She took the string and began to tie it around the nearest tree. It looked like a tall Beech tree to Joe. It was very tall, and silver with pockmarked bark. There were no leaves on it so that it looked like a skeleton. If trees had skeletons, that’s what they’d look like thought, Joe. Once she’d finished she gave the string a ping with her finger.
‘Seems strong enough,’ she said. ‘It reminds me of that Greek myth. You know the one, Hel?’
‘You mean the one with Ariadne?’
‘Yes, that’s the one, except everyone knows it as the Theseus and the Minotaur myth when, in fact, if it hadn’t been for Ariadne giving Theseus the thread he would never have been able to find his way back out of the maze.’ Agnes looked off into the distance before adding, ‘ Bloody typical.’
‘And how did it end for Ariadne?’ asked Hel.
‘He abandoned her,’ said Agnes, looking straight at Joe.
Joe had only taken a few steps into the Haunted Forest when the thick fog began to envelop him. It was a strange fog, like nothing he’d ever experienced. As soon as he’d entered, it had swirled around him and made him feel cold, and not just physically. It was as if someone had reached inside of him with a freezing cold hand and had placed it around his heart. He wondered how he would be feeling if Agnes hadn’t given him the tincture, Dead Man Walking, because at that very second he felt absolutely nothing. And that, if he was really honest, scared him a lot.
There was a loud howl in the distance.
He held on tightly to the string that Agnes was leaving in a trail for him and Hel to follow. Agnes was in front, Hel behind. Her hounds were somewhere in the forest, hidden from view by the fog. They were lucky, they could use their noses and superior sense of smell to navigate their way through the forest.
It was a good call to use the string to navigate their way through the trees. Agnes knew where to go. She said she had the directions to the Woodcutter and her heart engrained on her soul. She had held her palm out, spoken a word that Joe had never heard before, and a small ball of golden light and exploded into existence. She’d uttered another phrase under her breath and the orb had taken off with Agnes following close behind. Unfortunately, there was only one orb of light so Joe had to use the string to find his way.
Only it wasn’t exactly a great strategy. He couldn’t see how far in front of him Agnes was because she was too fast and the fog too thick. The string showed him the way but it couldn’t point out big divets in the ground, or tree roots that tripped him up, or brambles that snagged his hoodie.
The forest was haunted, of that Joe was very sure. He thought he could hear the voices of ghosts whispering to him. ‘Stay with us,’ they said. ‘I need to get back,’ they said. But even the sound of one young voice whispering, ‘they never found my body,’ failed to move Joe.
He feared his heart might be dead.