faced Kailee, suddenly serious. "Because," she said in a solemn voice, "you love me." Kailee was utterly speechless. Her mind blanked. What the hell was she supposed to say to that? She managed to scrape together a single cohesive thought. "I do?" "Yes. You thought so earlier today. I felt it." "But I was... people say things like that all the time. I love this, I love that. It doesn't mean that I, you know." She shifted uneasily. How could she explain to a forest spirit that she didn't actually love her? "Oh, but you do! I felt your sincerity when you thought it. You meant it." She giggled and hugged herself, excitement dancing in her eyes. "I had to pull you off the path. I had to bring you here to me. To tell you how I feel." "Wait a second. You're the reason I got lost? You caused the storm? You lead me to... those things?" "Yes! Well, no. I lead you off the path, and the nature of the spirit world led you to the things living inside you. Not all of them, just the ones in sight of this wood. But yes, I caused the storm." "I- what? Why? Why the- what is going on?" Kailee gritted her teeth. What did this creature think it knew about her? She had pulled her away from her friends, thrown her into the 'spirit world', slammed her with painful memories, toyed with her, and now wanted to profess her love? The dryad's smile faded slowly and she looked at Kailee with a hurt expression. "I wanted to know if you still loved me during the storm. And you did." She crossed her arms and pouted. "You did." Kailee laughed a breathless, humorless laugh. "I loved the woods! I loved the- the escape! I loved being alone with my thoughts! I didn't, I don't, love some psychotic nymph who kidnaps me and reads my mind! Jesus christ, what is wrong with you?" A muscle twitched in the spirit's jaw. It occurred to Kailee that pissing off a forest spirit who controlled the world around her might not be the smartest idea. "You came to me for escape. Now you've escaped it all. You came to me for comfort. I offer it. You came to me to be with me and only me, and here you have it. I have watched you, for a long, long time, and always you come to me. Now I know. I know you love me. You are hurt but you still love me." Kailee shook her head, exasperated. It all seemed so ridiculous. She had been terrified, afraid for her life, and all because some freaking forest spirit was feeling lonely. "No, I don't. And even if I did, it doesn't mean you can kidnap me. Send me home. Send me home now." The wood nymph frowned again. "No. Not until you say it." "What?" "Say it. Tell me you love me." "Oh no way. You already heard it in my thoughts, remember? And if you can hear my thoughts, then you know what I think about this whole situation already, and I don't have to explain it. Just send me home." "But." The dryad fiddled with one of the twigs in her dress. She looked down, nervous. "But I want you to stay." "I don't want to stay!" "But you'll leave!" Suddenly she was behind Kailee, grabbing her arms and pulling her back. Kailee's muscles tensed. Her hands shot to the nymph's to pry them off her, poised to run, when she realized the girl wasn't attacking her. She was hugging her. She stiffened, but the wood spirit didn't seem to notice. "I don't want you to leave. If you leave angry you may never come back. And it may be years before I see you again. Don't leave." Kailee swallowed. She didn't want to deal with an emotionally unstable dryad's affections, but she didn't want to piss her off either. Kailee gently pulled the girl's arms off and turned to her. "Why does it matter so much?" The spirit turned her gaze toward the ground and drew her toe along the dust in a figure-eight. "Because you... you have poured all your fears into me for years. You have come to me for comfort and I gave it. I calmed you, gave you what you needed. You've drawn strength and contentment and joy from me. I heard you and your pain. And I want to take it away." She looked up at Kailee with wide, innocent eyes. "I could take away your pain. You wouldn't have to go back to it." Kailee's gaze softened. It was strange to think of a powerful spirit as naive, but she felt like she was talking to a child. "That's very sweet. But you can't just take away my pain. You can help me with it, but it's still mine. I have to give it away. I have to get rid of it myself." The nymph nodded and looked back at the ground. Kailee touched her chin and brought her gaze back to her. "And my life isn't just pain. There's more to it. And I need that too." "But, you'll let me help? With the other parts?" She looked so hopeful. Kailee thought about the nights she had come here, when she couldn't stand to be at home anymore, when she'd felt alone and isolated and she hated herself for not being strong enough to deal with it. The trees had given her shelter and been her silent company. They had calmed her mind and filled her with a sense of confidence, like there was an outside world that she could go to, one outside her current world, one where she could be safe, one she would get to someday. She smiled. "Yes, you can help. I want to go home. But I'll always come back." Kailee woke up on the hard-packed running path she and her friends always used. The sun was shining in her eyes. Rose and Jessie stood over her, looking terrified. Pain throbbed inside her head. She sat up, rubbing her temples. "What happened?" "You tripped on a root and smacked your head on the ground." Jessie glared at her. "I told you you should watch where you're going when you run." Rose helped Kailee to her feet. "Are you alright?" she asked, seeing Kailee grimace at the pulsing pain in her head. She waved off her friend. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." Jessie looked up at her watch. "You were out for a while. We should probably get home." Kailee reached for her phone to check the time, but it wasn't in her pocket. It was gone. "What's wrong?" Rose asked. "Nothing, I just... I lost my phone." "That sucks. Think it's back down the path?" Kailee shrugged. Jessie rolled her eyes and Rose gave her a worried look. "I'm fine, I swear. Let's just get back to town, okay?" The other girls nodded and moved ahead. With their backs to her, Kailee pressed a hand to one of the nearby trunks. The bark was warm beneath her fingers. I'll come back, she promised.
That did not end up where I thought it would.