* * *<<Chapter 4
Chapter 5: The Story of a Tea Party in the Woods
This story takes place in a forest.
A dirt road ran between the trees in the deep, dark wood. It was straight as an arrow and flatter than a pancake, occasionally rising and falling with the terrain.
There wasn’t a country to be seen anywhere around. Nothing but nature for miles and miles.
A gentle creek wound its way across the forest, a little shallow for swimming but perfect for splashing around. The water was so clear that the muddy floor was clearly visible.
When the road reached the creek, it became a bridge. The bridge was made of stone and very, very old.
An old man sat on the edge with his fishing pole beside him.
He was tall and elderly, half-bald and the rest of his head covered in white hair. He was dressed in a pair of overalls like a farmer. Next to him was a pail of water, but without any fish inside.
The sun hung high up in the sky, casting warm rays onto the ground. Long, thin clouds floated overhead, too faint to even cast shadows. What season was it, you ask? Almost summertime.
The old man looked up and gazed out at the road. He hadn’t heard wrong—a car was lazily drawing near, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.
The car was small, yellow, and messy. It was even rusted and broken in places. The old man put down his fishing rod and rose slowly, waving at the car.
It stopped on the bridge with a worrying noise.
Two people were inside. In the driver’s seat on the right was a slightly short but handsome man, a holstered automatic hand persuader on his left side. In the passenger seat was a woman with shimmering black hair, wearing elegant clothes and armed with a large-caliber persuader on her right side. They exchanged surprised glances.
“You two must be travelers,” the old man exclaimed.
The woman replied, “It’s nice to meet you, sir. We didn’t expect to see a person all the way out here.”
“I’ve abandoned my country. My wife and I live alone in the forest now,” the old man said, and invited the travelers to his home for tea. He asked them to tell stories about their travels, and even offered to let them stay overnight at the house if they were tired.
“We’re not in any rush. Thank you for your hospitality,” the woman said.
The old man beamed. “Wonderful! It’ll be a fine day with the two of you around. I’ll go on ahead on foot; the house is just up the creek. You can come by car. It’s a bit of a detour, but just follow the road all the way and take the first left, down the hill.”
The woman nodded. The man asked one thing before he went to the car. “Are the fish biting?”
“They sure are,” the old man smiled, holding up his fishing rod and the pail of water. He reeled in the hook with an expert hand and went off on foot. “We’ll be waiting for you.”
“Master, are we really going?” the man asked.
“Yes,” the woman replied immediately. “A tea party in the woods has its charms.”
The man muttered, “I suppose so…”
Deeper in the woods was a house.
Part of the house was a metal structure, which had probably once been part of a truck. The windows were covered with plywood, and attached to it was a log cabin.
The house stood next to the creek, and was surrounded by an orderly vegetable patch. There was even a small barn in the back with animals inside.
The run-down yellow car hobbled down the narrow road and finally came to a stop in front of the house. The old couple was waiting.
The travelers greeted their hosts. The old woman was all smiles as she led the guests inside. The raised porch was made of plywood, and decorated with potted flowers in full bloom.
Just through the front door was the living room. The house was larger than it looked. There were even more rooms further in the back.
The cabin was humble, but put together with love and care. The furniture and the tools were all handmade. Wooden trays and framed pictures of nature decorated the log cabin’s walls. Matching plates were arranged neatly in the cupboard. A pair of carved broomsticks hung together from a thick log pillar.
The windows on either side of the building were large, scavenged from old windshields. A cool breeze wafted in from the open one. Outside, they had a great view of green fields, the beautiful woods, and the gentle creek.
The table was cut from large logs, and the wooden chairs had been put together with intricate craftsmanship. The travelers thanked the couple and took their seats. The old man sat across from them, and his wife went to the stove in the corner to brew them tea.
“Lovely house you have here. It’s a pleasant surprise to see people living like this,” said the man.
The old man chuckled. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Then, he told the story of how he and his wife came to live in the forest. They had been married for a long time, but were childless. He explained that they left their country on a trailer when they were much younger, and fell in love with the warm but deserted forest they happened to pass by. They built the house with the things they found in nature, raised livestock and vegetables, and made the things they needed with all-natural materials as they lived in isolation for decades. He also explained that he and his wife invited over any travelers who happened by (who were not many) to serve them tea.
“I’m impressed. I’d like to live like this once I’m older, myself,” the woman said quietly.
The man was shocked. “I had no idea,” he exclaimed.
“Even I can’t stay on the road forever.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
That was when the old man asked, “Where are you two headed?”
The man saw an opportunity to speak. He explained that they had no destination in mind, and that they had no homes or families to return to. He added that they were not merchants, either. “I suppose you could just call us wanderers,” he said with a hint of a masochistic smile. The woman said nothing.
“I see. Traveling does come with its share of troubles and wonder,” the old man mused.
“Personally, I think I’d get bored of living in one place forever,” said the man.
The old man replied, “Living in the same place offers new things to discover. Like the joy of working the land and living off nature.”
“Tea’s ready,” the old woman said, bringing over a tray. Four empty teacups and a large teapot.
Curious, the woman asked for permission and examined one of the cups, turning it upside-down. It was shaped to perfection and even colored. “Are the cups handmade too? They’re works of art.”
The old woman nodded proudly. Chuckling, her husband explained that they had scoured the woods for years looking for the right clay for dishes and cups, until they finally found it right under their noses, on the shores of the creek by the house.
“Go on, now. The tea’s getting cold,” said the old woman, pouring them all tea. She placed one cup each in front of everyone at the table and took a seat.
“Thank you,” the woman said, bringing the teacup to her lips to check how hot it was, before taking a sip. She made sure to emphasize how delicious it was. The old couple drank their tea as well.
Finally, after some hesitation, the man sipped his tea.
“I only wish I could have served some cookies with the tea. We just finished the last of the batch yesterday,” the old woman said apologetically.
The woman shook her head. “Not at all, ma’am.”
“Travelers, since you’re not in any hurry, why not spend the night here?” the old man offered. “We’d love to have you for dinner, listen to stories about the outside world.”
The woman took a sip of tea and shook her head. “I’m afraid we can’t do that.”
The couple seemed a little surprised. The woman put down her cup, rose from her seat, and threw her chair at the window.
There was a deafening crash as the window shattered. The chair broke on impact.
“Ah!” the old woman screamed. The man threw his chair too. It hit the wall of the cabin and fell apart.
The woman strode over to the dresser and kicked it. The thin plywood snapped, and the small clay ornaments on top broke into pieces. The man grabbed the plates in the cupboard and threw every last one of them to the ground. They shattered one after another.
“Wh-what is the meaning of this?” the old man finally managed to speak, eyes filled with shock and fear, trembling hands clasped in front of his chest. “P-please stop! I beg of you!”
Ignoring his pleas, the travelers went around the house and broke everything in sight. The man kicked in the other window. The woman threw the pictures to the floor and stomped on them, frames and all.
“Please stop this!” cried the old woman. “Please, we poured heart and soul into these things! They’re filled with our memories! I’m so sorry if we’ve offended you! Please, please!”
But the travelers continued to destroy the house. They refused to show mercy.
“Please, we’re just a pair of helpless old people. If it’s valuables you’re after, please take anything you like! But please, don’t destroy this house—it’s our only shelter! Please!”
The travelers did not stop. They did not seem particularly emotional, snapping and smashing and crushing the things they saw as if they were doing routine exercises.
“How could you do this? Have we offended you somehow? We built this house with our own two hands…our memories…”
The old woman collapsed to the floor, sobbing. The old man went red with rage and grabbed one of the broomsticks. He brandished the end at the man, who was stomping on plates by the wall. But the travelers were more than five paces away, too far for him to reach.
“G-get out! Stop bothering us!”
The man glanced at the old man. Then he ignored him and grabbed the wall shelf, snapping it in half with both hands.
The woman gave him a look of disbelief and drew her revolver.
There was another deafening noise.
Both the old woman crying on the floor and the man breaking the shelf looked up at the noise.
The old man died before he even had the chance to be surprised. His tall, thin frame crumpled on the floor. A .44mm bullet had gone through his temple. Blood gushed from the hole in his head.
The woman stood wordlessly, still holding the revolver.
The old woman let out a funny gasp and scrambled to the corpse. She cradled its head in her arms and shook the body, letting the blood soak her clothes.
When she realized that nothing would bring her husband back, the old woman screamed, howling like the wind.
The man stopped what he was doing and went to the woman, curious. That was when the old woman rose.
Her hands and chest were stained with blood. A peaceful smile hung on her lips.
“My, when did this room get so messy? I suppose I should start cleaning,” she said, grabbing the broom hanging from the pillar. “Yes, I should start cleaning—“
The second round hit the old woman in the chest. Her tiny body flew comically far, hit a pillar, and spun before it landed on top of the old man.
Quietly, the woman holstered her revolver. Silence returned to the log cabin.
The man, who had been dramatically covering his ears, looked up. “That wasn’t like you at all, Master.”
“What do you mean?” asked the woman.
“They both had sticks, sure, but I don’t think that warranted killing them.”
The woman cast her gaze on broom the old man had been brandishing. “Don’t pick it up, but take a close look at the end of the shaft.”
The man took several steps towards the broom and examined it. “I see a small hole here.”
“Pick it up slowly. No sudden movements. Now aim the end at the wall over there and swing.”
Oblivious, the man swung the broom with his left hand.
Something zoomed forward and hit the wall. Flabbergasted, the man went to see what it was. A dart. His surprise mounting, he turned to the woman. “What is this?”
“Don’t touch it. It’s poisoned,” the woman said.
The man stood frozen for some time. He looked at the bodies on the ground, lying there like blood-soaked rags. He put his fingers into his mouth. The woman said, “There’s no point. We’re all right.”
“But…” the man trailed off, turning.
“The cups were fine. Unless our hosts took antidotes ahead of time, all of us would already be dead,” the woman said.
The man’s shoulders finally relaxed. “You really are a monster, Master,” he chuckled. The woman replied indifferently, but not angrily, “A woman’s only as capable as she is bold.”
“Let’s begin,” the woman said.
They began rummaging through the room. Opening up broken cabinets and dressers, looking under and behind the table, searching the cupboards, and even checking under the soaked corpses to look for trapdoors.
Once they cleared the living room, they moved on to the rest of the cabin. The search went on for some time.
The woman was opening up the drawers in the bedroom one by one and examining the clothes when the man called from outside.
“Master! Over here!”
He was standing at the start of a hallway that led into the metal section that used to be a vehicle. He was clearly rattled. “Master!”
“Did you find what they were hiding?”
“Yes. But…it’s not what we were looking for. And I think I’m going to be sick…”
Her curiosity piqued, the woman asked him where it was.
The man went down the hallway without a word and opened the wooden door.
Beyond was the metal box.
“This certainly isn’t what we were looking for,” the woman said. “I’m glad you agree,” the man mumbled.
The big metal box was shaped like a long, narrow hallway. The man had opened the skylight, which was the only light source in the room. Inside were the many things the old couple had made. They were indeed crafted of all-natural materials.
The first things the woman saw were the legs hanging from the ceiling. Smoked human legs, hooked by the thighs and hanging in orderly pairs.
One wall was plastered entirely with leather. The bellybuttons and nipples indicated that they had once belonged to humans. Some sections were patched up with severed wrists.
Skewered to a pole sticking out of the floor was a human head, the eyes and mouth sewed shut. It had shrunken down to be much smaller than its original size, the hair tied into a tight braid.
Also in the room was a loveseat. Its legs were made of wood, but it was decorated with human bones. The seats and the backrest were made of human leather. On top of the backrest were four taxidermy heads, alternating between men and women. Their eyes had been replaced with glass beads. If two people sat down, they would practically rub cheeks with the heads. From behind, it might look like six people sitting cozily together.
At the foot of the seat was a rug, much like the ones made of whole bear or tiger skin. Naturally, it was made of human leather. Most likely a large man.
There was also a small, round table. The legs once belonged to humans. Set atop it were two bowls made of the top halves of human skulls, and forks made of finger bones.
A wooden shelf stood by the wall, and set on them were several large glass jars. They were filled with some sort of liquid and small heads. All children. Their wide, murky eyes stared at the woman. Their mouths were open and their tongues were lolling, pierced with thick needles. Another jar was stuffed with eyeballs. The edges of the shelf were decorated with ears.
“He said it was joy,” the man whispered, recalling the earlier conversation.
“I see,” the woman said.
She began to search the room. She moved the furniture around and peeled the leather off the surfaces. The man watched in horror from the doorway as she rummaged through the metal box.
Afterwards, she returned to the doorway indifferently. “Nothing but corpses in here.”
“Master, don’t you find this…unsettling?”
“Corpses can’t hurt me.”
“I suppose not, but…”
The woman looked round at the room. “If they’ve claimed this many travelers, they must have a stash of valuables somewhere. We’ll turn this place upside-down if we have to. That’s why we’re here, after all.”
“…And we’ll go into the night if we have to, is what you’re saying?”
The woman walked back through the hallway. “Yes. We’ll stay the night here.”
Left alone in the doorway, the man glanced at the box again. His eyes met those of a little girl in one of the jars. He gave her a wave and turned. And he did a double take.
“You take that side,” the woman said, as she went through the old couple’s belongings like an expert burglar. The man followed her in and began searching the shelf by the bed. The furniture had been crafted with a master’s touch, and could fetch a good price on the market.
“I suppose taking the bed frame is out of the question,” the man admitted.
They continued to search the bedroom in silence, until they tapped on the floor and noticed a hidden space below. The man tore off the flooring and put his head inside. He came back up and shook his head.
“On to the next room,” the woman said, and came out into the hallway.
The woman asked, “Did you say something?”
“Thank you,” someone said again. The woman stopped.
“Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.”
The voices continued on and on, like the sound of leaves rustling in a storm. The voices came layered together, from no direction in particular.
“What is this? Did they leave a gramophone running?” the woman demanded.
The man shrugged. “No, Master, this isn’t a gramophone. There they go again. I sensed them earlier, but now I can hear them.”
“What do you mean?”
The man seemed a little embarrassed. “Ghosts. Spirits. I’ve been seeing and hearing them since I was a child. The murdered travelers must be thanking us. But I’m surprised you can hear them too, Master—Master?”
The woman was briskly walking away.
She strode past the bodies in the living room, walked through the doorway and the beautiful potted flowers, and stepped into the pleasant summer sun.
“Master?” the man asked, rushing after her.
The woman was sitting in the driver’s seat. She turned. “We’re going.”
“What? Wait, what about the stash?”
“They won’t be attacking any more travelers. That’ll be more than enough. And there’s always the chance that we won’t find anything even if we stay the night. If this couple was killing travelers for entertainment and not money, they’ve probably already thrown away their valuables.”
Confused, the man sat in the passenger seat. The little car began to rumble. “Well, not that this is a pressing concern, but Master…by any chance, are you—“
“No.” The woman started the car.
“Not that this is a pressing concern, but…” he said, trailing off, and continued. “What should I do about the one clinging to my back?”
Without even blinking, the woman pulled out her revolver. The man did not notice. “I think he wants to come with—“
The woman opened fire without warning. The back-seat window shattered. The man flinched, his right ear still ringing. “Gah!”
Eyes wide open, he stared at the woman.
“Er…I think he’s gone…”
“Good. Let’s go.”
The woman put the car into gear and took off. The car climbed up the hill and disappeared into the forest.
A small creek ran through the woods.
Next to it stood a house. A handsome log cabin surrounded by lush grass and a vegetable patch. Beautiful flowers were in bloom on the raised porch next to the door. One of them had taken the full brunt of a .44mm round shot, and was spilling its contents on the plywood floor.
Things were sparkling among the clay pieces and the soil.
Countless gemstones lay in a pile on the deserted porch, glittering in the summer sun.