Project 15: Set Terms
This assignment: use the following “zoo-related” words to write a story not centered around a zoo.
elephant death exotic path bubbles lamppost riot balloons feathers trespassers Braille animal dragon water
Every villager knows the danger of the Mortis Woods, but when Leto defies society, she wanders past the rumors to find out the truth for herself.
The Realm of Death
Nobody entered the Mortis Woods after dark. It was foolishness. Madness. Suicide.
Everyone knew the haunts of the pine forest. Strange rumors were birthed from it every year. People saw ghosts and strange animals there – impossible creatures like dragons, or exotic beasts covered in hundreds of feathers. People heard disembodied voices. They felt things brush against them when nothing was there. They came out seeing hallucinations and babbling madly… if they came back at all.
They said death itself lurked in the Woods, prowling about, searching for any wandering trespassers it could claim for its own. According to legends, death’s companion, a monster too hideous to behold, lived in the bottom of a large pond filled with black water, while dark bubbles constantly foamed from its lair, sending up the spirits of the devoured.
Anyone foolish enough to enter the Woods after dark was clearly doomed to a miserable end. No one went in by their own will.
Except for one girl who never believed in the stories. That was Leto.
Leto grew up in the village by the Woods, raised by her parents like everybody else. She, in many ways, was similar to the rest of those in the village: she received her education from the little school in town; she knew all the latest gossip and news about so-and-so; she could pass judgment on someone without knowing their full situation just as well as anyone else.
Yet there was one quality that set the blonde-haired girl apart from everyone else. While the others always strayed well away from the forest by late afternoon, she often found herself rather attracted to the dark Woods. She said she felt something calling her, as if a life force were pulling her in, beckoning for her to join it.
That was why, at noon on that beautiful day, the sixteen-year-old found herself on the edge of the Woods, looking carefully over her shoulder as she stepped a slender foot onto the forest path.
She had attempted two other times to enter, but both times she had been intercepted by villagers. This time, she had planned her visit more carefully. After sneaking out of school after lunch with the claim that she felt ill, she took the back streets of the village to make her way toward the Mortis Woods. This way, she figured, by the time anyone might notice she hadn’t returned home, she should already be on her way back. If questioned, she could always make up some little excuse; she meant only to spend an hour in the woods at most.
Leto skipped around to the edge of the forest by the old abandoned lamppost, whose existence had long since been forgotten by time. It had once lit up the night for weary travelers from the Woods, but once the strange rumors began, there had been a small riot for the light’s removal. The villagers thought it would lead death to their town, and so the light was never used.
Taking one last look at the lamppost and the village, Leto turned and began her little journey on the brink of the lovely natural path, with its delicate white flowers blooming on the sides, and a soft layer of moss and roots carpeting the dirt. The scent of fresh earth tickled her nostrils, and she felt she could almost breathe in the life of the forest as she stepped nimbly along, running her fingers along the small plants and trees along the way. Sunlight shone through the bright green leaves above, playing with the shadows in a harmonious dance around the forest floor as the soft, cool breeze whisked through the trees merrily.
How could anyone find such a place dangerous? Leto found herself marveling at the ignorance of the villagers. The Woods were truly a place too beautiful, too perfect, to be the monstrous death trap they thought it to be.
At a clear brook, Leto stopped her journey to rest. She perched herself on a smooth rock and pulled off her sandals, then submerged her feet into the freezing water. It felt glorious on a hot day. She splashed her face gently, then dipped her fingertips into the glass-like stream, letting it run over her hands like a small tame animal. It gurgled happily, and she found herself laughing gently in reply, savoring this perfect moment alone in the pleasant woods.
That was when she realized it was getting dark.
Leto looked up at the trees, where the sun no longer played quite so intensely through the foliage. The shadows had already begun to elongate, with their dark tendrils holding unknown creatures and possible threats. For once, Leto felt a slight fear of the Woods and what they might hold, and she stood quickly, glancing around.
I have to go back. Leto picked up her sandals, fumbled with the straps in her cold hands, and dropped the shoes in the water. The sound made her jump, and she picked them up again, ignoring her wet dress and pulling them on quickly, then stepping out of the brook and back onto the path to find her way home.
The only problem was that the path seemed to have vanished.
“No, no, no….” Leto spun around, searching desperately for her old friend. “Where… I came from there… it must be around here…”
There was some comfort in hearing her own voice. It was at least one familiar thing in the midst of a now-foreign, threatening place.
Squaring her shoulders, Leto tried searching systematically for the path, but in vain. The forest now seemed more dangerous than ever. Leto could feel her heartbeat speeding up, her breath coming in quick, ragged gasps of fear.
Something moved to her right, and without a second thought, Leto took off at a wild run, not daring to look back as she dashed blindly through the Woods, branches scratching at her bare arms and wet clothes. She pushed her hair out of her face, dodging the dark forms of trees that seemed to have transformed from inanimate wood to looming, malicious strangers. Nothing could save her now…
Leto broke out into a clearing, panting, looking wildly around her. She saw monsters in every warped shadow. She must be going crazy.
Oh, she was definitely crazy.
He walked toward her, concern in his dark eyes, white clothes seeming to glow in the black night.
“Are you okay?”
With wide eyes, Leto stared at the boy, her chest still rising and falling at an unnatural speed. She took in his handsome face, his black hair sweeping gently over his white forehead, his dark eyes seeming to reflect a starry sky.
“Who…” Leto gasped for air, though she wasn’t sure if it was from fear anymore. “Who are you?”
He smiled, and the night around her seemed to fade away. “Orcas. You’re from the village?”
Leto nodded, mesmerized by the boy’s seemingly-perfect features. “I’m Leto.”
“Leto.” Orcas’s eyes seemed to soften. “That’s a nice name… How have you come into the Woods? Don’t the villagers say it’s dangerous? Nobody comes here.”
That was a good point. “Why are you here? Who are you?”
Orcas held out a strong hand, and Leto found herself reaching out a hand automatically to take it. It was warm and gentle. Then he led her through the woods which seemed to have transformed yet again. Bright stars peeked through the trees above, and silver moonbeams began to play along the mossy ground.
“Do you live here?” Leto asked, swinging her arm with Orcas’s and smiling up at him.
He smiled back. “I do. It can get lonely, being here by yourself.”
Leto squeezed his hand. “You don’t have to be lonely. I can come back.”
Orcas led her slowly to a cave, where the opening seemed big enough to fit an elephant. As they stepped inside, Leto looked around at the stalactites like solid balloons with spikes through them, and holes in the wall like Braille.
For some reason, Leto found herself shuddering at the sight. She moved slightly closer to Orcas, who looked down at her and grinned comfortingly.
For a split-second the strange lighting made his face look warped and creepy, but then Leto blinked, and he was smiling again. She shrugged it off as a trick of the light, and then the questions started coming.
“So… do you know how the rumors about this started?” she asked.
He looked up. “However they did, I’m glad they didn’t deter you from coming.”
Suddenly Leto tripped, and Orcas quickly caught her in his strong arms. She found herself staring straight up into those enchanting dark eyes, and suddenly she knew only one thing.
“What people say isn’t true,” she whispered., putting out a hand to touch his face.
“No.” He smiled at her and lifted her chin gently. “It is.”
Nobody heard her screams for help.
Yup. I obviously got lazy at the end. But this is supposed to be a sort of allegory, where Orcas and/or the Woods represent Satan/sin, and Leto symbolizes the average person.
Everyone tells us how dangerous sin is. Leto doesn’t believe the rumors, and she wanders into the Woods by her own will, thinking she knows better than everyone else. When she first sees Orcas, his disguise of beauty fools her, but the brief glimpse of his face in the light shows his true warped features… yet Leto shrugs it off, seeing what she wants to see. She thinks she’s in love… but she’s trapped in the realm of death.