The Haunted Woods

By: DazeDawning

Some people have a knack for finding strange things. Strange things always seem to find Zane Legends. Even when he tries to take a break from odd occurrences and mysterious situations, they follow him into whatever refuge he tries to conceal himself within and he ends up wishing he hadn't even tried in the first place. But that doesn't stop him from trying to relax once in a while.

On this day Zane was relaxing at the local park, watching worn-out looking ladies try to herd their offspring this way or that, or sweaty joggers in tight shorts huff their way by. It felt good not to be running for his life for once, though he found himself wishing he had a sandwich to help him while away the time. Failing food, he thought he could at least do with a person to tell some stories to. He still hadn't gotten to tell his most riveting tale yet. He touched the scar on his forehead and thought about the time he --

"Excuse me sir," a nervous-sounding old man interrupted his thought process and he looked up. The man was clutching an intricately carved walking cane and peering at Zane with the sort of intensity that only the needy can manage. Sighing, Zane sat up on the bench.

"What is it you want, my dear sir?"

"Well," the man said, jerkily adjusting his glasses, "I was hoping you'd help me find my daughter. You look like quite the adventurous type and no one round here seems to be of much use, and I do so miss her."

"How long has she been gone?" asked Zane.

The man clutched his cane tighter. "About a week now, I'd say. She didn't come home for dinner one night and I haven't seen her since. I swear the police are useless these days."

Zane nodded. "Then how can I help you, sir? I don't know anything about your daughter, what she looks like, or where she'd be. I don't know that I'll be of much help."

The old man straightened and looked up at him pleadingly. "I fear she's somehow disappeared into the haunted woods, sir. I don't dare go in there; they say that even the bravest adventurers go exploring in their depths and never ever return. But you look like an adventurer who's dealt with more than ghosts in his time."

Zane chuckled at that. The man was certainly correct on that point. "Fine," he said, "I'll have a look around for your daughter. I can't guarantee anything but I do hope to bring her back safely if it is within my power. Can you at least tell me her name and what she looks like?"

"Her name is Abigail, and she looks like an angel, I tell you. An absolute angel. Beautiful golden hair and lovely green eyes, a little shorter than me, you'll know her when you see her, trust me sir. I bid you the absolute best of luck, thank you so much for your time." The old man turned on his heel and trotted off, leaving Zane to contemplate his task.

He looked up at the sky to try to gauge the time. The sun appeared to be thinking about setting, but on the other hand he still had the hankering for a nice, big, delicious sandwich. In the end the sandwich won out and he headed back to town, leaving the task of looking for the girl for that evening.

Belly full and lantern purchased from the local market, Zane headed confidently out to the edge of what the old man had referred to as the haunted woods. Sketches of other adventurers with "MISSING" plastered across their faces were tacked to the outskirting trees, waving and rattling in the wind as if trying to warn off anyone stupid enough to follow their tracks. However, Zane was indeed that stupid and marched into the forest with maybe a second thought but not even close to a third.

He picked his way over the branches that crisscrossed the path through the forest, careful to keep his lantern up and steady. He wasn't sure quite what he was looking for; maybe some sign of human habitation or perhaps some bread crumbs, But in any case, so far there was nothing but forest, and certainly nothing supernatural come to take his life. He walked in silence for several minutes before the trees thinned out and he came into a clearing.

At first he thought the clearing was natural, but almost immediately he saw the light of the lantern glinting off a series of worn stones and the fence that surrounded him. This wasn't a clearing at all, he realized, it was a graveyard. No wonder the man had claimed the forest haunted, but also no real reason to fear the forest. Curious, he crept closer and unlatched the gate.

Once again he wasn't sure what he was looking for. A graveyard was no place to start the search for a live girl. But as he glanced over the carvings on the stones, he noticed one near the edge of the graveyard that caught his eye, It appeared to be freshly dug. He leaned in with the lantern and read out the name Abigail Croftley, age 17.

This didn't make any sense to Zane. It couldn't be the same girl, and even if it was, how could she have been buried without the knowledge of her father? Why wouldn't he have been notified if she had been found dead and buried? If this WASN'T the same girl, where WAS the Abigail that the old man had been so dearly missing? The questions piled up in Zane's mind, circling around and demanding answers. Before he could come up with any, however, the snap of a twig in the forest behind him caused him to whirl around, eyes searching the dark for any hint of what was there.

To his surprise, he saw a pair of thick glasses reflecting the light of his lantern, and a pair of beady eyes behind. Zane recognized these as belonging to the old man he had agreed to help, and so he straightened up and let out the breath he had been holding as he called out to him.

"Hello there! I came looking for your daughter, but I don't think I've found any evidence leading to her yet. I thought you never came out to this forest?"

Zane could see nothing of the man but his glasses and his eyes, but he could hear the dry chuckle that seemed unbefitting of such a nervous-seeming man.

"Oh, you've found her all right. Isn't she an angel?" The chuckle sounded less restrained now, as if the old man was trying to conceal some very entertaining joke.

"I..." To say Zane was confused would be an incredible understatement. "What are you trying to accomplish with all this?"

"Oh, me?" came the voice of the old man, who to Zane's dismay sounded as if he were approaching. "I'm just a nobody, just a ghost. Just like my daughter and all the folks like you who came looking for her before. I can't just let her be lonely you see."

A cold trickle ran down Zane's spine. "I'm not afraid of ghosts."

The man's voice was very close now. "You should be."

Zane heard the sound of metal being unsheathed and jumped back, dropping his lantern with a curse of "Sausages" under his breath. It didn't go out, thankfully, but he was still limited to the wan light of a flickering flame to see the crooked figure of the man who was quite obviously trying to kill him. He drew his own blade but was unwilling to strike first, still thinking of the image of the pleading old man who had waylaid him in the park. But soon he didn't have a choice but to defend himself as the man struck out again and again, with no real technique but surprising strength.

Zane wasn't sure what to do. He could barely parry attacks in such pitch-black but he didn't want the blood of an old man on his sword, however crazy. But after a few more clashes of steel the old man tried to charge and the choice was made for him. He stepped to the side with the nimbleness of a swordsman and shoved the old man past him, who kept going and tripped, falling headfirst onto the tombstone of his daughter, head colliding with a sickening thud. He remained still for a few seconds and Zane thought he was dead until he heard him muttering to himself. Something about an angel. Feeling sick but wanting to leave before the man came to, Zane picked up his fading lantern and made his way out of the forest, determined never to go back there ever again.

Genre: Mystery
Setting: At a park
Character: Old person