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Oh…what in the world had I been thinking?! How had I not seen any of them leave? Had I been that focused on the phone not to notice my five sisters leaving the apartment? It didn't matter that Grandma was sick. I had distinctly told them not to leave in order to visit her on their own!

So, of course, what happens? They all leave when I'm not looking! I swear, sometimes I don't know if there's anything rational going on inside their heads! I suppose I didn't have to be too worried about Carmen, or even Ruby. Most of the time, they know what they're doing.

But what about Ginger? What about Rose?

What about Robin?

Ugh, I am such an idiot! Why do I have to be the oldest? Why did Mom make me the one in charge? Do they like tormenting me like this? Do they think it's fun to make me worry? If Mom found out that I let the others wander off by themselves, she was going to kill me!

And yes, I would be the only one to take the rap. It wouldn't matter that the others felt the need to deliberately disobey and wander off on their own. No, it would be all Scarlet's fault, because she's the one who's supposed to take care of everything!

Ugh!

If I didn't love them so much, I would probably actually think about just leaving them all in these stupid woods.

It was bad enough that they had caused me to have to stray off from the path that led directly to Grandma's. But the idea that some—if not all—of them probably wandered off into the woods surrounding the path (the woods that are notoriously easy to get lost in, I may add) was enough to drive me mad with worry. I'd already had to make breakfast and lunch, clean up the books Rose and Ginger left out, fold that load of laundry, play cars with Robin, help Rose feed her rabbit (I swear, she'd forget all about it if I wasn't there), and help Carmen with her math homework. I did not need this!

Why would any of them want to come into these woods anyway? It's full of bugs and moss and cobwebs. It's disgusting!

Ginger probably left without her shoes again. She's going to be filthy when I find her! Why does she have to be so rough? And Rose…I swear, her head's up in the clouds so much, she would probably fall right into a lake and not realize it until it was too late. Not that there was a lake in this forest…right?

And what of Robin? That poor little girl has no idea how dangerous the forest could be! She loves wolves, for heaven's sake; she'd probably jump on one's back if she had the chance. As for Ruby and Carmen…I'm worried about them both. Ruby has been so distant lately; I know it's because of that leg brace. What can I do to show her that she's beautiful without that white face and heavy eyeliner? And Carmen…I love her, but my God! What does she hope to accomplish by strutting around and winking at every random guy she passes on the street? Does she not know how dangerous that is?

Oh…either way, complaining isn't going to help me now. Right now, I have to focus on keeping my wits about me and finding them all before something terrible happens. And then, maybe I would take them all to see Grandma together.

There was plenty of time to punish them later.

My God, why would any of them want to go in this place? What is the big deal? All that's out here are a bunch of flowers and trees. It's so boring! Here they were, all of them probably wasting precious time, when we could all be doing something productive!

Well, I could be doing something productive anyway…

Oh…what's this? It looks like a field of flowers. Wait a minute…some of that grass looks stomped down. Maybe…was Ginger here? But wait…it looks like there are two sets of footprints here. Maybe one of the others was with her?

Well, if Ginger was here, she isn't now. Figures she'd be romping around somewhere. She's just so reckless sometimes…she's going to get hurt!

But right now, I guess all I can do is keep walking. I would have to run into one of them eventually. I mean, these woods don't go on forever, right?

After wandering through trees for what seemed like another hour, I've come across something else. It's a campsite. Now this is odd. Who on Earth would want to camp out in the middle of these woods? There is literally nothing around for miles!

That's when I notice something else. In one of the trees, there's an axe stuck in it; a red and black hat hangs off the end stuck in the tree. A few tents are set up, but that isn't the other thing that catches my eye. There is a campfire going, with a crate next to it. Scattered around the crate are opened beer cans. Even from where I'm standing, I can still see the condensation.

These cans had been opened recently.

Oh, God. Didn't I once hear Carmen say that she wondered what beer tasted like? What if someone from the camp gave it to her to drink? What if it was some crazy axe-wielding maniac who took advantage of my sister?!

No! Get it together, Scarlet! There's a logical explanation for all this. I'm in a forest. There's a campfire. Of course they're going to need to chop wood to keep that campfire going. All these cans were probably from whoever's camping here. There's a possibility that Carmen was never here…

Right?

Okay…now is not the time to panic. I have to stay in control. I have to. I'm big sister Scarlet. I'm the responsible one. I can't be scared. I can't be sad. Mom said so.

I would never go against what Mom wanted.

And yet…I can't help but notice my old piano books whenever I put the girls' books back on the shelves…

Oh, now isn't the time to think about that! I have five missing sisters to find! I need to keep going!

I walk away from the campsite, continuing to move forward. If there was something else in these woods, other than my sisters, I was not about to let it see any fear from me. I march forward in what I feel is a confident matter. I definitely feel confident.

At least…I'm pretty sure I do…

Oh, what's that on those trees there? It looks like…laundry?

Well, I'd better go fold it up and put it away.

I walk right over to the laundry hanging on a line tied between two trees. I unhook the large, white sheet from the line, and begin to shake it out. Once I get this done, I should probably help Ruby reorganize her part of the room, and then I need to tidy up Ginger's feather collection, and—

Whoa.

Wait a minute.

What am I doing?

Why did I suddenly just go up to a random clothesline with laundry on it and start to fold it? When did that suddenly become an automatic response to me? When did something like this become so important that I couldn't even let a random pile of clothes in the woods go unfolded?

This was almost…a little sad. Maybe Ginger was right; maybe I did need to get out more…

No! I-It's not like I have a choice. None of the other girls know how to do laundry yet. I'm just doing what's asked of me. I know Mom works so hard. It wouldn't be fair to put all the work on her.

It's better if I take care of everything anyway. I don't need any help…

Suddenly, I hear a rustling behind me. I whirl around, thinking it's one of my sisters, but nobody's there. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot something. No…someone.

I've never seen this girl before. Her skin is much darker than mine. Her hair is in pigtails. She's wearing a white dress, and knee-high brown boots. She's standing next to that tree over there.

I take a few cautious steps forward. "Excuse me…" I start.

This seems to get the girl's attention. She looks right at me. However, what she does next, I do not expect: she waves at me, and suddenly begins running in the opposite direction.

"What?" I ask. It then hits me that I may lose this girl. I start running after her. "Wait!" I call as I run. "Don't go! Have you seen my sisters?"

But the girl doesn't stop. I have no idea how this happened. One minute, I was wandering around these woods at a slow, steady pace (my preferred pace, of course), and the next, I was chasing this random girl who suddenly appeared out of thin air.

I weave in and out of the trees as I run, almost running right into a couple in the process; thankfully, I can still see the girl pretty clearly, since her dress stands out in the dark forest. I see her disappear through a large bush. I feel like I'm close to catching up with her. I run through the same bushes…

And nearly fall flat on my face. I screech to a halt in shock. Against all logic, the girl has completely vanished.

Well, this is just great! That didn't help at all! Not only have I wasted energy chasing this girl, but I'm probably even more lost than before! I'm still no closer to finding any of them! Can anything else go wrong today?

Wait…what is that? It sounds so familiar. But…it can't be! Not out here! It's a forest!

And yet…is that Mozart I hear?

Wait a minute…if I was hearing Mozart…a person had to be playing it.

But wait! It couldn't have been one of the girls. None of them know how to play the piano like that! They were never into piano the way I am…

Was. They were never into piano the way I was. Excuse me.

Anyway…even if it wasn't one of the girls, someone had to be playing that music. They must have seen one of them running around.

I have to find where that's coming from. The sooner all this nonsense can end, the better.

As I walk toward the music, I begin to think about how for the most part, I've been able to navigate this forest without much problem. I'm not sure how; all these trees look the same to me. Either I have really good instincts I never knew about, or I'm just extremely lucky.

Quite frankly, I can't see how either of those choices would be accurate. I am a person of discipline and rules. There is nothing more important than keeping everything organized and following rules. Things like instinct and luck have nothing to do with it.

Anyway, I know I'm getting closer to whoever or whatever's making this music because it's getting louder.  Maybe now I can get to the bottom of this.

Yes…I'm getting closer! I can see something through those trees! It actually looks a little familiar. Almost like…

A theater? In the middle of the forest? Seriously? Well…I guess it does make a little sense…If there was ever a place to have a piano out here, a theater would be it.

But then…who's playing the piano?

Oh…my…

Who is that? Who wears a coat like that? Who has hair like that? It's past his shoulders!

It…is a man, right? I can't tell; they're facing away from me.

Oh…they stopped playing the piano. Too bad, it was good…I guess.

They're…they're getting up. Good lord, it is a man. He's…he's coming this way!

Wh-why do I care? I have better things to do than worry about men, anyway. They're all uncivilized Neanderthals, anyway. Not worth my time whatsoever. Though, I suppose anyone with that kind of musical ability can't be that bad…

WHOA. No. Just…no. Focus, Scarlet. You've got five missing sisters, and no idea where any of them are. This is not the time to be ogling some random man in the woods. All you need to know from him is whether or not he's seen any of them. No big deal.

See? He's just standing against that light post. No big deal. Just go up and ask him, Scarlet. If you can take care of five sisters without any problems, you can do this.

I walk up to the man and clear my throat. "Excuse me…" I say, "I'm looking for my sisters. You haven't seen any girls wearing red clothes around here, have you?"

The man glances at me, but doesn't say anything. He looks away from me just as quickly.

That…wasn't the response I was hoping for. "Excuse me?" I repeated, taking a few steps closer. "Did you hear what I asked you?"

The man gives another glance at me, and lifts up his wrist and looks at it. He still doesn't answer me.

…Seriously? He's not even wearing a watch! This is so like a man; can't even answer a simple question!

"Typical male pig," I say, loud enough for him to hear, as I stomp away from him.

Walking away from the man leads me right onto the stage where the piano is. But there's something else up there as well. As I walk closer to it, I see that it's a mask.

Hmm…everyone seems to hide behind masks. Metaphorical masks, of course, but masks nonetheless. In the end…that's probably for the best.

Before I can stop myself, my gaze drifts to the piano. I can hear it calling me. It wants me to play it so bad. But…no! This isn't the time for useless thoughts like that! There's no point! I have better things to do! More important things!

With that, I turn away from the (beautiful) instrument, and prepare to keep marching forward in order to find my sisters. I can do this. I know I can do this. I can't worry about what I want to do right now. I need to find my sisters…



Well…maybe just one song wouldn't hurt.

I walk over to the piano and sit down. Memories immediately begin flooding back. Memories I haven't been able to think about for a while because…I've been busy with other things. My hands automatically go to the familiar positions, and without even thinking, I begin playing a song.

But…something's not right. Even though I haven't had lessons for a while, I know something's not right. I know this song by heart. I can play it perfectly; I know all the notes forwards and backwards.

So…why does the song feel so…empty?

Suddenly, I feel something come up behind me. At the same time, a cluster of notes is played on the piano.

I would not have been able to play those notes from my current hand positions.

I gasp, and abruptly stop the song. I look up and see an unexpected sight. The man is standing over me, his right hand on the group of keys that had unexpectedly played. He's looking at me…as if he's expecting me to do something.

Is he…trying to play with me?

Even though I wasn't feeling good about the song, I have enough sense left to continue where I stopped. As I play, I begin to feel self-conscious; I don't really feel comfortable with this guy looming over my shoulder.

And yet…he's following my playing without a problem. He's not telling me that it sounds wrong, or that my technique is off. He's just following me. With one hand, no less.

The next thing I know, the song ends. But I don't feel any better.

"Ugh…" I groan, putting my head in my hands. "That sounded horrible."

I hear another noise where the guy is. I glance over, and…

Oh, great. Now he's sitting next to me. And he clearly knows that I'm looking at him, because he's looking at me.

"Aren't you going to say how bad it sounded?" I ask.

He doesn't answer. Instead, he reaches up and taps his throat with a finger.

Oh.

Oh.

He can't talk.

And…I snapped at him for it.

I swallow a lump in my throat; suddenly I feel even more horrible. "I…apologize for my behavior earlier." For some reason, these words feel weird on my tongue. "I'm just…frustrated, I guess. I've looked all over these woods, but I can't find any of them." I shake my head. "Even if I don't always like taking care of them…they're still my sisters, and I love them to pieces. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if something happened to them. Mom would never let me live it down; I know that."

In the back of my mind, I realize that I'm saying a lot more than I had wanted to say to this guy, and yet…I can't stop.

"I guess…I'm just tired. I'm tired of having to do everything by myself. I'm tired of everyone expecting me to be perfect all the time. I know I'm the oldest, but…it's not like they're completely helpless. It wouldn't hurt for one of them to help out once in a while. Why do they get to do everything they want, when I had to give up studying art and playing the piano so I could take care of them?" I shake my head. "I mean, you heard how that sounded. I played it perfectly, but…there's no feeling. There's no beauty in it. I've been so focused on taking care of my sisters and trying to do everything perfectly for Mom all these years, I've forgotten how it feels to put emotion into my art.

"All I can think about these days is folding laundry, and making food, and picking things up, and how they all feel. It's like I can't feel anything anymore. I know this isn't healthy for me…" I bow my head. "But what can I do?"

Suddenly, my head is tilted up, and the next thing I know, I'm looking right into his eyes. His pretty…green…eyes…

Wait. Why is he touching my face? Why does my face feel wet?

Am I…crying?

"Ah…" I bring my own hands up to my face. It…is wet. I am crying.

Maybe…things really aren't as perfect as I thought.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I'm dumping all this on you, and I don't even know your name…"

The guy suddenly takes my right hand and holds it palm-up. With his other hand, he begins running a finger over my palm.

Oh…he's writing something!

F…E…Y…

"…Fey?" I ask, looking up at him. "That's your name?"

The guy smiles and nods.

"Well, that's…unique," I say, not able to think of a better response.

As much as I was actually enjoying this guy's company…I have to remain focused. Robin, Rose, Ginger, Ruby, and Carmen were still in the woods somewhere. And I needed to find them.

I couldn't have fun anymore.

"Fey, I'm sorry…" Suddenly, an even bigger lump develops in my throat; it takes all my strength to swallow it back down. "But, I really have to go…"

I begin to stand up from the bench. But as I do, I feel a sudden grip on my wrist. I look down; Fey has a grip on me. He's looking up at me, as if he's expecting something to happen.

"Fey, please…" I said, trying to break free from his grip. "I can't stay…" Suddenly, my face feels wet again. My breathing is becoming short. "I can't…I just can't!"

Now I know I'm crying. And it's not just because I was worried about my sisters. I've had to sacrifice things that I've wanted in order to make it easier for Mom and to take care of the others. And I've had to do it by myself all these years. I had absolutely no time to myself; even when I was alone, all I could think about was how my sisters were doing and all the chores I still needed to get done. I couldn't even play real music anymore. Sure, I could play it perfectly from a structural sense, but that doesn't matter if you don't have any feeling for the music you're playing. I don't care if that sounds selfish; these are my feelings, and there is no denying them anymore. It feels like just because I'm nineteen years old, I'm not supposed to acknowledge the fact that my feelings were being hurt. It wasn't having to do work that I was mad about; it was the fact that I was having to do it all by myself. But like I said…what could I do to change it?

At the same time, I can't help but think how surreal this whole thing is. I've had to enter this seemingly forbidden forest, searching for all of my sisters who, for whatever reason, wandered off to visit Grandma, and all of a sudden I'm pouring my heart out to some guy I've just met, who hasn't even said one word to me.

As I stand there, unable to stop my tears, I am just able to make out Fey slowly standing up from the bench; he's still holding onto my wrist. Then, without warning, something happens: Fey yanks on my wrist, causing me to stumble forward right into him. He wraps an arm around my body so I cannot move away.

Panic suddenly bursts through my body. "What are you doing?!" I exclaim.

Now I'm crying for a different reason. I knew this was too good to be true! Fey was going to hurt me! He was just like any other guy! He was going to have his way with me and then throw me away when he was done, just like a…a toy!

But, once again, Fey does something I do not expect: he raises his free hand up, and…

I feel something sink into my back. It felt like…pins!

"Wh…what…?" I try to speak, but my voice stops working on me. I begin to feel my legs giving out under me. Even with the adrenaline from panic coursing through me, I could tell I was losing acuity…fast.

The last thing I remember is the feeling of my body going completely limp in Fey's arms.

Then everything goes black.

---

Where…where am I?

This place feels familiar, but it…still feels different. There's furniture here, but it's all covered by white sheets. Well…that could keep the dust out, sure. But, right now, everything just feels so…blank.

Suddenly, the reason this room feels so familiar clicks. This is Grandma's foyer! But…why does it look like this? I've never seen Grandma put sheets over her furniture. What is going on?

"Grandma?" I call out. No answer. Maybe she can't hear me; her bedroom is pretty far from the foyer. I walk into the next room; the one with the refrigerator in it.

Or, at least…the fridge is supposed to be here. Where is it? It's supposed to be right there!

"Grandma?" I call again. "What happened to the refrigerator?"

I head toward the stairs leading to the next level of the house. That's when I realize something else: if I somehow made it here, maybe my sisters were here too!

"Robin!" I say as I walk up the stairs. "Rose! Ginger! Ruby! Carmen! It's me, Scarlet! Are you here?"

No answer.

When I get to the top of the stairs, I see a strange sight: there are little plastic food bins stacked in rows on the floor. Now who on Earth could have done this?

"Ginger?" I say. "Are you here? Did you and Rose get these food bins out?" Still nothing. "Girls? Grandma? Anyone? Answer me!"

Nothing. I look around; the door to Grandma's library is open. Looks like I'm going that way.

I peer into the library. "Hello?" I call out. I take a step into the room…

And in a split second, everything changes. The little room full of shelves with books on them suddenly stretches out, becoming ten times bigger. All the books that were on the shelves were suddenly stacked up on the floor.

"What on Earth!" I exclaim. "Those don't go there!"

Without thinking, I run over to a pile of books, intending to pick them up and put them away, as usual. But…my hands go right through the books! I can't touch any of them!

What in the world is going on?! This
is Grandma's house…right?

Suddenly, I hear a creaking. I look up; the door in front of me has opened. That door led to…the music room! My favorite room in Grandma's house (not that I would easily admit it). Hoping for some serenity, I quickly get up, and run into the next room.

I am horrified by what I see. All of Grandma's instruments…they're flying around the room. The piano's lid is flapping up and down; it looks like it's going to rip off the hinges! The guitar, the violin, the trumpet…they're all sailing around the room, bouncing off the walls! Was this…some sort of poltergeist?

"Stop!" I yell out. I run through the room, trying to grab at any instrument I can to make it stop. But…I can't get a grip on anything here either!

Just then, another door opens. This one leads to the hall that leads to Grandma's room.

Grandma! If all this craziness was happening to the rest of the house…what if something happens to Grandma?

I give up on trying to catch the instruments and run out the door. In the hallway, I immediately notice that something's still off. It's…glowing green! Maybe it really
was a ghost!

"Grandma!" I yell as I begin to run to her room. "Grandma! Answer me! Tell me you're okay!"

The more I ran, the more the hallway seemed to become longer and longer. Was this…a dream?

No, this couldn't be a dream. This was more like a nightmare!

Finally, I make it to the door at the end of the hall. Without hesitating, I grab the doorknob, nearly ripping the door off its hinges as I throw it open. The panic is back full-force.

"GRANDMA!" I yell, running in. But as soon as I enter, I stop dead in my tracks.

Grandma's room is gone. She's not there. Instead, fog rolls across the floor. There's a big white curtain, and two spotlights. The curtain begins to rise…revealing…

A stage?

In Grandma's bedroom?

Even though I'm now feeling a mixture of panic and confusion, I couldn't help but be awestruck. There it was. Just what I always wanted. A stage, all to myself. Just for me. Somewhere I could perform, to do what I wanted, and not have to worry about Mom, or my sisters, or anyone else.

I want to get up there. I want to know how it feels. Just once. This may be my only chance!

I take a couple steps forward. It's so close, I can taste it.

Suddenly, my arms jerk up. Something yanks on my legs, pulling me back. I do not expect this at all. Now what's happening? I try pulling myself forward, but it's no use. I realize that something has attached itself to my arms and legs, and it was fighting me.

I try to struggle against whatever's attached itself to me, but it keeps pulling. Suddenly, I hear something that makes my struggling stop altogether:

"Scarlet…it hurts. It bit me, Scarlet. It tore up my coat. I'm scared…"

I frantically swing my head around. I know without a doubt who that was, but I can't see anyone.

"Robin?" I call out. Instead, a different voice answers.

"Sissy…I can't breathe. It's everywhere. It won't stop. Help me Sissy…"

"Rose?" I answer. At the same time, my body is pulled back again; I begin to struggle again. "I-it's okay! I'm here! Scarlet's here! Don't be scared!"

"What? You can't be Scarlet. You don't act anything like Scarlet. Not that how she usually acts is any better…"

"Ginger!" I respond to the third voice. "It's me! I'm Scarlet! I'm still me!"

"Yeah, right. Scarlet abandoned us. She let all of us die in those woods. You telling us that you're the same Scarlet who did that?"

My blood goes cold. "That's not true!" I say to Ruby's voice. "I went to look for you all! I've been worried sick about you!"

"Well, obviously not worried enough. You can barely take care of everything at home. What made you think you could save all of us? You should have tried harder!"

"Carmen!" I begin pleading. I try jerking my arms forward again. "Please! I tried as hard as I can!" I know I'm not just talking about my search for them. "Besides, I told all of you that you shouldn't try going to Grandma's on your own! Why didn't you listen to me?"

"So now you're blaming your sisters for your mistakes, Scarlet? Do you hate them
that much?"

I freeze. I definitely know that voice. But I've only heard it with that much hate and malice only in my worst nightmares. When I speak, it comes out in a squeak:

"Mom?"

My body is jerked back again, this time violently. I almost fall to the floor. It finally occurs to me that I can look back and see what exactly is attached to me. However, when I finally do look back, I definitely do not like what I see.

There is a long, shiny string tied around each of my arms and legs. It looks like fishing line, or even…

Puppet strings.

My gaze goes up higher, hoping I could see what the other end of the strings is attached to. Then, I see it. The strings are hooked to a stick structure; the kind that control marionettes. And holding the structure was a giant hand.

It was Mom's hand.

I let out a scream. I have never screamed like that in my life; but now, all that was running through my mind was pure, unadulterated panic at its worse.

Then, I hear Mom's voice again.

"I am
very disappointed in you, Scarlet. I give you one little job to do, and you can't even do that right? Can you do anything right?"

"N-no, Mom, please!" I start begging. "I did everything you asked! I was watching them! I was!"

"Oh, now you're lying to me? If you were watching them, why have I found you here? I made it clear that you would have to give up these silly aspirations of art and music because I needed you to help with your sisters. So not only do you not care about them, do you not care about me? Is that what you're saying?"

"No! Mom, please, listen to me! I've been trying my hardest! But…but I can't do it alone! The girls are getting older; I think they should be able to help out once in a while! And…and why should I have to give up what I want to do with my life completely? It's not like they're never going to learn how to take care of themselves! I need to have a life too, Mom! I can't just take care of the others and do housework the rest of my life; I'm going to go crazy! You…you're not being fair!"

There. I said it. It was in pure hysteria, but I said it. And, as I had always feared, Mom's voice becomes even colder than it had already been.

"How
dare you. You ungrateful, selfish child. How dare you speak to me that way! You think you can just disobey me and let your sisters wander off, just to satisfy your selfish desires?" Suddenly, the strings attached to me jerk again; this time, straight up. "Well, maybe it's time I taught you a lesson!"

Suddenly, I no longer feel the ground under my feet. I look down, and my heart flip-flops. Mom is lifting me off the ground by the strings!

"You wouldn't be able to play that piano without your fingers," Mom's voice continues. "Maybe I should just CUT THEM OFF!"

No…NO! She can't do that! I…I won't let her! I
can't let her!

"Grandma!" I call out desperately. "Rose! Robin! Carmen! Ruby! Ginger!" To my despair, nobody answers. I feel myself being lifted higher, and higher, and higher! Now completely desperate, I only have enough strength left to say one last word:

"HELP!"

The instant after I shout out, I hear another sound; it sounds like…a knife swishing through the air. At the same time, I hear another sound: the strings snapping. Without warning, my body begins falling back toward the floor…

But before I hit the ground, something breaks my fall. It feels like someone has caught me. Whoever it was, after they catch me, they gently set me on the floor. My panic has been replaced with an almost-overwhelming wave of relief. I look up, intending to thank my savior…

Only to have my eyes meet a pair of white…pupil-less ones.

I jump, gasping at the same time. That's when I see something else:  the person's fingernails…they're claws! They look like a cat's! Was this really the person who saved me? No, it can't be…this is a monster! But then, I feel my heart nearly stop when I realize who exactly is standing in front of me.

Staring down at me with soulless eyes and claws that look like they can rip me open is Fey.

I hold my hand out in front of me, in a feeble attempt to defend myself. "N-no…" I whimper. "P-please…
please…"

Fey suddenly begins to bend down; my body tenses up. But, instead of reaching for me, he picks up something else. When Fey gets back up, he is holding one of the broken strings, still attached to my arm. He looks back down at me.

Something in me clicks.

"You…" is all I can say. But it was enough. I knew the truth. Fey had cut those strings; he had saved me from my own mother, as disturbing as that sounds.

My energy was now officially drained. I had nothing left. I slowly let myself fall backwards, so I was now facing the ceiling, the fog on the floor slowly beginning to creep around me.

The last thing I see as my eyes flutter shut is Fey still standing over me, looking straight down at my face.


---

My eyes shoot open. I feel something cold falling down on my face. No, not just my face; my whole body. It takes me a moment to register what it is: rain.

As I try to get up, my body feels heavy. Maybe from the rain pounding down on it? Then, I realize that the ground doesn't feel like ground anymore; it's hard, almost like…wood!

I look down. Sure enough, I'm lying on a white, wooden pathway. The exact same pathway in front of Grandma's house! But…wasn't I in the woods? At that theater? How did I get to Grandma's?

I hear a noise behind me; I whip my head around to see what it was. My eyes widen.

It's Fey. But he actually looks normal again. No soulless-looking eyes, no claws. But…he's holding something.

"Fey?" I ask quietly.

Fey slowly lifts up his hand with the item in it. As he holds it up, I can see what it is. I become dumbstruck.

Fey is holding a marionette stick structure. The strings attached to it are broken.

"Is…" I sputter, pointing a shaky hand at the structure. "Is that…?"

Of course, Fey doesn't answer me. Even so, I do not expect what he does next: Fey squeezes the structure, causing it to snap in two in his hand. The two broken pieces fall to the ground in front of him.

So…Fey not only cut those puppet strings…but he just…

Oh my God. He…he did this for me.

I can't believe it.

Even with the rain pouring down, I still feel the warm tears beginning to leak from my eyes.

"Thank you," I manage to whisper.

In return, Fey smiles and nods; he heard me. I watch as he turns around and walks back into the trees, disappearing into the forest.

For the first time in a long time…I actually feel peaceful.

"SCARLET!"

Without warning, something crashes into me from behind, almost knocking me down again. When I look down, I see an unmistakable red coat with its arms wrapped around my waist. Then I look up; relief washes over me as I see Rose, Ginger, Ruby, and Carmen running toward me. But I immediately turn my attention back to Robin, who has begun babbling.

"Oh Scarlet, Scarlet, Scarlet! I'm so sorry! I know you told me not to go visit Grandma on my own, but I did anyway! An' then I saw a bird go into the woods, so I chased after it, but I found a cemetery an' I saw a cute wolf there so I went to play with it, but it wasn't cute at all! It was scary! An' then I was in Grandma's house, but there were claw marks all over the place, an' there was a big hole in the ground in Grandma's room, an' the wolf pushed me into it an' started burying me! I was so scared! I'm sorry, Scarlet. I'm sorry I was such a bad little sister! I'll never go off by myself again! Please don't be mad!"

I can't believe what I'm hearing. Poor little Robin is terrified. But…there was a wolf in the woods? Like, an actual wolf? Thank God she's okay! And…a hole in Grandma's room? It…almost sounds like Robin had a nightmare. Kind of like…my nightmare.

Wait a minute…

I look up at my other sisters, who are hovering around us. "Are you all okay?" I manage to ask.

Rose shuffled her feet. "Um…I found a lake in the forest. But I wasn't paying attention and almost fell in. I thought I saw a man floating above the water. But then…I was in Grandma's house and all the rooms filled up with water. I was really scared. Sissy, I've decided that I'm going to pay more attention to things now. I'll…I'll even start taking care of Bunny by myself if you want. I don't ever wanna make a mistake like that again, Sissy. Not breathing was scary."

Ginger looks at Rose. "You saw a man floating above a lake?" she asks. "I never saw a lake. But I did find a field of flowers. There was another girl there, too. We made crop circles. It was pretty fun. Those crows watching us were kinda creepy though…" Ginger's face scrunched up. "And then…I was in Grandma's house, but there was this black thread all over the place, and the guest bedroom where my old toys are was huge. And Grandma's bedroom was full of barbed wire and crow feathers. It was weird." She shrugs. "But still…you went into the woods to look for us, right Sis? I gotta admit, that was gutsy."

Ruby bends her braced leg. "I…found a playground in the woods. There was a guy there, smoking. He offered me a cigarette…I think. When I looked up again, I was in Grandma's house, but one of the hallways from school was there, and it stretched out really long. And…there were pistons in the hallway leading to Grandma's room, and her bed was on a merry-go-round being crushed by a spike plate. Another one smacked into me and I fell. It…hurt." She looks at me. "Scar, I think I'm going to the mall tomorrow. I need some new makeup." Then, for the first time in a long time, Ruby smiles. "I want to find something a little…lighter, to bring out my eyes."

"And I'm going, too," says Carmen, putting an arm around Ruby's shoulders. "I need some looser clothes." She winks. "Wouldn't want to give any creeps the wrong ideas. Like that creepy woodsman I saw at that campsite. And then…I was suddenly at Grandma's but everything was covered in red X's, like on those trees I saw. And when I got to Grandma's room, there was a tree growing through her bed." She buries her face in her free hand. "And my God, that moaning. It was so creepy…"

"Did you see anyone in the forest, Sissy?" Rose suddenly asks.

Oh yeah…Fey. I…I guess I should tell them, but…I think they're all freaked out enough. But still…

"Well, I…" I begin, but Robin interrupts me.

"It's the girl."

I look down, seeing that Robin is looking behind me. I turn to see what she is looking at; apparently, so do the others. What I see surprises me.

Standing behind us on the path is the girl in the white dress. She's smiling.

"Ah! You!" I hear Ginger say.

The girl doesn't answer. Instead, she smiles, waves at us, and turns away from us. I watch as she runs down the path, disappearing over the horizon.

I look back at my sisters. "You…saw her in the woods, too?" I ask.

Robin nods. "She was dancing when I saw her," she says. "I thought she looked nice."

"I saw her near the lake," says Rose. "But I thought she was just a fog person."

"She was near the flower field when I saw her," says Ginger. "Actually, that girl I played with looked a lot like her…" She scrunches her face in thought. "You think they're sisters, too?"

"She was at the park when I saw her," says Ruby. "She was swinging. She was watching me when that guy sat down next to me on the bench."

"I saw her at the campsite," Carmen speaks up. "She was sitting in one of the tents."

"I found a theater in the woods," I say. "I was following her when I found it." I look at the path again. "But…who was she?"

Robin smiles. "Maybe she wanted to help protect us from all those scary people. To make sure we weren't hurt."

"Well, either way, I've had more than enough excitement for one day," says Ruby.

I look at my sisters. I'm so glad they're all safe. And yet, there's something different about all of them…what could it be?

And then, I realize that I can figure it out later.

"Girls…" I say. "What do you say we all get out of this rain and see how Grandma's doing?"

"Yes!" Ginger says, jumping in the air. "I'll get inside first!" She runs toward Grandma's front door.

Robin jumps out of my arms, all fear forgotten, and skips after Ginger. Ruby and Carmen quickly begin to follow them.

Rose reaches out a hand to me. "Come on, Sissy."

I can feel myself smile, despite everything that's happened. I take Rose's hand and stand up. I let her lead me to the front door.

A part of me is still having trouble comprehending everything that has happened today. It almost feels like everything that happened was one big dream. But at the same time…I know it wasn't. Going into those woods changed all of us; I can feel it.  I know I've changed. For the first time in a long time, I feel like my own person. I no longer feel like a puppet.

Now, I feel free.
EDIT: I found this preview picture while lurking in The Path's official website forums. Ain't it pretty? :love:

After finally playing The Path over the weekend, and getting a hands-on feel of it, I had to write a story about Scarlet, my favorite sister and the one I sympathize with the most.

Quite honestly, I don't think any of the wolves actually killed any of the sisters. In my opinion, The Path's story isn't as simple as "Everyone died, the end"; this ain't "The Ugly Barnacle," people. Honestly, I think the wolves appeared to the girls just to teach each of them a lesson. They each had nightmares involving what was holding them back, and they woke up in front of Grandma's house humbled by the incident. In this case, the events after the wolf encounter are shown out of order.

The Werewolf taught Robin that not all animals are friendly, and they could really hurt her. And if one happens to hurt her badly enough, it could kill her. As in permanently.

The Cloud Wolf taught Rose that she can't completely disconnect herself from reality, or she could do something that could quickly become deadly...like falling into a lake and drowning.

The Girl in Red Wolf taught Ginger that even though she will have to accept becoming a woman (including getting her first period, as many have interpreted), it's better for Ginger to just be herself instead of getting involved with girls (the crows) who only want to cause trouble by creating deadly webs of gossip (the barbed wire and black threads).

The Charming Wolf taught Ruby that she is lucky to survive the car accident that (seemingly) first hurt her leg, and if she engages in reckless behavior (such as accepting drugs from strangers), she might not be so lucky if there is a next time.

The Woodsman Wolf taught Carmen that it's not good to just seduce random men into having sex with her and call it "love." Her behavior could cause her to get drunk in the company of a creep who could not only force himself on her, but chop her up into little pieces with an axe.

And, as I document in this story, the Fey Wolf taught Scarlet that she is capable of finding balance in her life. She can focus on her art and music, as well as take care of her family, without feeling like a puppet that's being controlled by others.

Also, the Girl in White is there to give each sister the option to get out of the woods and back on the path, but also seems to be there to make sure that the girls learn their lesson. During my gameplay, I always saw her at the attractions where the wolves were when I was interacting with them.

...

Leave it to me to put a positive spin on a psychological horror game based on Little Red Riding Hood, huh? :lol:

The Path (c) Tale of Tales
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:iconmaid0evil:
Maid0evil Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2016  Student Traditional Artist
Good story!
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2014   Writer
Wow, this is actually really cool. I'm glad you like the story.

Thanks for commenting!
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:iconannabanana311:
Annabanana311 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist
This was wonderful! I really enjoyed reading this!
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013   Writer
Glad you like it.

Thanks for commenting.
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:iconcapcomwarrior:
CapcomWarrior Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2012  Student General Artist
Such a lovely piece. Very reflective on each girl and their growing experience.
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2012   Writer
Glad you like it. ^_^

Thanks for commenting.
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:iconcrimsonandivory:
crimsonandivory Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2012
This was excellent. The world needs more Path fanfiction.
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2012   Writer
Glad you like it.

Thanks for commenting!
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:iconrockformed:
Rockformed Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Music to go along?
[link]
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:iconthe0pumpkin0queen:
The0Pumpkin0Queen Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011  Student Photographer
I love this! I never thought of Scarlet in any way other then The-big-sister-who-takes-care-of-her-younger-sisters, but now I m so looking at her though different eyes. :)
This is an excellent Fan Fiction you have here!
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011   Writer
Glad you like it.

When I played the game, I felt for Scarlet the most. All the fun was pretty much sucked out of her forcefully. She just seemed really depressed to me, but she was scared to admit it. And, of course, since I didn't like the idea of the Fey Wolf just luring her in and dominating her completely, I had to put a more satisfying spin (at least to me) on the scenario.

Thanks for commenting. ;)
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:iconthe0pumpkin0queen:
The0Pumpkin0Queen Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011  Student Photographer
My favourite charators are Ruby and Rose (Ithinkthatshername) I never did get a chance to play the game so this is what I'd getting from me watching Lets Plays of it.
I really liked what Scarlet said about the Mask's in the game. It's so true and everyone dose it, even if they think they don't. I never knew Scarlet's wolf had a name, do any of the other wolfs have one? It's just a bit interesting to me that they named one but not the others.
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2012   Writer
Yeah, I know what you mean. I tried looking at Let's Plays of the game on YouTube, but I'm not a big fan of commentary, and all the videos I found had the players talking in them. :( I finally decided that I'd get a better feel for the game if I played it myself.

And yes, all the wolves have names. They're on the game's official website. Robin's wolf is the Werewolf; Rose's wolf is the Cloud Wolf; Ginger's wolf is the Girl in Red Wolf; Ruby's wolf is the Charming Wolf; Carmen's wolf is the Woodsman Wolf; and Scarlet's wolf is the Fey Wolf.
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:iconthe0pumpkin0queen:
The0Pumpkin0Queen Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012  Student Photographer
I finally got the game last night and I looove it~! But I have to idea where to find everything and that's really bugging me.>w<
But I did find more things for Rose when I played it myself then when I watched a Let's Play of it.
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012   Writer
Yeah, it's basically random. Be prepared to do a lot of walking through the woods in order to find everything.
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:iconthe0pumpkin0queen:
The0Pumpkin0Queen Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012  Student Photographer
Uggghh... I do not like it. :I
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:iconamx-269:
AMX-269 Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2012   Writer
Yeah, it gets tedious sometimes. After playing the game, I've realized that a lot of the things can be found when you're not actively looking for them.
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