I thought I'd try something completely different and write something with a more supernatural twist to it. This story is inspired by The Erlking, a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
My memory of the events of my early life is… troublingly clear. As much as I have tried to forget--occupying my mind with music and science--the memory comes flooding back every time I am unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of my reflection.
I do not know what I looked like… before. My father found mirrors sinful, as they encourage vanity. It is one of the few things I remember about my parents. I remember that my mother smelled of apples and… was it mint? Maybe I don't remember as well as I thought.
The point is, the first sight of my reflection has become one of my most horrific memories.
I should never have ventured out into the forest. I had been rather ill for the past week and only just had the strength to leave my bed. My mother warned me to stay inside, worried the cold winter air my exasperate my struggling lungs and bring the fever back.
But, like any young boy, I was restless from my confinement and prone to boredom. It didn't take much time before I'd had enough of my dull little house and made my daring escape.
My life's greatest mistake.
Once I took that first step into the forest, I was ruined. There was a great, swirling of leaves and mist that--oh, how do I explain it?--called to me. It drew me further and further in until my house was long out of sight. I came out of my trance to find myself totally and irrevocably lost.
I was a small boy, lost and terrified. The hopelessness I felt then! I began to cry.
And that's when I saw him.
The swirling leaves separated from the mist and formed themselves into the shape of a man. He was large and exuded power. He had golden eyes, which shimmered and glowed. The sight sounds more frightening than it was. He was smiling at me. Somehow… don't ask me why… but that made all the difference.
"Do not cry, young child," he crooned softly, "There is no reason to be afraid."
"W-who are you?" I asked. I admit that my curiosity was getting the best of me. I have always been something of a skeptic when it comes to… well anything, really… and the forest-man's sudden appearance made me frown, questioning my own faculties. But, at least my tears had stopped.
"I am the King of this place."
"The forest?" I asked, stupidly. When one discovers a man, forming from nothing before their very eyes, it tends to impair one's critical thinking skills. Besides, I was not aware that the forest needed a king. Nobody lived there… who would he rule?
He smiled indulgently and nodded.
"Why have I never seen you before?"
"There has never been a need."
"And there is now?"
Again he nodded. I had a brief fit of coughing and his eyes took on a sort of glow... a flash of red that disappeared so quickly I questioned whether it had ever been there.
"Why?" I asked.
"I have a proposition for you."
I did not like the sound of that. His voice was gentle and his eyes were… mostly sincere. But, I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was not right. It is how I imagine a rabbit feels when there is a wolf hidden nearby.
"What do you want?"
"Come with me."
"Come with me, into the forest. I have a palace all prepared for you. It is a glorious place, with more toys and sweets than you can imagine. Come with me and play games until long after the sun has set."
I scowled a bit. Toys and sweets never held much appeal for me. My parents used to joke that I was too adult for my own good. True, I required almost constant entertainment, but I would rather amuse myself with learning and drawing and nature... not silly, childish play.
The man seemed to realize his misjudgment and changed his angle.
"There are many things, in the forest, that you have never witnessed. If you come with me, I will show you the parts of the forest that cannot be seen with mortal eyes."
"When will I be able to go home?"
He didn't answer; only smiled. For a long time, we just stood there and stared at each other. I was confused, and still very frightened, and the man seemed entirely too… cunning… for my comfort. After a time, I nervously tried to back up.
I managed to move away a few steps but, as I turned to run away, I suddenly felt that unseen force compelling me back to him.
"Please, sir! Let me leave. I think my mother is calling me!" In my growing panic, my lungs rebelled and I launched into another coughing fit. "I… am… not well, sir. I must go back home. My mother will be very cross if I am not in bed soon."
"Come to me, my beloved," he called, extending his hand. I winced at the endearment. It was all too possessive and… falsely affectionate. "If you follow me to my palace, I promise you will never be ill again."
"No! Leave me be! I want my mother!"
Irritation crossed the man's face before he donned a strained smile.
"Where I come from, you will never miss your mother again. You must meet my daughters, beloved, you will adore them. They will dance and sing and hold you until you are fast asleep."
The promise sounded rather tempting. My parents were good people, I believe, and they loved me. But did not have the time to give me that type of attention. Embraces were few and treasured.
"It is cold outside, have you noticed?"
Of course I'd noticed. It was nearly freezing. That was why Mother had demanded that I stay inside… not that it was much warmer in the house. Father's business was struggling and firewood was scarce.
"Your family is very poor, no?"
"How would you know that?" And why did I have this feeling that he was looking into my mind?
"You do not have the money to heat your house. You are cold all of the time… and hungry. Come with me and you will never feel those things again. Tonight you will rest in the arms of my daughter. She will keep you warm as she rocks you to sleep. Oh yes, I know which daughter is for you! She will remain by your side and love you forever."
Something came over me. I felt like he was taking information straight out of my soul and using it to tempt me.
"Which daughter?" I asked, eagerly. "What does she look like?"
There was a tingling in the front of my head and I felt someone sifting through my mind as you would a deck of cards. Snippets of memories and forgotten dreams floated through my mind until…
Another flash of red came across the forest-man's eyes as he gave the most wicked smile I had ever seen.
"My beloved," he smiled, ignoring my flinch, "she is the most beautiful of them all. I could tell you… but, perhaps it would be better if I showed you."
He took some of the fog that surrounded him and formed it into a ball in the palm of his hand. He floated the ball in front of my face and I watched, enraptured, as it transformed into the image of a young lady. She had silvery blond hair and eyes of the clearest blue I had ever seen.
I recognized that face. I had dreamt of her more than once.
We had one book in the house, besides our worn family Bible, and it was a book of children's stories and fairy tales.
Only my father could read, as far as they knew. I had taught myself years earlier, the way I taught myself most things--through sheer strength and awkwardness. I am not certain why I did not want my parents to know this. Perhaps they thought I was strange enough, and I did not want to scare them with sudden knowledge.
But that is irrelevant. The point is that I read those stories again and again until they became part of my very fabric. Then they morphed and changed in my overactive imagination until I had a clear mental image of every setting and character imaginable.
And when an angel appeared in a story, it was her face I saw.
She was my angel. That girl with the pale blond hair. My mouth went dry as I gazed at the vision.
I hadn't given it much thought at the time, but upon further reflection, I remembered how my hands seemed to be growing ever colder and my chest was becoming heavy.
But, strangely enough, my cough had disappeared.
"You… you will take me to her?" I breathed, not bothering to look at the man.
"Of course," replied the king. His voice was too triumphant, which should have been a warning to me. But I was too mesmerized by the misty image in front of me to care about anything else.
He reached out with skeletal hands and gripped my shoulders. I did not give the slightest murmur of protest as he lifted me up and carried me away.
The rest is… something of a blur. It is as if I fell into a deep sleep. It is possible… unsettling as it is to think about… that I actually died then, in his arms. There really is no logical explanation for anything that happened from that moment on.
I have learned never to dismiss something simply because it does not seem plausible.