The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
No one spoke as the trees passed by in a blur, especially twelve-year-old Sade. But, she didn’t deserve words. That day, she had worn the itchy black tights, and the stiff, black dress, and she hadn’t uttered a word. The dress felt as if it were trying to crush her ribs, or perhaps that was just the ache resonating from her devastated heart. Her Aunt and Uncle were silent as the trees in the forest on their drive back to their home, Sade’s new home.
She pressed her forehead against the cool car window, observing the tall, silent trees; trees that were so exaggerated in height they seemed to reach the heavens. She wished it were true. That way she could join them. That way it wouldn’t be her fault. Her eyes burned at the thought. Grief crept up her throat like a shivering worm, and the sadness trembled through her.
Suddenly, a silver white blur glided through the trees. It seemed to follow the car at every turn; she had assumed that it was just the well of tears in her eyes, distorting her vision. The car slowed as it reached a blaring red light, and she wiped away at her face. The mist rose from the freshly rained on earth; the ground that moments earlier they had been lowered into, and Sade could have sworn that her heart lay there as well. Fog curled around the creature’s hooves. A white stag stared at her amid the powerful trees; its eyes were endless, and she felt that she could fall into them and hurtle away for an eternity.
“Sadie,” her Aunt began. The girl turned her face to stare at the wisp of a woman but couldn’t hear her words. Sade turned back to the woods, and the creature had vanished. But she felt intuition ripple through her, she needed to find it again. She would find it again.
Installment Two: The Forest Calls
The water roared out of the faucet, drowning out Sade’s thoughts as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. How many days had it been since she had seen the stag? Two? Three? Yet, she couldn’t expunge the memory from her mind. Often, she would gaze towards the thick forests surrounding her Aunt’s and Uncle’s quaint home, hoping she would see the silver creature; but there was nothing except for the shiver of the leaves in the trees, and the loneliness in her heart.
She glared at her reflection. People had always told her that she had inherited her mother’s long black hair; her mother had worn it down to her hips, and Sade had followed suit. She had inherited her father’s round face, as well as his freckles; they were scattered across her nose. People always told her she was beautiful and exotic-looking; her mother was Japanese and her father was Scottish. Her older brother Shaw, people joked, had looked like the male version of her. But, she didn’t care about all of that. All she saw when she looked at herself was them. But she was stuck here.
She held the scissors closer to her hair and hacked a massive slice off. A mischievous grin lit up her face. It was the first time that she had felt something other than grief in days. She kept slicing away at her raven colored hair until it was no longer hip length, but just slightly under her ears; she didn’t even recognize herself anymore. She looked like a boy, like the younger version of Shaw. The strands fell on the floor in great heaps. Hurriedly, she snatched them up, and in just her brother’s oversized t-shirt she walked outside holding here severed ebony hair.
The grass was cool and wet against her feet. She marched to the border of the forest and the cottage property, and with animal-like ferocity, threw her strands of hair into the dark woods. The sky rumbled above like a wolf’s growl stuck in its throat and within seconds icy drops fell from the sky. A hand wrapped around Sade’s wrist forcing her to turn around.
“What are you doing? What have you done to your hair?” Her Aunt cried. Worry carved into her face as she tugged Sade back inside of the house.
From among the forest leaves, an ivory colored hand emerged; the skin was as white as bone. Thin, elegant fingers wrapped around the child’s dark hair and pulled it into the evergreen forest, disappearing.
Installation Three: Forest of Light
The sounds of wheels screeching against the ground resounded in her ears, and then there were the headlights that blared down on her eyes. The lights that kept her from slumber.
Sade sat upright in bed, wiping the sweat from her forehead. Another nightmare. Peering towards the window, she saw the first streaks of dawn. She rubbed her eyes, exhausted and worn. Turning the alarm clock towards her, the red numbers blinked 3:00 A.M. at her. How was it so bright out if it was still night?
Suddenly, the flutter of small paper wings hit her wall, and a speck of light buzzed on and off against the cheap paint. She jumped out of bed, still only wearing her brother’s Nirvana shirt, and with bleary eyes peered to find a firefly flapping clumsily against the wall. How had it gotten in? Blearily, she glanced towards the only window in the room, and outside of the pane a horde of fireflies batted their wings furiously against the glass; it was like listening to the patter of rain. There were so many, she felt herself gasp. With hesitating steps, she inched closer to window, and the pattering seemed to grow louder.
A strong gust burst the window open, and the fireflies dispersed, humming as they flew further away. A breeze moved the oversized sleeves of the black t-shirt she word; it still smelled like her brother. The singular firefly buzzed past her, attempting to reach its brothers.
And like a kite on a string, her heart was pulled by the tiny insect. Frantically, she bounded after it, hoisting herself painfully out of the too small window, fearing that if she were too slow she would lose sight of the small bug. She collided with the wet ground, mud crawling up her pale knees. Wincing she stood, and gasped at what she saw; the entire forest was lit with lightning bugs. It was as if every leaf glowed with an electric radiance. Her entire face was aglow from all of the light that they emitted when abruptly they began to swarm together, and make their way into the forest.
Sade wouldn’t be left behind.
Installation Four: Spectral Glow
Though it was spring, it was as if the forest’s heart were stuck in winter; and Sade’s chilled bare feet grew increasingly numb. Despite the cold, Sade’s attention was focused on the swarm of glowing insects flapping their wings together and emitting a papery whisper; it was something that Sade had never seen or heard before. And before she had realized it, she had run deep into the darkness of the endless evergreen forest.
(Art by Ivan Bilibin)
She glanced all around her, noting the proud ferns and the graceful branches of birch trees. And then her throat suddenly grew dry as she remarked that the lightning bugs were now flying faster than she could keep up. As their light dimmed, a shadow darted past her. The dark shape brought with it a gust of frozen winter air. Sade bit her lip from nerves. Had she just seen that? As if in response to her unspoken question another thick shadow rushed past her. The leaves of the forest trembled, and then to her horror, they all stopped at once leaving the forest all too entirely silent.
Even, her breathing felt too loud. A chill coated her spine, and she had the sensation that someone was watching her. Whirling around, she saw a darkness nestled between two white birch trees, blacker and colder than the night around her. The eyeless creature moved its head towards her as if he could see her, and stretched its hooked hand out to her. She took a step back with her breath catching in her throat and a different shadowy hand hooked around her shoulder, burning her. Sade released a scream as the thing’s spectral touch began to scorch through her brother’s old shirt.
A sudden burst of white dashed through the trees. It was blindingly white like a perfect field of snow. For a moment, Sade couldn’t distinguish what it was, and then she saw: a white stag. The elegant creature lifted its front legs up and kicked back the shadow tucked in the trees. The stag’s antlers were glorious; Sade had never seen antlers so massive and so intricate. It was as if the creature wore a never-ending crown upon its head. The snowy doe swiped its hoof against the ground, and lowered her antlers in a silent threat towards the shadows. The shades darted back hissing, revealing monstrous fanged and fiery mouths. It was as if their throats held a swirling flame embedded in their maw, powering them. And It was the singular moment Sade could truly distinguish them apart from the dark.
Cautiously, the deer bleated in Sade’s direction and stared at the girl with an intelligence and wisdom that the young girl had never seen before in an animal. The stag’s endless black eyes were like the star speckled nighttime sky above them. The illustrious deer lowered itself as if…as if telling Sade to get on. Cautiously, Sade walked towards the stag. It hadn’t flinched at her approach, like most deer would have. She tapped the stag’s antlers like she was testing it to see if it would bolt. Miraculous, it remained there, waiting. Ever so slightly, the brilliant creature turned its head towards Sade and grunted, urging her to hurry.
A branch snapped nearby them, and Sade glanced over her shoulder in panic. More shadows swirled in the back of the forest. The dark things opened their mouths and growled revealing the swirling heat in their throats. Sade didn’t have the luxury to question the impossible events occurring.
She wrapped around her fingers around the perfect antlers, and climbed onto the creature’s warm back, and then they disappeared with the wind.
Installation Five: Terrible Vassal
The stag moved with an impressive speed and grace. It hopped over logs with barely a glance in its direction. It was as if the forest were but a dance floor to the creature, weaving in an out of trees with a speed that made it difficult for Sade to even exhale.
At one point, Sade peered behind them, and she had almost fainted from fright. The shadows engulfed them, reaching out to them with their clawed fingers and fiery mouths. Their translucent, shadowy bodies stretched towards the two fugitives, hoping to scratch them. After that, Sade had promised she would no longer look back. She pressed her eyes firmly shut as the deer swiftly ran; tears burned at the corner of the young girl’s eyes from fear.
Then, suddenly, the stag was no longer beneath her, and the girl was rolling and tumbling about on the floor. Leaves, twigs and dirt clung to Sade as she spun on the forest ground, until finally the rolling halted. Daring a glance, she scanned what was around. There was no sign of the white stag or the shadows. Her head was still spinning when a burst of white lit up the forest. Black spots blurred her vision, or at least that was what she thought it was before realizing that the air was actually glittering; the breeze glimmered with a static sparkle.
Sade looked towards the light, and saw the stag jumping up on its hind legs, followed by another bright flash of silvery light revealing a woman. She stood exactly where the stag had stood moments earlier. Long, white hair fell behind her shoulders and past her waist, and atop her head were the same magnificent snow-white antlers that Sade had held onto. She was pale, and her dress billowed all around her. But what caught Sade’s attention most were the woman’s eyes; they were strange; her dark irises were larger than that of a human’s and resembled more of a deer’s eyes than anything else.
A honey scented breeze blew towards Sade as she took a step closer toward the trembling girl. The woman was impossibly tall, perhaps, even taller than seven feet. She wrapped her cool hand around Sade’s wrist and jerked her up to standing position. Sade stared. Absolutely astonished by the brightness illuminating from the woman’s skin.
“You have been a terrible vassal,” the woman chastised in a voice dripping with otherworldly beauty.