The Deep Woods: Part Two
Also by j_harkness
A certain amount of bickering occupied the pair's descent of the stairs. In the strengthened darkness of the later night, Phil found himself prone to stumbling despite the meekness of his gait; as such, the ghost fell victim to frequent bursts of laughter. His voice was so distorted from that of his former self, however, that Phil initially mistook the sound for a rasped snarling and thus kept a safe distance between them.
"Do you think Harold's gone out?" Phil asked, once he'd grasped the nature of the ghost's chuckling.
"On the contrary, I'm quite certain that he's still around." The ghost detected the jerk of Phil's head that followed this and added, "By now, however, he's probably asleep." Phil could not presently afford such a luxury, though certain parts of him craved it; his desire to escape was a more pressing concern by far.
On reaching the ground floor, the ghost halted such that the Meepit, trailing behind, passed through him. To Phil's inquisitive look, he responded, "Well, go find the door, if that's all that really matters." As such, Phil fell to his hands and feet and, as would a mindless Miamouse, searched through the room to gain a sense of its shape. Here he had the misfortune of encountering several articles of furniture, which were hardly of a lavish quality and thus were a tad more painful to deal with. He did, however, discover a small aperture in the wall farthest from the stairs, but from this emanated ragged panting and warm breathing which caused him to quickly flee. After the demise of his will, Phil returned to face the ghost.
"What's the matter?" the Hissi asked. "Having trouble or something?"
"All right, you've got my attention now," Phil said. "How do I get out of here?"
The specter sighed again. "Look, you've got a lot to learn. If you want to have any chance at escape, you have to accept that you know nothing and that I know all. Can you do that for me?"
Phil coughed and grew greatly interested in the observation of his feet. Eventually, he relented. "Fine, you know a bit more than me. Now, whe–"
"That won't do, kid. You have to trust me entirely – no half-agreement, no maybes, just a simple yes or no."
After a moment's hesitation, the Meepit replied, "Yes. You know all. I know nothing." With that, the ghost again played raconteur, now detailing the nature of the dwelling's bewitchment. During his flight from the place, Carl had, the ghost said, gradually slowed in pace. Indeed, the trek through the barely broken snow had eventually grown so taxing that the young Hissi had been forced to turn about. What plagued him was clearly not the product of a lack of serendipity; he suspected instead that some more sinister force was to blame for the decline of his health. Perhaps, he conjectured, it was of internal origins – maybe a mechanism meant to draw him to the odious past which he had forsaken.
Regardless, Carl reversed himself and again sought out the home he had once partially owned. But alas, the tendrils that had seized him did not relent even after this meager attempt at penance, and as such, he came to collapse on the outskirts of a travelling camp of nomads. He was discovered and cared for, but the group's medicines had no discernible effect on him. A sorcerer among them eventually suggested a method of which he once had heard and had never yet tested on a living subject. Indeed, he'd learned of an enchantment that could confine an individual within the pages of a book, but, by virtue of the spell, the subject could only be released were the book to be read by one entirely unaware of its contents.
"Well, that's one mystery explained," Phil said, "but what of the house?"
"I was getting to that." The next part of the tale was quite hazy, for a narrator with no ability to perceive the external world is hardly the most accurate. It ended, however, with a mention of a return to the house in which ghost and Meepit presently stood, where Harold had freed Carl (who now bore his ethereal face) and, after thoroughly rebuking him, informed him of the Lenny witch's actions after the theft of the locket. She had, after being ejected by Harold, cursed the place such that no Hissi would ever be able to leave it, yet this species alone would be capable of granting entrance and exit to the house's visitors.
"So basically," Phil began, "you could've let me go at any time?"
"Certainly, but then you'd have much less worldly experience, right? Anyway, I have a favor to ask that I'm hoping you'll agree to."
"If it'll get me out of here faster, I'd be happy to."
"Again, your attitude leaves something to be desired. Regardless, I'd like you to find the witch I've mentioned and get her to lift the curse. It's hardly a monumental task."
"Any idea where I should look?"
"I... haven't been out of this place in years. Your guess is as good as mine. I'd wager she's still somewhere in the woods – I doubt she had the wherewithal to escape the realm."
The Meepit took a long pause prior to responding, "Fine, I'll do it. Now," he grimaced, "please let me out of here."
Thus, from out the blankness of which the entry-wall of the house was composed emerged a single, miniscule grey spot. It gradually grew, initially in each direction and hence circularly, prior to its eventually yielding into an amorphous form. This was hardly its final shape, however; the spreading grayness ceased only in reaching a semielliptical figure. Now Phil was greeted with the same sight has had marked his entrance: that pathetic, time-worn door that stood scarcely opened. The Meepit squeezed through the door – he dared not ask the ghost for assistance – and returned to the external world, which was as blessed with darkness as was the interior, for the moon, it seemed, could not bathe this part of the woods with its light.
Here was freedom. The unseen trees were but a blur beside the petpet. Soon, even the sorry grass and barren trees grew few in number. His feet began to ache, for the soil on which he presently trod was more rigid by far than any he had previously encountered. Eventually, the Meepit's pace slowed to a near halt; subsequently, he sought out shelter, but there stood neither natural nor artificial protection that he could make use of. Despite this, he succumbed to the undying instinct that tugged at his resolve
Yet even this was not the sought liberation! Within his stupor, he saw ghosts, whose vile moaning occasionally bordered on presenting some intelligible sentiments, though whether they spoke of agony, sorrow, or joy was a matter of pure guesswork. By dream-logic he found himself pondering the otherworldly utterances for first a minute, then an hour – yet these were but estimates, for no clock has functioned among the visions of the sleeping. His surroundings grew sentient and made a mockery of nature; trees plotted, rocks contemplated, water rebelled. All the while, Phil stood rooted to the spot, for the ghosts' non-words shed little light on the situation, but he had convinced himself that they were all-knowing beings, so he could do little but wonder why they would not bestow upon him his necessary education. The elements, however, were persistent in their inconsistency – heat forsook the Meepit entirely only to return twofold. He was on land, in air, in sea simultaneously and not in the least, and he could not appreciate the impossibility of any of this, for the scene continually justified itself as he felt no need to scrutinize it beyond through a thoughtless glance. What remained with him all throughout was some level of consciousness – a stranger to sleep – enough to recognize that a degree of peculiarity plagued his world without being able to name it. Suddenly the ghosts were gone (as was the setting as a whole), and he was left alone with his mind.
Somewhere shortly thereafter, Phil awoke with a fragmented memory of these happenings. Each secure in its irrationality, they slipped from him as he sought them with increasing frustration. This struggle dwindled, and the Meepit came to grasp again the less elusive events of the night previous. As soon as he gained some sense of his location, Phil decided, he would make a beeline for the home of his Kougra owner who, he reasoned, was surely presently beside himself. Of course, this was a rather nontrivial condition, for Phil was no cartographer (nor would he have been able to define the term if asked, but that's another story entirely), and even individuals of such a profession were loathe to visit so remote a location as the largely forgotten section of the Haunted Woods. And those who remember such a place were hardly in any condition to help.
To be continued...