by Meahgan Ferral

In the dark of the woods, where sunbeams rarely kissed the ground and strangers never stepped, there was a small community, tucked away in the leaves and branches and dirt. I’ve lived my life there, in a cabin with my parents and sister. The two of us spent our childhood roaming beneath the trees with our parents at our heels, whispering in our ears to never wander too far, to never stray beyond the confines of the small community, and to never wonder too hard what lay beyond. 

The community peppered the dark of the woods, little cabins mounted between thick tree trunks, each with a family inside. Together we hunted and gathered and dined and aged and lived and died. We were the descendants of ancient travelers who traveled no more, who rooted themselves in the dark of the woods and never left. It was here that they discovered the earth gods, encased in great statues, their bodies stiff and unmoving, holy and leering, standing among the trees. One was carved of wood, the other of stone. It was these deities who had convinced them to stay, who gifted them with new knowledge and the promise of protection. 

Many years had passed since then. The deities of wood and stone did not speak as they used to; our Elders, those with knowledge of divine rituals, were the only ones who communicated with them now. The rest of us were left to live in the shadows of those great, silent statues, who stood in the very center of our community. I often feared this was all that was left of the world, the dark of the woods and nothing else. It seemed that way; we were never sought, nor were we ever found. Nor did anyone ever leave. 

This community was all I knew, all my parents knew, and all my grandparents knew. We worshiped those dormant gods, beseeching them with our rituals and prayers, same as the generations before us. There were very few new things in the dark of the woods. 

One day, in the rusted depths of autumn, this changed. I had ventured out to the surrounding areas of the community, where our hunters set traps for hares and deer. It was my responsibility to check those traps and to bring back the animals they ensnared. I often took my time with this task, savoring the time to myself, time away from the community and the glaring gods and the mundanity of it all. On this day, there was an impossibly small, impeccably white hand poking through the moist ground, just to the side of one of the carefully laid traps. I unearthed it with gentle care, sensing its fragility, and soon a little statue appeared from the dirt, with porcelain clay skin as pale as my own, marred only by a startling crack running from her left brow to her right cheek. Her face was youthful and crafted with love, her eyebrows and mouth painted with the careful strokes of a steady hand. She wore a dress, riddled with holes and grime, her hair matted and knotted together atop her head. Her light eyes winked open when I set her upright, and closed when I set her flat. She was the height of my forearm, just a little thing, out here in the dark of the woods, disrupting my narrow slit of a reality, ripping my world just a little wider. She was beautiful. 

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About the Author

Meahgan Ferral is in her first semester of the Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing Graduate Program at Emerson College. She holds a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and is certified to excavate archaeological sites, though she has an aversion to dirt. When she’s not writing spooky stories or listening to Taylor Swift, you can find her at a museum studying folklore or obsessing about the latest Mike Flanagan project.