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There, in the Woods

She’s heating water for the tea when everything starts again. The police officers stand by her house’s threshold; two of them, both looking serious and, at the same time, apologetic.

They ask her if she’s seen the boy and offer a picture: the officer closer to the door, wearing a dark rain coat sprinkled with water (it seems like it’s been raining forever, these days), shows her a smartphone, and there’s the boy: white, older than she expected; at least seventeen, the bones of his face shaped for the young adulthood ahead of him. A young man in a hoodie, half-smiling to the camera, offering the V-sign with one hand, the other hand safely tucked inside one pocket. When that picture was taken, it was as cold as today is.

“No, I haven’t seen him,” she says. “What’s his name?”

“Josh Byrnes.” The name means nothing to her. She thinks she might have seen Josh; one day, going grocery shopping in the town. But she’s not sure, because these boys all look the same, smug smiles and black or blue hoodies, running from the cold in packs, as wolves would do.

“What happened?”

“Kid went missing. Somewhere near the park,” says one of the officers, and he looks above his own shoulder, directly to the woods.

“I’m sorry,” she says. Why are they asking me? This question inside her head, pulsing like the beat of a heart.

“It’s fine, ma’m. But if you see anything…”

“I’ll call the police.” But why are you asking me?

They leave her with the name of a Facebook page dedicated to finding Josh. While searching the page, finally sipping on her tea, she sees other pictures. Josh and his friends, his family, and a girl that could be his girlfriend, placing a kiss on his right cheek as Josh continues on looking at the camera. Happy. Unbothered. The commentaries are filled with heart emojis and thoughts and prayers. They wish Josh safely returned. She wishes the same, as she is the wife of a missing husband herself; and she knows this is the reason the officers couldn’t quite meet her eyes. She is the wife of a man who went missing inside those very same woods. She is not a wife, exactly; but neither is she a widow. Her husband is missing: for a year, almost. Missing, not dead, and he has his won Facebook page.

She can’t go there. She’d start crying and she’d vomit her expensive chamomile tea laced with other supposedly natural ingredients that promise relaxation. A promise, only; it never materialized, that relaxation, but she can’t stop drinking it—it’s an invisible crutch. She should be on meds. She should be on something stronger than tea. She’s the wife of a missing man. She may be a widow and, if she is, then she may be a murderer.

Why are you asking me?

She gives up on the tea. She takes whatever is left of it and drops the dark liquid inside the sink.

Nick’s things are everywhere. She could never force herself to throw them away, even though she knows Nick is not coming back. It’s hard to let go; and, beyond that fact, it would make her look even more suspicious. So Nick’s things linger in their house; his clothes, his laptop, his spare hiking boots, his books, his Playstation. Once, the police took the laptop. That was right after he disappeared. They took her laptop, too. Although they never said so, she was their prime suspect, as a significant other always is. They found nothing. No Google search for how to get hid of a body, how to make a husband disappear. Nick’s laptop revealed even less: no plans for running away. No secret lovers. No divorced lawyers contacted. Nothing that even hinted at any domestic conflict.

Nick’s elderly grandmother flew from Florida to that damp town in Washington so she could look at Nick’s things and weep. Nick’s only brother, also living on the other side of the country, couldn’t bother visiting. Nick always said nobody should trust his brother with money; that advice was specific, meant for her; for she had money, her dead parents’ money, and Nick wanted his brother nowhere close to it. When they had a phone conversation, Nick’s brother seemed a bit drunk, a bit distant, but he gave his condolences and then asked for a few hundred bucks, so he could fly to Washington and be with her and his grandmother in, as he described, those days of pain. She wired him the money. He never showed up.

“No funeral, Lucy,” Nick grandmother’s asked. “Not yet. He could still be out there.” Nick’s grandmother hugged her tightly, then. Days of pain and days of hugs. If his grandmother suspected her of anything, she never made a slight comment; she was caring, she kept her company while the police came and went, while the search parties looked for Nick in the woods. “You are a pale thing,” his grandmother said. “And you are so skinny.” She had stopped eating since Nick had gone missing. She’d take soup, sometimes—because Nick’s grandmother would force her to—but she felt no appetite. Her insides already seemed filled with something dark and monstrous; call it grief, anxiety, fear; it was a pitch-black thing, in her imagination, taking over her body, draining her of flesh and energy. A thing with too many legs growing in her stomach. Lucy’s skin pale and her hair dark, her lips red and sore because of the cold. She felt like Snow White dying in the woods; dying because she had never found the seven dwarfs cabin, had never been rescued; because the woods are bad, the woods will eat you if the huntsman doesn’t gut you first; never run to the woods expecting to be safe.

She knew Nick would never be found. That was then.

This is now, and she knows he’s never coming back, and neither is that lost boy. The woods keep their secrets. The fog washes over, covering tracks and hiding the things that prey in the heart of places like that.

Her mother would tell her: “The woods will always keep us safe.” And because Lucy had been a child, she believed her mother.

That house hadn’t been passed down to them—her parents had bought the house because they thought it was spacious enough, and the price was good—in fact, almost to good to believe—and they wanted to be back-to-the-landers. Or that’s how they started, coming from Seattle; those had been their dreams, their dreams for young Lucy. Lucy barely had any childhood memories from living anywhere but in that house, at the edge of the woods. As a child, she thought it magical; something from fairy-tales, although that house wasn’t particular fairy-tale-like. It was a simple house, with a wooden porch, wood walls painted blue or white or green, depending on the room. Lucy’s bedroom had been green, then. Green, adorned with little daisies, something her mother had done for her. Lucy’s dad dedicated his free time to carpentry, and some of the furniture they owned had been made by him in the garage in the back of the house: the rough furniture got refined as his hobby became a profession, a new source of income. Meanwhile, Lucy’s mom started a garden. She and Lucy would collect herbs and, some time after, vegetables of many kinds, thin and colorful little carrots they would wash and peel while singing in the kitchen, overlooking the woods beyond the windows.

And her mother would tell her stories about the things that lived in those woods. Elves, like the ones from Lucy’s books. Fairies you could never see but for the bright dust Lucy’s mom said they left behind when they took flight; see their dust dancing through the beams of sunlight, she’d say; and Lucy would try and catch the dust inside her hand. She’d open it and see nothing, but laugh all the same.

Her mother would tell her about the Spinner. The good fairy that lived deep in the woods, that took care of all things that grew from the earth. Like their garden. Her mother’d always say they’d been blessed by the Spinner of all things when the garden had grown, when they plucked the vegetables from the fresh soil and felt their scent, the scent of things grown out of love.

But that was then. Before the nightmares, before Lucy felt the need to outrun that house and that town and those woods.

She met Nick in Los Angeles. He was a struggling screenwriter. She was trying to make ends meet. She mostly waited tables, those days, and had no complaints; payment was crap, patrons were rude, but she didn’t care. She and Nick met in a bar. He made a comment about her long auburn hair; something saccharine, bordering bad poetry, and that made Lucy smile; his complete lack of menace. The first time she stepped in Nick’s studio, she was surprised he could afford that much space.

“It’s nothing, really,” he’d said.

It was bigger than her apartment. That day, Nick had been too ashamed to admit his grandmother sent him money from time to time. He’d only tell her a year later, while lying half-drunk in bed, recovering from yet another rejection, a screenplay prompt he had pitched exhaustingly to everyone he knew who was someone in Los Angeles; which didn’t add to much. But Lucy played her part, despite not being surprised at all. She cradled his head when he lay it on her lap and she indulged him with alcohol. Same old.

“You know what we should do?”

“What?” She’d been thinking about food. They should have some delivery, her stomach was a bottomless pit, and food would probably make Nick feel better; or it would make him puke. In any case, he’d be cleaned from all that drinking and soon enough he’d be back to his normal self, writing and complaining about every word he’d put down.

“We should get married,” Nick said.

Marriage. Lucy’d never considered such a thing.

Nick held her hand, pressed her fingers gently, his blue eyes, soften by the alcohol, fixed on her.

“Sure. We should get married,” she said, thinking he’d have forgotten all about this when morning came. But morning did come, the sun rose, and Nick was still talking about marriage. And so Lucy thought that, yes, maybe they should get married. She had no expectations; Nick was better than anything she could have imagined. Yes, they should get married; get married and get by together. Nick’s writing would always fail to achieve anything, but she’d never hold that against him, as he never held against Lucy that she was satisfied working weird shifts as a waitress, as a bartender, as anything she could. They’d pass through life together, without disturbing the fabric of the world. They’d be there and then they’d be gone, and that was comforting enough.

But not for Nick.

Almost a year after Lucy said yes, almost a year after they got married in a small affair that involved a few of their friends and Nick’s grandmother, Nick said they should consider moving from Los Angeles. They should start fresh.

They should move to the house.

Her first memories: she must have been twelve or thirteen. It started with the chair, the chair her father made. A thing of contorted wood, its legs like massive roots coming for the floor to embrace you. A throne for a fairy. Something that he’d imagined would put a smile on Lucy’s face. But she couldn’t smile.

She never knew why. The chair didn’t look beautiful; it looked monstrous. When her father unraveled the chair, Lucy felt a shiver, as if a window was left open and a draft of cold air had catch her standing there, staring at that thing.

“Come on, sit down,” her dad said.

She did as she was asked.

“Isn’t it marvelous? It came to me in a dream. I want my art to look more organic—one with the woods, you know?” her father said. Was he telling that to Lucy? Or to himself? Lucy’s mother, when she came and looked at the chair, briefly clapped.

“It’s wonderful,” she said.

No, it isn’t, Lucy thought. It’s going to grow and trap me.

“Honey, are you OK?” her mother asked. She must have realized how pale Lucy’s skin was.

“I think I have a cold,” said Lucy. Her parents excused her. Later on, Her mother brought her dinner. A stew made with her beloved vegetables. But they smelled funny now. Almost rotten. Lucy concluded she really must have been coming down with something; a flu, or anything like that. But she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been sick. Not while she lived in that house, under that roof. She ate the stew, said nothing, and her mother seemed satisfied. She patted Lucy’s hair—as auburn as hers—and kissed her forehead.

“You’ll feel fine tomorrow.”

She wouldn’t, though. She didn’t feel fine during that whole night, shivering under her covers. She’d start to fall asleep and then a sound would bring her back to full awareness. A rattle. Something sharp, clattering on outside the house. Feeling queasy, Lucy got up. She walked to the window and pushed the curtain aside, gently.

She saw them. The very same imagine that would be burned forever in her mind. Her mother and her father, figures enclosed by shadows, there, in the garden. Naked, hands in hands, walking towards the woods. Disappearing in the pure darkness that existed between the trees, as serene as if going for a stroll in a normal day, in normal conditions. Lucy stepped back, filled with something she couldn’t precisely name. Fear and shame. And something else. A horror rising like the rattling sound that had her wake up.

She went back to bed, she pulled the covers up to her head and stayed in there for a while, breathing her own warm breath. When she got up again, she went to her parents’ bedroom and found their bed empty. She didn’t dare moving; she wouldn’t dare going downstairs. And that noise: the trees weren’t close enough to the house so as their branches could scratch walls and windows.

Shut your eyes, Lucy, she begged herself. Shut you eyes and sleep all of this away.

In the morning, her parents were back. Her father snoring loudly, her mother’s hair barely visible under the covers. But, as Lucy stood by their door, she saw the marks. The dirty feet marks, the dry leaves here and there, and the smell: the same smell from her stew, of something rotting.

They started not wanting to leave the house anymore. When Lucy was sixteen and finally got her license, she’d would be the one driving to town to complete any errands on her parents behalf. She’d go to school and come back and the world would be the same. Her father’s beard growing longer, the color of chestnut, but now but sprinkled with white and grey here and there. He’d be working on something new, a new table, a new throne-like chair he’d sell for passing-byes who saw beauty where Lucy only saw madness. Her mother became a quiet creature. She’d garden, she’d make her preserves, but the flesh on her cheeks would be gone after a while, her hands bony as the rest of her, as if the work—as if the land itself—was consuming her energy.

“You need to go out,” Lucy remembered telling her parents. “It’s not healthy. Staying in here all the time.”

“There’s nothing outside we need,” they often reply—phrasing it differently, but meaning always the same. And outside didn’t imply the house. They’s go outside plenty, as long as they stood in their own land. Their green land, bordering the woods; and the woods itself, and then the border it shared with the state park; wherever their wilderness became the state’s wilderness, as if there was such a distinction to the things that grew out there. People often got lost in the park, Lucy knew that much; park rangers and locals were always complaining when she was in town. Some tourists who didn’t do enough planning, who didn’t pack enough, who ignored the warnings about the weather. Broken bones, dehydration, frostbites. Lucy’d heard enough. But her parents didn’t fear the woods. Since she had seen them entering that darkness naked, since she shut her mind forever to that memory and kept her curtains shut too during the night, she knew they were, somehow, one with the wild.

“So your parents were hippies. So what?” Nick had asked.

“They weren’t hippies,” Lucy said.

She told him about the rattling, how it would be gone for months, and then be back, jolting her up from her dreams again and again, as it did when she was thirteen. She would always think of the Spinner her mother told her about. She imagined the Spinner should look like a fairy, queenly, regal. But, inside Lucy’s mind, the Spinner was tall and armed with far too many legs. Like a spider, watching closely outside of Lucy’s bedroom. That’s why it was so important to keep the curtains shut.

“People dancing naked in the woods—that’s not the weirdest thing I ever heard of…” Nick insisted.

“They weren’t dancing.”

“You’re not even sure of what you saw. Lucy, you were a child,” Nick said. “But you’re an adult now. We’re adults and we’re kinda fucked up right now, you know what I mean? We need the house. We’re out of money. We need to survive, OK? As one. That’s what’s marriage is.” And he held her hands. “Please? For me? We’ll clean the house; I won’t turn to carpentry, I promise.” He smiled. “We won’t live like hippies.”

She wished she had never told him about the house. She wished the house could have just disappeared, reclaimed by the dirt. But it stood strong.

“Doesn’t look that bad,” Nick had said, as they stared at the house from their rented car. No, it didn’t. But the thing about the house: it wasn’t the outside; it was what grew inside, in the crevices no one noticed.

As they cleaned it up, Lucy was surprise at the lack of belongings of her parents. No pictures, no clothes. Had she asked someone to take care of that? After her mother died? She didn’t remember. But she remembered her bedroom, the green paint and the daisies. The daisies were fading, as the green paint was. The empty room felt cold, so Lucy wrapped her arms around herself. That place had belonged to a stranger.

“Think it could make a nice office?” Nick asked, peering inside the room.

“No,” said Lucy—and that was nonnegotiable. She left the room, she locked the door and took the key with her; while Nick, confused, gazed at her much in the way an abandoned puppy might.

Someone knocks again. Not the police.

It’s a woman. Disheveled brown hair, wearing a parka maybe too big for her body. She’s pale, this women. Middle-aged, bearing an impossible sadness in her eyes.

“Hi,” she says. “Can I come in?” It’s not a request as much as a plead. She needs Lucy to say yes, and that’s what Lucy says, inviting this unknown woman inside. The woman tells her she’s the missing boy’s mother. She taps her parka, as if she’s searching for something, but there’s nothing there. Lucy points at her kitchen table and the woman sighs and sits down. She doesn’t look directly at Lucy for a while, not even when Lucy sits in front of her, waiting for what’s next.

“I want to say I’m sorry,” the woman finally blurts, on the verge of tears. “For Josh’s behavior. He shouldn’t have.”

“What?”

Now, the woman stares at Lucy.

“His comings and goings. I knew he was coming here—sometimes at night. I mean, I didn’t always knew, but once I did, I told him to stop. Stop prying on other people’s places. He was a fan of your husband. I think.” The missing boy had been there? Lucy never noticed. She never noticed any intrusion. If the boy had been there, he had been careful, watching the house from afar.

“I didn’t know,” Lucy says.

“I just wanted to say how sorry I am. And I’ll have him apologizing, once they find him,” Lucy nods, although she’s not sure what she’s agreeing with. The woman waits. The way she looks at Lucy, it’s like she’s begging; begging her to tell what she did to her boy. If she punished him when she caught him spying on her; if she did to him the same she did to her husband. She’s giving Lucy an opportunity. A chance to confess her crimes.

“Your dad’s stuff,” the woman says. “You still have them?”

“No.” Lucy sold them a while ago. Online, as painlessly as possible. That was after Nick was gone, and she needed the money. She held no job, and the money her parents left her wouldn’t last forever. She had no idea of what she should be doing with her life; Lucy barely left the house, and she didn’t think could ever go back to Los Angeles. She felt her feet taking roots already in that place.

“Your father was an artist. We used to think so,” The woman smiles. There’s pain in that smile, and she’s hiding her tears in the wrinkles of her own skin. What does she want? Lucy wonders. What answers she thinks she’ll find?

Lucy gets up. It’s too much for her to bear, the silent tears, and the speaking of her family.

“Would you like to eat something?” she asks. She opens her cabinets, trying to find a package of stale cookies—the only thing that comes to her mind. But she hears the woman getting up and freezes for a few seconds. When she turns, the woman is gone. The front door is open. She let herself out.

Lucy locks the door, and then she covers her mouth, because she doesn’t want to scream. She doesn’t want to cry.

Nick became a mini-celebrity. Not before his disappearance, but after. At the time Nick disappeared, he had given up altogether on writing scripts. He started writing short stories. Ghost stories. He heard of someone who had managed a nice deal with a big studio based on a creepypasta written on an online forum, and Nick became convinced he’d be the next, that this was the future of fiction. He began writing about the house—writing about a fictional self that had moved to that very same house Lucy owned, and where strange things happened. Nick’s fiction inverted their roles: Nick was the one who had inherited the house, while fictional Lucy played the part of the oblivious wife; more of a background noise than a character, in fact. But there it was: Lucy’s childhood. Her hippie parents—as Nick insisted they were—and the dreams and the strange changes she had perceived on her family.

Nick’s fictional father died the same way Lucy’s father did: cancer. He wasted away inside that house, never able to set a foot outside their land, cared by his wife. Lucy’s mom. When it came to her—to her death—Lucy couldn’t keep reading the story anymore.

“This is my life,” she told Nick, sitting in front of his laptop—which Nick had presented one day almost like a gift—shocked that he’d even dare fictionalize her childhood, add more monsters to it than those that already haunted Lucy.

“It’s made-up, Lucy.”

“This is not made-up. This is my life.” The woman found in the woods. Her body almost a skeleton by then. Death by exposure, the police had ruled. Death by exposure, the fictional police had ruled in Nick’s story.

Once her husband had been dead and buried, Lucy’s mom had simply disappeared inside the woods. It took a few days for the search party to find her: naked and curled like a child waiting to be born, nested inside the rotted trunk of a tree—as if she wanted to get inside the tree—her body covered with mud and wet leaves, covered with scratches. Lucy hadn’t been there to see that. She had never seen the police pictures. But Nick’s descriptions, constructed from what little Lucy had told him, finally imprinted on Lucy’s mind the images she’d avoided for years.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Lucy asked; more shocked than angry, in the end. She rose up, hands above her head, as if to surrender. “No. You can’t just publish that.”

And she left without saying another word. At night, eyes shut, curtains shut, she felt Nick’s hand touching her shoulder.

“Lucy. Honey. I’m sorry,” he said. “I was an asshole. I shouldn’t have written about your mom. I’ll just delete it. I promise. Lucy?” She didn’t answer. She didn’t want to speak to him, not that night. But true to his promise—at least half of it—he deleted the scene in which Lucy’s mom—now Nick’s mom—was found in the woods. He posted his little snippet that night, while Lucy slept and dreamt of slender, bark-like limbs embracing her. She wouldn’t read the final version of the story—the unfinished story—until a few days later, when the chaos had subzided, when the police got tired of questioning her. Nick’s last words: Stay tuned. We’re going on a hike tomorrow, see if we find anything weird.

She dreams of shadows. While she dreams, she thinks she can hear the rattling again. She gets out of bed and looks through the window. Her window has no curtains. A boy is throwing rocks at the glass-pane, small rocks that don’t seem that threatening, that break nothing, but that make that noise: the rattling inside Lucy’s head.

She recognizes the boy. She saw him in the pictures the police showed her. Lucy waves at him, and the boy stops throwing the rocks. He doesn’t move anymore, and in that stillness Lucy senses something unnatural. Shadows move behind the boy, shadows in the forest. Long, dark limbs come from the empty spaces between the trees and touch the ground.

Go back to bed, Lucy thinks. And she does. She covers her head with the duvet while she hears the rattling against the window.

When she wakes up, she sits by the edge of the bed and breathes slowly. It’s raining again.

Lucy didn’t kill Nick. She loved him, even though she was mad at him the day they put their boots on and went hiking. But she isn’t sure Nick’s death didn’t have something to do with her. She’d been silent as they ventured in the woods, never steering from the path, climbing weak wooden stairs and dutifully following the trail people had hiked before. But Nick could sense she was mad and he wouldn’t let it go.

“I told you I was going to delete it,” he went on.

“I know.”

“It was stupid. I shouldn’t have let you read it.”

“I know.” God, make him stop, Lucy thought.

“Can you say anything but ‘I know’?”

“I said enough already. I just wish you’d find something else to write about—not about the house.”

Nick was quiet. She could hear him right behind her, feet smashing leaves and sticks.

“The way you say it—it’s like the house is alive or something,” he said.

The house was alive, Lucy thought; but she never opened her mouth, and she banished that thought as soon as it found its way to her head.

“Fine,” said Nick. And in a second he was already past her, his every movement a statement of his anger. Go, Lucy thought. She deliberated slowed down, she let Nick and his anger get away, and saw him disappearing where the trail made a curve and the trees engulfed the path. She was so cold. She felt the cold creeping in, inside her gloves, inside her thick puffer jacket. Whenever she identified the need of raising her voice and calling for Nick, she’d drown that desire and low her head, legs moving through the trail.

And then she heard Nick’s scream. A lonely scream, ahead of her, somewhere in the path that snaked through the woods; after that scream, she heard him cursing.

“Nick? Nick, where are you?” She was running. When she found him, she sighed with relief.

Nick had gone down a slope. Dirty leaves stuck to his clothes. He sat at the bottom of the slope, looking miserable while clutching his right leg.

“No, don’t come here,” Nick said. “You’ll hurt yourself too.”

“What happened?”

“I was trying to… I think I saw something. I—whatever, I think I sprained my ankle. It’s fine.” But he cursed again. Ignoring him, Lucy held to the thin trees growing over the slope and went down, her boots sliding through the dead old leaves. The slope ended on a clearing. It didn’t look beautiful; it looked barren, somehow. A place where things went to die. And then. again, Lucy heard her mother’s words: The woods will keep us safe.

“Can you get up?” Lucy asked.

“Nope,” said Nick. For her sake, he tried to, but then he made a face when the pain hit him and sat down again. “This is ridiculous.” Him, sitting in the middle of the woods, a wild boy grounded.

“Maybe I can…” Lucy looked back to the slope, but then she measured her own size against Nick’s. She couldn’t help him back to the path. She couldn’t lead him back home. “I’ll get help. My cellphone won’t work here. I’ll go home and get help.”

“Fine,” said Nick. Resentfully. As if Lucy were to blame for where he now found himself; as if it was Lucy’s fault he made a false step and stumbled down, a clown backflipping to get kids to laugh at a party. Now he was going to be the man that required the emergency to get him out of the woods; as many stupid tourists before him, those tourists that should’ve known better. Lucy felt like laughing at his predicament. She started climbing the slope, imagining herself having to scrub Nick clean again in their bathroom—maybe he should write about that.

But she stopped when she heard a violent ruffling of leaves.

“What’s that?” Nick asked, alarmed. The sound came from the other side of the clearing. Lucy didn’t say anything. The noise grew, the bark of the trees breaking like frail sticks. Something was coming for them, out of the deep of the woods.

“Holy shit,” Nick screamed. “Lucy! Lucy!” He screamed for her, but she didn’t go back. Her heart was beating fast, and she was trying as hard as she could to climb the slope. She could hear the thing moving towards Nick, and Nick’s desperate screams. When Lucy got back to the trail, she didn’t stop; not even when Nick’s screaming came to an abrupt end, not even when the noise she heard was that of the crushing of a body, the crushing of bones, a sound wet and horrifying. She started running. She didn’t stop until she was back inside the house. She gathered her breath and she tapped the emergency number.

A partial true: that’s what she told them. She told them about the hike and about Nick getting hurt. But she didn’t tell them about whatever it was that came through the trees. She told them she’d left Nick to go and call for help and, when she got back, he was gone. They found the clearing, but nothing else. No trace of Nick. No trace of blood. Gone. Missing.

She barely leaves the house anymore. She didn’t notice that until a day or two ago, when she was out to buy fresh vegetables and started to feel a shorten of breath. She came back home and gave a little tap to the mailbox, like greeting an old friend, and walked the path to the house; and then her breath became normal again. I’m turning into them, Lucy thought.

She starts getting her groceries delivered. At night, she dreams of Nick standing outside the house, throwing rocks so he can get her attention. Sometimes, it’s not Nick, but the missing boy again. She has other dreams: the ones she hate the most are about her father; more exactly, about his garage. Lucy dreams that one of his chairs is still there, covered by plastic—and that, little by little, the chair grows, sprouts are born in the wood just as pustules on human skin, and the chair’s legs become roots. They crush the floor and find the soil again. They grow so much they soon start to rise from the earth to embrace the whole of house, while Lucy sleeps inside of it.

Lucy wonders when her time will come. When it will be her time to go into the woods, to the thing that took Nick and the boy, the thing that made her mother try to disappear inside a tree. She drinks her tea and she waits. Nobody calls anymore, not even Nick’s grandmother. Soon enough, she’ll stop being a part of the world—the real world. And so the woods will at last claim her.

She’s not afraid. She waits patiently. She goes to bed and closes her eyes and tries to imagine the day her dreams won’t be dreams anymore. The day she’ll hear a rattle and wake up and find the Spinner, with her long limbs, staring at her with her many eyes, asking for Lucy to open the window and to join them. And Lucy thinks that’s exactly what she’ll do. She’ll leave all of this behind—this house, this cocoon—and walk straight into the Spinner’s loving arms. And they’ll all be there: her loved ones, as few as they were, to welcome her home.

About the Author

Clara Madrigano is a Brazilian author of speculative fiction. She publishes both in Portuguese and in English, and you can find her fiction in The Dark and in Clarkesworld.