I was just a boy when I first discovered Fey Hollow, or perhaps, when it discovered me. I came across the path leading to it down from my grandparents’ house where I would often visit in the summer months, wild and free from the responsibilities of school. At ten years of age, whiling the days away in the simple pleasures of fresh air and sunshine, I stumbled upon the strange dirt path running through the forest, somehow sinister and inviting all at once. I recall the particular feeling of dreadful excitement I first had when I found the tree lined trail, unpaved but well-worn by the passage of many small feet over a very long time. It curled and swayed this way and that, not appearing to obey any logic or whim, the twists and turns of its passage taking it through swaths of deep shadow, over fallen trees and across babbling brooks. I had to follow it, of course, even though I knew that there was something darkly magical about the road I trod. I had played in the woods many times before and, though I was not the best natural pathfinder, I knew this trail had, somehow, never before lay where it now did. Still, a puzzle so mysterious at this, my natural boyish curiosity was simply too powerful for my inherent caution to overcome.
I don’t know how long I followed the path. Time and reality seemed to enter into a kind of waking dream as I traveled along, and as I continued, the sun gave way to sparkling moonlight visible through the leaf lined branches of the trees spreading wide above, stars foreign and unknown to me twinkling brightly with strange eldritch light. Despite the oddity of my journey and the expectant terror that should have beset me from being alone in a place that I was wholly unfamiliar, all that I felt was a sense of calm and belonging. The barest tinkling silver scraps of music reached my ears as I walked, so faint that they could almost be taken as my imagination, but the strains were so cheerful and inviting that any possible thoughts of discontinuing my journey were rapidly driven from my mind.
The farther I got along the path, the closer I got to the music, the quicker my steps became, my feet slapping against the dirt in time with the rapidly increasing beat of my heart as it thundered within my chest. I was forced to pause for a moment when, from the corner of my eye, I spotted a strange glint of moonlight sharply reflect from inside a hollowed-out portion of a tree just off the path. I faltered, unable to decide between continuing on towards the bewitching music or investigating this newly discovered phenomena, before ultimately choosing to pursue the latter. Surely the music would wait for me just a moment.
Reaching into the tree, my fingers felt the cold smoothness of carved metal. I retrieved the object from within and found it was a sort of pendant strung upon a leather thong and inlaid in silver, its center stone encircled by an alien but beautiful script that was unknown to me. Most strangely, the gem itself softly glowed, seemingly by means of its own power. As I studied my newfound treasure, I was shocked to discover that my feet, apparently of their own accord, had continued to guide me along the path, again traveling towards the haunting music that still beckoned me onward. Regaining conscious control of my passage, slightly shaken by my auto-ambulation despite the reassuring lilt of the music, I slipped the pendant into my pocket and cautiously proceeded, exhilarant and nervous to discover what might lay at the end of the forest path.
At last, the way passed through a high wooden archway before opening into a large clearing perhaps a bit more than a quarter mile in diameter that, to my wonder, appeared to be occupied by a fantastic carnival. I continued walking, proceeding down the midway running through the center of the grove, the path lined on either side by colorful booths decorated with garish paints and sparkling lights that offered games of chance and all manner of delightful confections. Dozens of other children ran about me, alone and in packs of two, three, or more, all squealing in glee. Each of the individual booths were appealing in their own right. The gaming stands offered great variety from ring tosses to whack-a-mole, and each bore the promise of enormous stuffed animals as prizes, their features so well-crafted as to seem wholly lifelike. The food stands advertised the most sumptuous of treats, apples fairly dripping with caramel, blue and pink cotton candy handed out in huge clouds atop paper cones, and foot-long hot dogs piled high with molten cheese and chili. Each of the offerings seemed so incredibly perfect that the thought of choosing one over the other proved overwhelming, so instead I simply continued to walk along and marvel again at each newly revealed sight. The music that had drawn me along the path continued here unabated, saturating the air but somehow simultaneously coming from nowhere.
Reaching the center of the clearing, I found that the midway reached a sort of hub, with two other paths combining to create a ‘y’ dividing the fairgrounds into three roughly equal parts. Each of the paths themselves were lined with booths similar to the one I had already traversed, and on further inspection, each section of the fairgrounds played host to a different attraction. In one was a roller coaster, its first hill taller than the surrounding trees, the train roaring at terrific speeds along the track as the riders screeched in delight. In another rose a great Ferris wheel, lights flickering in sequence along its many arms. And in the final third, directly ahead and serving as a focal point and apex to the entire park, stood an enormous, haunted house attraction, its exterior covered with animatronic ghosts and ghouls.
The center hub where I was now standing was occupied by two distinct features, an enormous fountain topped by a statue of three children at play, and a ticket booth. I looked at the fountain. Streams of water poured from the statue children’s mouths, their lips split into grins so wide that it made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Hundreds of coins lay in the bottom of the fountain, glistening in the moonlight pouring down from above. Looking up, I saw the pale, full moon shone brightly, the upper expanse of sky now devoid of tree branches. I felt for sure that the moon was the closest I had ever seen it, fully two or three times larger than it had ever been before. The shock I felt when the imposed face typically called “the man in the moon” turned and gave me a fully realized wink and grin was only slightly greater than when I realized the celestial body possessed far more feminine features than I could have ever before imagined.
“Beautiful, isn’t she? Don’t you agree with me?”
I jumped in surprise as a piping voice spoke from directly behind me. Turning I found myself confronted with a strange creature, perhaps two feet in height. The being was dressed all in green, from its pants and coat to the little hat on its head, and its ears were tapered to points at their ends. All told, it resembled nothing so much as a classic elf from the fairy tales my grandparents would read to me before I fell asleep every night.
“Yes, she certainly is,” I replied politely, taught through rout practice and the switch that one should always behave properly when confronted with new acquaintances. “I’m Trevor. Please, sir, could you tell me where I am?” I reached down, offering my hand to shake.
The creature giggled but did not move to take my hand.
“Oh, so polite, calling Binkle ‘sir’.” But that not necessary, no my word. Why is master Trevor not having his fun, as that, in Fey Hollow, is what all children have done?
“Fey Hollow? Is that the name of this place?”
The strangely speaking thing called Binkle nodded animatedly.
“Yes, yes, Fey Hollow is where all the children come for fun, and when it’s done, they’re off to run. Now get your tickets, master Trevor, so you can have fun too. Hurry now, before the night is through!”
The diminutive creature turned and skipped off down the path to the left. I stood, bemused, unsure of how to proceed. I turned my attention to the ticket booth, its exterior striped with inviting bands of red and white, the window manned by another being that could have been Binkle’s twin. I approached the counter and began to rummage in my pockets.
“I’d like some tickets please, sir. I’m afraid, as I hadn’t been intending on coming to your fair, I don’t have much money on me.”
“Oh, never fear, master Trevor, dear. Tickets here for children are free. Have as many as you please.” The little being held out a handful of red and purple pull tickets towards me. With my left hand I reached to take the offered slips, but in the moment before my finger would have touched them, my other hand, still in my pocket, brushed the amulet I had discovered in the hollow tree along the path just minutes ago. With that contact, I received the biggest shock of the evening thus far, as a sort of wave shimmered across the entire tableau of the fairgrounds and a fog seemed to dissipate itself from before my eyes.
I flinched, a knot of dread instantaneously forming itself in the center of my gut. The red and white striped ticket stand was gone, instead replaced by a blocky, eight-foot-tall creature like living stone. The “window” as I had seen it was now revealed to be the cavernous mouth of the creature, its upper and lower ridges lined with large sharp looking teeth encrusted with flakes of dark reddish brown. A slimily dripping tongue tipped with tiny, yellow spines exuding an oozing green mucus extended, occupying the very space that the elf had been offering my tickets. The fountain behind it was still there, but the smiling children upon it I had seen as statues were instead corpses, the liquid springing from their mouths not clear water but the red scarlet of fresh blood. The silvery music that had drawn me to the grove was also still present, but instead of a whimsical, inviting tune, it was a screeching cacophony sounding nothing so much as fingernails scratched along a chalk board. Stumbling back, the hand in my pocket lost contact with the pendant, and instantly the booth, fountain, and music illusions snapped back into place, the elf in the window smiling saccharine sweet as it reached towards me, arm still extended. I fumbled to try to make words in my mouth, but my tongue felt swollen and unwieldly behind my lips.
At last, I managed to gasp out, “I, uh, think I’ll look around a bit more before I get my tickets, ah. Sir. I don’t want to, um…rush into things.” With an incredible effort of will, I turned back the way I came, terrified that the thing might decide to simply reach out and snatch me with that horrific prehensile appendage and pull me bodily into its disgusting maw, but not wanting it to see the tears that had sprung to my eyes and begun to slide down my cheeks. As slowly, and with as much control as I was able, I retraced my path down the midway in the direction I had entered, moving one shaky step after another back towards the entrance to the fairgrounds. A terrible thought crossed my mind and, after a moment’s deliberation, I hesitatingly gripped the amulet in my pocket once more. Again, the illusion fell away, and to my growing panic I realized that it was not merely the ticket booth that hid a darker and more horrific countenance, but rather the entire landscape and its occupants that were camouflaged behind a glamour of childish beauty.
The midway booths alone were enough to give me nightmares for the rest of my life. My cleared perception now saw them as they were, still games and eateries to be sure, but nothing so innocently joyous as what I had first seen. The dart toss had a boy pinned to the wall, each projectile impacting with a sickening thud and a scream of pain from the tortured target. Similarly, at the whack-a-mole station, giggling children wielding sledgehammers pounded away at bloodied and broken heads that raised and lowered, so disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable.
The stands offering refreshments were just as awful. The candy apples were, in reality, human hands and feet impaled on sticks, and my stomach lurched in disgust as two younger children walked by me, unwittingly devouring their ungodly treats, blood smearing their lips and dribbling down their chins. The various fair patrons were not merely the unknowing perpetrators of the horrors, however, but far to the contrary. The cotton candy appeared to actually be some sort of amorphous jelly that, once taken in hand by its unknowing victims, slowly and inevitably crawled up their arms, surrounded their heads, and began to eat. I saw perhaps twenty children, their heads engulfed by the insatiable blobs, wandering aimlessly, their skin and in some cases parts of their skulls simply dissolved away. The hotdogs were strange, wriggling worms that slipped themselves into the children’s mouths and, with a sickening convulsing motion, proceeded to force their way down their throats. Several bodies lying about, large open wounds still bleeding from their exploded stomachs, told me what happened next. And these were not the worst. No, that distinction belonged to the three main attractions.
The general contour of the roller coaster remained the same, but now with the illusion lifted it became obvious that it was in fact a large serpentine beast, its snakelike body rising and curling about in the same path that the train had appeared to take. Its massive head lay at the “entrance”, and I watched as a line of waiting riders walked willingly into its open mouth. They appeared to be chatting excitedly until, with the tenth individual passing into that horrifying void, the maw clashed shut. After a couple long moments, ten twitching lumps quieted, then began to pass through the creature like a constrictor digesting its prey. The jaws opened again, and the next ten passed inside.
My petrified attention turned to the ferris wheel, which had been revealed by the amulet as a massive spider web stretched among the trees. Again, docile children stood and waited their turn as, one by one, they were scooped up by giant arachnids the size of ponies, rapidly enwebbed, and hung upside down upon the many spokes of the silken construct. At the center of the web rested a massive spider, easily ten times as large as the others. Periodically the smaller creatures would retrieve one of the thrashing capsules and deposit it in front of what must be the queen, her front legs quickly positioning the captive. A flash of fangs the size of railroad spikes would pierce the prey, the paralyzing venom holding it still for her to subsequently devour the, hopefully unknowing, victim.
The haunted house was, perhaps, the most horrific of all. A stage was set before the structure which I now saw was built entirely of human bones of all shapes and sizes. Upon the stage sat a throne similarly constructed and upon it rested a creature of sylvan and utterly inhuman nature. Though the creature was unquestionably male based on the enormous, flaccid member laying between its legs, its features were distinctly feminine, curled ram horns sprouting from either side of a head whose softly lined face was dominated by large, almond shaped eyes, black as a moonless night. Around the stage rose a number of sharpened stakes, perhaps ten feet tall, and affixed atop each was a child, still very much alive. The being on the throne exuded an air of almost casual boredom and, with a motion of easy indifference, extended a hand holding a golden chalice, allowing it to be filled by the blood oozing from one of the impaled children, before taking the unholy beverage to its lips and drinking deeply. A wash of sickly crimson bathing its mouth, the creature wiped away the residue with the back of its hand, drying it upon the thickly matted hair sprouting from its chest. Its dark eyes flicked to me where I stood staring, and it smiled knowingly at me and winked, the idiosyncrasies of the motion a perfect copy of the expression the animated moon had given to me earlier.
I don’t know how long I had been standing there, desperately trying to move, but too terrified to even twitch, the warmth of urine running down my leg after my bladder involuntarily emptied itself, when a voice again addressed me from behind.
“Beautiful, isn’t she? Don’t you agree with me?”
Through an intense effort of will I turned. The humanoid being was more than ten feet tall and half as wide, white and hairless, its eyeless face split open by a too wide smile containing perhaps a hundred crooked teeth, serrated like a shark. Its long arms hung past its knees and terminated in large-knuckled hands seemingly big enough to envelope me completely and tipped with wicked looking claws. I saw that one of the fingers had been run through a small corpse, the body dressed in a recognizable sage green outfit that revealed the identity of the speaker, of whom I had earlier made my acquaintance.
“She certainly is, Binkle,” I somehow managed to reply, my shaking voice barely a whisper. The creature’s smile widened even farther, seemingly pleased that I remembered it.
“Why is master Trevor still not having his fun? Has he not found something that he would like to have done?”
“No. Uh, no, Binkle, that’s not it.” My entire body was shaking as I faced the monster in front of me, its hand moving the little green suited corpse in time with its words, “It’s just, I think my grandparents will be worried if I’m gone too long. They didn’t know I would be leaving, so I think its best that I be going home now.”
“That makes Binkle feel blue, though what you say is likely true. You’ve taken nothing and thus, still pure, master Trevor can leave, if he is sure?”
“I’m sure,” I squeaked.
The creature named Binkle shrugged.
“In that case, master Trevor must be going then,” its blind head cocked, serpentine tongue dripping with saliva licking its fish white lips, “we’ll have fun when you visit Fey Hollow again.” It extended its arm past me in a gesture directing me back towards the entrance to the fairgrounds. On wooden legs I walked, rigid and barely keeping my balance, edging past the monster called Binkle, my hand never leaving the amulet in my pocket.
Just as I passed through the wooden archway, I heard a voice, soft and feminine, call out to me.
“Be seeing you, Trevor.”
I kept walking, strains of the silvery music still echoing in my ears, its siren song haunting my every step. Despite everything I had seen, whatever magic that powered it was potent enough to still make a part of me want to turn back.
Just as I had on my trip to reach Fey Hollow, I can’t say how long or how far I traveled to get out, just that at some point the strange eldritch twilight gave way to mundane sunshine before depositing me in a part of the forest that I recognized. I slowly lurched back to my grandparents’ house, wordless and shaken, somehow making it to the front porch before collapsing from exhaustion and fear. I don’t remember my grandmother finding me, though I think I remember her scream of fright when she did, and I have a faint recollection of my grandfather taking me up in his strong arms. At that point I completely lost track of things for a little while. When I finally woke up in the hospital a week later, my parents were there, my mother and grandmother keeping careful vigil over me.
After that it took me quite a while to remember anything that had happened that day at Fey Hollow. I suppose that’s what trauma does to you sometimes, when your mind simply isn’t capable of coping with something that it’s seen. I recovered slowly but surely, and if the adults were frustrated by my inability to tell them anything about what had put me into my catatonic state, that was far outweighed by their relief that I was getting better. That was it for my grandparents’ house for the summer, as my mom wanted to keep a more careful eye on me. I can’t rightly say why, but it wasn’t until the next year, pulling back on the shorts I’d been wearing that fateful day, that my hand found the amulet somehow still in the pocket where it had been left, and the memories all came rushing back to me.
The hospital stay was shorter that time, only a couple days when I woke up. The doctors thought I must have some kind of epilepsy, though I think that was more because they couldn’t figure what else it could possibly be that was causing my fits. Nevertheless, that second shock must have been enough to inoculate me to the experience, because once I woke up again, I was able to remember everything I’d seen without going back into a coma, even when I found the amulet on my dresser where my mom had put it.
I spent a lot of my free time after that just sitting in my room, studying the amulet. I took to wearing it underneath my shirt at all times; the conclusion I’d reached was that I’d rather see the scary things coming than be surprised when they got there. On weekends I started going to the library, pouring over the books in the new age and occult section, seeing if I could find anything that would tell me exactly what the pendant was, but I never really found much of anything that I could directly attribute it to. Same with the whole concept of Fey Hollow. Sure, there were plenty of myths and stories about the fairy lands or, heck, even some kinds of extradimensional hellscapes, but for every similarity one story or another had, there were always many more things that just didn’t match up. After a while I started to question my memory of the events as they’d taken place, but every time I did my thoughts would rush right back to the amulet. I had to have found it someplace.
All thoughts of what did or didn’t happen went away the next summer at my grandparents’ house. It had taken some effort to convince my mom, but I really did want to spend time with them. Besides, despite how scared I was, there was a part of me that wanted to confirm once and for all exactly what I had seen.
At first, my grandmother wouldn’t let me go out alone, but eventually I got her worn down. Wandering in the woods, it didn’t take me walking too long before I came upon that same strangely twisting path I’d found two years earlier. It wasn’t in the same place as the first time, but the silvery strains of music trying to draw me down it let me know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was the same trail I’d found before. It was terrifying how hard it was for me to resist that cloying temptation, but holding tightly onto the pendant I wore around my neck, I managed to turn and walk home without looking back. That was the last time I voluntarily went walking in the woods. I thought I was free of Fey Hollow. For a while I was right.
The first time I realized I might not have gotten away cleanly was when I idly looked out the window of my bedroom in my parent’s suburban home, only to find the neighbor’s house and yard had been replaced by a thick, old growth forest with a strangely twisting unpaved trail running through it. The barest hint of silvery music just reached my ears before I drew the blinds.
After that, I had to be careful. Every once in a while, I would be walking down the sidewalk and, if I let my thoughts wander, would find myself heading down the forest path, the unmistakable lilt of music drawing me ever onwards, the strange eldritch stars and moon shining down on me from between the thick tree branches above. Once I was studying in the library, went back in the stacks to grab a book and, turning to go back to my table, realized I was on the trail to the grove. On another occasion the music’s spell had captured me so thoroughly that I was in sight of the wooden entryway to the fairgrounds before I managed to finally realize what was happening. I can’t say the effort to turn away ever really got easier, but it certainly did get more familiar, and the time and distance I had to travel back to wherever I had left, though still unknowable, seemed to somehow shorten every time. The fear was always there though.
That continued for some long years until, abruptly when I turned eighteen, it stopped altogether. I don’t rightly know what it is about being a legal adult that did it, or if it would have made a difference if I’d been born in a country where adulthood was considered to be at an earlier or later age. All I do know is that once I hit college, at some point that first semester I realized I’d been walking to the student lounge daydreaming and hadn’t ended up wandering on the familiar forest path. At some point, after a lot of deliberation and a lot more second guessing, I finally took off the amulet.
I’m in my thirties now. For a long while I thought that I wouldn’t get married, but then I found a woman that I absolutely couldn’t dream of living without. I thought for sure that I would never have kids. But she wants them, and there’s no way I can deny her that either. But I worry.
If I have a child, will the grove come for them? Will they someday find themselves walking along a strangely twisting trail through ancient woods, with a full moon shining down upon them through the creaking branches, the haunting silver music drawing them onwards to the fairgrounds at Fey Hollow? Will the strange creature Binkle greet them the way he did me and invite them to join in the fun? Will the terrible sylvan creature on the throne of bones grin and wink at them knowingly?
I still have the amulet. I don’t know how it ended up in that tree, and I don’t know what providence let me stop and grab it that first day on my way to Fey Hollow. All I know is that it saved my life, maybe my very soul. It sure didn’t stop the hollow from trying to get at me, but at the very least it let me see the monsters for what they truly were. It will belong to my child, once he or she is old enough. I’ll tell them my story, although maybe I’ll leave out some of the more gruesome parts, at least at first. It’s a poor inheritance, to be sure, but it’s also a lesson all of us must learn.
Monsters exist. At some point we all have to decide if we will open our eyes to them, or stay willfully blind. They’ll tempt us, sell us beautiful lies, and ask us to join in their fun. Even if we tell them no, should we go about our days simply floating, we may wake up to realize too late that they’ve taken us. And, if we go too long asleep, we may find we have been devoured.
Written by Shadowswimmer77