The townsfolk never stopped people from going into the wood but they did spread rumours about its strangeness, saying that it was an unnatural place and that people never came out of it the same. Hallie had met some of the changed ones and they seemed alright to her, a little strange because they glowed but not so odd that she was afraid of them. In fact they seemed a lot happier than most of the townsfolk and spoke only kindness.
But for some reason the townsfolk had left the wood forbidden – it was a warning that everyone knew but never spoke of. Instead they built playhouses and card halls on the outskirts of it. Hallie knew from conversations she had overheard from her mother that these were meant to distract people’s attention away from the wood and most often it worked. Once people tasted the pleasures within the halls they forgot that the wood even existed.
There was an even older rumour though, one that was said to have existed long before the town, one that told a different story. In that rumour the wood was said to hold the secrets to an abundant life but it had been twisted and corrupted into the lie it was now. Hallie didn’t know which was true, she wanted to see for herself.
And so there she stood, at a well in the middle of the quiet forest, alone. She dipped her finger into the water. Nothing happened and she was surprised at her disappointment. It was colder than she thought it would be because it looked so warm with the pulsing glow beneath it – it was this inexplicable light that had drawn her there.
A chill shivered down her spine. It was dusk and the wood had taken on a mysterious shadow. Eerie fingers of mist clawed their way around tree trunks, undulating along the ground as though they were alive. A faint breeze lifted the branches suddenly and Hallie felt a strong compulsion to run.
“Don’t go.” The voice was unexpected but she had felt the presence of its owner when she had first entered the wood. A young man about her age stepped out from the shadows. He looked as though he was bathed in sunlight, so different was the light that fell on him. His eyes were strange too - he looked at the wood as though he saw something completely different.
“It’s a trick. The wood wants you to leave so that you don’t drink from the well.”
“Why would I drink from the well?” she asked.
“Isn’t that why you’re here?” he moved to the well to peer into it and smiled when his eyes fell on the light. “Aren’t you thirsty?” he asked.
“Well…” she began but stopped. From the moment she had seen the light she had felt a desperate thirst take hold of her. The thirst was not only for the water but for the knowledge of what it really was.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind if you have some.” He smiled.
“Why would you mind? Does it belong to you?” she asked, nervously.
He nodded and looked at her the way her father did before he gave her a birthday present, “I would love for you to taste it – it was meant for you.”
“Me?” she frowned. Was this man crazy?
“You and everyone else who has chosen to taste it. Please, drink and I promise you will never be thirsty again. You will be fuller, not only in your body but here and here as well.” He said pointing to his head and heart, “Your eyes will be opened.”
She hesitated only for an instant but his words had struck such a true cord in her. She so wanted what he spoke of. Then suddenly she could not contain herself, she bent over at the well and gulped the water from it in long draughts. She felt as though she had been drowning all her life and was getting her first breath of air.
When she lifted her soaking face from the well the wood was changed. The mist and shadows were gone and sunlight streamed through the branches so that it dazzled her eyes. The man had changed as well – he was so bright she could barely look at him and atop his head was a jewelled crown.
“Go, tell the others about the water… there is plenty to go around and I would love to have them…”
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