Once upon a time, far far away in the kingdom of Heaven’s Creak something dark and mystical befell the once peaceful kingdom. Deep, deep down in the Forbidden Forest something cruel and terrifying settled down and haunted these parts. Creatures so morbid and scary that no one ever returned from there. Some even say it’s dangerous to go even near the forest. No one’s safe in the wake of the beasts. Peasants started to go missing, no one who entered the woods came back and at night you could hear strange noises and harrowing screams.
One day, a brave young man destined to be king set out on a journey to unravel the mysteries of the forest. Legend says, he went into the woods on the eve of halloween years and years ago, accompanied by his devoted best friend and right hand. The kingdom put all of their faith into his strength and in his journey to defeat the beast. With a hopeful farewell he set out on his adventure carrying the fate of his kingdom on his shoulder.
But sadly, he couldn’t fulfill his destiny. The soon to be prince failed his quest and he was never to be seen again. He was swallowed by the woods….just like everyone else.

“Would you please stop this nonsense!” An annoyed voice interrupted the narrator. All eyes turned towards the sound of the voice.

In a circle around a fireplace sat a bunch of kids and teenagers, celebrating halloween in the backyard of their small cottage in Heaven’s Creak. In the distance the townsmen passed by with their duties and the castle casted a big glowing shadow over the town in the wake of festivities on the eve of halloween.

“What nonsense, Samantha?” The narrator asked and eyed the little girl who interrupted him.

“Because none of this is true! It’s just a stupid tale, Jebediah. There are no monsters or beasts.” Samantha smarted back and crossed her tiny arms in front of her.

Jebediah’s mouths turned upwards, amused. “Are you sure? Because I went near the woods one day and I heard some strange noises! You’re probably just scared but I get it little sister.”

Jebediah started to laugh and some of his friends joined in. Samantha and Jebediah gathered with some of their friends in the backyard of their cottage. Their parents were out in town working and Jebediah had to watch over Samanatha and her friends. Jebediah and his friends were in their early teens while Samatha and her friends are still children.

Samantha clenched her fist and her cheeks turned red. She hated to get provoked by her older brother. All eyes went from Samatha to Jebediah eager to see what’s going to happen next.

“No, I am not! And you are lying. You are just saying that to scare me!” Samantha responded.

“Maybe, Maybe not!” He answered and bursted into laughter.

“Can you believe him!” Samatha whispered to Elijah, her best friend.

“You know how he is! But I don’t know, maybe he’s right. I have heard a lot about these rumors to be true.” Elijah shrugged.

“Yes, me too!” Emily agreed.

“Ha, see your little friends believe me! They are smart compared to you! But if you don’t believe me then go in there yourself and see it with your own eyes.” Jebediah said and turned annoyed towards his friends. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I think we have scared them enough.” Jebediah laughed and turned to leave, his friends following him.

“Uhh…!” Samantha groaned.

“Don’t let him get you!” Peter tried to soothe her. “You know he likes to tease you!”

Samatha sat there silent for a few moments. “I am going into the forbidden forest to prove him wrong!”

Her friends gasp at her. “Are you insane?” They said in unison.

“You can’t go in there! It’s called Forbidden Forest for a reason!” Emily pointed out.

“True, and it would be too dangerous!” Peter stated.

“You don’t know that! No one has ever really been in there! I am going no matter what.” Samantha argued.

“You can’t go in there alone.” Elijah said.

“Why not? I don’t need anyone and I bet no one of you would be brave enough to go in there with me!”

A silence hung in the air. The three kids exchanged some glances debating whether to go or not. They knew they couldn’t change Sam’s mind, she was way too stubborn for that.

“Alright, we will go with you! But promise us that we are going to be careful and at any sight of danger we flee! Agreed?” Emily said.

A smile appeared on Sam’s face. “Agreed!”

The moon crept higher and cast a silver shadow down on the Forbidden Forest as the friends walked up to the entrance. A cool breeze brushed past the trees and sent shivers across their bodies. Mist rose from the wet muddy gras which dimmed their sight. In the distance an owl hooted. The branches of the trees swayed and creaked in the breeze and it seemed like they were trying to grab them. The friends took a cautious step backwards and Peter inhaled sharply. Some of the bushes started rattling.

“Ar…Are you sure we should go in there?” Emily stuttered wide eyed and glanced at Samantha.

Silence filled the air and Samatha took a deep breath to gather some strength. “I am going in. If you are too scared, stay outside.” She said and took brave steps towards the woods and disappeared between the branches which swallowed her.

The friends exchanged some glances and nodded while they started to follow Samantha.

“Wow! You have to see this!” Samantha said stunned just as her friends emerged next to her.

The trees opened into a beautiful clearing with mist hanging low on the gras and it smelled like freshly bloomed flowers. In the distance, the rushing of water filled their ears and everything seemed mystical and enchanted. A frog quacked on a big stone and hopped by.

“So far, it’s not as bad as it seemed to be!” Elijah joked and took in the sight in front of him, amazed.

“Come on, let’s see what’s farther inside!” Samantha said eagerly and she and her friends continued their journey.

The beautiful scenery continued and a sense of tranquillity settled inside them. With every step they took their fear subsided. Everything looked peaceful yet somehow magical and out of this world. Birds chirped happily above them. Bunnies hopped past them. From far far away a serene melody filled their ears and captured their bodies.

“That’s the most beautiful melody I have ever heard!” Emily lulled, mesmerized and her friends agreed with her. “I have to find the source!” She mumbled to herself.

As they continued their stroll Emily got drawn away from the group and followed the melody. In a trance, she got lost from her friends and followed the singsong voice which lured her. The friends did not notice that they had lost Emily, they were lured by something else.

So, as the three of them continued their journey hypnotized by the serenity of the woods something rustled in the distance and Elijah snapped out of this trance. He shook his head and tried to regain his focus. His eyes locked onto something that stepped out of the bushes and his mouth opened in shock. He retreated some steps and bumped into Peter.

“What’s the matter?” Peter singsongs.

“Are…Are these walking scarecrows…with pumpkinheads?” Elijah gulped and his fear came back instantly.

Peter’s gaze went back and forth and his eyes glanced straight into the glowing eyes of the pumpkin. A scream escaped his lips and ripped himself and Samantha out of their trance.

“A…a living pumpkin!” Peter stuttered and Samantha glanced at them in disbelief as they stared at them with their glowing eyes.

“Are they carrying pitchforks?” Samantha asked with a small voice. Peter and Elijah nodded and they backed away from them.

“What now?” Peter asked. They glanced around, looking for a solution as the scarecrows slowly moved towards them.

“Wait, where’s Emily?” Samantha asked and searched for her friend but she was nowhere to be seen.

“I think we have to focus on the problem on hand! RUN!” Peter screamed and ran to his left, away from his friends.

“Peter wait! We should stay together!” Samantha shouted but Peter did not listen. The scarecrows moved closer and closer and they both charged after Peter. But Peter has disappeared.

“Where’s Peter?” Elijah panted as they ran away from the scarecrows.

“I don’t know!” Samantha gasped.

They chased through the woods trying to escape the scarecrows and looking for Peter. Step after step they got deeper into the woods and far away from the scarecrows. The well-disposed reader might know that scarecrows are not the fastest creatures in Forest. They both scanned their surroundings for Peter until Samantha’s eyes caught something in the distance.

“Peter!” Samantha screamed relieved as she spotted Peter in the distance and spurted towards him, Elijah close on her heels.

But Peter tripped and fell into the shadows of the trees ahead of him. He winced in pain and Samantha screamed his name. All of a sudden, the shadows which surrounded Peter started to move and they formed into figures. One of the figures grabbed Peter’s wincing body and sucked him into a tree, making him and the figure disappear.

Elijah and Samantha both let out a scared cry and changed their destination into the opposite direction, far away from the shadow figures.

“What was that?” Elijah shouted over their rushing footsteps but Samantha only shrugged. After several more steps Samantha glanced over her shoulder and ceased her deadly run. Hunching over, she leaned on her knees and gasped heavily for air. Elijah followed her lead.

“I think we lost them. Or at least they aren’t following us anymore!” Samantha breathed.

“I am starting to think your brother was right about the woods!” Elijah gulped.

“You think!” Samantha said sarcastically and rolled her eyes at Elijah. But she felt guilty because it was her fault her friends were missing because of her stupid pride and stubbornness.

“Sorry!” Samantha mumbled. “What happened to Emily?”

Elijah was silent for a moment. “We lost her right after the beautiful melody!” He said thoughtfully.

“Do you think she followed the melody?” Samantha asked frightened.

“Maybe! What did your brother say about creatures living in the woods?”

Samantha thought about the question for a moment. “Well, he talked about the scarecrows. The shadows. He said something about sirens…”

“Aren’t sirens known to lure prey with a serene melody?” Elijah stuttered and Samantha slowly nodded.

“We have to find her…” Samantha started as something shook the ground.

“What’s that?” Elijah continued as the earth shook again.

They glanced around looking for the source as the ground was shaking in a rhythmic beat. Heavy footsteps protruded from the trees and revealed trolls which were tall as a giant and carried bludgeons.

Elijah and Samantha stared at each other wide-eyed. “Could this get any worse?” Samantha asked just as the trolls spotted them and turned towards their directions.

“Had you had to ask?” Elijah said and Samantha looked at him apologetically.

“What now?” She asked.

“Go! We can’t outrun them! Get help! I am going to distract them!” Elijah said heroically and pushed Samantha away from him.

“No it’s too dangerous!” Samantha argued but Elijah kept on pushing her away.

“Go! It’s the only way!” Elijah said as he charged the trolls with a loud scream. Samantha wanted to follow him but she knew deep down what she had to do. Reluctantly, she turned and ran away from Elijah and the trolls.

Samantha picked up her pace and ran as fast as she could. In the distance she heard Elijah’s screams and bellowing of the trolls as suddenly everything went silent. She ran and ran until she couldn’t go further anymore. Tears streamed down her face.
“This is the worst day ever!” She sobbed and let the events of today consume her. Collapsing, she fell on the bottom and banged her fists on the grass beneath.

“This is all my fault!” She cried but instantly ceased as something moved behind her. Slowly she turned around to glance at the figure approaching her. A lump formed in her throat as a manticore stepped out from the underbrush and roared. Samantha crawled backwards with her heels and tried to stumble upon her feet to run away. Once on her feet she fled away from the beast as fast as she could. Charging through the woods, ducking under branches the manticore was close on her heels.

With every step Samantha lost more of her strength and she could barely hold herself upright. Her vision started to blur and her eyes were watery. She lost focus and stumbled through the woods. From behind her she heard a cackling sound and something illuminated from behind her. A torch casted a fiery shadow through the woods and revealed a figure with long, clawy hands who started chanting. Samantha lost her focus completely and stumbled disoriented through the leaves. Her body shut down and tripping over a protruding branch she hit the floor hard and lost consciousness just as the manticore charged her. A scream escaped her lips and darkness swallowed her.

Something wet touched her forehead and Samantha startled awake with a scream. Disoriented she tried to make out her surroundings.

“Hush, my dear! You are safe!” A calm voice whispered towards her. Slowly Samantha’s eyes regained focus and she realized she was lying in a comfy bed in a small wooden cottage. Next to her on the bed sat a beautiful, youthful woman with long, manicured fingers. Her long, curly red hair was draped behind her back. Squinting her eyes together Samanth was lost in thought.

“Who are you? Where am I?” She asked, confused.

“My name is Esmeralda and I live here. You are in my home!” She said with a beautiful tranquil voice.

“You live in the Forbidden Forest!” Samantha asked, still confused.

“Aye. This was my home for the last century and will be for the next thousand centuries.” The woman said and Samantha stared at her even more confused.

“What are you?”

“I am a witch!” Esmeralda said proud but as she saw the look on Samantha’s face she added. “Do not worry, my dear. I won’t harm you! I took an oath to never hurt any living creature.”

Samantha relaxed slightly. “So, were you the figure I saw in the shadows before I black out? What happened?”

“Yes, you blacked out after Saphira jumped at you. I was out looking for Saphira yesterday when I saw you running away from her. You looked quite scared. I tried to stop her from dodging you but I was too late. I am sorry for her behavior.” Esmeralda explained and Samantha stared at her with wide eyes.

“The…the manticore belongs to you!” Samantha stuttered.

“Yes, she is my pet. But you have to pardon her, she is still very young and playful. She just wanted to play with you. She is quite harmless once you get to know her.” She explained.

“Oookay!” Samantha gulped and glanced around the room as a thought hit her. “Where are my friends? Are they alright? They were attacked by creatures!” Samantha asked troubled.

“You’re friends are alright. They were never in danger.” Esmeralda stated but Samantha eyed her suspiciously. “Alright, my friends may seem scary at first but they are harmless, I promise.”

“Could you please elaborate that a bit more! I was told that the Forbidden Forest is a dangerous place and that people disappear inside the woods and never return.” Samantha told the witch and Esmeralda chuckled.

“Humans and their humor! But yes, let me explain. I live here with my people for a long time now. Longer than your hometown has existed. Your people got curious about my home and started to seek it out. Rumors about my home started to spread but they were false. No one has disappeared or been eaten in my woods. Everyone who came here stayed because it’s so beautiful and peaceful here. After all we are in a mystical forest. The manticore Saphira is my pet. Your friend who tripped and got sucked into a tree was saved by my guardians, the shadows; they guard the woods and help everyone who got injured. As he tripped he twisted his ankle and they brought him to me to heal him. Now he’s outside playing with the fairies. Your female friend was drawn to the sirens, a playful folk. She’s down by the river and plays with the sirens inside the water. They like to lure people towards them with their magical voices. And your friend who was chased by the trolls is fine as well. To be honest the trolls can be scary and difficult at first but they just try to guard their treasures. The part you were in belonged to them and they are very protective of their belongings.”

“Okay, but what about the scarecrows!” Samantha asked.

Esmeralda giggled. “ Silly you! They are my harvest workers, a very hard-working species.” She explained.

“Okay, but can I see my friends? I would feel better if I could see them!” Samantha spit out, still not fully convinced.

The witch nodded and snapped her fingers and in an instant Samantha’s friend appeared next to her bed.

They started squealing happily as they saw her. “Ahhhh.. Sam you are alright!” Emily squealed and hugged her tightly.

Elijah and Peter followed her lead and started to tell her everything about this beautiful magical place.

“It’s so awesome here! The sirens were so much fun and I could listen to them all day. They have so many funny stories to tell!” Emily gushed. “And Peter was playing with the fairies. They are so cute. And the trolls showed Elijah their treasures. At first they were a bit grumpy but once they got comfy with us they started to warm up towards us.”

“We were completely wrong about the Forbidden Forest. It’s not dangerous at all. It’s full of wonders and possibilities.” Peter babbled in awe.

“Yeah, your brother Jeb was totally wrong about the forest. I bet you are dying to rub it in his face!” Elijah giggled and Samantha grinned. A roar sounded outside the door.

“I think there’s someone out there who wants to see you! See was so sad about the fact that you fainted. Can I let her in and show her that you are alright?” Esmeralda asked Samantha and she fidgeted nervously with her fingers.

“A..Alright!” Samantha stuttered as the door swung open and an eagerly manticore stormed towards the bed. Once Saphira reached the bed she started to lick Samantha’s face and snuggled to her.

“Eww!” Samantha complained as she wiped her wet face with the sleeve of her shirt and the others started to laugh.

“Okay, but I still have one question left. If all the rumors are wrong how come everyone thinks this forest is dangerous? And what happened to the prince from the legend?” Samantha asked as the manticore jumped outside the room again, happy about the fact that everything was alright.

“Well, why the humans think it’s dangerous in here I can’t tell. But to be honest it’s better for us this way because we have tranquility. Humans always fear what they can’t understand and control. I don’t want to think about what would happen if everyone knew about our existence. We like to keep our existence private. But I can tell you what happened to the prince. Many years ago he came into the woods to discover the myths which he did but he never returned because he decided to stay, just like his friend, and because he fell in love!” Esmeralda said and sighed.

“Who did he fall in love with?” Emily asked and settled down on the bed next to Samantha.

“He fell in love with me. We married years ago and I gave him immortality. This way we can stay together forever.” Esmeralda said with so much love.

“Aww, that’s so romantic.” Emily gushed.

“So, you said you like to keep your existence private. How come no one knows about you if some people went into the woods?” Peter asked curious.

“Well, everyone who came inside my woods has a choice. They can either choose a life here or a gift. If they go for the gift I kindly ask them not to divulge our existence. And until now everyone wanted to stay here.” Esmeralda explained logically. Well, who wouldn’t want to live in a magical forest.

A few hours later the friends gathered together outside the yard of the witches house after spending some fun hours with the mystical creatures. Sam was playing fetch with Saphira at the edge of the woods while Peter and Elijah were mesmerized with the graze and beauty of the fairies. The scarecrows showed Emily some tricks about growing vegetables which would come in handy for her since her parents were farmers. Elijah glanced towards Sam as she threw the stick far away.

“If Jeb could see you now, he’d be so jealous!” Elijah joked and Sam chuckled.

“Yeah probably!” She answered as she thought about her brother, her smile faded. Something started to dawn inside of her. Saphira spat out the stick in front of her shoes but Sam just kicked it away. They had to decide whether they wanted to stay in the Forbidden Forest or go back and never tell anyone about their adventure. Saphira sensed Sam’s change of emotion and nudged her in the shoulder, wondering what happened. Big, sad blue eyes stared right at Sam and she pet her.

“My family!” Samantha said, torn. “ We have to go back!” Saphira glanced at her sadly, she didn’t want to lose her new friend.

“I know! I don’t want to go either! But neither can we stay here. I mean we are just kids. Our parents are probably worried sick!” Sam fussed and racked her hands through her hair. She knew sooner or later they had to go back. Turning on her heels Sam headed for her friends.

“I think it’s time for us to go back home!” Samantha said to her friends, upsetting. Her friends gasped at her in shock.

“Are you insane? Why would you want to go back? I wanna stay here!” Emily asked, befuddled.

“Yeah, why can’t we stay here? It’s so amazing here! Better than in Heavens Creak.” Peter gushed.

Samantha sighed. “I know! I don’t want to go either! I like it here too. But we don’t belong here. We have families back in Heavens Creak. They are probably missing us already! We belong with them.” She stared at her boots while her heart already missed this place. The thought of leaving hurt. Elijah came next to Sam and patted her shoulder, reassuring her.

“You are right! Our parents would be devastated if we stayed here!” He said sadly. It took him some convincing until Emily and Peter finally agreed with them. They had to go back.

“Alright, we have to go back home to our families!” Peter said, beaten but deep down he knew his parents would miss him terribly if he would stay.

“Yeah, you’re right. I couldn’t do this to my family. Even though it also hurts to leave.” Emily responded and Sam wrapped her arm around her knowingly.

Esmeralda joined them with a sad look on her face.

“You are leaving, aren’t you?” She asked the children and they nodded. “Alright!” She turned and gave each of them a small sachet. “It’s filled with magical dust which can grant each one of you three wishes. Use them wisely!” She said and grinned at the friends.

“Thank you!” They said in unison and the witch bowed gracefully. A thought hit Samantha.

“Can we come back some day to visit?” Samantha asked and the witch smiled at them.

“Of course! You are always welcome here!” The witch said and started to chant in a foreign language. A small, golden pocket watch appeared magically in Esmeraldas palm.

“Here, take this. This will bring you back to us anytime you want. You just have to spin the clocks hand counter clockwise.” Esmeralda handed Samantha the clock and she stowed it away in her pocket to keep it safe.

“I’ll take good care of this!” Samantha patted her pocket and turned towards her friends.

Esmeralda winked. “I know! Have a nice journey back home!” The witch waved them goodbye and the other mystical creatures joined her as the four children turned on their heels and headed towards home.

The End

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