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  • Writer's pictureKrish Nagda

A Shadow in the Woods

Year: 1922


Ella lived on a clapboard box suspended by iron pilings on a limestone cliff overlooking the sea, with its waves battering against the rugged and rocky coastline. It was dark now and Ella’s mother was out, probably scrubbing tables at the local restaurant. Ella’s house was on the brow of a small little town, hundred miles from Seattle. A dirt road from her house led into the wilderness, infested with animals.

There were rumors that the woods were home to dark shadows. Just the previous week, a fisherman who was kind enough to give her some food, told her friends and her about the ghosts that lived in that forest. Nobody in the village believed the old fisherman and considered him a lunatic.


The next day a girl called Lucy was found unconscious after having fainted near a clump of trees in the forest. The whole village was atwitter with gossip and speculation. Ella didn’t believe in ghosts- she thought that Lucy fainted at the sight of a ghastly wild boar that roamed the forest in search of prey. He had jagged teeth which could tear a human to shreds within minutes.


Ella was an adventurous girl. She wanted to explore the forest. Her mother's strict instructions seemed to fall on deaf ears. She set out with a wooden bow, two small sticks harnessed with a rope, some rough rocks, and a knife. She quickly jogged through the dirt road and soon found herself in the creepy-looking forest. She heard various sounds- hissing snakes that had curled up around the barks of trees, the hoot of owls, and snorts of monkeys. Muddy morasses and muskegs were scattered in the jungle path which was covered with creepers.


Ella had heard about all sorts of jungle tales, a jungle boy courageously battling a ferocious lion, a little boy fooling the villagers about prowling hyenas and getting the taste of his own medicine, and the well-known Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Ella didn’t fear any lion or wolf, she was proud of her courage and strength. In the village she was the first one to climb the tall coconut tree and rescue the wounded pigeon, she was the one to be chosen by the magician to experiment with his tricks on, in the carnival during Mardi Gras.


Ella had experienced poverty, living in the shacks with her mother who was always at the small diner in the town. Her father had died in a shipwreck near Tripolis, some four years ago. She hardly went to school except when the old teacher Mrs. Grayson generously found time from her weaving for the village vandals like Ella whom she could teach about the world and philosophical tales about butterflies and monks.


She had learned to value things, not even disposing of an unstitched shoe. Her mother had always made her wear tattered clothes which made her look bedraggled. But she didn't mind. She had no friends. The children of the town always neglected her, throwing cans and pebbles at her whenever they saw her as if she was some evil witch.


She spent her days sketching near the bay with the little pencils and parchments gifted to her on her tenth birthday by her old aunt Susan. Then she visited the town, trying to read some books on literature in the small library huddled at the corner of an autumn street. She had her daily meals at her mother’s friend's small bread shop, while her mother worked hard to earn her monthly wages. Ella lived by the old proverb “Where there is a will, there is a way!” She used it to fight all her tedious situations.


That night she wore the same ragged clothes and a black scarf wrapped around her shoulder to protect her from the windy breeze that swirled in the forest. Her mother used to return late at night with some morsels of nourishment for herself, assuming that Ella would be sleeping in her bunk after her supper of partially cooked vegetables and hot cabbage broth.


Jackals wandered at the boundaries of the forest at night near the fields. One day the pumpkins were stolen from the fields and the farmers suspected the notorious brat, Ella, to be the culprit. But the real truth lay with the jackals. Ella walked in the dark wilderness, under the huge canopies that blocked even the slightest light. A heartbeat later she heard a creak! She realized someone was following her. She wanted to take to her heels but her curiosity made her inspect the area.



She clambered to the logs of wood that were scattered in the clearing. In the middle of them, sat a wounded sparrow. Just as Ella was about to walk towards the sparrow, the leaves rustled. The grass withered and pale shadows cast themselves in the clearing.


A dark shadow stood behind Ella. She glanced behind and squeaked in horror. The ground rumbled. Ella darted into the woods, scrambling through the forest, passing hissing snakes, sleeping lemurs, hooting owls, and flying cockroaches. She ran until she stumbled up to the brim of a rocky cliff. Dark waters battered against the limestone feature. The moon sought refuge behind the downy clouds. Ella could hear sad voices as if nature was speaking to her in dense darkness. A rope bridge connected the summit to the hills on the other side, but that zone was forbidden for the townspeople.


There were rumors the other side of the bridge was home to ogres and Ella had no intention to be that night's festive supper. In addition, the bridge was no adventure ride. Ella remembered her fate at the bulls deck in the village carnival. After that ordeal, she never visited any carnival once again.


The wind rustled and stung her eyes. She was helpless on the cliff. The trees seemed to make eerie sounds and the creepers fluttered in the nightlight. Suddenly she looked behind and perceived something motioning back and forth. It might have been her imagination or she might have been hallucinating but a dark shadow fluttered in the breeze. It was humanoid but its figure was as if someone had picked up stacks of hay and covered it. A white glow shimmered from where its eyes should have been. Its features were hazy and blurry and the tall and dark trees did not make it less spooky. A glow of magic seemed to emit from its eyes.


Suddenly the world around Ella changed as she stood on the edge of a rugged surface, rocks jutting out at different angles. A tsunami of fire wreathed her and ugly, creepy hands sprouted through the surface. Ella yelled in surprise and horror, her heart pounding and her body clammy. It was of no use.


The malevolent glint of the shadow made Ella’s eyes feel heavy and cold and she immediately collapsed.

She was never found. Her death was attributed to an animal mauling. Even a hundred years from then on, no one suspected the spirit of the murderous shadow that haunted the very place that was dubbed the “Home of the Dead.”


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