Acacia and her little brother Colin peered through the wrought-iron bars of the gate leading up to Took House. The house itself looked harmless enough. It was a little run down but nothing foreboding emanated from it. Vines sleepily crept up its' stone walls and Victorian-style spire. A few broken windows dotted the top floor and there were a few missing tiles here and there that gave the roof a checkerboard look, but other than that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No strange sounds echoed across the front yard. No shrieking banshees or lamenting wraiths haunted the attic. And Acacia certainly didn't see a possessed hag with serpents in her hair and fiery eyeballs that supposedly inhabited the place.
The property's winding, dirt driveway and its moldy-looking historical cemetery was not what spooked out Acacia the most. What sent shivers running up and down her spine was the wild overgrowth of thorny trees and brambles, which grew at the back of the house. It both thrilled and excited her. Their twisted limbs beckoned for help as they reached in every direction. A thick mist hung over this strange orchard as if the trees were crying for mercy. Their tears fermented and hovered in the air. No one knew what exactly grew in the orchard or the origin of this tortured forest, but she was determined to find out.
Everyone at school seemed to have acquired a spooky story of the house. Acacia wrinkled her nose in disgust. She was sick and tired of those boastful brats who had nothing to show for what she believed was a lot of hot air. She was here to gather proof of whether the house was actually haunted or not. Either the other children at school had seen something out of the ordinary here or else they had fallen under the same exaggerated spell that the rest of the silly townsfolk had.
Colin clasped the iron bars of the gate with his chubby, little fists. His paper-white knuckles became even paler as the wind gently tousled his sandy curls. His feet shifted nervously in black, scuffed combat boots that were extremely too large for him—hand-me-downs from Acacia.
"Georgie says that the fruits of the orchard are so poisonous, that one drop of the juice will cause you to burst into flames right there on the spot," breathed Colin. His pupils widened. Acacia rolled her chocolate brown eyes at him, tucking a chestnut-colored curl behind her ear.
"Georgie says that the old Took Witch sold her soul to the devil in order to plant the evil seedlings that lure unsuspecting children into her orchard. Anyone who ventured in was never to be heard from again," he added in a low voice. Acacia groaned.
"Georgie, Georgie, Georgie—what does she know?"
"But—" Colin protested.
"Enough!" she cut him off. "It's all nonsense and poppycock! What do I care about what Georgie thinks?" Acacia sneered. "She's just some dumb baby who listens to stories from her superstitious grandparents. I'll bring back some fruit from the orchard right now just to prove it."
And before Colin could protest any further, she climbed up and over the gate in four swift movements. Her mass of tangled brown curls flopped in front of her eyes and as she jumped down she snagged the palm of her hand on one of the intricate, swirling iron designs. She cursed in pain as a trickle of blood ran into the muddy soil by her purple Converse sneakers. Acacia pulled down the sleeve of her denim jacket to cover the wound.
"I'm telling Mum!" Colin shouted at her. Acacia threw her head back and laughed.
"Well go run home and tell her then!" she shouted back at him, sprinting down the dirt drive, her feet crunching on the gravel until his cries were so distant that they were barely audible.
Acacia found herself at the back of the house and at the edge of the orchard. The dull, gray mist snaked its way lazily through the grasping branches and hung about the treetops like a dozing dragon. The foggy veil shrouded her vision making her hair frizzy and damp. Strange, she thought--how the fog only seemed to hover about the orchard and not anywhere else, making it nearly impossible to see anything beyond ten feet. Oh, well. She shrugged. She didn't plan on going deep into the orchard. She didn't want to get lost and have to face her parents' wrath after they came looking for her. Acacia contented herself with inspecting the trees lining the edge. One tree was oozing a strange dark sap that was almost the color of blood. She shuddered.
After a few minutes of searching through the trees with her eyes, not quite sure of whether or not she would enter this strange wooden prison of ancient-looking trunks and gnarled branches, she felt a presence watching her. It felt like someone's eyes were boring into the back of her skull, making her skin prickle and raising the hair on the back of her neck. She turned around, half expecting to see her little brother glaring at her. But to her surprise no one was there. She scanned the broken windows of the formidable fortress behind her but still saw nothing. Shrugging, Acacia went back to the tree she was investigating, running her hands along the rough, callused bark when something froze her in place. Her breath caught in her throat. Out of the corner of her eye, something shadowy whipped passed her and into the brush. She shivered and took a step into the trees.
"Colin?!" she called. But there was no answer, except for a distant giggling.
"Colin, this isn't funny!" she yelled, as she began to follow the disembodied laughter deeper into the wood.
Acacia tried to pursue the sound as fast as she could but the growth grew denser and the swirling mist enveloped her. Tears streamed down her face in silent trails. Her lip trembled as her eyes darted around, straining to see through the silver shroud. A cold bead of perspiration trickled down her temple. Acacia started to feel like a wounded deer, watching for the wolf, waiting for the predator to finish off its prey. Why, oh why, did she always have to prove that she was the cleverest and the bravest? Her parents would surely scold her now, she thought bitterly.
Acacia's heart pounded in her ears, drumming in rhythm with her feet. Thorns scratched at her like talons and her mouth filled with the taste of blood, sweat, tears and fog. Acacia's feet got heavier with each step, sinking deeper into the mud, making sickening gurgles. First, the earthy sludge only came up to her ankles. But the more that she struggled to become free, the deeper she sank.
The mud reached passed her knees now. Her tears burned her eyes, making them red and puffy and further distorted her vision. Heavy, breathy sobs wracked Acacia's body in convulsions. In vain, she desperately clawed at nearby branches in an attempt to right herself on solid ground once again. But every time a branch seemed almost within her grasp, a mocking gust of wind would see fit to blow it in the other direction.
"S-somebody h-help me!"
Acacia meant to yell, but the words only formed a hoarse whisper. A far-off, ethereal cackling echoed in her ears as if to answer her pathetic plea. Somewhere through her blurred sight, two cold, green viper-looking eyes glared venomously at her. Desperately, she shut her eyes, closing them so tight that she saw stars. But even then Acacia could not escape the nightmarish vision before her. Within the inky blackness of her eyelids, the reptilian stare seemed to bore holes into her very soul, freezing the quick palpitations of her heart.
The suction from the ground worsened and soon her feet became planted stiff. Her toes felt like they were stretching beneath the earth. They pushed their way downward through the cold, hard rocky soil. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Instead her mouth stretched into an open, knotted hole, gaping in anguish. Vainly, her hands still searched for something to hold onto. Her arms reached and stretched towards the veiled sky, while her fingers twisted and tangled with the branches surrounding her. Her hair grew longer and transformed into dense, brown vines that squeezed around her neck and choked out her last human breath. Acacia much resembled the tree that bore her name and to her horror, she truly discovered what really grew in the old Took Witch's orchard.
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