A Story by Sophie McN


I had lived in Madison all my life with my mum, dad and little brother Cody. Madison was a small tight-knit village cut off from the surrounding towns and nestled inside a valley so deep that the only way to come and go was by aeroplane. The small population was circled by towering snowy mountains and on the edge of the village, there was a forest known locally as Culzean Woods. As children, Cody and I were always intrigued by the forest because we had never been allowed to venture any further than a metre from its entrance. If other route’s home were blocked and our parents had to take us through the path that passes Culzean Woods, they would grip out hands a little tighter and bow their heads to look at the gravel. Cody and I used to make up stories about Culzean being an enchanted forest where Snow White and the Seven Dwarves lived.

“You shouldn’t waste your time dreaming about such nonsense, Paloma!” my mother would snap at me when I told her about my make believe stories.

The more paid attention, the more I noticed the residents in Madison glancing warily at the forest before snapping their heads away. I would notice that nobody ever went into the forest or walked too close to its edge. I noticed that when people needed timber for their wood-burning fires, they would take the plane to the next town and buy wood along with their groceries rather than go into the forest for logs. I knew there was something more that the adults of the town knew about the woods, something that the children were shielded from.

From that moment, I studied the forest religiously from my bedroom window. Every night once the sun fell and drained the last of its dusky light from the sky and the moon rose high in its place, I would creep out of my bed to watch the woods. I would keep the light off, fish out my binoculars from under my bed, open my bay window wide, lean on the sill and trace the patterns of the forests intertwining trees through my new magnified eyes. The weather was almost always miserable in Madison but I loved the smell, chill and heaviness in the air at night after the rain had showered the village during the day. My stakeouts were always unsuccessful. I would search without being sure what I was looking for and all I ever saw was the leaves flickering as the wind slinked in between them. At around 1am, I would eventually give up my investigation and go to sleep.

I grew more inquisitive with each failed detective attempt. I even asked the school librarian for information on the forest and told her it was for a biology project. She raised an eyebrow and looked suspicious.

“I would advise you to let go of this fascination you have, Paloma,” she warned. “No good will come of it. Do you understand?”

Knowing I wasn’t getting anywhere, I nodded and left, but I wasn’t giving up. Later that day, I managed to sneak my dad’s work laptop into my room and Googled the forest. Most of the information I found was sparse and useless but after digging around for an hour, I found an old newspaper article. The article stated that ten years ago, a teenage boy from Madison went missing. He was a sensible college boy so this disappearance was out of character and therefore taken very seriously. After a few months, the trail ran cold and eventually the village started to move on but on the first night of winter, the boy’s body was found at the entrance of the forest with strangulation marks around the throat. After that, the case was completely dropped. He was quietly buried and grieved for and the whole ordeal was put to bed. I would have been five years old at the time. I found it so bizarre that apart from the article, it was essentially kept secret. The author was unnamed. I stayed up until 3am that night.

A few nights later while studying the woods, I finally saw something. It was the first night of the year that the temperature had dropped into minus numbers and sleet was pouring from the clouds. I pulled my sleeves up over my cold hands, wiped the watery lenses on my binoculars and held them to my eyes. Someone was walking along the path to the forest. I knew the person. His name was Eric Copeland and he was in his last year at the local high school. He was standing at the forest entrance and looking inside. He was perfectly still, in only a pair of jeans and a thin blue sweater. Every few seconds he would tilt his head and edge closer as if he was trying to better hear a faint sound. I wasn’t getting a good enough view from my bedroom window and decided to get closer.

I pulled on a thick hoodie and pattered downstairs in my bare feet. I weaved through the lounge, into the kitchen and quietly slinked out the back door. I quickly skipped along the wet spongy squishy grass in the garden, across to the ladders of Cody’s treehouse. I ran up the rickety ladder that creaked and swayed with my weight and climbed into the small wooden play house. From the makeshift window (a hole in the wooden wall), I started watching Eric again. This was much better, I was a lot closer and I could now read Eric’s movements and expressions rather than just seeing a smudged soppy face. Eric stood still for a moment and then he slowly turned his head.

Suddenly I could feel my ears getting hot and my heartbeat pulsating through my temples. He turned his head further and he was looking at me. I knew he couldn’t see me. I was completely in the dark, I was still far away and he didn’t have binoculars like I did. He definitely couldn’t see me. I stayed still, hoping it would make me invisible. After a moment, Eric gradually turned his gaze back to the forest and slowly walked inside. I watched him, my eyes gripped on him as he robotically strolled inside the forest. I lost sight of him.

I wanted to shout for him to come back. I wanted to run into my mum’s room and tell her that someone had went in there but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t sleep at all that night.

The next morning was a Sunday and I got out of bed at 6:30am. I tip-toed downstairs and packed some food and essentials. I put on several layers of warm clothes and pulled on my heavy black hiking boots. It was still dark when I headed outside. The village was still and silent like a ghost town, everyone still cosy in their beds. I took the gravelly path that led to the forest.

I’d had enough. I had to find out for myself what was in there. It was only a short five minute walk to the entrance of Culzean Woods. I was standing in the same spot were Eric Copeland had stood the night before. The imprints of his trainers were still on the ground. I had never been this close to the woods before and as I looked where Eric had seemed to be looking the previous night, all I could see was trees. I stared, trying to find something then I noticed a tiny blue light at the vanishing point deep in the forest. From the silence emerged a voice singing in light, airy tones. It was quiet, distant. The lullaby was soothing and almost motherly. The lyrics were in a language I didn’t know, yet the words were hypnotic and without really noticing, I found myself walking forward into the forest and towards the blue glow.

I expected the forest to be icy cold but instead it was lukewarm and tranquil. I was dazed and starry eyed as I stumbled further into the woods. As I weaved between the trees and became lost, I started to feel dread and regret. I shouldn’t have come here. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. How was I going to get back out? Just as I turned a corner, I bumped into someone.

“Oh, I’m sorry-” I began. I pulled back to see a small elderly African man wearing war paint with a bow and arrow and a small bag on his back. The man didn’t say anything. He simply smiled like he’d been expecting me. He pressed his hands together as if he was praying and bowed to me. I was confused but I mimicked the gesture back to him.

He gestured to himself and said, “Akhona.”

Then he gestured to me �" “Paloma?” I nodded, too fascinated by him to even wonder how he knew my name. He grinned again, nodded and asked me to follow him.


 Akhona’s den was made from huge branches and leaves from the forest. In the middle was a small fire to create light. He sat on the ground with his legs crossed and invited me to do the same.

“You have been watching Culzean, haven’t you?” he asked. Suddenly I felt like I was in trouble and he saw the flicker of worry in my expression.

“You have a fascination with the trees, the plants, the nature, just as Akhona has. You see the special sight that many cannot see.” He spoke in a rhythm like he was singing. I nodded again. I didn’t know what else to do.

Akhona untied the small bag from his back and out of it he took out some war paint, two small cups and a bowl, a bottle of water and several different coloured leaves and seeds bound together with string. He smiled at me like a grandfather.

I realised that I should have found it strange and should think about leaving but I didn’t want to. It didn’t occur to me to wonder why a lone tribal African man was in the woods in a town nowhere near Africa. For some reason, I felt safe and comfortable, surrounded by nature.

Akhona squeezed some of the paint onto his fingers and drew lines and patterns onto my face to match his. He put his hands together and bowed his head again as if to say thank you and I repeated the motion to him. Akhona then put the leaves and seeds into the bowl and started to beat them with a rock he found lying beside him. Once the leaves had turned to mush, he added the water and swirled the mixture delicately with the rock. I studied every step of the process. Akhona then lifted the bowl and held it over the fire. The mixture bubbled, boiled, spat and erupted a puff of green smoke into the den. I jumped and pushed myself back. Akhona gave me a reassuring look and then poured the mixture into the two small cups. The mixture was now a smooth lime green liquid. The scent was intoxicating, like nothing I had ever smelled before. I found myself sniffing the air like a dog scouting for food.

Akhona handed me out of the cups and gestured for me to drink. I took a breath and the rational logical part of my brain began to speak up. I shouldn’t be doing this. I didn’t know this man and this drink could be poison. It could kill me! Normally I would have listened to this sensible frightened little voice but I didn’t. The drink had the sweetest scent I had ever known and I couldn’t not taste it. Slightly nervous but willingly, I held the drink to my lips and took a tiny sip.

“Ayahuasca,” Akhona whispered as he looked to the sky.

The roots that were spread across the forest bed shook and broke away from the ground. They crawled towards me and began to intertwine around my limbs, hugging me snugly. Akhona held my hand as ‘Culzean was born again’ he said. I looked around me in awe as the lifeless dull woods became animated, colourful and bright like neon UV paint. From the bark on the trees emerged moving expressive faces and from the branches grew grasping arms. I could perceive colours and dimensions invisible to the human eye. I could see ultraviolet and infrared. I looked down at my body to see it as an image of hot and cool. The tropical plants uprooted from the ground and began to dance around us, sprinkling their seeds and exotic scent all over the forest. I could see carbon dioxide as a swirling rainbow coloured gas in the air as the vegetation feasted on the fume. I could eat it too. It was coated with a sugar gauze that popped and sizzled on the tongue.

I could feel a heavy metal in my core that provided a little dotted lines of magnetism that connected me to the earth, the moon, the sun. They were holding me in place, grounding me. I looked up to see the sun smiling down at me with the crescent moon beside her. The moon’s eyes were milky and they glistened as he winked at me. It is all connected. We are all connected. I understood. I too am a little piece of the universe represented as a human being. My purpose is to be a guardian of nature. It all became so clear.

“This is the vine of the soul, Paloma. The lungs of the planet. We must love, protect and serve Culzean. Do you understand?” I heard Akhona say from somewhere nearby. I nodded profusely.

It was like I had kaleidoscope vision. The patterns in the air were so intricate, detailed and colourful and moving so quickly that I felt dizzy. Through the forest walked giant fuzzy tarantulas with googly eyes the size of my head, purple tigers breathing yellow fire, pink lions with horned heads, talking grizzly bears who would cuddle me and cradle me in their furry arms like an infant, giant blue centipedes, enormous snakes double my size who left a trail of gooey radioactive scales behind them and orange monkeys who sang as they swung rapidly from tree to tree. A green baby elephant approached me. She wrapped her long never-ending trunk around my shoudlers and pressed her forehead to mines.

You are our special one, Paloma, she said to me in her mind. You must save us from the evil of the planet who wish to destroy us. A tear trickled down from her eye down her rough green skin.

She let go of me and lifted her trunk in the air. She trumpeted and the sound vibrated in my ears before a waterfall of tranquil glowing blue liquid rushed out of her trunk and into the air, washing over me. The water was so hot that it was steaming but it didn’t hurt me. My skin felt new. The water had washed away all my negativity and my clouded thoughts. Culzean had blessed me and gave me a spiritual rebirth. I was a different person! I could barely even remember my life or its former purpose before now. I was in love with the forest. I didn’t care about anything else, not even myself. The plant spirits whispered to me and enticed me further. I wanted to become one with them. I wanted to be buried in the earth and surrounded by the plants and the animals; just to be close to them.

The leaves in the air opposite me began to move in perfect unison. They morphed into the shape of a woman’s face.

“Moeder Natuur!” I heard Akhona cry.

The woman was so beautiful. I felt embarrassed to look at her.

“You have done well to seek us, Paloma. Are you ready to join us and be a guardian of Culzean?” she asked. I immediately blushed. The voice I had heard singing when I first entered the forest belonged to her.

“Yes! I want to join you!” I pleaded. Akhona appeared and handed me the blossom of an exotic yellow flower. He gestured for me to eat. I put the blossom into my mouth and began to chew. At first it tasted like bitter crumbly chocolate but became tough and chewy like raw meat. Suddenly it dissolved in my mouth and became a fine sour powder. I started to gag and I spat it out in disgust. I looked up to see all the colours had gone. The forest was dark and all I could see what Moeder Natuur and Akhona staring at me.

“You are almost ready,” Akhona said, suddenly seeming sinister.

I continued to spit out the putrid powder when I noticed a huge black shadow towering over me. I looked up above me to see Eric Copeland and the missing boy hanging by the neck from nooses high in the canopy. Blood drenched their faces and their arms stretched out for me to join them as their limp bodies swung and dangled idly in the air.

“You will be our next sacrifice, Paloma,” Moedur Natuur said firmly.

The forest was freezing cold and I could feel my lips turning blue. I didn’t want this anymore. I wanted out.

“No. No, I can’t be!” I whimpered.

Moedur Natuur’s green leafy face turned firy red and flew towards me.

“You chose to come to us!” she roared. Casting a gale through the forest and making the trees quake. “You agreed to join us, to give us your soul! You can’t go back now!”

“Please, please let me go! I’m sorry! I’ll never come back again!” I pleaded as I sobbed on the ground.

But she refused me. I didn’t know what else to do. I ran.

Stumbling as I sprinted, I threw my legs forward as quickly as I could. I snapped my head back to see Akhona only feet behind me with Moedur Natuur consuming the forest and growing bigger and bigger, expanding her presence and flying through the air behind me. Above me, Eric and the missing boy were soaring through the forest after me, their heads leading them and their lifeless bodies merely flailing in the wind. Their blood dripped onto me as I ran.

The tree roots and plant vines on the forest bed uprooted, trying to grab my ankles and pull me down but I managed to jump and miss most of them. I kept tripping as I raced, trying to find the way out. Finally, in the distance I could see daylight and I tried to quicken my pace but my legs were growing tired. I pushed myself to keep running. My breathing was wheezy and heavy. I turned round to see Akhona right on my tail and he grabbed my arm, twisted it and threw me back. I landed hard on the ground with my face in the dirt and immediately I felt the roots wrapping around me like boa constrictors. I struggled hard and managed to kick them off. Akhona tried to grab me by the shoulders but before he got a tight grip, in the midst of my panic I clenched my fist and threw it into his nose. The bone gave a sickening crack as he fell back and groaned in pain. I clambered back to my feet and ran to the exit of the forest so fast I thought my legs were going to fall off. I was getting closer. I willed my legs to pick up quicker and my arms to grab the air and push it back behind me. I finally reached the edge of the forest.

I collapsed on the gravelly path covered in a sheath of cold sweat. My face was hot and I was gasping for air as I felt my heart pounding against my rib cage. I looked up from the gravel to see Moedur Natuur and Akhona deep in the forest staring at me, angry in defeat. They seeped further and further into the distance and soon disappeared behind the trees. It was nigh time in Madison. The moon was directly above me and I started to think about how worried my family must have been. I ran home.

Eric Copeland was never seen again and there was no investigation into his disappearance. Everyone just pretended he’d never existed. I researched and found an online blog of a similar account to mines by an Amazonian. I believe that somewhere inside Culzean Woods there is a portal that is twinned to the Amazon rainforest, but my fear and night terrors have prevented me from finding out anything further. I never told my parents or even Cody about what had happened. Even now, I can’t walk that gravelly path and I never ventured back into Culzean Woods again.

© 2014 Sophie McN

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This story is longer that I usually read, but i was so fascinating that I read it all the way through. It is exciting and beautifully told.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

I'm so glad you liked it enough to read the whole thing! It's longer than the pieces I usually write.. read more
This story was very well written, I enjoyed it! The plot was thrilling too with perfectly mysterious ending.
A wonderful short story!

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

oh wow thank you!!

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2 Reviews
Added on September 9, 2014
Last Updated on September 9, 2014
Tags: fantasy, drugs, africa, amazon, amazon rainforest, hallucination, absurd, surreal, wild life, plants, animals, nature, life, universe, spiritual


Sophie McN
Sophie McN

Ayrshire, Scotland, United Kingdom

I'm an undergraduate English Literature and Creative Writing/Journalism student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I'll post some of my uni work here and some other short stories/poems too. .. more..

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