The Forest Nymph

by Alice Sjöberg (2021)

It started off as any other Monday would. Obviously, I didn’t think it’d end up the way it did.

I got at the crack of dawn and made myself a cup of tea. Yorkshire, with two sugars and a splash of milk. I open the kitchen window before I go to sit down in by the table. I always like to listen to the birds in the morning, but I couldn’t hear them. Quiet as a mouse they were. I didn’t think much of it though, since that was around the time when Ruthie, my dog, woke up and made it her mission to tell me she was ready for her walk. I never seem to be able to finish my morning cuppa quick enough according to her. She always ends up trying to finish me tea for me to get me to move faster. A little beast she is, I’m telling ya. And I let her, of course. I always let her do what she wants. When we finally got outside, the sun had slowly started to make its way up the sky, but it was hiding behind some clouds. Everything was grey. The air smelled of the damp grass and dying leaves. We started our usual walk on the small path towards the forest.

          That’s when I first saw her. She was sitting on the wet ground with her back towards a tree and her face in her hands. The forest was quiet enough for me to hear her crying quietly. She was wearing a long white dress with lace details, but it wasn’t very white anymore. It was more of a mud-brown with touches of green from the grass. Her hair was light, almost white, and had several sticks and leaves stuck in the messy curls. 

          I slowly looked back towards the path we’d come from. I slowly turned around to leave her alone, but Ruthie had other plans. She was already sniffing the hands of the poor lass.

          ‘Ruthie, no! Don’t do that,’ I shout as I hurried towards them.

          The woman slowly lifted her head up from her hands and looked at Ruthie before looking up at me. I opened my mouth as to apologise for Ruthie’s unexpected kisses, but the woman was quicker than me. Before I could find the right words, she had already started to talk.

          ‘You shouldn’t be able to see me. No one has since… Never mind,’ she said. Her glance moved back to Ruthie, who was stroking the woman’s leg with her paw, trying to get her attention.

          ‘Why hello there Ruthie,’ she said and smiled briefly. 

          ‘What did ya mean no one should be able to see ya? Ate you lost? How long have you been sitting there?’ I ask her.

          The woman looked up at me again. This was the first time I really noticed her face. Her eyes were piercing blue, like the sky on a beautiful summer’s day. They were the exact same shade that Gracie’s had been. Her eyes were framed by what I assumed was mascara that had been running down her face, and now made her somewhat resemble a panda.

          ‘Oh, nothing. I thought you were someone else, and it’s just sort of an inside thing between us…’ she replied.

          I nodded, not really sure what else to do. I’ve never met someone else on this walk before.

          ‘Would you mind walking me back to my house? I had to get away from there last night, and I can’t really remember how far I ran.’

          ‘Yeah, of course.’

          She slowly gets up but loses her balance when she does. I quickly grab a hold of her arm to stop her from falling over. Her arm was as cold as the crisp morning air. I looked down at her hands and noticed the blueish tint of her hands and fingers. She pulled her arm away from my grip.

          ‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘I’m Rachel by the way.’

          ‘I’m Alfred. Nice to meet ya. Although, I wish it was under better circumstances. Are you sure you’re okay?’ 

          She let out a quiet giggle and nodded. 

          ‘Yeah, I’m okay. It’s just been a long night,’ she said. ‘Are you ready to go?’

          I motioned for her to lead the way, but she shook her head.

          ‘You go first, I wouldn’t know where to go.’

          I looked at her for a moment before I starting to walk further into the forest with Rachel and Ruthie following my lead. This was my first mistake.

We walked in silence at first. I tried to think of things to say, but I decided against it as I heard her try to hide her crying. I caught a glance of her walking behind me as I 

I kept asking her why she’d left her house, but she wouldn’t tell me much at first. After a few attempts, she did open up though.

          ‘Okay, I’ll tell you what happened if you tell me how you’re able to walk around the forest all day with a stranger.’

          ‘You make a good bargain,’ I said and chuckled. ‘It’s just me and Ruthie at the moment. I take care of the forest, so walking around in it alone is what I do every day. The only difference today is that I have someone besides Ruthie to talk to.’

          ‘So, no wife? No children?’ she asked.

          ‘I was married, years ago. Her name was Grace. We met when we were 17 and got married a year later. She was the love of my life, she was.’

          ‘Where is she no- oh. Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry like that.’

          I didn’t answer. I looked up from the path I’d been staring at for I don’t know how long. The trees were slowly becoming darker and closer together. Ruthie was walking a few feet in front of us, taking every chance she got to smell something new. 

          ‘We usually don’t walk this far into the forest, so she must be loving all the new smells around her’ I said.

          ‘I bet she does. It must be exhilarating to be somewhere new like that.’

          ‘I’m sure she thinks that,’ I answered dryly.

          I really wasn’t expecting to talk about Grace. It’d caught me with so much surprise that I almost missed the pathway turning. I quickly turned with the path and continued to walk. I really don’t want to become a part of the statistics. What I didn’t know, however, was that I just had made my second mistake by telling her about Gracie.

I hadn’t seen any direct sunlight for hours, so I don’t know how long we’d been walking for. It was still light enough to make out the path and the trees. I kept Ruthie close to me, just in case something was to happen, and she’d run away. I’ve had to chase after her before, but I really didn’t want to do that this deep into the forest.

          ‘So, I realised I never kept up with my end of the deal,’ Rachel said.

          ‘What d’ya mean?’

          ‘I never told you why I ended up in the forest alone.’

          ‘Oh. Ye don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s none of my business.’

          ‘I want to.’

          And that’s when she told me her story. How she’d been left at the altar in front of her family and friends. How her fiancé ran away with his childhood sweetheart, leaving her to deal with the disappointed family members and over-sympathetic friends. As a way to not have to deal with them, she decided to run into the forest to hide until everyone had left but ended up getting lost on the way back.

          ‘But what’re ya gonna do if he’s there when you get there?’ I asked.

          ‘I’m going to make him wish he wasn’t.’

We continued our walk throughout the forest. As the clouds became darker, the forest seemed to become more alive. The birds were singing again. Or, it was more like talking or screaming rather than singing. Instead of sounding gleeful, they sounded anxious.

           I suddenly heard footsteps behind me. I quickly turned around only to see that Rachel was no longer behind me.

           ‘Rachel? Where did ya go? We really shouldn’t leave the path y’know.’

‘I know where I am now,’ Rachel shouted with glee from behind some trees. ‘Come on, follow me!’

           Ruthie quickly ran towards where Rachel's voice was coming from.

           ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, love. Let’s just continue on the path until we get there.’

           ‘Trust me! I know exactly where we are.’

           I reluctantly walked away from the path and walked towards where I’d heard Rachel voice. Ruthie was already gone, doing everything she could to keep up with her new friend. But leaving the path was my third and final mistake.

Even though I couldn’t see Rachel anymore, I could hear her laugh. Her sweet, innocent laugh had now turned into a witch-like shrieking. It was loud and echoed between the empty branches of the trees.

           ‘Ruthie, come here girlie,’ I shouted.

           I heard her woof in return, but it was soon overpowered by Rachel’s voice.

           ‘She’s with me know, Richard. Just like Gracie is. She’s been with me for years now, but I’m sure you knew that already.’

           This made me stop in my tracks. Gracie. I’d been right all along.

‘You’re all alone now,’ I heard Rachel whisper in my ear from behind me.

           I quickly turned around, but the forest was just as dark and empty as it was a minute ago. I turned around again when I heard her laugh echo through the trees.

           ‘I really didn’t think you’d be this easy to trick,’ she called out before laughing again. ‘You of all people should know never to leave the path.’

           I tried to listen to which direction her voice was coming from, but the echo of every word she said made it impossible. For hours, she made me walk in circles trying to find her. I thought it was some weird joke at first. But as the forest got darker before getting lighter again, I slowly started to realise that she got me. She’s just waiting for the right moment to begin the next phase of her plan.

           I don’t know how long it’s been since that day. Every day look the same, and so does the forest. Even if I’d had Ruthie here with me, I don’t think we’d be able to find our way back. It’s just too deep into the unknown parts. The parts with all the stories. The part that had been kept unexplored for a reason. What makes everything worse is Rachel laugh, still echoing throughout the empty forest. It sounds just like it’s a hyena laughing, just waiting for the right moment to attack. I really shouldn’t have left the path.