I wrapped the scarf tighter around my neck and shuddered from both the cold and fear. The dark hazel and oak trees of Withering Woods loomed over me, and threatened to swallow me up. I raised my dress till the hem brushed my ankles and slowly trudged through the thick, cold mud. The air reeked of death. The wind blew through my cloak, chilling me to the bone. Clumps of grass and ice surrounded the barren ground and the wood was unnervingly silent. I cursed loudly as my boot clad foot slipped on a large chuck of ice hidden under the vile mud.
Never before had I cause to enter Withering Woods. It was a cursed place, said to harbor the devil in its dark areas. I was always told to stay out of it. The trees were taller than the mill my family owned, and the leaves were cluttered together so closely, no light made it to the floor of the wood. Even in broad daylight, Withering Woods was darker than night.
I shivered slightly and hugged myself tightly. Earlier, at the market, it seemed that the only way to make it back to the mill before supper was to slush through Withering Woods but, now, my choice did not seem so wise. I had the faint sensation of being watched that sent a freezing claw of fear down my spine. I had stopped several times to inspect my surroundings but, there was nothing.
I placed a firm hand at the pouch at my waist. My mother ran an apothecary along with the mill and was in desperate need of root of wolfsbane. The blacksmith's son, a young lad in his twenties, had blood poisoning from being hit with a rusted hammer and needed a numbing to ease him into death. His screams echoed through the apothecary house and made its way into the mill where my younger sister and I slept.
For the first time, I noticed that there were no animal noises. No flapping of wings and cawing of raspy voices. No soft shuffle in the thick undergrowth. No nothing. The wood was as silent as death itself. I stiffened with fear and quickened my pace. Growing up in a small town like Quince was always good for learning basic survival skills. And survival skill number one was, if there are no animal sounds you are in danger.
I stumbled past a blackberry bush still ripe (almost spoiling) with berries. The townsfolk knew better than to enter Withering Woods for just a clump of blackberries. They'd rather starve this winter than enter the wood. Only fools and brave men entered Withering Woods. Mostly fools, even brave men were not brave enough. The wind whispered through the trees. It seemed to be saying, 'no, not brave enough, no'. I stifled my terror and began running.
The thick mud slowed my footfalls but, it was still enough. Enough to get me out of the Hell on Earth, as some townsfolk had wisely nicknamed Withering Woods. I had never felt such an intense desire to do something.
I slowed as I neared the exit. I sighed with relief and couldn't help but say, "I've done it! I'll make it home safely!" I had nearly forgotten the sensation of being watched but now, it hit me like a wave.
"Oh, I'm afraid you are not out yet," Said a voice from directly behind me. It was gaudy and as low as brass. It sent shivers of terror through my body. I slowly turned around to face its bearer and inhaled sharply. The man was not much older than me and dressed in deep crimson and pitch onyx; his hair short and a bit spiky resembled the color of rust or dried blood. His skin was slightly tanned and resembled the inside of a somewhat ripe peach, not something you would expect in the winter or this far up north where most of us here were as white as the snow, and his eyes were as black as coal and glimmered with strange amusement. He spread his lips in a grin, revealing a perfect white smile with sharp canines. But, what made me fear him the most were the huge curling ram horns that grew from the sides of his head and the forked tail that swished behind him.
I began shaking and my royal blue eyes opened wide with terror. The rumors were true! Withering Woods was home to the devil himself! I took a tentative step back, and he took a bold step forward and stood right in front of, my nose nearly brushed his chest. He stood a good head and a half taller than me and seemed to find this amusing. He placed his hands on his waist and grinned a grin full of pride.
"I am, of course, Lucifer. May I ask what your name is, fine woman?" he asked, leaning his face close to mine. His grin widened and he seemed to be greatly enjoying himself. It took me a second to realize it was because of my extreme fear and discomfort. He was practically wiggling with joy. For reason unknown to me, this scared me more than anything else. I felt a scream building in my throat but, it refused to exit. It took me a moment to process his question and even then, I was too stunned to answer and only managed to whisper my first name.
Lucifer wrinkled his nose and sighed, "Contains the word 'angel'. It must mean angel of light. Oh, how tragic! I only wish to be loved! Your name, so lovely, goes perfectly with your scrumptious appearance. Sadly, angels of light shun me. Alas, it seems that it is my own fault I was damned to be born as an angel of darkness! I am a ray of light trapped in a dark, yet handsome, body! Woe is me! No woman will ever accept one like me! Even though I am devilishly handsome, I am damned for all eternity to be womanless! Not even a human woman will love me! Oh, woe! Woe to all depraved souls such as myself! All women desire handsome angels of light but, there are handsome angels of darkness as well. I know the name of such a beautiful maiden cannot mean a magnificent angel of darkness, like me, can it?" He clasped his gloved hands to his chest in dramatic pain and closed his eyes.
I stared at him, mouth slightly agape. Fear had burned away and was now replaced by curiosity and disbelief. I was not sure if this was a figment of my imagination. Surely, the real Lucifer would have burned me to pieces by now for my countless sins? And surely, the real Lucifer would not be such a self-pitying fool? So, I did the unthinkable. I reached up and jabbed a finger on his cheek. Despite looking warm and sun kissed, his skin was colder than the bitter wind that blew now. He squirmed awkwardly and reached up to rub his cheek.
"That hurt!" he whined, sticking out his lower lip in a pout.
"Oh! I-I'm sorry. I w-wasn't s-sure if you w-were real." I stammered. He was very real.
Lucifer laughed, "Well, that's understandable; you don't see a man as beautiful as I every day!" I blinked. Well, seemed the devil was more narcissistic than he seemed in the bible.
"Now, what brings a lovely, young, girl such as yourself to a place like this?" he asked.
"I-I took an s-shortcut. I m-must get home." I said. I wasn't sure what to make of this situation. Would he let me go? I didn't know but, something seemed strange about this. Something was out of place. I just couldn't quite put my finger on what it was.
"Oh, did you now?" asked Lucifer. His eyes danced with hellish flames. "You see, I am not one for killing but, your soul smells so
succulent. I hunger for it. Mm
.I haven't eaten in eons. I haven't come across a woman like you before. I like sampling new dishes." His personality had changed dramatically. He was no longer the harmless narcissistic, he was danger.
"W-what?! B-but you s-said that y-you are l-light t-trapped in d-darkness!" I protested. I didn't dare move. He had a glint in his eyes that reminded me of a hungry animal.
Lucifer frowned, "I'm disappointed in you, Angela! I know your people preach to never trust the word of," he grinned, exposing his canines menacingly, "the devil." He advanced so fast I barely had time to blink. Time slowed to almost a stop. I could see the hungering look on his face and I could feel my own heart beating wildly in my chest.
Just before he was upon me, a stern voice as cold as snow said, "Lucifer, what on earth are you doing?" Lucifer came to a screeching stop. He whimpered with annoyance and whipped around.
"Raphael! You scared me!" Lucifer whined. I peeked around his body to get a better view of the other man.
I felt all the thoughts leave my mind. He was tall, taller than any other man I had ever seen, with long silver hair that ended at his waist. He was lanky but, obviously muscular from the way his pure white clothes strained against his body. His eyes were as silver as the precious metals and his skin as pale as a cloudy dawn. He had large white wings of an angel arching from his back that brushed the ground. His eyes were hard and unpitying as they bore into Lucifer.
"What. Are. You. Doing?" He asked, enunciating each word.
Lucifer proceeded in looking uncomfortable, "I was
.young lady directions
.?" It was more of a question than it was a statement. The man (or angel I should say) called Raphael crossed his arms over his chest and glared daggers at Lucifer.
"I heard the conversation. Do not think that I left you alone for even a moment." He said.
Lucifer's tail drooped and he shuffled over to where Raphael stood.
"Are you alright? He didn't do anything to you, did he?" asked Raphael. It took me a moment to realize that he was talking to me.
"Oh! No. I-I'm alright." I stared at him. I was definitely not alright. There was an angel standing before me with a devil at his side.
Raphael looked concerned, "Are you sure, you look a bit
shattered." I stared at him blankly. My mind did not seem to be working. I was in shock. I had seen this in the apothecary many times, it was when someone witnesses something extreme and they are unable to move, speak or do anything at all. They simply
Raphael sighed and glared at Lucifer, "Why did you show yourself to her?!"
"She's pretty! She smells wonderful! Her soul is pure!" said Lucifer grudgingly.
Raphael closed his eyes and sighed, "What an idiotic excuse." He reached into his pocket and withdrew toothpick.
"Do not make me use this, Lucifer!!" he threatened.
Lucifer flinched and whimpered, "No! Not that!"
you are afraid of a toothpick?" I said, snapping out of my momentary daze.
Raphael and Lucifer turned to look at me, it seemed they had already forgotten I was there, and Raphael smiled, "My dear lady, this is much more than an ordinary toothpick. This is my staff." Raphael brushed his fingertips over the wooden object and a light, silvery glow engulfed it. Raphael gently laid the now glowing toothpick on the hard ground and took a step back.
He hovered his hand over the toothpick and I watched with wide eyes as it gradually grew till it was more than 100 times larger than it was before! It flew into Raphael's hand, showering the cold ground with hot sparks. The staff was long, almost taller than Raphael, and plated in silver with a simple diamond at the end.
"Lucifer, apologize to Miss Angela, or face the wrath of my staff!" said Raphael. His eyes glowed with a dim light. A cold shiver ran down my spine. Lucifer sighed and turned to face me.
" he mumbled grudgingly.
i-it's q-quite alright!" I said. One day, and already I had seen many strange things. Or perhaps this was all a dream? I'd like to believe that.
"Now, Miss Angela, if you like, I can erase your memory and you will never have to think about this day again." Said Raphael with a smile. I almost collapsed with relief. I was not sure how many more surprises I could take.
"Please do erase my memory!" I said, a note of desperation in my voice.
"Of course," Said Raphael. "Please close your eyes, it will not hurt. I promise." I closed my eyes reluctantly and inhaled sharply when I felt his cold fingers brush my eyelids. My heart thudded in my chest and my breathing became shallow. A soft glow passed through my lids and shone in front of my eyes. Just as suddenly it had begun, it ended.
I opened my eyes, looked around, and to my utter and complete despair, I remembered everything.