There they stood, at the piercing edge of Warlock Forest.
The Wise One and her apprentice, Isaac, intently listen to the haunting bellows that creep across the chilled mist as it slowly collects upon the moon-lit shadows of their brows. It is Halloween night, eleven fifty eight PM.
“Go then, Isaac, your mission is to reach the outer edge of this forest before the stroke of midnight”, said The Wise One. “Remember your purpose. It will escort you through to your destiny. When you hear the howling of a wolf, know that it is I guiding you toward the path of truth. Take this old pouch for it holds the bounty you must pay for your journey. You will know when it is time. If you fail, you will be trapped without escape in Warlock Forest forever. If you succeed, you will harness the powers of the universe. If you choose not to enter, you will never achieve your dreams.”
With a whisper of the wind, The Wise One vanishes before Isaac’s eyes. “But midnight is two minutes away”, cried out Isaac in despair. “How am I going to reach the outer edge of the forest in such a short period of time?” He looks and reaches in The Wise One’s gifted old pouch, it is empty!
Confused and unsure of the unknown but certain of his mentor’s resolve, young Isaac hears the sound of curled and blackened leaves crackling beneath his feet as he forges his first steps toward the darkness; a place from which others have never returned.
Upon crossing the boundary, he hears diabolical voices laughing, crying, and screaming.
The growls of creatures from the unknown surround him. His body, now crippled by fear, begins to tremble uncontrollably. Suddenly, his thoughts turn to running back to the boundary from which he came but the forest encircles him before he can do so. He is trapped!
He hears the howling of a wolf.
Realizing that he is not alone, Isaac instinctively reaches his shaking hands into the old pouch knowing it is empty…expecting that it is not. To his surprise, he pulls out an object, a coin; the coin of courage. In a distant thought, he recalls The Wise One’s instructions: “Take this pouch for it holds the bounty you must pay for your journey. You will know when it is time.”
Isaac holds the coin in his trembling hand not knowing what else to do. As his arm extends, the coin glows brighter and brighter. He closes his eyes and turns away to avoid sure blindness. Gone! The coin of courage has vanished from his grasp.
The feeling of strength now overwhelms him and the journey once fraught with doubt, now seems predestined. His trembling is now replaced with poise and his sights fixed on the journey ahead.
Kayla, the jack-o-lantern, comes into view on the path that is unfolding before Isaac’s eyes. (Memory of The Wise One: “Follow the path that is not yet laid but paved by your decisions.”) Isaac approaches. Kayla is beautiful, perfectly carved with an irresistible radiance emanating from within. “Good evening”, whispered Kayla as she cracks a smile seemingly wider than her cheeks. “What brings you to me?”
Isaac, bewildered by the surprise, replies, “I do not know. I am just trying to get to the outer side of the forest.”
“And so you are”, snickered Kayla. “Follow the forked road to the left and you shall find what you seek. Most take this trail. It is the easiest path to the outermost edges of Warlock Forest.”
A forked road appeared before him.
The path to the left is well worn, downhill, absent of light, almost void of life except for a penlight shinning in the distance and a soothing voice inviting him to enter. The path to the right is less traveled, uphill, moonlight lit, appears treacherous and absent of sound.
Isaac reaches into his old pouch once more for guidance, but it is empty. “Should I take the easy road or should I climb the hill? Should I follow the others? Should I take the path that is least travelled by most?” He pondered.
(Memory of The Wise One: “Follow not in my path, but in the one you pave because of it.”) Isaac runs toward the right, up, up, up he climbs slipping every other step with the voice of Kayla haunting him in the background: “Take the easy road. Come back. Take the easy road. You will not make it!”
Forging forward, tired and exhausted, Isaac reaches a moonlit plateau, a clearing.
“Is this the other side of the Forest?” He asks. Am I here?
Before him stood two imposing trees; an oak tree full of witches and a willow tree adorned with scarecrows. The witches spoke to him in unison. They demand the content of his old pouch. They chant repeatedly: “Reach in your l-i-t-t-l-e bag, give us the c-o-i-n and we will help you reach the outer edge of the f-o-r-e-s-t”. The scarecrows are silent all but for the soothing sounds of the wind brushing across their straw faces as they gather by the base of the willow tree.
(Memory of The Wise One: “The survivors of adversity stand tall for the truth”.)
Isaac, expecting not to find anything in his pouch once more, reaches in understanding that he must pay a bounty to one of the trees.
There in the corner of the old pouch, appeared a coin; the coin of empowerment. As he exposes the coin, a great storm forms.
He hears the howling of a wolf.
Isaac runs for cover to the ridge of the plateau with coin in hand hopeful that he will be safe from the imposing storm. He slips under a rock overhang as refuge. The rock twitches and speaks: “My name is Jason. I have been expecting you, Isaac.”
“But how did you …”, said Isaac.
Jason interrupts: “You will find the answers you seek beyond the outermost side of the Warlock Forest. For now you are safe but you must continue once the storm has levied its furry upon the land. Look through this crystal and you will know when.”
As soon as the last word was spoken by Jason, he formed a powerful and protective shroud around Isaac.
The darkened night turned wretched. The full moon, masked by the thick monster clouds, fought valiantly but in vein to relight the night. Lightning struck indiscriminately from cloud to cloud and from cloud to earth. The defining sound of thunder crackled and challenged all others for supremacy. Heavy rain down poured and descended upon the plateau. The winds unmercifully rocked all that laid upon the land and hail the size of pumpkins beat it unrelentingly.
Isaac, protected by Jason sees the flood waters rush past them, the sky clearing, the thunder and lightning subside in the distance, the rain subdued by its own furry, and the moonlight once again reign supreme.
Jason releases Isaac from his protective shroud and whispers in a deep baritone voice, “Hurry, it is time. Go!”
“Thank you Jason”, Isaac replies. With the crystal placed upon the hardened rock, he quickly climbs back to the plateau. Isaac cannot believe what he sees.
There, the oak tree split in half, was void of witches. The willow tree, battle ridden stood tall amongst all. Isaac approaches the willow and finds that the scarecrows also overpowered the menacing storm.
With the coin still in hand, Isaac locks his arm forward, the coin glows brighter and brighter. He closes his eyes and turns away to avoid sure blindness. Gone! The coin of empowerment vanishes from his grasp. The feeling of renewed strength now overwhelms him and the journey once fraught with inner doubt, now seems, once again predestined.
Armed with courage and empowerment, Isaac thanks the willow tree and asks: “How did you survive the vicious storm and protect your scarecrows?”
“You will find the answers you seek beyond the outer side of the Warlock Forest.
For now you must continue past the plateau. Few have made it this far. Take the path you lay as you will need three more powers to achieve your mission”, whispered the willow tree.
“What powers?” Isaac inquires. “Do you have a name?”
“Khloé”…and with a whisper of the wind, the willow tree vanishes before Isaac’s eyes.
He reaches into the old pouch one more time, but it is empty.
Across the muddy plateau, Isaac walks. Stepping indiscriminately and feeling full of courage and empowerment, he falls into quicksand. Before he realizes, the quicksand is past his knees, then his waist, now his chest.
He hears the howling of a wolf.
Realizing he is in peril, Isaac reaches into the old sand-filled pouch hoping to find that which is missing.
Behold a coin; the coin of purpose.
As the quicksand reaches his ears, Isaac locks his arm upward, the coin glows brighter and brighter. He closes his eyes and takes one last breath before succumbing to the relentless suction of his latest nemesis. Gone! The coin of purpose vanishes from his grasp.
Up, up, up, he goes and with a few faded seconds of life left, he is out of peril. A new awareness is bestowed upon Isaac. He has now found the power of purpose and the reason for his journey.
There before him is the outer edge of Warlock Forest, his destination. As he crosses over the boundary, he notices The Wise One sitting on a rock holding a staff in one hand and a weathered timepiece on the other.
“I have seen few, though there have been many” said The Wise One. “It is now the stroke of midnight, the end of Halloween night. You have found your destiny through the power of courage, empowerment, and purpose.”
“How can that be?” Isaac inquired. It was eleven fifty eight the night of Halloween when I started. How can only two minutes have gone by?”
“Time is a relative entity subservient only to the reaches of the universe”, says The Wise One. All that lengthens time is fraught without purpose. All that shortens time is blessed with resolve. Today you are different not by chance, but because you willed it so.”
“I know. I can feel it”, replied Isaac. “I understand Kayla, the jack-o-lantern. She tempted me with the path of least resistance. I learned that the hill, although harder to climb, led me to the right path.
The oak tree and the witches taught me that rigidity and deception will not withstand the storms of life. Khloé, the willow tree, taught me that standing my ground while remaining flexible overpowers the strongest of adversities especially if you have your network of scarecrows as allies.
And Jason, the rock, taught me that there are others on this earth that are good and are there to help in times of need. The quicksand was a great reminder that having a purpose in life keeps me on solid ground.
The pouch taught me that I need to reach deep and often at times to find courage, empowerment, and purpose where none appears to be.
I do have one more question though, “What is the purpose of the wolf?”
“The wolf represents all of those good people in your life who often call for you to take action”, replies The Wise One. “The Warlock Forest represents each journey, each task and each adventure you are fortunate to have. It changes everyone for the better and it makes dreams come true but only if they are committed to stepping past the boundary…at the beginning and at the end.
I have a gift for you, Isaac. Behold this staff. It will hold you up anytime you’re about to fall after paying the bounties demanded by your journeys. Cherish it because we all need to use it from time to time.
Look upon the old pouch once again and harness its last two powers. Unselfishly share them all with the rest of the universe as I have with you.”
With a whisper of the wind, The Wise One vanishes before Isaac’s eyes.
As Isaac places his hand in the old pouch, he hears the howling of a wolf.
Signaling the end of a journey and the beginning of another, out comes the last coin … one side is the head of perspective, the other, the tail of wisdom. Isaac instinctively tosses the coin high up in the air. As it suspends, the coin spins one revolution, two, ten, one hundred before it glows brighter and brighter.
Which will it be? Heads, tails, trick or treat?
P.S. This is short story is planned to be the centerpiece of a new book. Like it and I will take you through several more journeys into the Warlock Forest.