01 Feb The children of Garland woods
The Garland woods. A beautiful and still monument to what mother nature can accomplish if left unchecked. It’s one of those places where just merely being there has the potential to inspire greatness in you. During the day, as the god rays comb through the densely packed trees you’ll find a magnitude of artists and great thinkers alike, soaking up the inspiration.
Inspiration is why I made my journey into the Garland woods but what I wanted to find there, was an idea for a truly great horror story. As the sun fades pass the horizon and the vibrant greens turn muddy you’ll notice the crowd dispersing. Plastered around the woods are signs that warn visitors not to stay after the sun has left. I thought this was silly, it was the same clique rule that was applied to every graveyard and abandoned home.
The woods were beautiful and so in that sense, it felt like a magical place but I never believed magic to be real. All the posted signs didn’t state there would be any legal ramifications for staying after dark, so I gathered what I needed and waited. Instead of soaking in the inspiration that the light of day was offering, I people watched. I watched as an artist sat on the large extensions of ancient trees and sketched away. Poets stood like statues in the paths of light that swatched around the trees like their ideas were solar powered.
Garland was largely untouched by man-made machine, the only unnatural part of the park was the parking lot but even that was just compacted dirt. Legends, as they were, posed that the forest was protected by magic that halted crews from working after the sun had gone down. Stories of workers being assaulted and equipment being tampered with ran rampant in the nearby towns.
As I watched people carrying on watched the hikers, artist and the occasional businessman, the sun started to retreat. The woods were dense and it took me a while to find anything I could consider a clearing. As I was running out of light however, I found a small patch of dirt surrounded by a circle of rocks that would fit my supplies just fine.
The light diminished I could hear a marathon of retreating footsteps. I thought someone would stop and bother me but they all carried on, like the forest itself was ushering them out. After a few moments had passed, the world around me became muted and the forest took on a life outside of human interactions. Like it had been wearing a mask all day and was free to slip it off, the trees were cast into shadows and the ground became a plush dark.
Initially, the rumors were hard to pry from my thoughts, I wondered what manner of beast or psycho would infiltrate my campsite. In such a still and intimate environment I think the woods were able to feel my worry and responded with a new light. From the dark plush, I watched a wave of small scattered dots of light breathed into existence. The army sized collection of fireflies began lifting up from the grass and populating the air.
A few even drifted closer to me and the fire I had begun with whatever already broken branches I could find. I was sure to pour water around the fire just to make sure that it wouldn’t spread, I might not have believed in magic but I had no intention of burning it down either.
The night was a cold one but with the tent overhead and the pulses of heat from the fire I was able to get comfortable and so I pulled out my notebook. The tight-lipped calls of the indigenous animals accompanied scratches of charcoal dragging across the paper. Every time I looked up to observe the dance of the fireflies I would notice less of them had stuck around.
I must have completely lost track of time, whatever the other artist felt during the day, I was feeling it all the same in the dark. My mind raced with formations of monsters and inescapable situations. Creative deaths and meaningful escapes plagued every crevis of my mind as the pencil widdled closer to its eraser.
My first touch of uncertainty came when I took a break to take a few bites of an energy bar I brought with me. Looking out, where there was once a stadiums worth of fireflies, there was only a handful and they were all in the distance. It looked they the bugs were trying to hide behind the trees and as I twisted my head it became clear the had surrounded me. I thought it was just a product of the horde dispersing and with the trees, a sort of unnerving optical illusion was created. Even as I got back to writing I couldn’t help but shift my gaze from the paper and back to the woods.
The lights were unchanging, the continued to hang in the same spot and were in a unified formation, almost creating a ring around me. Over time the ideas that were in my head, the horrors I myself had imagined, started to feel like they were breathing down my neck. The subtle notion of my isolation from another human soul started to invade my thoughts. What were once ideas of eldrich gods became themes of loneliness and the unending darkness.
I decided I had enough ideas written down when I noticed that I was fighting to keep my hand still as it moved across the paper. Uncertain anxiety had invaded my situation and with the dying of my fire, I was ready to get to sleep and let the morning come. Closing the notebook I stood up and prepared to douse the fire but, the lights. They were much closer, I was so focused on what was inside my head that for a few moments I disregarded the woods.
When the flock of fireflies lifted from the ground, every time I took my eyes off them and then returned to look at them again, I assumed it was the same light. I couldn’t have measured how much time passed between glances and I never heard anything like the rustling of animals. But still my assumption about the lights-
I was wrong.
If it wasn’t for the diminish flames that emitted a soft orange glow, I would have assumed the fireflies had just returned, but the figures the glow was cast onto were no bugs. All around me were stout and plump dark bodies, their only defining feature was the bright yellow lantern-like eyes held in place by bulbous heads. My previous sense of anxiety was heightened as I watched small creatures walking closer to me.
When they were close enough I could see that parts of their bodies sported a protrusion of what looked like branches. Their bodies were so varied and lacking any form that it looked as though they had been formed of the forest floor and given life. I was completely surrounded by them with no path to escape when their advance finally halted.
Looking down I noticed with what little light was left that they had all stopped just outside the stone circle. Not a single one of the firefly children made an attempt to cross the stones, they all stood and looked towards me. Then a low humming noise came from all sides, the children started to undulate and a noise like flys next to your ear produced.
The noise was obnoxious but I figured that as long as I stayed in the circle they wouldn’t be able to get to me. I thought of the legends. The tales I had heard about how they found a crew of lumberjacks dismembered and pinned to trees. How anyone who was reported to stay in the forest after dark either went missing or was found dead the next morning. I thought of the stories I had crafted in my head that night of all the terrible ways a person could perish. I worried I would discover much worse ways to die first hand.
Then, there was a hiss. A sharp and new noise that sounded like fat burning on the stove came from inside the circle. I looked down at the fire and saw a thin shadow reaching into the circle towards my fire and stopping when it reached the brighter portion, where it produced the hiss. It retched from the fire, or maybe just the light. The fire though was fading, the firefly children couldn’t pass through the rocks so I worried this shadow was something else entirely.
My suspicions were confirmed when with the death of the fire I faintly watched several shadows slip pass the rocks. My only defense had been completely penetrated and I was without an option of retaliation. The shadows ignored the fire and headed directly towards me, one of the shadows brushed against a rouge twig and pushed it aside. The tendrils reaching into my circle were moving physical objects, which meant they would be able to touch me. I pictured them grabbing my ankles and dragging me to the dirt.
Then the spikes of darkness halted once more and I heard the same hissing noise as before, the tendrils were bathed in bright yellow light. Not wanting to take my eyes off the tendril but needing to see the source I shifted my gaze. To my right one of the firefly children’s eyes were glowing much brighter and casting a beam onto the ground. Like a spotlight, the beam followed the tendrils and chased them out of the circle.
It was with this bright light I was able to notice that the darkness that had invaded my campsite was also all around me. Much darker than the woods where I could see formations of darkness swirling up nearby trees and covering the ground. Like the entirety of the dark was reaching out for me but every time it got close one the children would cast light and push it back.
Helpless I watched as the children created a light show to keep the darkness from reaching me, miniature solar flares shoeing away the bleak. Even as the light of my fire was completely snuffed out they continued their watch and it became clear if it wasn’t for the children I would have been dead where I stood. Something about them, like a quiet whisper, was comforting me. I had done my best to respect the woods when I arrived and I think maybe, it saved my life.
Hours passed and my feet began aching like I was standing on needles, as I thought I would pass out, a beam of light washed over me. A soft and natural light started to cover the soil and started reaching up to the trees. I watched the rays from the sun pressure the darkness that was reaching towards me, it retreated with a clearly irritated hiss, much louder than the others. With the vanishing of the darkness, so too did the children begin to fade.
Seemingly all at once, the crack of light swallowed the forest and where the children once stood there was a small array of fireflies dancing in the light. They swirled in the air for a moment before returning to the grass around me, vanishing completely. I stood and reflected on the night, I don’t know if I believe what I saw was magic.
I collected my thoughts and my supplies, I wasn’t in a rush or anything and I wanted to stay but something told me I had gotten all I needed. My notebook was stuffed to the brim with ideas and I had been handed what might be the best one yet.
Leaving the stone circle felt heavy like I was stepping out into an ocean but the feeling leveled out as I made my way out of the woods. Already several people were passing by me looking for their daily dose of magic. But magic is a trick, what’s in those woods was there far before the time of humans, it is primordial. Magic is a blink and you’ll miss it moment. A brief and wonderful period of time where anything is possible.
And maybe in that sense,
we are the magic.