A private little kingdom, cut off from the world. You can see why they use this place as a setting for the fantastical. The autumn sun filters through the trees and casts a golden aura around the entire stretch of road, making the wood crimson, the leaves saffron, the grass emerald, and the very air shimmering with a magical hue. In those few moments as the focus of the lights shifts, you think you can make out tiny shapes, little dancing lights, darting in and out of your vision, concealing themselves just a fraction of a second too late. You think you can detect a sweet fragrance on the wind, sifting its way through the branches at irregular intervals, as though trying to let something of the outside world in. And you believe, the longer you pause there, the longer you stop to listen, really listen, that you can hear voices. Faint, youthful, restless voices, echoing through the leaves. A strange children’s choir, whispering secrets from tops of trees and depths of earth. Suggesting a meeting place, a halfway point, a gathering of souls, some patient, some frustrated, all waiting to journey on to somewhere new.
But not all the voices are innocent. Or childlike. You can feel that the place is under a spell, an enchantment. Bestowed with a sense of tranquillity, yes, of peace, of escape from the world at large, but… The longer stay, the longer you allow yourself to bask in that peace… What then? Because there are definitely other voices besides the mischievous chatter of hidden children and restless travellers. Voices far less playful. There is something watching you. Not restless, but focused. Concentrated. Interested only in you. Observing everything you do, every move you make. You think you can hear it laughing softly to itself the longer you linger and the more the world outside the trees begins to fade from your memory. Laughter at once as soft as the autumn breeze around you, yet laced with a sharper quality that suddenly makes the crimson of the trees around you take on a more unsettling hue. You notice that colour, that crimson, with fresh eyes, its vibrancy and its dark purity, and with a trickle of sweat down your brow, you wonder for the first time just where exactly you are. You wonder what is watching you, waiting. Waiting for the laughing children to fade away until only you are left, isolated and exposed. You realise suddenly that you have lingered too long. You are in a slow, calculated trap.
Don’t you hear another voice? Hovering on the fringes of the leaves, barely a whisper, but a familiar one. Very familiar. Growing in urgency and insisting that you listen. Listen very carefully.
The whisper grows steadily into a call, into a cry, an insistent pleading from outside the trees, that this is a false refuge. Begging you to listen. Begging you to turn back. And you want to. You want to listen to the call, want to run towards it, away from this place and the other voice that wants you to stay. But you’re no longer sure if you can.
You decide. You take a deep breath, and place one heavy foot in front of the other. Willing the enchantment to break. And you hope for the best.