The Forest of Three. That is what it is called. Nobody knows who named it, or when. In fact, this secluded area is not labeled on maps. It has no official name. Only the name given to it by the townsfolk who live on its edge. The forest of three.

Perhaps it is named after the three tall redwoods that grow in its heart. Three towering giants lifting their heads far above the tree-line. They stand in a circle with overgrown branches extended into each other’s foliage, as if linking arms.

When the wind howls one can see them sway, their powerful roots supplying the great forces needed to prevent them from falling. Viewed from the correct angle, it can appear as if they are attempting to dance, to uproot themselves and skip in a circle with hands joined.

The three redwoods have been left untouched for decades. Although the ancient, well-seasoned wood would surely be profitable for the town’s lumber industry, not a single person has ever suggested cutting them down. The redwoods are viewed by the townsfolk as guardians of the forest, as protectors of the town.

And a very small town it is. How many inhabitants are there? Nobody knows the exact count, for such details are of little concern, but it could not be more than a few hundred. During daylight hours the streets are occasionally filled with lively sounds of children playing. Running, skipping, shouting, and all other manner of things that children are prone to do. However, the town itself is a rather boring place, and not the preferred playground of children.

After all, the town sits next to a large forest. What better playground could a child ask for? Thousands of trees to climb, rocks to overturn, creatures and insects to be examined. A child could spend every day exploring the vast expanse of green, and never happen upon the same tree twice.

Yes, the forest is a perfect place for children. A place for them to explore, to imagine, to learn. The children love the forest greatly. They even sing a nursery rhyme about it. Skipping in circles with hands joined, children will chant:

"Come play, come play in the Forest of Three
You with I, and I with thee.
Oh! Such fun we have in store
Lurking there, forevermore."

Where this rhyme comes from, nobody knows. It is possible that the children themselves wrote it. Yet upon examination, this theory seems implausible. “Forevermore”. “Thee”. Hardly words that a child would understand, let alone include in a song. No, this rhyme speaks of something old, something archaic, something beyond the understanding of children.

For many years, life was peaceful in the small town. Nothing noteworthy occurred. There was no newspaper because there was never any news. A simple lumber town, with a simple lumber industry, populated by simple people. Everything was as it should be. Nothing was out of place.

Then, a child disappeared.

How long ago was this? Few remember the exact year. Several decades ago, at least. A child, whose only concern in life was sweets and playtime, simply vanished.

A town meeting was called. One of the other children claimed they had seen the missing child earlier that day. That the missing child had gone into the forest to play, as usual, and had not come back.

A search party was immediately organized and sent into the forest. They searched for hours, until the falling darkness did not permit them to search any longer.

We’ll search again at first light!

Everything will be fine, it’s probably just a game…

Don’t worry so much!

The townsfolk comforted the child’s terrified parents. As soon as the first rays of sunlight crept through the trees, the search party was out again. They covered miles and miles, hardly stopping for rest or food. Yet there was no trace of the missing child.

Each day they searched, and each day they came back with sore feet, hungry bellies, and no child. Hope was still there, but it was quickly fading. Each day the search party came back sooner and sooner. Each day they spent less and less time looking for the missing child before heading back. Eventually the searches ceased entirely.

If one were to examine the town at that time, at first glance it would appear just as it had before. Men chopped wood, stores had good business, school was in session. Children still played in the streets and in the forest. Of course, the family and friends of the missing child grieved, but nothing would seem out of the ordinary. At first glance.

Look closer, and you would see it. The children, they played, they danced, they sang their nursery rhyme. Yet there was something… odd about their games.

As they skipped in circles, arms together, chanting their favorite tune, there was a distinct gap. Where two children should have been holding hands, they instead held their arms to the side, creating a gap in the circle. A gap that seemed just large enough to make room for another child.

During the rainy season, the children often had to play inside. The school had an ample supply of checkerboards, which were excellent at keeping the children’s minds engaged. If one looked closely at the children playing checkers you would notice a single lonely child. Whereas all other children had partners to play checkers with, this child was on their own. Nevertheless, they seemed to be having a fine time, making moves for both sides of the board, and even becoming angry when they lost to their imaginary partner.

Life in the town continued. The memory of the missing child faded with each year, until the other children scarcely remembered them. Soon, the children matured and had children of their own. The unfortunate, unsolved mystery of the child that went missing was slowly forgotten.

Until a second child vanished.

The adults who remembered the original disappearance were disturbed. The disappearance of another child brought back painful memories. Many of them had been children themselves when the first child went missing, although they remembered very little about that child.

Again, a town meeting was called. During the meeting it surfaced that the child was last seen heading into the forest, eager to play. And again, a search party was formed.

This search party fared no better than the one fifteen years earlier. Although the forest was searched each day for hours, with many many miles of land being covered, not a single trace of the child was ever found. Again, the search party was disbanded, leaving the family to grieve their loss.

After a while, the town seemed to return to normal. Daily life resumed its normal course, just as it had so many years before. Yet if one looked closely at the children, you would notice the same curiosities witnessed fifteen years before.

The children skipped in circles, singing the nursery rhyme that their parents had passed on to them. But again, there was a gap in their group. A void that was only apparent when they danced. This gap appeared to be just a little bit larger than the one before. Perhaps there was now room for two extra children to join in their happy group?

During rainy days when the children were stuck indoors playing with worn out checker sets, there were no longer any lonely children. Every child had a partner to play with. However, laying unnoticed in the corner of the room there was a solitary checker set. It had no players, no children to have fun with it. The pieces were scattered across the board as if a game were currently in progress, yet there was nobody using it.

Who can say what this meant? Maybe nothing. Children are prone to strange behavior, as any parent knows. A gap in their dancing circle, an unused checkerboard. Why should any of these anomalies be cause for concern? In the end, it did not manner. No adult noticed the slightly unusual behavior of the children after either disappearance.

Such was life in the small lumber town. Years continued to pass. Those who were children during the first disappearance became middle-aged. The friends of the second child who disappeared now had children of their own. And life passed by, completely normal.

Until tonight. For tonight is a very special night. If one were to visit the town center you would find it bustling with activity. Worried faces, loud arguments, and a weeping family is what you would find. You see, earlier today a child went into the forest to play and did not return. A town meeting has been called to discuss the best course of action.

Many members of the town remember the initial disappearance, which occurred more than three decades ago. Some are saying that the disappearances are connected. That two disappearances could be coincidence, but not three. Some now believe that the forest is haunted, while others call them crazy.

Early tomorrow morning when the sun begins to rise, a search party will set out to find the missing child. Perhaps they will find the child… and perhaps not. Perhaps the child simply became lost while playing in the forest and could not find their way back home.

Or perhaps tomorrow, when the other children go outside to play and begin dancing in a circle, chanting their nursery rhyme, we will see a gap. A gap just large enough for three extra children to join.

And so tonight I invite you to visit the forest of three. Early tomorrow the determined search party will undoubtedly break the calm silence, the quiet serenity of the forest. But for the next few hours, all is still.

Stroll through the tall, broad redwoods, the thick brush, the moist soil, the trickling creeks. Gaze through the foliage into the night sky to see the bright starlight and thin grey wisps of cloud flowing overhead.

Eventually, you will arrive at the heart of the forest. Here stands three great redwoods, a hundred feet taller and a hundred years older than all others in the forest. They stand with their branches interwoven, as if dancing in a circle.

The wind howls.

The trees begin to sway. Sharp shadows are cast upon the trunks of the great redwoods. The shadows move across the bark, and it appears as if the trees are snarling at you, sneering at some great joke that you cannot understand.

The wind dies.

Close your eyes. Listen for it. The soft rustle of the leaves overhead. The quiet trickle of water through streams. The small animals moving through the brush.

Now it comes. So very distant yet so very clear. An innocent chorus, carrying a sinister tone. The voice of the forest of three.

"Come play, come play in the Forest of Three
You with I, and I with thee.
Oh! Such fun we have in store
Lurking there...

Written by Cdaley
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