Chapter 11: Nothing Good Comes of the Twilight Wood
“Boq never mentioned these creepy woods, either,” Dorothy said. “That sign would make a brave man shiver.”
As we walked, worried, and wondered, a humid haze coalesced and dusk added gloom that teased. Shadows crept, leaves rustled, but from what? A distant cry followed by a bestial laugh, crushed the chirps of crickets. Then, an overwhelming wave of stillness crashed down upon us and seemed to move ever outward, drowning the remaining forest chatter. As our eyes darted in near darkness toward the sound of each cracking branch and dropping leaf, Dorothy tripped on a loose cobble.
“Crap! This is the third time now and my knees were bruised already. Something isn’t right. We haven’t seen a Munchkin since Preeka and this road has become dangerous. I’m thinking, Toto, that we should turn back and get out of this forest, at least until daylight tomorrow."
With straw hands on hips, Scrobins leaned toward Dorothy’s nose. With a pound of disdain, in a sticky voice he said, “maybe if you paid more attention to looking ahead and less to your shoes, you might not...”
"I see a little cottage set back a stone’s throw to the right," William interrupted, "built of logs and branches. Shall we go there?"
"It’s too dark for me to see it, but yes!" answered Dorothy.
We followed William to the dark cottage shadowed by darker woods. Dorothy stepped gingerly on the porch, craned her neck , and whispered, “This is a door sized for a fairy tale giant...here goes.”
After a hesitant knock, the door creaked and opened, but not more than an inch.
“Anyone here? Anyone…” she pushed, but it would open no more. The wee bit of daylight remaining was inadequate, but Dorothy tried to peek within.
“Uggh,” she pulled her head back and fanned her nose. “Stale air, musty, and it looks like no one has been here for a long time. What if we go in and the owner comes home?”
“Step aside,” said William. Stepping onto the porch, the wooden timbers of its floor groaned. With a powerful nudge of her nose, the door squealed loudly as she pushed it across that wooden washboard of a floor. However, it remained more closed then open.
“Abandoned,” William said as she poked her huge black and white head inside. “But let’s be sure.” Turning to the night, she issued an incredible bellow, “Anyone H-h-h-h-h-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-m-m-m-m-e?”
Our eyes darted between one another as we listened with hushed breath.
A lonely howl ripped through the still of those ancient woods. Before it died as a distant echo, another howl, intense and curdled with rage, chased it into the dark of that formidable dusk. As if to reply, a moan, low and long, pleaded before it twisted into an ugly whimper of dire sadness and despair. I’d have welcomed the cry of any beast of the Kansas prairie; for they be beast of flesh and blood. The keening of these terrors wrenched at my sickened soul and I trembled uncontrollably. I tasted the air; the scent was dank, dark, and very cold.
William then put much of her nine hundred pounds into the stuck door. It squeaked, creaked, and screeched nearly as loud as William’s bellow.
“Don’t enter, you’re trespassing!” said the Door in a raspy old man’s voice.
William’s bulbous cow eyes bulged. She quit chewing.
“My goodness,” said Dorothy as she backed off the porch with her hands on her heart. “We meant no harm or disrespect, Kind Sir, wherever you are. That’s why I knocked first and William bellowed. We tried to enter only after no one replied.”
“Of course no one replied,” the Door creaked and as he cranked at Dorothy, the countenance of a dour peevish old man formed from within that solid slab of a wooden front door. Angry eyes studied us..flitting quickly between us. “No one is home, so why would I waste my time answering you. Had you asked, ‘May I come in?’ or said ‘hello’, then of course I’d have responded.”
“Kansas has tongue-twisters like you...” Dorothy paused. With a raised brow and pursed lips, she replied, “…Uncle Henry calls them politicians and lawyers. To whom am I speaking, Kind Sir, have you a name?”
With a curl of its wooden lips, Door squeaked, “A name, of course I’ve no name.” With narrowed and dark leathery eyes, Door swept a glaring gaze upon all of us and screeched, “Do doors have names where you come from?”
“No, of course not, but this land isn’thing like Kansas. If this were, you’d have introduced yourself before putting on your crotchety old-man hat. Besides, how was I to know if I was speaking to a door, someone behind the door, or the cottage that you keep?”
Again, our little group was lost in a jungle of words, so I took charge.
“Kind Sir, the little lady is Dorothy, this cow is William,” I pointed my paw - “Scrobins, and my name is Toto. I am the leader of our little group. I apologize for our ignorance and offensive manners. We are not but weary travelers, fearful of these twilight woods. We humbly ask for a small place on your cottage floor, perhaps an unused corner…for the night. Can you oblige us?”
“I could use a little company,” Door creaked. “It’s been…”
“My forehead burns fiercely,” Dorothy cried.
“It glows as before when the witch gifted it to you. Didn’t she say it would warn you of danger,” William asked.
“I thought she said it would protect me,” Dorothy said as she poked at it gingerly.
“Perhaps, you should test it,” added the scarecrow as he craned his neck to locate the beast that suffered unto us, those eerie cries. “But what if it protects only you; what then shall become of me?”
“Hush!” I insisted. With perked ears, I strained to listen with all that I was. Each of us looked slowly about. Dorothy’s lips trembled, William had quit chewing, and scarecrow shivered. While I contemplated the stillness of the wood and my wary, worried comrades, as if in a rage, night chased dusk from the forest. The pitch of darkness upon grandfather oaks and the twisted shadows of their gnarled branches added to our unease. Stiff green-blackened leathery leaves tumbled and drifted down and around, now and again. Forest tears came to mind and my hackles twitched as these moss-bearded oaken hunchbacks leered and lingered above me. The echoes of mournful bays rebounded and resounded until at last, distant, far, and away, they found refuge in the unhallowed bowels of those sinister woods. Challenges by way of growls and grunts drew shrieks, squalls of heinous laughter, and other indescribable utterances.
“They speak in the Night Tongue of the Wood,” rasped Door, “a sorrowful language…a language of remorse, dread, and fear…. Do come in, quickly…now! Something hastens our way.”
“Let me eat,” William bellowed as she plucked great mouthfuls of greenery that grew around the time-worn cottage. “their grunts and groans are annoying, but my fear of starving terrifies me.…And I am starving.”
“Come William, my hackles fear something far greater than your emaciation,” I said with a twitch and a shiver.
A dreadful cry cut through the thick of that smoky wood with alarming closeness. With drooped ears, William gazed upon the rich green turf that surrounded her, and with a great sigh said, “Come sun up, I suppose the grass will still be here.”
Grudgingly moving from the yard and onto the porch, William squeezed her massive bulk through the doorframe. Door groaned and shuddered as it cleared the uneven wooden floor to shut soundly behind her with a bold click of its latch.
The cottage was dark, but I could see that the ceiling was at least fifteen foot high. As my eyes adjusted, a tallow candle, parched with age and dirty white, ignited. On a web covered corner table of this one room cottage, its soft red glimmer cast shadows on the rough-cut wooden walls. Twisted knotholes became eyes that stared from loose and ill-defined faces, faces that that changed in mood with each flicker.
“Double creepy,” Dorothy whispered, “Are they…real or am I imagining…?”
I tucked my tailed, shivered, and hoped for the best.
William settled down by the wall next to the corner table. Candlelight cast a warm golden hue upon her curious face. Though she studied the cabin intently, her ears at half-mast marked her ease with our surroundings. An instant later, with half closed eyes, she chewed loudly on her recent pickings from the front yard of the cottage.
An aura of peaceful radiant candlelight chased the prickles of fear from my hackles and the rakish claws of caution from my soul. In the flip of a flea, I was free from that onerous tension and ever-present stress caused by the burden of leadership, my lack of confidence, inexperience, and self-imposed responsibility for the safety of my comrades.
Lightheaded and childishly gleeful, I looked about with wide-eyed wonder to see if indeed, I floated in midair. The sensible me knew that my relief and pleasure was unnaturally delightful. So grudgingly, I traded that indescribable bliss for the armor that I had become accustomed to, the armor of caution and fear. After all, what if some form of harmful witchery caused this lightening of my spirit?
As I turned to Dorothy to share my concerns, the frayed and blackened wick of an old oil lamp with a squat square base and tall soot-covered chimney, sparkled and grew to an ember. Gradually the smoldering wick set itself to its task and brightened into solid flame, giving substance to the knotty pine kitchen table upon which it rested. In a distant corner, another candle, no more than a nub, sparked, and burst into a brilliant luminosity, sending dancing shadows crawling between the planks of the rough-hewn cottage wall.
I struggled to worry for us, for our safety, but to no avail, but I was not alone. As if dipped in drugs of euphoria, all of us savored a tremendous lightening of the spirit and reveled in peace, joy, playfulness, and downright silliness.
Dorothy held cupped hands above the oil lamp and twisted her fingers into shadow figures on the ceiling…. I moved to her lap and enjoyed the spiritual warmth of the cottage candles more than a crackling hearth on the coldest night in Kansas.
“It’s been a year,” said a new voice, older, sad, and most assuredly feminine. “I’m not sure if there’s food worthy of a meal, but if so, please eat.”
“Welcome back,” grumbled Door. “I’ve missed your company and gentle ways.”
“I missed you also, Door,” said the feminine voice.
As she spoke, the glow on the ceiling from the oil lamp rippled with her every word. “You and I retreated, Door, …you to your cave and me to my well. Sadness remains in the well of my heart, but glad for the peace our guests bring me.”
I looked for a face. Faint and fluid, it lacked the substance of the defiant door. The ripple of each word lapped at her countenance. I sensed the comfort, warmth, and kindness that only a mother can bring.“Help me,” I said, “to understand…you’ve been hiding out in wells and caves?”
After a sharp look from Dorothy, I quickly added, “I really appreciate your hospitality and we welcome your company.”
“The cave-thing,” groaned the Door loudly, “is an ancient concept and has something…some say, to do with Martians and Venusians, neither of which I take a knob of stock in. However, I can assure you, Cottage that I’ve been here for the last year protecting our home.”
“It’s a he-she thing,” said Cottage softly. “When emptiness fills the he-force, they retreat to their cave, which is a healing place of their mind. The she retreats to the wellspring of her heartfor a rebirthing of her spirit. Door is defensive, a he spirit: protective, resilient, and defiant. I, on the other hand, a she, am nurturing, sensitive, emotional, and caring.”
“Where’s the owner of… of…your home?” Dorothy asked with a wave of her hand. “And what happened to make you so sad?”
“Chip Chopper,” Cottage said, “one of the finest carpenters and ax-men, built this cottage with great attention, artisanship, and with our wood from the Twilight Forest. We chose to be its walls, floors, roof, and shingles, rather than remain as trees in the forest.
“As trees, we greeted each spring, bursting with bud and leaf of vibrant green. At summer solstice, our buds blossomed to flowers gilded with gold and heavy with sweet nectar. With the first chill of autumn, our ripened bounty of fruit and nut, we shared with all. And before the first frost, we cast aside our cloak of rusty-red leaves and made ready for.…”
“All of that went on, year after year for well over eight hundred and thirty some years,” Door interrupted in a most crotchety voice. “I was bored sick and really began questioning the meaning of life.”
“As I was saying,” Cottage said icily,
“Chip came to our woods with his ax and said, I come to you with a choice. Both of you are among the grandest and proudest trees of the forest. You may spend your lives standing bold and tall or serve as my home and share my life.”
“We agreed gladly, knowing that Chip worked hard, planned for a family, and that we’d be there to protect and nurture them. For a time, all went as planned, and with peace and pleasure, each day drew us closer. However, Chip Chopper unknowingly offended the Wicked Witch of the East and she devised a most heinous retribution. In time, she destroyed much of Chip’s body, but…he never complained, and, he never missed a day of work. Better than a year ago,” the Cottage continued, “Chip, prepared for a day in the woods. As was his morning habit, he sharpened his ax as he whistled a song; packed up his tools, his lunch, and marched merrily down the road. We’ve neither heard from him nor seen him since. Chip was such fun, and always so glad to be home; someone or something has surely brought him great harm. His company and happiness was the fuel that lit our home and our lives. Now, your kind spirits have again, given us purpose. Will you stay?” asked Cottage.
“Regretfully no,” apologized Dorothy with glossy eyes and a soft sad smile, “but we will do anything we can to help.”
“Rest child,” said the Cottage with a sigh. “I’ll consider your offer while you sleep. May sweet dreams find you! With that, the lamp flickered out, leaving only the soft flame of the two candles to light the cabin.
“Where shall Dorothy sleep?” I asked. “I see no bedding whatsoever.”
“She may rest on me,” blurted the scarecrow. “Boq fixed me up with fresh soft hay, remember?”
“Only if you promise not to talk,” Dorothy said.
“Agreed,” he replied.
“I get heads,” I said and to Dorothy, “His belly will serve you well as a pillow.”
It takes the average dog a few good spins and a bit of pawing before they’re able to doughnut in a ball for the night. I took great pleasure in extending that experience. In addition, I spent considerable effort in itching, scratching, and grooming. I was merciless and in silent glee, I finally came to rest upon Scrobins’ mouth, justifiable in my mind, to insure his promise of continued silence. True to his word, Scrobins spoke not, and I slept soundly until first light.