Beyond the ForestbySeanathon©
This is my entry to the 2014 Literotica Halloween Story Contest. It's my first stab at Erotic Horror and (I think) it ended up more gothic horror than modern horror. It also turned out longer than I'd originally intended, so I appreciate the patience of anyone who sticks through to the end. Votes and comments are, of course, also greatly appreciated.
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Welcome to Transylvania! Vampires, Werewolves, Witches and Ghosts -- do you believe?
I still remember the poster with those exact words written on it, printed in ghoulish green letters on an ominous black background. The poster was the first thing I noticed as I exited the plane and set foot on Transylvanian soil for the first time.
Did I believe? Well, I certainly didn't believe in vampires or werewolves. And witches? I guess I wouldn't have flown thirteen hours across the Atlantic on a last-minute flight to the other side of the world if I didn't at least believe in their possibility. But ghosts? I've always believed in ghosts.
I was two years old when my father died. My mother, haunted by the memory of him, decided that she could no longer stay in the home they'd shared, so she took my older sister and me with her to live in an old two-story house that she'd rented on the outskirts of town.
She'd went there hoping to come to terms with her sorrow, but with two children that she now had to raise on her own she had little time to mourn. She had her hands full getting my sister ready for first grade and, of course, taking care of me.
I was too young to remember, but she told me that I never stopped talking; even after she'd put me to bed I wouldn't shut up. She'd sit downstairs in the living room, drinking her evening tea, and smile as she listened to the baby monitor and heard me babbling away, having long, animated conversations with myself, all alone in the darkness of my upstairs bedroom.
She never thought anything of it until I started going to playschool. The teacher had told us to draw a picture of our family and I drew my mother, my sister, myself and a boy with bright red hair.
When my mother came to pick me up and saw the drawing on the classroom wall, she asked me if that was supposed to be my father, who'd had black hair. I told her no, it was my best friend. Assuming I meant someone in my class, she smiled as she looked around at the other boys and asked me which one he was. But I told her my friend didn't go to school -- he lived in my bedroom.
My teacher told her not to be worried; it was common for children to have imaginary friends. But my mother told me later the drawing had sent a chill down her spine. She'd always felt an unease about the upstairs room, and didn't like going up there alone, but had tried to convince herself it was only her imagination.
That evening she let me sleep downstairs in her bed with her, but when she woke up in the dead of night I was gone. And then she heard me in the upstairs bedroom -- laughing as if I was playing with someone.
The next night she made me sleep in her bed again and told me that I was not, under any circumstances, to go to the upstairs bedroom. When she woke in the middle of the night she was relieved to find me still sleeping beside her. But then she noticed something else -- smoke.
By the time the fire engines arrived the house was engulfed in flames. My mother, my sister and I had all got out in time and were huddled together across the street in our nightclothes as we watched the firemen throwing out hoses to battle the blaze that was devouring our home. As we watched the hungry flames lick out of the doorway and shattered windows, a fireman came frantically running toward us.
His eyes wide with alarm, he cried, "How many more children are in the house?!"
My mother blinked in surprise and said none; all of us had safely escaped.
He glanced back at the dying house, and then said, "But what about the boy? The boy with the red hair in the upstairs window!"
When the sun rose the next morning there was nothing left of the house but charred timbers, blackened bones of the home that had once been there. We went to live in a small, two-bedroom apartment, but my mother couldn't stop thinking of the house, couldn't stop thinking of that upstairs bedroom.
A family friend told her she should see a psychic and my mother, desperate for peace of mind, finally agreed. And the psychic, who knew nothing of the fire, took one look at my mother's palm and told her that a restless spirit was searching for her -- a spirit in the form of a boy.
My mother was terrified. She'd never believed in psychics before, but now she was begging this one to tell her what to do. And she told my mother that she had to flee, and that only a large body of water could prevent the ghost from following us. So my mother picked the largest body of water she knew and took us across the Atlantic Ocean to our new home, America.
She didn't tell me that story until I was a teenager. I don't remember the red-haired boy. I barely even remember the house. But listening to her tell that story, hearing the tremble in her voice and seeing the fear in her eyes...I guess that's why I've always believed in ghosts.
Oh, and there's one other reason how I know ghosts are real. I don't want to ruin the end of this story, but let me give you a little hint. By the time this story is over, I will have already died.
But enough about that, let's go back to the beginning of this story, the beginning of the end. After getting off the plane at Sibiu International Airport in late October, I traveled to the city of Brasov by rail.
The train was packed with tourists on their annual pilgrimage to Brasov and a site sacred to all horror film fans and Halloween aficionados -- Dracula's castle.
Of course, the castle didn't really belong to Dracula. Its true name is Bran Castle and it's a national monument and landmark in Romania. However, it's marketed as having once been the famous fictional vampire's home. There's no evidence that Bram Stoker knew anything about the castle when he researched his story (without ever having left England), but that hasn't stopped more than half a million fans from around the world from flocking to it every year.
But I wasn't headed to Brasov to find a vampire; I was going there to find a witch. My problem, though, was that I had no idea where to start looking. The gypsy woman had told me the witch's name, but other than that I had nothing and, honestly, like I said before, I wasn't sure if I even believed in witches. But now, with my wife's very life at stake, I knew I had no choice other than to believe.
I stepped off the train and stared around the station as a flood of tourists washed past me, murmuring with excitement at the realization that they were about to spend Halloween in Transylvania.
And the city was ready for them. Romanians had come to rely on tourism for money after the fall of communism, and the people of Brasov were no exception. The station was full of vendors hawking Dracula-related merchandise and sightseeing companies pushing Halloween parties and tours.
I passed by them, ignoring their sales pitches and brochures. I had no interest in Halloween; I needed to find a witch. But as I hurried through the crowded station, a voice rose above the din.
"Come see the real Transylvania! Journey through the dark woods and across the mystical mountains that have inspired the legends! Starting in the scenic village of Magura -- "
The name cut through the clamor like a knife. I pushed my way past a girl carrying a backpack two sizes too large for her and found the man I'd heard.
"Excuse me," I said. "Did you say your tour starts in Magura?"
"Yes," he said in thickly accented English, as he eagerly handed me a brochure with a giant brown bear on the cover. "The tour starts in the beautiful village of Magura. From there we..."
I didn't hear what he said next. I barely heard anything after the word Magura. I'd never even heard of the town until one day earlier, when the gypsy woman had told me the witch I was seeking would be found there. But now I knew it was the one place in the world I had to be.
"I'll take it," I said, interrupting him. "I'll take the tour."
"That is wonderful," he said, beaming with surprise at my enthusiasm. "There is a map to Magura on the back of the brochure. The tour starts tomorrow at ten and -- "
"No!" I said, cutting him off a second time. "I need to get to Magura today. I want to start the tour now."
He smiled and shook his head. "I'm afraid that is impossible. It is already too late in the day, and there are still three more spots on tomorrow's tour that I need to fill."
I pulled out my wallet. "How much is it?"
"The tour? It is 200 lei, but that includes -- "
I held up my hand, I didn't need his spiel. "How much is that in dollars?"
He did a quick mental calculation. "About sixty dollars."
I pulled three one-hundred-dollar bills out of my wallet and pushed them into his hand. "There, I'll book the whole tour. Can we leave now?"
He blinked in surprise at the money and hesitated for a second, as if he was about to refuse it. But then he quickly nodded and stuffed the bills into his pocket. "Of course, we can leave immediately. Do you have luggage?"
I hefted the small carry-on, all that I'd packed for the last minute flight, and showed it to him.
With a surprised look, he said, "That is all that you have brought?"
I nodded. "It's all I'll need."
He introduced himself as Andrei, and it wasn't long before we were in his small red car, driving through the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Brasov on our way out of the city. As he drove, he said, "Pardon me for asking, but why are you so anxious to get to Magura?"
"I need to find someone there."
He shrugged his shoulders. "I am not complaining, but three hundred American dollars is a lot of money. You could have taken a taxi there for a fraction of that."
"I don't just need you to get me to Magura. There's something I need you to help me with once we get there."
He glanced over at me. "Help you? Help you with what?"
I nervously twisted my wedding ring, wondering how much I could say without sounding completely crazy. Finally, I just said it. "I need you to help me find a witch."
Andrei burst into laughter. "A witch? That is why you are in such a rush to get to Magura -- to find a witch?"
"Please," I said, desperate to convince him I wasn't like the others who came to Transylvania, chasing after stories spawned in the imaginations of second-rate writers and wishing they were true. "This witch is real. You have to believe me!"
He put up his hand, fighting to control his laughter. "Please do not misunderstand me. I simply meant that if you wish to find a witch, you do not have to travel all the way to Magura."
"Then you...you really do believe me? You believe that witches are real?"
"Of course," he said, pointing out the window. "There's one right there!"
I glanced toward the sidewalk, where a small kiosk was loaded with Dracula-themed t-shirts, mugs, key rings and postcards. Walking past it was a laughing, dark-haired girl in a sexy witch costume, complete with short skirt, striped leggings and black, pointy hat. Her boyfriend was walking beside her, and as he caught me gawking at her from the car window he glared back at me.
"Not her," Andrei said with a laugh. "There!"
I looked toward where he was pointing and just past the kiosk, below a large billboard offering guided tours of Dracula's castle, there was a yellow door with a red eye painted on it.
"I don't understand," I said. "What is it?"
"That is where the witch is. That is her shop."
"Her shop? Wait -- you're actually telling me there's a real witch inside there?!"
"Of course," he said, as he parked the car. "Romania is full of witches. But they are not like the witches in your American movies. They do not fly around on broomsticks. They are more like...fortune tellers. But if you are lucky you might find one who can cast a spell or remove a curse for you," he added with a wink.
The tall, brightly-painted medieval buildings that lined both sides of the narrow cobblestoned street were packed tightly together, blocking out the late afternoon sun and cloaking the sidewalks in shadows. In the distance, a faint peal of bells echoed from a church. I approached the door to the witch's shop and couldn't help noticing the cracked and peeling paint, and the small sign in the velvet-curtained window that let me know she accepted both Visa and MasterCard.
I turned to Andrei, and said, "But the witch I'm looking for...I was told I'd find her in Magura."
Andrei shook his head. "I have lived there all my life. Trust me -- there are no witches in Magura. But this witch, Alisia, she knows all of the other women who practice her craft. If the witch you are seeking is anywhere in Transylvania, she will know where to find her."
We went inside and a heavy-set woman with dark hair greeted us. She wore a low-cut black gypsy dress that showed off her ample cleavage, barely concealed by a thick golden necklace of moons and stars. Andrei spoke a few words to her in Romanian and she smiled and nodded in understanding.
She waved her hand toward a table, covered in the accoutrements of her trade, and invited me to sit down. As I did, she clasped both my hands comfortingly in hers and said in heavily-accented English, "I am sure I will be able to perform any service you require -- and very affordably, might I add -- but tell me, who is this witch that you think you must find?"
I'd written down the name as soon as the old gypsy woman had told it to me, to make sure I'd remember it. But I hadn't forgotten it; the name was seared into my memory. I took a deep breath, and said, "Matusa Ildiko."
As soon as I spoke the name, the witch's pleasant visage twisted into a mask of fear. She jerked her hands away from mine as if suddenly realizing I had the plague. Just as quickly she recovered, smoothing her dress down as she forced a smile and said, "You are mistaken. There is no witch in Transylvania by that name."
"Please," I said, digging in my wallet for the piece of paper with her name on it to make sure I'd pronounced it right. "I was told I'd find her in Magura, and her name is Mat -- "
She slammed her palm against the table to silence me. "Never speak that name again in my house!" she shrieked.
I looked at Andrei, and saw he was just as bewildered as I was. Reaching into my wallet, I pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and tried to hand it to her. "Please, you obviously know -- "
"Get out!" she screamed, waving my money away as if it were cursed. "Get out of my house!"
Andrei and I stumbled back out onto the sidewalk as she slammed the door in our face and bolted it shut.
"I am so sorry," he said. "Witches always act strangely, but I have never seen anything like that! Did you want to see if I can find another witch in Brasov? Maybe she will know the woman you seek."
"No," I said, shaking my head. "I think we should continue on to Magura."
The witch hadn't told me anything, but her reaction had. Ever since the moment I'd decided to leave my dying wife's side and fly to Romania I'd been tormented by the fear that I was making a huge mistake. Her mother and my sister had begged me not to go, told me I had to be losing my sanity if I believed the ravings of an old gypsy. They pleaded with me to stay, so I could be with my wife when the end came.
But I'd refused to just wait helplessly by her side, waiting for her life to be over, because there was something that neither my sister nor my mother-in-law knew, something else that the old gypsy had whispered to me. A secret from my past that told me what she said was true.
And now I knew that the witch I was hunting was real. The violent response that just the mention of her name had provoked had confirmed it for me. But as we drove away from the other witch's shop, the closed sign now hanging in her window, I remembered the look of fear on her face and worried, if I found Matusa Ildiko, just how dear the price for her aid would be.
* * *
Magura was less than half an hour away, and as we neared the rustic village I felt as if I was entering a hinterland between folklore and reality. The picturesque landscape was a scattered collection of cottages and tumbledown barns, with haystacks dotting the nearby mountain meadows before they gave way to the dark forests and brooding mountains that surrounded the remote hamlet.
A narrow road wound through the village, and as we followed it a horse-drawn cart rattled past in the opposite direction. Andrei gave the driver a friendly wave and then pointed toward a small two-story cottage in the distance with wood smoke drifting lazily from the chimney.
"This is my house," he said. "But I am afraid that it is too late in the day to start the tour. Have you made any plans?"
"Plans?" I said, echoing him.
"Plans for where you will stay while you are...looking for your witch."
I shook my head. I didn't have any plans for where I was going to stay. As a matter of fact, I didn't have any plan at all. The gypsy had told me to travel to the village of Magura and that was what I'd done. But she'd also told me to find the witch Matusa Ildiko and, now that I was here, I realized that wasn't going to be as easy as it seemed.
I was still rattled by the frightened reaction to her name in Brasov. And this village was tiny and Andrei, who'd lived here his whole life, had never heard her name before. I had no idea who -- or what -- I was looking for, and the weight of nearly twenty-four hours without sleep was starting to bear down on me. As much as I didn't want to, I knew I would have to wait until tomorrow to continue my hunt for the witch I'd traveled to Transylvania to find.
"Is there a lodge or some kind of B&B here?" I asked, turning to look at the cottages that dotted the small village.
"There are...but the reason I asked whether you had made plans," Andrei said, "is because I do have a small guest room in my house that is available for the night. And of course there will be breakfast in the morning. It is nothing fancy, but -- "
I held up my hand to cut him off. "I'll take it. I don't need fancy."
"Wonderful!" he said, and turned the small car into his dirt driveway. Once we were parked, he grabbed my duffel bag and gestured for me to follow him inside.
I entered the cottage and felt like I'd stepped into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Stout oak beams underpinned the ceiling while rough plaster lined the walls, and an ancient wood stove filled the room with comforting warmth. As I ducked through the doorway, I couldn't help noticing a dried bunch of garlic nailed above it.
There were two women in the room, one young and one old. Both of them happily welcomed Andrei home and, when they noticed me behind him, nodded in greeting.
"This is my bunica, my grandmother," he said. "She lives with me. And this is my neighbor, Adriana. She has been keeping my bunica company while I have been working on my tour business. It is actually very new and I am afraid that, other than you, I have not had any customers. It seems that tourists are far more interested in seeing the fictional Transylvania than the real one."
I said hello to Adriana and she bowed politely. She was dark-haired, in her mid-twenties, and beautiful. Andrei then introduced me to his grandmother and she nodded and said something in Romanian to me.
"She is glad to meet you and welcomes you to our home," Andrei translated. "I'm afraid she doesn't speak English anymore; she had a stroke a few years ago and completely forgot how to speak the language."
"That's too bad," I said. "It's very nice to meet you Bunica."