The Winding Woods book signing on May 22nd, 2021! The Mind's Eye Comics in Burnsville
Laying in the soft grass, she could feel the sun slowly moving across her face; warming her skin and drying the light dew that covered her. She wanted to open her eyes, but couldn’t because of the searing pain she was feeling in her head. She felt the fur of a little cat, nuzzling her hand that was laying on her stomach. Her lips parted to breathe deeper and her chest rhythmically raised and lowered with each light breath and a few soft sighs escaped.
She could feel every small rock and twig lost in the grass pressed against the skin on her legs as she ever so slowly started to stretch, still unable to open her eyes. She could feel her heart beat from behind her eyes all the way to the back of her neck. She felt again the snuggling of a small purring cat, who meowed after each one of her sighs. She managed to open her eyes to small slits, allowing the bright rays of the sun to fill her sight. She moaned, louder and her head pounded harder the more she opened her eyes. After a few blinks her green eyes were shining in the morning sun.
With a groan, she was able to pull herself up to her elbow and look at her surroundings but saw first the little orange cat that had been trying to rouse her. He sat on her stomach and watched her carefully with his golden eyes fixed on her, as if trying to convey a message. He meowed when he saw her eyes open. She raised a hand and started to scratch the cat behind his ear in an assumed guess at what he wanted. She slowly turned her head from left to right to survey the rest of her surroundings.
The trees were full of leaves and singing birds around the small lake. She could hear the babbling of a creek down the way. The grass was a thick carpet and she could see the sun shining through the branches of the trees. It was a beautiful, secluded area of a forest.
“Where am I?” she whispered to the cat.
She sat up and the little cat jumped off her lap. She looked down and saw a plain, brown skirt bunched up to her knees and a pair of sandals lying not far from her feet. She had a few simple, metal rings on her fingers and brown leather bag wrapped across her body. The more confused she became, the greater the pain in her head grew.
“What am I wearing?” again she whispered. “What happened?” She searched desperately through the bag for a clue and found a few coins, a brush, an old key and a note that read ‘Make it home,’ in a familiar scrawl. She rubbed her forehead as she continued to look around at the damp ferns, wide eyed and confused.
“Where is home?” she questioned the little cat, whose eyes were fixated behind her.
Stiffly and slowly with trepidation, she turned around to meet what the little cat was looking at. A bird hopped through the forest floor, its feathers shining a royal blue with a long neck and a tiny head. It pecked at the brush with its beak until it found a little grub and flew to the top of a nearby tree, right as the little cat pounced at the spot that the bird used to be. She then realized, she didn’t know where the little cat had come from. She had a blurry memory of a big, black tom cat.
She stood up and walked to the water’s edge; the little cat followed her and lowered his head to drink. The water was still as a mirror in the sunshine and was clear enough to see to the smooth rocks on the bottom. She splashed some water on her face and stared at her reflection as the ripples calmed.
Her raven hair fell loosely about her round face. Her green eyes looked tired, with dark circles under them, as if she hadn’t slept in some time.
She sat on the bank for a while; watching the cat and worried. Nothing felt familiar or right. She didn’t recognize anything: where she was, what she was wearing, nor the little orange cat that had followed her. Nothing.
A grumble came from her stomach. “I guess I have to find something to eat,” she said to the little cat. “You coming?”
The two started to walk west of the lake. She figured at least she could stay with the light and follow the sun. The forest was thick and had many different birds and creatures scampering in the shadows. She saw tiny tree frogs in shades of greens and reds jumping in the moss, and birds of all colors singing in the trees. The little cat kept up with her pace through the trees as they followed a small brook runoff from the lake. A few small fish darted from bank to bank. Abruptly the little cat stopped, staring at the fish. With a loud growl and small splash, he was in the water and had returned in a flash with a fish between his teeth. He dropped the flopping, finned creature at her feet, weaving in and out of her ankles, purring. Pleasantly surprised, she bent down and scratched his ears.
“Such a good boy! Now we need to figure out how to cook it.” She looked around for a place to start a fire. She grabbed the wiggling fish, then grabbed a rock. “Sorry fish,” she muttered as she smashed its head.
She gathered some dry sticks and piled them next to her waiting meal. The little orange cat had settled next to the fish and would slyly lick it when she was not looking. She grabbed two rocks and hit them together to try to spark her kindling. She sat and pounded the rocks over and over again. Her head was throbbing and her stomach was in knots. She was exhausted and scared. Repeatedly she clicked the rocks on the dry wood. Little red sparks shot out, but none caught the brush. Tears started to roll down her cheeks; they felt hot as they made their way to her chin.
“Start,” she whispered. “Start. Start. Why won’t you start?” her voice got louder with each strike. She got mad and yelled “Just start!” as she threw the rocks at the wood with a final clink of the stone. A small spark started to burn the brush. Her crying turned to laughter as she carefully blew on the ember. Soon she had a fire.
The little cat sat by the flames before he circled twice and laid down, purring in his sleep. She picked up a sharp looking stick and pushed it through the fish, gagging the whole while. She roasted the fish over the fire as she rubbed her temple and watched the shadows dance on the forest floor around her. She ate the fish, ripping the pieces from the bones with her fingers and fed some to her new feline friend.
“Do you have a name, little boy?” she asked the cat, while he was cleaning his face after his dinner.
“Meow,” he responded emphatically. His golden eyes seemed to smile at her as he continued to purr.
“Meow it is,” she said with a smirk. She knew it was time to get going, and at least find some shelter. Or, better yet, a person to ask where she was.
She stamped out the fire and went to have a drink from the brook. Meow followed her with a little sprint. They trailed the flowing water; Meow splashing at fish, running ahead, and then waiting for her to catch up. There were flowers along the edge of the creek that swayed in the breeze. The sun was slowly starting to set and it could have been a peaceful evening if she hadn’t been so nervous for what would come with the darkness. Meow was no longer running ahead but was right next to her legs.
She was getting weak, tired, confused, and sore. Tears started to burn in the corner of her eyes for the second time since awakening in the woods. “Well little cat, I’m not sure what to do anymore,” she said, her voice cracking as she tried to hold back the tears. She sat down on a moss covered rock, feeling defeated, and looked around.
She gave in and started to cry when suddenly all the little hairs on her arms stood up. She had the eerie feeling that someone was watching her. She stopped crying, held her breath in a gasp, and peered through the dense woods. She noticed that the little birds that had been singing could no longer be heard, in fact no animals could be heard, and even the flowers seemed still; like there was death in the air.
Slowly, she stood from where she sat and turned to inspect her surroundings, but nothing was there. Meow took the corner of her skirt in his mouth and started to tug. She looked down at him to see his sleek tail was now puffed out on its ends. “You feel it too, don’t you?” she whispered to him.
“Meow,” he squeaked as he continued their trek down the brook. She cautiously followed behind the cat, constantly looking behind her. She saw a small branch that had fallen from one of the trees and decided to grab it. Perhaps it would be a good idea to carry a walking stick.
The peculiar silence slowly abated to the sounds of the breeze, and the birds, the farther down the creek they traveled. The water began to veer off to the left. When they reached the bend in the brook Meow took off in a sprint straight ahead. “Hey!” she yelled after him, “Where are you going?!” She lifted her walking stick to her hip and ran after the cat in a panic. She already felt alone; there was no way she was going to let the one friend she had out of her sight. The trees were streaking past her in a blur of green. The forest thinned the farther they ran, trees becoming further spread apart.
Meow stopped unexpectedly at a break in the trees and sat nonchalantly licking his paws as she caught up to him. She huffed and wheezed as she slowed to where the little orange cat waited. She could feel her heartbeat pounding in her temples and her chest. “Why?” she panted. “Why gasp did you gasp run gasp like that!?” Meow just rubbed against her leg and started to walk out of the woods.
The sun had started to set in east now and the sky was a watercolor painting of oranges and pinks that melted into dark blue. She could see the moon rising into the sky. She saw a rickety, thatched roof cabin standing in the center of the clearing. The flowers and grass were overgrown around a broken stone wall that encircled the cabin. The small building was dark and looked as though it hadn’t seen a visitor in some time. Meow, however, seemed to be comfortable there as if the place was familiar to him.
Cautiously, she walked towards the structure. What if there is someone there? she thought, becoming hopeful. What if they know where we are? Then she started to think of the feeling she had in the forest, and was a little frightened. What if they are not friendly?
She approached the rundown cabin and lightly rapped on the door. “Hello? Is someone in there?” she politely said in between knocks. “Hello?” The little building remained dark and there was nothing stirring inside. Meow scratched at the door as she was knocking.
“Meow,” he said as he nudged the door with his head.
“Do you think I should try to go in?” she questioned out loud, encouraged by the cat’s behavior. Her hand trembled as she reached for the latch. It was stiff as she turned it but it was unlocked and the door slowly creaked open as she pushed it with her finger tips. “Hello?” she said in a small voice as she stepped inside.
The inside was quaint, however, it was obvious that no one had visited this place in a long while. A thin layer of dust and cobwebs covered the furniture and some sticks had fallen from the roof onto the stone floor. There were some candles on the table and a box of matches. She lit a few candles and then carried one around the room to see what she could find. There were various dishes, and pots on the shelves around the fireplace, near an old pump sink. In one corner a small bed with a little nightstand and a dresser created a sleeping area. There was a bookshelf by the door and a stuffed blue chair with dingy, gold buttons on the back. It was a nice little cabin that looked to be well cared for at one time.
The sun outside was almost gone below the trees and the warm temps left with the light. “I guess this is where we will be for the night,” she said to the little orange cat. His eyes glowed in the candle light as he started to purr. She couldn’t help but wonder why a little cabin was here in the middle of nowhere, and why someone would just leave all of their stuff here.
She found a small stack of wood by the fireplace and started a fire, which lit the walls of the little cabin. She drew the curtains over the couple of little windows. She noticed she had left the door open, and that her little furry friend was gone. She immediately felt anxious, as the only interaction she had was with that cat, and now he was nowhere to be seen. She went out on the porch and noticed that the curtains blocked the bright light of the fireplace. She peered out into the darkness. The chill of the night air blew across her face as her gaze raked the forest edge. As the wind blew a shiver ran down her spine and she lightly shuddered as she wrapped her arms around her waist for warmth.
All at once, the sounds of her surroundings were muted – no rustle of the wind, no crickets. She felt sad and alone. She started to turn towards the door to go back in when she saw two yellow eyes glowing in the dark, moving towards her at a rapid rate. The large shadowy figure was mammoth and flowing as if gliding through the air. She gasped, spun on her heels into the cabin, slamming the door shut behind her.
She sat against the door, holding the latch as she held her breath, trying to not make a sound. What is happening? She thought as she felt her heart beat harder and harder in her chest. She jumped when she heard a light scratching on the door. She sat there for a moment and started to breathe again. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. She swallowed hard, her shoulders shook with fear. The room seemed to be getting darker and she held her breath again.
“Meow?” came the sweet sound from the other side of the door. She let out a slow breath. The room started to come back into focus. She stood and opened the door slowly to see the adorable little orange cat, with a fish that was bigger than his own body. Meow had gone to catch them dinner. She stuck her head out of the door and looked into the darkness. There was no sign of the big creature she had seen running through the dark. The breeze was back to rustling everything outside and the crickets were chirping in the dark.
There they sat in the overstuffed blue chair with the dingy gold buttons. Her feet were kicked up on a small ottoman and the little orange cat sat on her lap purring, while they waited for the fish to cook. The cabin’s dusty smell was airing out and the smell of boiled fish filled the room. She felt comfortable here. Sitting in the cushy chair with the little cat on her lap felt familiar, however, she could not remember anything clearly. She rubbed her temple trying to get rid of the fog in her head as she scratched behind Meow’s ear.
She found some blankets in a trunk at the foot of the bed that were not covered in dust and made up the little bed for the night. With the blankets wrapped around her, she sank into the soft billows of the bed. She cuddled up trying to fight the cool dampness that was coming in through the few unpatched areas of the roof. She couldn’t get her brain to calm down; it was racing over all the unknowns she had experienced throughout the day. The frustrations of not knowing how she got there, of not being able to remember anything leading up to her waking up by the lake. Everything felt so familiar, yet so strange all in the same moment.
Softly sighing, she slowly fell asleep. Her dreams were snapshots of bright lights and people, whose faces she couldn’t make out. There were shadowy figures dancing around a fire, shooting stars flashing past their heads, laughter and giddy shrieks. Then nothing but cold, dark, wetness.
Boom! She awoke to the crashing of thunder. Lightning danced on the dark walls. Rain dripping through the roof, landing in small pots that had been left there from before. Meow was curled at her side, licking her hand to comfort her. She laid her head back down onto the pillow and gently stroked the cat’s head. “I thought this was part of the dream,” she whispered.
The rain hadn’t let up by morning, though it was a little brighter in the cabin. She added more wood to the embers in the fireplace, and snacked on the leftover boiled fish with her furry friend. She placed a small dish of water on the floor for Meow so he wouldn’t have to go outside. Her curiosity about the house got the better of her and she started to dig through everything she could find, as she slowly cleaned away the built up dust.
“What do you think we might find, Meow? Treasures? Clues? I really wish you could talk back to me,” she chimed to the cat.
“Meow,” he responded as he settled on the ottoman washing his face. She wiped down the tables and washed the dishes. She dusted around the fireplace and found a small knife that she put in her bag. It had a carved wooden handle with a little leather sheath covering the blade.
“I don’t think anyone will miss it,” she said with a shrug. She dug through the trunk and found a pair of pants made of a dark canvas which were about her size. There was a small pantry behind the fireplace that held some dried goods: flour, sugar, hay, and spices. There were some more books and clothes in the back as well. She used some of the hay to patch the leaky parts of the roof as best she could.
She sat down in the overstuffed blue chair with Meow and looked through the bookshelf. There was a small wooden box that chimed a song when she opened it. The pain in her head started to throb with the tones. She closed her eyes and hummed the tune. “I know this song,” she said slowly to Meow. Meow, however showed no interest in what was happening and settled in for a nap. Inside the box there was a beautiful pendant that had the clearest red stone she had ever seen. It hung on a glistening silver chain with scrolling details holding the stone in place. It was breathtaking. “Why would someone leave this behind?” She questioned as the music box started the song over. She shut the box with the pendant back inside of it. Someone will be back for that,she thought to herself. They would have to be.
She pulled out one of the books and started to read a story of a girl who fell in love with a prince. About three quarters of the way through the book she found a small piece of paper that was being used as a bookmark. She stared at it in disbelief. The paper said ‘Fig knows the way.’ She jumped up from where she sat; Meow went flying in the air in a big puff of orange fur and a hiss. “Sorry kitty,” she said as she raced for her bag. The scrap she found in the book was the same size, color and texture as the note she had in her bag. The paper had the same old musty smell and the color of the ink matched. Most importantly, the rough edges of both papers fit perfectly together. ‘Make it home. Fig knows the way.’
“Who is Fig?!” she yelled.
Her little orange companion, who had been sitting on the edge of the overstuffed chair, had stopped smoothing out his fur and was watching her pace about the room. His golden eyes were wide and his ears pushed forward. She continued to pace back and forth in the room talking out loud. “How am I supposed to make it home when I don’t know where home is? Who is this Fig? What the hell does this mean?!” she yelled.
“Meow,” the cat again said, and looked at her with wide eyes. She stopped pacing.
“Fig?” she whispered and the cat responded with another meow. “Fig. Your name is Fig?” The cat meowed again and walked over to her and rubbed against her legs. “Well if you’re Fig, did you just bring me home?
She sat on the floor, slowly rocking back and forth with a fixation on the two pieces of paper. Fig sat and watched her with his head tilted to one side. With her pointer fingers pressed to her lips she swayed puzzling out the new evidence. “Did I leave myself clues? Or did someone leave me these?” she mumbled. Fig walked over to her and brushed up on her side, then walked over to the storage room’s door and pawed it.
She slowly stood up and put the little pieces of paper into her pocket. She walked over to the pantry and started to move everything out into the main space. There were little wooden boxes, ribbons, clothes, books, and tools. She brought each thing out and dug through them searching for another little paper to add to the two she had collected. “Fig, I am not seeing a reason you want me to dig in this closet.”
She found a bag that had peppermint, lavender, honey, cinnamon, ginger, and other herbs. Deeper and deeper into the crowded closet she went. She froze when she got to the back. Under an old sheet in the very back corner was a painting. She stared into the bright green eyes of a round faced girl with raven hair. She was looking into her own eyes in a painting of which she had no memories. She brought it out to the main room, into the light, and studied the painting. It was her. Her head was tilted to the side and her eyes smiled more than her lips. She had a ribbon tied into her hair and the bright red pedant she had found in the box was around her neck. She massaged her temple and watched Fig rub his scent on the picture and purr. She listened to the rain falling outside and looked around the room. “Am I home?”
She hung the painting above the mantle and started to organize the items that she found. She had books on medicine and stories of far off lands, none of which revealed any more hidden messages as bookmarks. She filled her bookshelf with her finds and decided to put on the necklace she had found before. As she took it out of the music box, she felt an icy surge run through her as the cool stone touched her bare skin. She boiled some water over the fire and added the lavender to it; the scent filled the entire cabin with the sweet, sleepy smell. She took some of her concoction and applied it to her temple. She didn’t know why she needed to do this, but it seemed instinctual. For a little while, the pain went away and she got sleepy, from the scent of the lavender. She changed into some of the clothes that she had found in the pantry and snacked on some odds and ends that she had found on the shelves. Little Fig went out in the rain and came back licking his chops; it appeared he had taken care of his own dinner for the night.
The cabin was clean and organized. She plopped down on the overstuffed blue chair with the dingy, gold buttons and started to read one of the medicinal books she had found. It showed how to heal colds with honey and upset stomachs with peppermint. The book was all hand written, by different hands and inks. Some had drawings of the plants to use and how to prepare them. “Interesting,” she murmured. Fig lazily lifted his head before rolling onto his other side to sleep.
They snuggled up on the chair and she flipped through books. She found one that piqued her curiosity. The book was leather bound with gold lettering that read ‘Creatures.’ “Even more interesting, Fig.” The little cat purred as she read through all the different creatures she found on the pages.
‘The Epimelides are beautiful tree nymphs with hair the color of apple blossoms and soft as undyed sheep’s wool. They protect apple trees and sheep. They are able to change shapes between trees and humans. They like to play tricks on humans for fun.’
Next to the description was a beautiful coal drawing of a little tree with the face of a woman. “Have you ever seen one of those, Fig?” She showed the picture to the sleepy kitty. He viewed the picture with wide eyes and meowed at her. He pawed at the book and knocked it to the floor. “Hey!” she playfully yelled at the cat as she bent down to pick up the book. The pages had fallen open to show a large, shadowy, cat-shaped creature on it.
The subtitle labeled it, ‘Grimalkin.’ Curiously she read on, “An all-black, cat-like shadow creature with bright green eyes and a white spot on its chest. The grimalkin travels at night stealing the souls of those it captures. It has been said that a witch’s cackle can be heard shortly before the large cat appears.” As she settled back into her chair with her little furry friend she started to creep herself out with every fairy, nymph, dragon, or monster she read about in the book of creatures.
After a time, she put the book down and looked around the little cabin. The rain still rhythmically fell onto the roof and the fire had finally warmed the walls of the little abode. She let out a sigh of contentment enjoying the warmth, cleanliness, and sweet smell of lavender. She finally felt a sense of comfort. The pain in her head, though still there, had dulled. Despite the comfort, things did not yet make any sense. She twisted the pendant between her fingers and it cooled her fingers. She didn’t know what to think. At this point she was just starting to accept that she was where she was supposed to be even if she could not remember anything before two days ago.
She curled up in bed with Fig in the nook of her arm, purring as he softly snored a little cat snore. Tonight she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
She stirred in her sleep. Scratch. She slowly opened her eyes as she stretched her arms over her head. She looked down and saw Fig standing erect, staring at the door. His tail was puffed with hairs on end and his ears were pinned back. A low throaty growl was coming from his throat. Scratch. Scratch. The noise seemed to be coming from the other side of the door, then from under the window, and then back at the door. She reached for her bag and got out the little knife. She slowly got to her feet and crept to the window. She pulled back the corner of the curtain and peered into the darkness. Fig let out a cry that sounded like nothing she had ever heard before. It sounded like a war cry that a lion would roar. She dropped the curtain just as a shadowy figure started to run toward the forest. When the lightning struck and lit up the field she could see the large black figure reach the edge of the trees; just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished into nothing.
She was trembling as she looked out into the grim nothingness. Fig’s tail had returned to normal size and his ears were no longer pinned to his head. She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the window uneasily. Fig came and nudged her arm as if he was trying to comfort her. They laid back down on the soft bed. Sleep did not come back, at least not soundly. When the morning came, the sun came too. The rain had finally stopped and the warm daylight filled the windows of the cabin.
They ventured outside onto the rickety porch. Everything had a light dew covering it that glistened in the sun. There was a small vegetable garden off to the side that she hadn’t noticed that first night. It had become overgrown and clearly ravaged by many critters. It looked as if it hadn’t been tended to in months. There was nothing around the clearing except for trees. Trees in all directions.
She went back inside and packed up a few of the books, the bag of herbs, the knife, and the matches. She changed into the pants she had found and tied a cloak over her shoulders. “Fig, I have to find people. I need to know where I am. Who I am.” The cat looked as if he understood and walked to the door, waiting for her to open it.
Fig dashed out to the left. Naturally, she followed the cat. After all, Fig knows the way.