Green was finally prominent, unparalleled to the brittle brown that encompassed the soil, and the engulfing whiteness of prior. Spring was nearing, and Olly Pentworth was on the terrace enjoying a glass of ice tea. It tasted bitter, her mother avoided mixing sugar much to her discontent. It was for good reason at least, Wessa, Olly's grandmother, was diabetic. The sun was beaming and the flowers finally blooming. Olly yearned for days like these, days where she could just sit outside, grass beneath her feet, and the fresh air breezing through her short chestnut brown hair as she avidly listened to Wessa's tales. Beyond the wooden fence to the east of her home, all that was visible were acres of vast greenness, but she never minded that, Olly rarely felt lonely in Wessa's presence, and despite the age difference, she shared a powerful bond that at times resembled a friendship more than anything else. That made it easier for her to call her Wessa, instead of just grandma or grandmother. She hated that. The last time Olly accidentally let it slip, she refused to finish telling her story.
"Please. The story of the Blue Willow, you didn't finish it last time, it's not fair!" Olly implored, but Wessa didn’t budge.
The Blue Willow was her favourite story. Daria, Olly's mom, always suspected it was because of the naïveté of her youth, considering she was just 11 years old.
"It's just a story of odd creatures, and strange characters, trees grow green in Pennington, there are no blue willows here, and there will never be, sweetheart." Daria insisted.
Furtively, Wessa gave Olly a glance that suggested otherwise, which ticked Daria off a bit.
"Mother, what is it? I don't mind you telling her stories, but please tell her they are only just tales. I don't want her head filled with any mischievous ideas.
Unconvincingly, Wessa turns to Olly,
"They are just tales".
Rolling her eyes, Daria made her way back inside the house, she had heard the story of the Blue Willow several times as a child, but the way her mother insisted on the veracity of the tale irritated her ever since she visited the Arched Forest, and failed to spot the mythical willow.
"The Blue Willow only reveals itself to those it seeks" Wessa used to say.
Daria never knew what to think of that, and as much as she hoped it would appear when she visited the Arched Forest as a child, it did not. She felt a fool for believing her mother after that, and now knows better than to believe such a senseless tale.
The Pentworths lived in a modest home, surrounded by a vastness of fields engulfed in barley and tall grass. Olly grew up with no neighbours, and the only dwelling visible from atop the roof of her home was the lonely cottage across the front wooded gate. She wondered whether anyone ever resided there, Wessa would know, she thought, considering the fact that she grew up here as well. The Pentworth home was old, and was passed on generationally long before Olly was born. The oaken floor in the living area creaked whenever too much weight was placed on it, and the rusted windows made pulling open the window a laborious chore which nobody was too keen on taking. Daria had often contemplated of selling the house, but Wessa would never allow it. She insisted that as long as she was alive, the property would stay hers. Her mere stubbornness to sell the house bothered Daria greatly, but what bothered her incomparably more was the reason behind it, the location. The Pentworth home bordered the mythical Arched Forest. Well mythical, only in Daria’s eyes.
The leaves were rustling, and the scent of her mother's sugar free brownies was discernible in the soft breeze. Olly was observing how the trees in the Arched Forest swayed, uncannily, almost like an orchestrated dance. Beyond the fence facing the terrace, she could recognize the arched shape that was created by the slanted structure of the trees on each side. On the left, thin trunks accompanied thinner branches, oddly, the trees seemed devoid of life, lacking the contrasting sets of colours on the side that opposed it. The right side was similar to the left in structure, however, the trees on this side were adorned with the rich orange-yellow of autumn, and a blue-greenish color that Olly only just noticed.
"Wessa... Wessa...wake up"
Nudging her incessantly, she finally awoke. The combination of soothing heat and the occasional breeze was enough to bring Wessa into a deep sleep.
"On the right side over there" impatiently pointing towards the trees in the Arched Forest, "is that where the Willow is? The leaves are bluish there."
Contrary to what she predicted, Wessa did not proceed to put on her glasses to take a look, but rather gave an omniscient smile and said nothing, and whether she intended for it or not, that ended up making Olly painfully curious. It wasn't the first time she got that stupid smile with the long silence as a response, but she knew what it meant. That was Wessa's sagely way of telling her to figure it out herself. Either that, or she just wanted to get back to her nap.
The gentle breeze was now settling, and was replaced by more powerful gusts of wind. Olly was sitting legs crossed facing the direction of the Arched Forest, wondering what Wessa wanted her to possibly figure out on her own. The force of the wind caused the trees on both sides to slant more than usual, each time closing the space between the arch where the entrance was formed. At times, the trunks bent so awkwardly that it would appear as if they were to snap, but then they would recede to their natural position at the last moment. Back inside the kitchen, the sugar-free brownies were finally ready. Daria made them with almond nuts, and Olly always complained about that. But not this time, the nutty smell that would usually make her gag, instead gave her an idea. She skipped towards her mother and grabbed her arm, positioning her where she could best see the entrance into the Arched Forest.
"What do you see?" Olly asked, purposefully refraining to say more.
"What do I see..?, Don't be silly, Olly" Daria responded, oblivious to Olly's true intentions with her question.
"Yes, Mum, What do you see?, Describe it."
"Well, the left side, it's dead. The right side ...looks more lively. Leaves are yellow and orange.
"What else, Mum?, is that all you see?"
"Yes, sweetheart. Daria replied, her chestnut brown hair flowing in the air.
Olly made sure to wait until her mum was back inside the kitchen before she marched in front of Wessa, smirking. "The Blue Willow only reveals it-..."
"-self to those it seeks" , finishing her sentence, and finally consenting to re-telling the story of the Blue Willow.
"I was a young girl, a little older than you when I first spotted it, about 14 years of age. The Arched Forest looked no different. I used to gaze at it right where you're sitting, wondering if all the tales surrounding the forest were actually true. The myths surrounding the Arched Forest all began when the western part mysteriously caught on fire, and ever since then there have been tales of missing children, children who dared to enter and never returned. Mum forbade me to go anywhere near the forest, warning me of the demons that I would encounter. But If anything, that made me even more curious. I was just so certain that most of these tales were hogwash, but not with Arthur.."
Olly sat up, listening more intently, mentioning Arthur seemed to have unsettled Wessa a little. It made Olly wonder whether there was more to the pettiness that prevented her from finishing the story last time.
"Who's Arthur?" Olly asked.
Wessa knew the question was coming, for a moment, she despised her genes. "She has my damned curiosity." she thought.
Unexpectedly, instead of answering, Wessa stood from her chair and offered Olly a hand.
"Let's take a walk."
The sun was coming down, and a chill was setting in, Olly quickly went inside to grab her jumper when her mother stopped her.
"Where are you going, child?"
"A walk..." Almost suspiciously, even though she had no reason to be. Her mother would often remind her that she wasn't blessed with an innocent expression. A trait she seemed to share with Wessa. She kissed her forehead, and pulled her hoodie on.
"Just be back by supper", directing her voice more to Wessa this time as they made there way out the gate.
"Yes, Mum" Wessa replied in unison as they giggled.
Olly had noticed the cottage before, afar from the window in her bedroom, but never paid it much attention. It laid plainly across a vast field of barley, uninhabited, and neighboured only by the red tractor planted unsteadily onto a rugged section of terrain to its periphery. All the windows were shuttered closed expect for the window facing the road, Olly peered through on her tippy toes and saw shelves stocked with farming equipment, and a couple of brown cardboard boxes sitting aside. The tacky egg shell white that boarded the exterior reminded her of cheap trailers, but the oak brown that permeated the interior floors inspired a cozy ambiance that transmitted a sort of warm glow to the cottage. She was more puzzled than annoyed that Wessa would bring her all the way here when she asked what she presumed to be a simple question, and her patience was running.
She turned to Wessa's direction to grab her attention when she noticed a tear creeping down the side of her cheek. It was an uncommon sight for Olly, she was more accustomed to a joke, a laugh and even a lame smile from her, but not a cry.
"Arthur ..." Wessa muttered holding back her tears,
"He lived here with his father... before the property was bought by one of the farming families that live out West... I never spent much time inside though..Arthur never wanted me coming by, he wanted to protect me, he cc-ared about me..." Wessa burst into tears again, sniffling. Her distress was audible in her labored speech, every couple of words interrupted by intermittent cries and flashing memories, images of Arthur that replayed constantly in her head. The soft wailing caused a shaming guilt to rise within Olly who began to rue asking her about the Blue Willow in the first place. She was certain it was all her fault.
"I should have never asked about that stupid Willow"
Olly was aware of how treacherous her curiosity could be, how it would so often get her into trouble, a ravaging beast relentless in its pursuit. It frustrated her how untamable that beast was right now, and how even when Wessa was crying she still felt that same fervent desire to consume more information. Also, the fact that her ears would prickle up every time Wessa would open her mouth didn't help either. Her mother would often refer to her curiosity as just nosiness, and maybe she was right, that's all it was, "nosiness". Besides, if she wasn't so nosy, she wouldn't have been so foolish to ask her about Arthur. Now though, more than anything, she was just hoping the crying would stop and that Wessa would forgive her. Surly she could empathize, it was the chestnut brown of her hair that made her, her mother's daughter, but it was her fickle curiosity that made her Wessa's granddaughter.
"Wessa, ....I didn't mean to.. "
Olly couldn't find the words, so she gently held Wessa's hand and turned away from the cottage to make her way back home, expecting Wessa to follow her lead. Instead though, she felt Wessa's grip tighten around her hand, stubbornly refusing to follow. Then spontaneously, catching Olly off guard, Wessa quickly spun in circles, her unyielding grip forcing Olly to do the same. They both burst into laughter, giddy in the midst of the vast field. Then suddenly, they weren’t able to stay on their feet, so they staggered clumsily to the ground, burying themselves in the tall grass.
"That's what you get for never letting me finish", Wessa warned, smiling.
"And you shouldn't be sorry. I guess I just really miss him." she sighed.
"... What happened to him?" Olly asked, her curiosity getting the better of her again.
"Back to the story then."
"Well you see..Arthur had a cruel, wicked father... His father used to beat him for no good reason. Sometimes, Arthur would get nasty bruises all over his arms, his stomach, and even his face. He used to be so frightened of him that he would hide upstairs in his cupboard every time he heard his car park up the driveway….The cupboard was his safe haven, and his father couldn't be wicked to him if he couldn't find him."
But Why couldn't he just leave? Olly asked, a blade of grass brushing against her chin.
"Well it wasn't so easy, sweetheart. Arthur's mother passed away, and he had no where to live. I used to always tell him to come live with us, but I suppose it was more complicated than that. We made a compromise at least, if he wasn't going to leave the cottage, he had to show me he was safe, so we agreed on a signal. Arthur would press his hand against the window in his room if he was safe, and I would do the same..if I saw him.”
Wessa replied plaintively, then stood from the ground, and indicated to Olly exactly where Arthur's bedroom was.
The window frame was coated with a bolder white that coupled very dully with the eggshell that covered the exterior. Olly stood and walked right below the window as the barley gently brushed against her knees. She turned and looked back at her house, just realizing how both the window in her bedroom which used to belong to Wessa and the window above her had perfect views of each other.
Weesa took a couple of breaths as if to recompose herself then continued“ Well one day, Arthur had enough. I was looking out my room waiting for the signal, but it never came. Instead, I saw him pull open the window, and next thing I knew he slid across the roof and leapt to the ground. I was so sure he was coming towards home, so I immediately made my way down the stairs, so clumsily, even bruising myself, but it didn’t matter, I had to get that gate open.. He was counting on me, and what if his dad was right after him..I couldn't have been more mistaken though, he kept sprinting ahead, passing the gate and the house altogether. “Arthur!, Arthur!” I screamed, chasing him, but he kept running and running, until he finally stopped right at the entrance to the forest, where the arch formed. When I finally caught up to him, I understood why he was acting the way he was, his eye was swollen..undoubtedly his father’s doing. For a moment, I just wanted to scold him for being in the living room when his father arrived, but I hugged him instead. A hug that meant everything..
“I’ll have to show you how it happened, you’ll better understand when you see it yourself” she said, putting her hand out.
“But Mum would never let me go to the Arched Forest, she says it's too dangerous, that the trees could just collapse at any moment”
“Well...I’ve been gazing at the Arched Forest before your mother was born, I think I'd notice some trees falling. And anyway, who said we would ask her?, Wessa replied giggling, putting on a mischievous smile. It was moments like these that Olly felt like she was spending time with someone her own age, she put on the same smile and they made their own way around the house, rather than through it to avoid getting detected by Daria.
The sky was dark and starry, and the moon rested gracefully above the slender trees in the Arched Forest. It was beautiful, and yet quite unsettling the way the trees on each side so starkly differed in color Olly realized, especially how the moonlight affected their appearance. On the left side, the moonlight seemed to enhance the trees’ withered appearance, but on the right side, the moonlight accentuated the mystical blue, causing the leaves to emit a luminous glow. Olly felt a rush of adrenaline, and wasn’t sure whether she was excited or nervous. She remembered what Wessa said earlier about the Blue Willow revealing itself to those it seeks, but she didn’t know what that even meant.
“It’s just a willow..how..”
Wessa continued, before Olly had a chance to finish her thought.
“We stood here” she said, walking Olly to the narrow gap between the trees that marked the entrance to the Forest. “He pulled away from me and started running, without saying anything, then something unusual happened. When I tried going after him, the trees on each side bent down, meeting each other and impeding my path. I was stuck, frustrated. I cried and screamed, trying to force myself through the trees, but it was hopeless.” her frustration still showing.
Wessa paused, then hunched down.
“It wasn’t a coincidence, Olly. These trees are unnatural, they act wilfully…” she said grimly.
“When the trees finally lifted upwards, I lost him. I started running aimlessly, hoping I would catch sight of him somehow. I took a chance and passed through the crowd of trees on the right side, until I ended up in a grove, an enclosed space surrounded by trees. It was dark like it is now....