Secrets of the Fae. Chapter 1: The Blackberries
#1 of Secrets of the Fae
As far back as I can remember, there's always been just one strange thing in the house I grew up in. Now I'd always had free roam of the sprawling backyard in our rural American home. No worries to walk up and down the country roads to the nearby stores and market. Even allowed to follow the streams to a small pond to swim in during the long hot summer days. I was allowed everywhere except for the sprawling woods past the blackberry bush at the end of our backyard. As much as I can remember, I had been told to never try to climb past the vines into the woods past them. I never have figured out why, though the dark woods that I could see peeking through the thorny vines never seemed the most inviting. Then there was the strangest part of that blackberry bush, in how it never seemed to grow towards our property. I can't think of any time that we've had to cut it back or to keep it from spreading further on our side of the fence it covers. It's always just been there, like a hedge border to the woods beyond.
And then there's the strangeness with the berries on those vines. Every spring it will blossom with pale pink and white flowers, attracting many bees to the waiting flowers. Yet every summer it would be barren upon our side. Yet peeking through the many thorny branches on the other end there would be the largest blackberries I'd ever seen. Hanging heavy and proud, so tantalizing, yet out of reach beyond all those prickly thorns. Several times I'd try to pick a few, and this leads into the strangest encounter with those mysterious brambles I can remember.
A few years ago, I think I was about nine at the time, withstanding a lazy, hot summer evening that was coming to a close. A day of lounging around out of school had me lured me curiously to the blackberries, enticed by the large fruit just out of reach. Try as I might, I could only touch the closest fruit, my fingers grazing so close to the prize. I decided to try using my shirt to try to press my hand further in. But after only a few moments my concentration was startled with the sensation of being watched. I peeked back first to the house to see if anyone caught me trying to pick those forbidden fruit with that hot flush of knowingly doing something wrong. But no one was about, father gone on business and mother to the store for a quick errand. Looking back through the bushes I suddenly caught my eyes on a strange deer. At least, that's what it looked like at first glance. But the odd thing was he (it always felt like a him, though I'm still not certain aside from that gut feeling) was standing on his two hind legs. Watching me with bright, wide brown eyes that for a moment, seemed like I was staring at some wild boy in the woods. He stared fiercely into my green eyes, as if to etch every detail of me into his mind. Then just as quick as our we saw each other he skipped off with a graceful leap, disappearing into the deep shadows of the trees beyond. The event was so surreal and sudden that I realized too late I had grazed my thumb along a long thorn. With a yelp I tugged my hand back, sucking on the sharp wound with a little shiver, and quickly left for the night. Despite getting in some trouble for obviously having been playing in the blackberry bush (I think I left that shirt still in it), I was mostly confused and curious about that mysterious figure. The only other thing I can remember is how strangely human that deer had seemed, although the details have are fading with the years.
And now it's been over four years since that fateful day, summer melting into the cool breezes of fall outside my window. In two minutes I'll be turning thirteen, and yet for some reason all I can think of is that strange deer I encountered years ago. I get up from bed, tossing covers aside to watch as the second hand of my watch swings by steadily, inching towards my birthday. Moments seem to turn to hours as I impatiently stare at the glass face of the watch, until finally with an imperceptible click the hands swing into midnight. I blink at the time for a moment, waiting for some change at this momentous event, but there's nothing. I'm still the same Johnathan Yamada, living on that big ranch house on the end of the street with that mysterious forest against our backyard. I walk over to a mirror, peering at myself to see if I've transformed in some way at being a teenager. Nope, still the same short, straight black hair. Green eyes gazing back at my half Japanese features. Looking for anything, but nope, still a scrawny little boy, still short, still awkward, but now officially a teen. For some reason I've just been so antsy and wistful, wishing for something more exciting than the same boring streets and yards of my home. I walk slowly to the window, peering out at the silvery moonlit backyard, and the woods beyond our house. A flick of light catches my eye, startled by a flick of light of a shooting star. And I make a wish that by tomorrow midnight I will have some excitement, even if it's up to my own to make it. Finally I slump back into bed, to watch the hours tick by.
Morning would come rushing in with surprising force, having fallen asleep quite suddenly. I slowly got up to wander downstairs, smelling a breakfast awaiting me. I smile to my mom, who has set out quite a spread of food to me. Unfortunately I find out that my dad will be gone, having a business trip go long from bad weather. He's always gone somewhere far, and a large collection of trinkets from all over the world make up a good amount of his 'visits' for birthdays and holidays. This year proves to be no exception, although the gift waiting for me does catch my eye. A book of Japanese myths and monsters, although being in Japanese means I'll have to stumble through it, having not learned it very well. I wonder if he got the idea from when grandpa had stayed over for a few weeks from Japan for Christmas.
That had been an exciting time for me, for every day after school not only would he greet me, but he had the most amazing stories to tell. Wild legends of the many wild creatures and monsters that apparently lurked in the forests and wilderness of Japan. Tales of tricky foxes and mischievous shape shifters, luring people to steal away when not having fun or playing tricks on people. It was he who helped me learn about fairies and fauns and other myths and monsters closer to home as well. Getting me to go out and even look up many of the stories in the library. Where I then stumbled on the many strange legends that revolve around those very woods behind our house.
Even hundreds of years ago there had been stories about the forests in this area. Legends of monsters luring people away with flickering false lights to be stolen away. Tales of children being exchanged with fairies or just kidnapped away. Shapeshifters posing as lost travelers looking for help, who then lead the poor person trying to help them deeper in the woods to be never seen. It sounded as if the woods must have been packed full of monsters, goblins and fairies from all the stories I could find. The most common theme was that the woods were haunted or enchanted, depending on one's view, and firmly claimed by a kingdom of fairies who would keep any who strayed within their domains as slaves. Some stories had the captors living nearly forever, only to be corrupted into one of the fairies themselves. And with each additional story I found I became more interested in what just was in those woods.
And today would be much of the same. That alluring, forbidden stretch presented before me on a slow, lazy weekend. Most of my friends had gotten colds from school or were otherwise busy, so my birthday party was all but canceled for this week. Work had called my mom in for an emergency as well, leaving me home alone for most of the day. Most of the day I spent wandering outside, or was otherwise reading and collecting what information I could on the legends surrounding the sprawling 'cursed' forest outside our house. The rebellious idea of trying to sneak in to it's shadowy depths slowly began to form as I looked over the material I was collecting for a report. But mostly I just thought of that wish I had made, hoping something would come out of it. And steadily the hours dragged by, and soon dinner would come and go without even a hint of excitement. Mom brought back a cake, and I made that traditional birthday wish. I wished for something exciting to happen by midnight.
And now it is nearly midnight again. I stared from my window onto the moonlight yard beyond, a nervous idea forming. Slowly the idea to finally get the nerve to explore those fascinating woods grew stronger, pushing me to action finally while I sleeplessly stared out the window. I carefully began to get dressed, putting on a brand new jacket to keep warm in the cool summer breezes. I took a last peek at myself, before gingerly padding down the stairs. The night was silent and clear, cool and clean as I walked to the blackberry bush, looking even more threatening in the moonlight. The full moon easily lighting my way as I stared at that barrier that had been there as far back as I remember. For some reason my heart began to race, perhaps knowing how much trouble I could get into for doing this. But I had made a promise that I would do something exciting. And here was one of the most exciting things I had read about, with centuries of stories to back me up. Of course, I knew it was all just stories to keep kids from wandering off. Quite like I was about to do in fact, as I looked for a shallower position in the thorny brambles to work through and over the fence.
I was just about to make my first step onto the fence when my eyes were caught by a glimpse again of someone just beyond. My heart leaped in my chest as I saw that strange deer just on the other side. We stared at each other with a strange familiarness, as if we had known each other the whole time. He was bigger now, a small pair of antlers proud upon his head. But what had me dumbfounded is that he seemed human too. Looking just a bit older, with a slender build, before the smooth skin disappeared into the fine hide of his cervine legs. His face smooth and sharply featured, with just the ears and antlers peeking from long wild hair. I was bewildered and flushed as I gawked at his nude form, only to watch as he turned and fled deeper once more, challenging me to catch him. And I knew I had to catch him, as I had set myself to find out the secrets of the forest once and for all.