The Withered Forest
“Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural.” -William Makepeace Thackeray
We were just a couple of normal teens playing in the woods surrounding our small town, but then a wildfire ignited, and he saved us. He lost his life, protecting us. Protecting me. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe…
5 years later…
That night, I dreamt the same nightmare I did every year on that day, but this time was different. I was in the Withered Forest (but back then, it was lush and green) with Vivian, Theodore, and… Colton. We were racing through the trees, laughing. Then, a fervent fire, black as night, materialized behind us. The fire enveloped the autumn trees, leaving nothing behind it. As we began to flee, I stumbled and fell. Just as the flames were about to grab me, Colt pushed me out of the way. I shrieked in terror as I watched the darkness devour him. I usually would’ve woken up at this point, but I didn’t. I just stood there, the flames roaring in front of me.
“CELIA! WE HAVE TO GO!” I heard Teddy scream.
Everything froze. Vivi latched her hand onto me and pulled me to my feet. As the three of us continued to run for our lives, I heard a horrid scream behind me. I reluctantly turned my head and saw Vivi, engulfed in flames and fall to the ground, dead. Right as the inferno was about to devour me, I woke up.
The next day, I texted Teddy and Vivian to tell them about my nightmare. We met at an outdoor cafe at the edge of town, right outside the Withered Forests. I smiled when I remembered that Colt had said he liked the cafe, because we could look at the fall leaves together. When I arrived at the cafe, Teddy was already there.
“Theodore,” I greeted, “what’s up?”
“Hey, long time, no see,” he said, smiling. “The leaves are nice this time of year.”
I laughed, pulling up a chair next to him. “What leaves? You know there haven’t been any since… “
We looked grievously at the trees, still barren, without leaves and darkened from burns. Was he still out there somewhere? No. He couldn’t be. Colton Clydesdale was gone. Forever.
“Where is she?” I groaned. “Does she always have to be late?”
“Well, you know Vivian Tudor, she does whatever she wants,” Teddy reasoned, sipping his coffee.
“Still, she should make an effort to be here, especially today,” I protested.
“It’s not so bad, just you and me,” he mumbled, looking at me.
“What?” I questioned. He looked away.
I was about to tease him when I heard sirens blaring in the distance. Teddy covered his ears. Ever since the accident, he couldn’t handle the sound. He was the youngest of us and since that day, he worked hard to become stronger, but I think, even now, he was the most scarred. We saw ambulances and fire engines stop on the outskirts of the forest. After another ten minutes, Vivian had still not arrived so I told Theodore about my dream, and we decided to head our separate ways. As we said our goodbyes, we heard a commotion come from the other side of the street. Teddy and I exchanged glances and ran towards the crowd of people.
“What’s going on?” I asked a firefighter.
“There’s been a fire near that dead kid’s grave,” he said, “It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. This whole area is scorched from that fire five years ago, so how did another fire start? There’s nothing to burn out here.”
“Y-you’re right… How…?” I sputtered.
“Is anyone hurt?” Teddy cut in.
“Yeah, we have one casualty. An unidentified female. Poor thing.”
“Strange, anything else?” Teddy moved in front of me and winked. I chuckled as I slinked away from Teddy creating a diversion. I saw it, where we decided to remember Colt, with the picture of all four of us on the simple wooden cross. We were his only family. We used to be so happy, I thought. And as I saw a body with a white cloth draped over its face, I noticed something on the ground. A gold ring with a silver infinity symbol. I immediately knew who it belonged to: Vivian. She’d taken her annual walk in the forest to see Colton. Vivi was the only one brave enough to visit him. She acted so high and mighty, but I knew she cried every time she was here. I smiled sadly at the memory, tears flooding my eyes. I stuck the ring in my pocket and managed to pull Theodore away from the firefighter. While we walked away, I showed the ring to Teddy. He stopped short.
“No way… It couldn’t be. And today of all days… ” he exclaimed quietly, “It’s impossible. There’s no way…”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Uhm, it’s nothing. Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
“It’s weird, right? The firefighter before said so himself, there’s nothing to burn out there. How’d the fire start?” Celia asked.
“I don’t know, Celia!” Teddy exploded. “I don’t know what’s happening either, but I’ll handle it. Just promise me this,” he grabbed me, “Do NOT go in the Withered Forest. I don’t want you getting hurt, okay?”
I nodded slowly. He hugged me when we got to my house. I went inside and looked out the window. Theodore waved at me and ran down the porch steps and back in the direction of which we came. What had he meant? He’d “handle” it? He wouldn’t possibly go back there. I ran out the front door and followed him all the way back to the place I hoped I’d never have to go in again. As he disappeared in the barren trees, I followed him.
“WHERE ARE YOU?” he shouted angrily into the night.
I gasped silently. I’d never seen Theodore so angry before. And even more to my surprise, a dead, barren tree lit up in a black flame. It was only that one tree in front of Teddy, who stood there without flinching.
“Is it that day already?” the fire mocked.
“What did you do to Vivian?”
“You knew this would happen. After what she did to me,” it fumed.
“You KNEW she loved you!” Theodore yelled,” How could you do that to her? She was our friend! She-”
“NO! What kind of ‘friend’ leaves you to die? You ALL left me and never came back for my body. I died that day and so did our ‘friendship,”’ the flame retaliated coldly. “Besides, I never loved her. Isn’t that right… Celia?”
I flinched when I heard my name.
Teddy turned, “Wha-when did-?! You have to leave. NOW.”
“No no. Celia, it’s been a long time. Come closer,” the ember said calmly.
I slowly stepped out. “Hello, Colton.”
“Still as beautiful as ever… Did you miss me?”
“Celia. Leave. Colton, you already killed Vivian…what more do you want? ” Theodore seethed. I reached for his hand.
“Oh ho, dear Theodore, for you see, I must take all of you with me. But since Vivian started the fire… she got to come first.”
“Wait what?” Teddy squeezed my hand, “What’re you-?”
“I’ve already said. Now, which to kill first? Celia, you were always my favorite. You know, I had the biggest crush on you. I loved you so much, that I even died, protecting you that day, hm?”
I began to sob. Colton’s inferno came closer and closer, but I was paralyzed with fear. And a split second before the flames were about to take me, Teddy stood in its path.
“Colton. The night you died, I started the fire. I was just a stupid teenager, I didn’t mean for anything like this to happen. I-it was my fault.” He turned and hugged me one final time. “I’m so sorry, Celia. We’ll be together someday. I love you.”
Colton screeched. The dark flame set ablaze Theodore’s clothing. The world went silent. I saw the only person I had left in my life disintegrate into nothing. Everything went black.
When I woke up, I was still in the forest, but it was day. Teddy was dead. I started to cry. I failed to notice I was surrounded by policemen, though, they didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
“G’morning. I’m Officer Samuel and this is Officer Bradley. You okay?”
“What do you think?” I whispered tearily.
“Uhhh yeah…. So now we have to arrest you now,” Bradley said to me.
“What have I done?!” I exclaimed.
“Well, you DID kill three people…”
“WAIT WHAT?! I-”
Samuel interrupted, “Celia Percy, you are hereby arrested for the murders of Colton Clydesdale, Vivian Tudor, and Theodore Bear …”
I didn’t hear the rest. Tears running down my face, I felt nothing except burning black blazes and the sound of Colton’s laugh.
“You were always my favorite.”