Into the Woods (2)

Previously: : You met young Olly defiantly driving through a dark forest she’d heard tales about as a child, when suddenly despite a warning voice advising her against it, Olly had picked up a stranger on her way home. Now let’s see where she is…

The silence stretched uncomfortably, and Olly’s fingers twitched on the steering wheel, as if the uncomfortable air was sticky and she were trying to free her hands. She cleared her throat and eyed ‘Ben’ from the corner of her vision. His uniform looked khaki, his hair slick with gel and combed, not one strand out of place. His face clean shaven. She imagined if she were to touch it, it’s be as smooth as Honeydew’s bottom. Honeydew being the moniker she’d bestowed upon her one and only niece. Her sister had named the little fiery headed child Amber, after the family stone.

‘So, Ben? These things you mentioned, about the woods? What do you know?’

Ben considered her a moment, as briefly as he could manage while holding onto the door handle trying not to look like he were about to shit his pants. He smiled, lips pressed tightly together. It made him look sheepish. ‘Mind slowing down there a bit, Miss. Or we may not get home at all.’

Olly’s eyes narrowed. Why slow down? What was his agenda? Was he trying to slow her down so whatever it was in the woods would have enough time to get her? Despite her concern, Olly eased up on the accelerator. ‘What do you know about the woods, Ben?’

Ben looked uncomfortable. He loosened his collar. ‘Can this wait till we get out of here first, ma’am?’

‘Ma’am? Who you calling ma’am? Do I look that old to you, mister?! I’m sixteen, sir, thank you very much!’ The anger boiled over in an instant and all her focus directed at the stranger in her car. ‘What century do you think you’re in mate?!’

‘Woohoo!’ Ben suddenly grabbed the steering wheel and steered the car back onto the road when Olly forgot she was driving.

She slapped his hands away and regained her composure. ‘No one touches Bessie but me!’

‘Bessie? Really, you named your car Bessie?’

‘Why? What did you name your junk back there?’

‘Woah, woah! That’s an Impala, Missy. Saved all my monies and paid $500 for her and fixed her up myself. She’s a beaut, my Olive.’

‘Olive?’

‘Short for Olivia. The love of my life.’

Olly’s stomach suddenly turned sickly. She squared her shoulder and touched her talisman again. It was burning hot. Something was wrong here. Something terrible. You’re in big trouble, young lady! Her inner voice, which strangely always sounded like her Grams spoke. Ask him what year it is.

‘Uh, Ben? What year do you think this is?’

Ben shook his head in amusement. ‘You’re a strange one, aren’t ya? It’s 1940 of course.’ While Olly remained silently screaming in her head, Ben eyed her car, tattered as it was and startled when music suddenly blared out of her phone via a streaming she’d been playing. She forgot about that. Ben screamed. Then eyed her again.

‘Wait a minute? What is this? Are you a spy?’

Olly ignored his question and asked one of her own. ‘What is your full name, Ben?’ By now, her palms were so sweaty and her hands trembling she was surprised the car was still on the road. Just few more minutes before she exited the woods. Just a few more. And then, the shields will protect her.

‘Benjamin Maurice Clive Custos.’ He said each word so carefully, while continuing to study Olly. ‘What are you?’ He finally caught sight of the glowing amber pendant hanging off her neck, casting a low lumen on her. ‘Who are you?’

Olly swallowed. She eyed him equally curious as the car slowly crossed over the woods threshold. ‘Olivia Bella Tory Custos,’ she managed to mumble as before her eyes, the passenger seat emptied. Poof. Vanished. No more Ben.

Olly screamed and slammed on the brakes till her car spun and skidded to a stop. ‘And I fudging think you were a ghost! Oh my freaking God! I just picked up a ghost!’

She eyed the moving monster that was the woods. Yawning and shifting as if it were breathing, and there, by the edge of it stood Ben, completely still, with not a scratch. Eyes locked on Olly.

Olly slowly eased her foot of the brake and gripped the steering wheel. The amber burned on her skin as if it were actually burning skin, warning her.

Ben grinned, cocking his head at an impossible angle, as if his bones were being dislocated. His form shifted and rippled and Olly suddenly wished she were home already. She pressed the accelerator like her life depended on it and turned the car around, heading into the village as fast as she could. She just wished, off all the days, Officer Rymes wasn’t waiting to book her again.

Behind her, the forest gave a scream that carried in the wind to her, making her spine tingle. The veil is weakest in the dark, my dear, and today was the darkest night yet, Grams voice in her head said.

Olly dared not look at her mirrors till she got home that night, at the strike of midnight. She was sixteen now, with the tolling bells, and as Grams had predicted, she was seeing a whole lot more that was never there but she had always wanted to see, to feel special. Now, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to. No, not really. She didn’t want to.

‘Take it back!’ She screamed as she entered the house. ‘Take it back! I don’t want it.’

‘What on Earth are you talking about, dear?’ Grandpa lowered his reading glasses and tore himself away from his book. He always went to bed after the witching hour, to keep the monsters at bay, as he used to say. ‘What don’t you want?’

Olly heaved a deep breath of relief as the solid door shut close behind her. ‘This gift.’

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