Patrick arranged with the Ranger for the twins to attend a survival workshop. They would learn about insects, trees, plants, and fish discovered in the lake. Luliana hugged Daciana, ready to absorb the knowledge on offer. She wanted to be a part of the project. It was a chance to inspire the next generation to preserve this beautiful woodland. Daciana seemed unenthused by their fun-packed day, shrugging her sister away. With arms folded, Daciana remained quiet when asked what was wrong.
The moodiness had begun the previous night when Leticia offered to read to her. Daciana sat unresponsive as Leticia added flourishes to the story. Downstairs she could hear Patrick and Luliana washing up. Amongst the clanging of pots, Patrick splashed and threatened to tickle her. Luliana squealed and giggled, calling him ‘daddy’. A reminder of how perfect the younger twin believed their family was. Except it wasn’t. Leticia was a good woman, and Patrick lit up whenever she entered the room. For a moment, Daciana forgot the reality, embracing Leticia into their lives. Yet, the memory of Caleb cooing over Cornelius made her want to scream. All she and Luliana knew of their life was a lie. Daciana could no longer accept the world presented.
Leaving the girls behind, Leticia and Patrick headed deeper into the forest. Due to the lack of rainfall, the ground crunched and rustled beneath their feet. The chilled air made misty breath, and Leticia clung tighter to Patrick for warmth. In Luliana’s storybooks, Patrick wondered if there might be some truth. He had not seen anything on the map pin on the campsite board, and the Ranger gave him a vague answer. They trudged through the thicket, brambles clinging and snagging their clothes. A babbling brook tempted them, fish were easy to attract, and he knew they were close. He risked his hands, pulling back a cluster of brambles, revealing an archway. Branches, woven together, created a snicket into the darkened overgrowth. Leticia hesitated, shuddering at the thought of the spiders or biting insects. Patrick held her hand, keeping her close. His phone provided restricted light, as though the blackness were thick treacle. The brambles drooped behind, sealing them in.
At the far end, lights flickered, and a fresh autumn breeze filled their nostrils. Patrick braced himself for the stabbing pain as he cleared their path. Instead, these were vines, flowing over his jacket, inviting them into the sun. Luliana’s books did not prepare either for the sight. The breeze danced through the trees, bushes and flowers. Along with water; it sounded musical. Leticia believed she could hear singing. Things around them appeared clearer and sparkled. The stories claimed this was the fairies keeping this world alive. An area which broke away from the Magic Realm and hid from those looking to steal its secrets.
The woodland had given way to a clearing edged by jagged rocks on one side. Waterfalls carved their path into deep pools, a rippling glass into another world. A solitary house sat idling with planters and boxes filled with temptation. Leticia peered in through the window and queried through an open door. The home had a lived-in feel, centuries of solitude and memories of a bygone era. She backed away from the door, recalling other stories. People, lured in by the comforts of home, then baked in an oven at one hundred and fifty degrees. Their muscular flesh was seasoned and seared on all sides. Hunters discovered casserole dished with a mouth-watering stock, garlic and herbs. Fleshy temptation of the worst kind, all baked for six hours. The meat fell away from the bone of the person they had searched for, the realisation driving them mad.
Leticia hurried towards Patrick as he considered the unusual plants. She tugged at his jacket, her eyes darting across to the trees. He laughed off her concerns, deciding he should curb her television viewing to a PG level. Pocketing his cuttings, he agreed to return. The sun was setting, and the girls would be home with hundreds of stories to share.