It is a beautiful late afternoon as you open the front gate and step out onto the path. Birdsong fills the air and you can feel the warmth of the golden sun that hangs in an azure sky embracing your shoulders and neck. Flowers grow about your feet, nestling at the side of the path marking the route onwards, a colourful guide so that you can readily view the way ahead. You adjust the basket that hangs in the crook of your arm, a basket that is stuffed with delicious fayre, forbidden fruits and other enticing goodies that are meant for another. You smile and begin walking, a spring in your step as you hear a voice call out from behind you,
“Stay on the path, do not stray from the path.”
You smile again at this warning. You know all about not straying from the path, it is all you have been told for some time. The warnings and the cautionary tales about what happens when you stray from the path began as frightening tales told before bed time but their foreboding content has lessened as you have blossomed.
You still smiled politely as older heads than yours warned you about what lay in the forest beyond the path, of waiting predators that are red of tooth and claw. These once dreaded fables are no more than an opportunity for you to curry favour as you kneel next to the wise one and listen, showing attentiveness, but your mind has drifted elsewhere.
Your thoughts dwell on whether those supposed savages do exist deep within the darkness of the forest or whether they are just lost souls, poor fellows abandoned by the world who lurk amidst the shadows of tree and bush, not because they seek to do harm but because they have been shunned and know no other way of behaving. You contemplate whether if they were shown love, caring and affection that these wild folk might just be welcomed back and then be able to prove they are not the threat that they are always held out to be.
The tales from those older and more experienced had less of an effect on your reasoning and this soon gave way to listening to the stories from your peers. One of your friends swore she saw one of these supposed savages watching her from a hillock within the forest. She spoke of how he watched her intently with the most mesmerising and piercing eyes which made her feel wanted but in a good way.
You all giggled as she recounted this tale, a flush of desire making its way up her chest and neck. Another of your group recollected of how she also saw one of these apparent beasts. He was gathering firewood and she stopped to watch his lithe and frankly alluring figure as he stooped amongst the foliage, gathering logs.
She smiled as she told how he turned and caught her watching, but she felt no alarm as he too fixed her with a most penetrating look and then slowly ran his tongue across his lower lip. Your friend places her hand to her mouth and confesses to ‘that’ warm feeling down below as he continued to regard her. You admit you felt a pang of jealousy as the gathering desires of womanhood began to flow through your blossoming body and you longed for your own encounter with one of these mysterious forest dwellers.
You skip along the meandering path as you recall these stories and others, wondering how much is truth and how much is just the product of an over-active imagination. You like to think it is the former and with that in mind you chose your best dress and stole a little of your elder sister’s make-up, carefully applying the blood red concoction of beeswax and crushed bright red berries to your lips as you formed a cupid’s bow wondering if he too waited amongst the trees ready to fire one of his love arrows through your heart.
You shrugged off the disapproving look from your father as you explained your appearance was such to look your best for your grandmother. The small smile that your mother gave you as she handed you the laden basket told you she knew otherwise.
Some time into your journey through the forest the flowers become less as the amount of light which percolates through the canopy above becomes reduced. The trees are numerous, stretching up high into the sky and occasionally you stop and look up towards the tree tops, feeling dizzy as you do so.
A breeze gathers and the trees sway a little as the eddies of wind disturb the bushes that grow besides the path. You can still see the way ahead but it is not as a pretty now, but you are not concerned, you have walked this path so many times before. Admittedly, that was with your parents or later with your elder sister and now this is the first time you have been allowed to venture out into the vast forest yourself, hence the warnings to stay on the path.
You scurry along, almost tripping on a long thorny vine which has grown across the path. The route through the forest is less distinct now, the moss and wild grass obscuring it in places, the bushes encroaching on to it but you press on regardless. You feel the first splash of rain land on your nose and then another. You halt and set the basket down so you can lift your hood about your head and keep your carefully pinned hair dry.
You stoop and collect the basket once again, moving neatly and efficiently in the manner that you have been taught, bending at the knees and straightening carefully. You are about to continue your walk when you hear a noise, a strange guttural sound which seems to come from nowhere and everywhere. You cock your head but do not hear it again as you step forward and resume your journey.
The noise comes again and you spin around before letting out a gasp. There is a man stood right behind you on the path, tall and handsome and your surprise immediately gives way to round-eyed admiration at this elegantly dressed stranger clad in emerald green. He lifts his hat and gives an exaggerated bow. His gaze returns to you, a pair of dark, dark eyes which seem to bore right into you but you can help but stare at the glinting and mesmerising pupils.
“Good day young lady,” he says with a deep and rich voice which makes you feel strange inside but in a good way, “what are you doing alone in the forest on the cusp of evening?”
“I am going for a walk, to my grand mother’s house,” you answer firmly and stand as tall as you can.
“Alone?” he asks again.
“Yes. What of it?” you ask as those glittering eyes dart left and right.
“Oh nothing save that a young lady so pretty as you should not be left unaccompanied.”
“I know the way,” you answer.
“Perhaps you do but the way knows you better,” he answers and smiles showing a toothy grin.
“My what a lot of teeth you have,” you cannot help but remark.
“Yes, all the better to eat the beasts of the forest with,” he answers.
“You eat the animals in the forest?”
“Of course, how else am I to survive, anything that comes through this forest belongs to us.”
“Us? There are more of you?”
“Indeed, this forest is ours, it is our hunting ground.”
“So the stories are true then,” you declare in a tone that is a mixture of wariness and delight.
“So where did you spring from, how did you know I was here?” you ask as your eyes never leave this handsome and beguiling stranger.
“Oh nearby, but it was not difficult to miss you,” he says and reaches out a hand to touch your blood red and vibrantly coloured cloak.
“This made you stand out from everything else,” he adds.
“My grandmother made it, she told me she chose red because it is the colour of danger, a warning if you will,” you reply.
“So it is and such an attractive shade of red if I may say so, so recognisable and obvious.”
“Recognisable as what?” you ask.
“Oh that does not matter,” he says quickly, “may I escort you ? I know a short cut to your grandmother’s house, just through here,” He proffers his arm as he points through the trees. You peer into the gloom and then look back at him. You pause for a moment but that gaze of his, those eyes which seem to promise so much of that which you want to experience draw you in and you have to, you want to obey.
“Of course, that is most kind of you, ” you say politely. He nods and he stands by your side as you begin to walk. You look ahead and fail to see the red glow around those dark eyes and the especially long tongue which has slid from his mouth and run across the top of all those now sharp, white teeth. He begins to talk as he steers you towards the trees and off the beaten path…..