They told us to stay out of the woods; but we knew them like the back of our hands. Our parents were the first to warn us of the dangers of Wolf Creek Forest. The first warning was due to it’s name; the townsfolk feared an overabundance of wolves, just waiting to feast on human flesh, however, as many times as my brother and I vanished into the deep green woodland, we never once stumbled across a beast. The second warning was the fear of the homeless population who resided in the woods. Once the mental institution shut down, and due to a major fuck-up with the state, the hundreds of residents in need of psychiatric care were displaced, many venturing off into Wolf Creek to create new homes. The threat may have been there, but each time we stumbled upon someone sleeping in the woods we came prepared with leftover meals we stole from the kitchen, and we left with good conversation, and a warm feeling in our hearts. The third legend, that even our teachers and friends’ parents would warn us about was The Vixen. She was a supposed creature, or witch, possibly ghost who haunted the creek itself, drawing in the residents of the woods, drowning them in her creek, and keeping the souls of the damned to do her biding, to haunt the woods, and so on and so forth. We were never afraid of Wolf Creek Forest; but I’d never admit to my brother I always felt as though eyes were watching us, and twice I thought I felt a paranormal presence. I didn’t fear the woods; but I did fear The Vixen.
My brother Basil was in charge of our adventures into the woods. The oldest child title had gone straight to his head, especially after Seraphina passed away in her sleep last year. Mom said it was normal, that plenty of babies didn’t make it through the night, and then she went on to explain SIDS (which went over my head). Basil took it upon himself to help rebuild our broken family. Dad didn’t talk much after Seraphina died. Mom cried often, and still does. I think I was the only one who had come to peace with it. Basil thought I was a psychopath for not crying at the funeral. I’ll admit, it made me sad to see her tiny coffin being dropped into the small hole in the ground. I just couldn’t bring myself to cry, or feel sorry. I felt jealousy. Seraphina was loved, she fit so well into this family. I was the outcast, I was the weird one. I deserved to be lowered into the ground to sleep forever.
Basil was brave; and he had to be with a name like Basil. He wanted to tackle the loss in the moment, he wanted to make our family complete again. So he suggested we went on more adventures; he had learned in his high school health class that exercise is a great coping technique. He was the freshman know-it-all, and I think he wore that title as proud as he did with “oldest child.” I came up with the idea of venturing into our very own forbidden forest. He created the rules, which were simple to keep along with.
- No wandering off alone; buddy system would be key.
- No telling mom, dad, family, or friends of our adventures. Our treks would belong to us, and only us. We weren’t to tell a soul.
- We couldn’t stay in the woods past sunset.
It only took a few weeks to map out a few mile radius of our hiking and hiding spots. We were able to find hidden entrances, abandoned cottages, and the infamous creek. Nobody knew of our adventures. Mother had a few guesses upon doing our laundry and finding stains and tears in our clothes (which is when we received the warnings). Soon, we ventured everyday, visiting our friends in the woods that the townsfolk feared, climbing hills and trees, exploring caves. Basil always wanted to check out the creek; I was too spooked to even step onto it’s banks.
Once summer hit Basil and I were nowhere to be found; the woods were our home during daylight. We were happiest exploring. We weren’t like our parents, stuck mourning Seraphina. We were doing something with our lives. We were keeping our family together.
I was twelve when Basil went missing. It was getting late one July Saturday, and I was urging him to get going. He was hesitant; this was out of character for Basil, my responsible partner in crime. He kept staring towards the creek with a deranged, fascinated look in his eyes. Without warning, he took off to the creek, leaving me behind. I was frightened; Basil was not one to break the rules, especially in regards to the buddy system. Hesitantly, I followed, too afraid to be alone in the woods at night, but even more afraid of venturing home without Basil. That’s when I saw them.
Basil was in a trance. I called out to him, but there was no response. I glared, screaming his name. He turned his back to me, looking up to the woman next to him. She was stunning from a distance, transfixed on my brother. They seemed lost in each other’s eyes. She wore a long, dirty, white dress, and had dark, tangled hair. She appeared to be floating. My heart sunk, as I made contact with the fox pelt wrapped around her shoulder. I attempted to yell for Basil, only for my brother’s name to come out as a whisper. The woman turned her head to me; her face was nothing but warped skin. No eyes, no nose, no mouth.
“LOLA, RUN” Basil shrieked. I screamed in terror; she was The Vixen. I fled and didn’t look back until I was back on a main street. I turned around for Basil; he was gone. I had left my brother, my brave, beloved brother, back at the creek. I screamed VIXEN, VIXEN, VIXEN all the way home.
For a while, I was the main suspect. I was arrested, institutionalized, and treated like a criminal for two years; that was until the only piece of evidence appeared at the site of one of the homeless men in the woods; my brother’s yellow flannel shirt. They never found his blood, his fingerprints, or even a hair follicle. The case was closed; the homeless man was charged with murder, and the town seemed satisfied with that.
I learned to stop mentioning The Vixen quickly, and that’s how I escaped being institutionalized for insanity. Shortly after leaving the institution, I left my parents home and moved to the city. I couldn’t love them after what they had done, after the years of blaming me for Basil’s death. I’m sure they blamed me for Seraphina’s departure as well. I couldn’t stay in a town where people thought I was mental. I couldn’t stay in a town that had The Vixen, creeping around, waiting for her victims.
I lied to myself, pretending I never saw the floating woman who stole my brother’s soul. I lied to myself enough to stop believing it ever happened. After years in the city, and a professional therapist, I had come to firmly believe that it was, after all, in my head. The Vixen was just a delusion, a way to cope with the loss of my missing brother. I learned it was okay that his body was never recovered, and that it was okay to move on, and build my own life.
I’d like to think that in the thirteen years since Basil’s death that I was coping and managing just fine. I had a full time job at a popular coffee shop, a studio apartment that was overpriced, and I even had an eight-year-old son that I was taking care of. I was a terrific (single) mother, a tax payer, and a great addition to society. I had convinced myself the past was not who I was, and was not real.
That was, until today, on the anniversary of Basil’s passing. In the middle of taking inventory at the coffee shop a package was delivered to me; the address from the town of Wolf Creek. My heart sunk. My first thought was my parents had discovered where I was hiding all these years. I almost threw the package away; my son didn’t know of Wolf Creek, and my family didn’t know of Tucker. I wasn’t ready to drag an eight-year-old into a mess like this. I brought the packaged envelope out back to the dumpster, staring as I got closer to the trash. I hadn’t seen this handwriting in years. It was unmistakable, but still such a distant memory. I took out my box cutter, and opened the package.
The first thing to fall out was an old, musty, yellow flannel shirt. I froze. It was the only piece of evidence they found. He called it his lucky shirt. I checked the collar to find a name faded onto the inside; Basil Hale. It smelled of Wolf Creek Forest, with hints of Basil. I was lost as to throw it, or to cling on for dear life. Was I tampering with evidence? Who would send me this? What kind of joke is this? Is this a threat? Am I being watched?
A note fell out of the front pocket. The paper was yellowing, the crinkles in the page made the writing hardly eligible.
I want to come home. I need you. Please help. Vixen is watching.
I was terrified out of my mind, but with Basil’s shirt and letter in my hands, I knew one thing was clear; it was time to go home.