Girl of Nightmares


Page 69


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"We can do that," I say to Thomas and Carmel, and they stand up, looking at the ribbon and trying to overcome their trepidation.

"Maybe the forest floor will be softer at least," Thomas says.

Jestine smiles. "That's right. Come on."

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

"It's old-growth forest," Jestine says, after the scenery changes gradually from meadow and pine to deciduous trees and fallen trunks overrun with moss.

"It's beautiful," says Carmel, and she's right. Trees stretch tall over our heads, and our feet whisper through a blanket of low ferns and moss. Everything in sight is green or gray. Where the soil peeks through, it's black as pitch. Light filters down through the leaves, bouncing and refracting off their smooth surfaces, painting everything crisp and completely clear. The only sounds come from us, obscene interlopers crunching through with scratchy canvas backpacks and blundering feet.

"Look," says Thomas. "There's a sign."

I glance up. A black, wooden sign has been tacked to one of the trunks. Written in white paint is the phrase:

The world has many beautiful places.

"Sort of weird," he says, and we shrug.

"It seems humble. Like they know this forest is beautiful, but not the most beautiful," comments Carmel. Jestine smiles at this, but as we pass the sign, something starts to itch in the back of my brain. Images start flipping through my memory, disconnected, made-up images of things I've never actually seen, like pictures in a book.

"I know this place," I say softly, at the exact moment that Thomas points and says, "There's another one."

This time the sign reads:

Consider the love of your family.

"That's a little random," says Carmel.

"It's not random at all, if you know where we are," I say, and all three of them eye me tensely. I don't know what Gideon was thinking, sending us here. When I see him at the Order, I might just wring his neck. I breathe in deep, and listen; a stark lot of nothing hits my ears. No birdsongs, no scurrying of chipmunk or squirrel legs. Not even the sound of wind. The breeze is choked off by the density of the trees. Beneath the layer of clear air, my nose barely detects it, mixed in with the loam and decay of vegetation. The place is laced with death. It's someplace that I've only heard about from charlatans like Daisy Bristol, a place that's been relegated to a campfire story .

It's the Suicide Forest. I'm walking through the f**king Suicide Forest with two witches, and a knife that flashes to the dead like a damn lighthouse.

"Suicide Forest?" Thomas squeaks. "What do you mean 'suicide forest'?" Which of course triggers an outburst of similarly alarmed questions from Carmel, and even a few from Jestine.

"I mean just what it sounds like," I reply, staring dismally at the useless painted sign that does virtually nothing to change people's minds. "This is where people come to die. Or, more accurately, this is where people come to kill themselves. They come from all over the place. To OD, or slit their wrists, or hang."

"That's terrible," Carmel says. She hugs herself and moves closer to Thomas, who sidles closer to her too, looking green enough to match the moss. "Are you sure?"

"Pretty much."

"Well, it's horrible. And all they have here is these lame signs? There should be … patrols or … help, or something."

"I imagine there are patrols," Jestine says. "Only they're mainly for collecting bodies, not for preventing the suicides."

"What do you mean, you imagine?" I ask. "Don't tell me you didn't know what we were walking into. If I knew about this halfway around the world, you had to know about it in your own backyard."

"Well, of course I've heard of it," she says. "From girls at school and the like. I never thought it existed really. It was like the story of the babysitter who answers the phone and the calls have been coming from inside the house. It's like the boogeyman."

Thomas shakes his head, but there's no reason to not believe her. The Suicide Forest isn't something the police would want publicized. More people would just come to kill themselves.

"I don't want to cross it," Carmel declares. "It just … doesn't feel right. We have to go around."

"There is no way around," Jestine says. But of course there has to be. The Suicide Forest can't be bordered by nothingness. "We have to cross. If we don't, we might get lost, and you were right when you said there were miles and miles of forest to die in. I don't fancy winding up one more body in the woods."

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