Billy bustled towards the sylvan patch of green, Bosco trotting by his heels. The words of his mother and Old Malcus nagged at Billy’s conscience. Billy knew he was too old to believe in ghost stories, but his mother’s warning to stay away from the woods rang with a sense of urgency in his ears as he drew closer to the forest.
“Boys who go in, never come out”, she’d said, wagging her finger.
“What about Old Malcus? He’s still alive.”
“The friend that went with him ain’t. And look at Malcus. He spends most of his time in a rocking chair, sputtering nonsense. He’s gone mad”, Mother said, leaning in and widening her eyes.
“I don’t think he’s crazy”, muttered Billy to his mother’s back as she left the room.
Billy was determined to go on an adventure, mother’s consent or no. The town of Sandythroats afforded no fun for a little boy like Billy. The woods seemed so inviting with its lush green treetops rustling and swaying in the stiff desert wind. It seemed almost unfair to Billy that the people of Sandythroats should have to eek out a living in the dust with a veritable utopia in their backdoor. Billy decided they were scaredy-cats for being afraid the woods. Billy wondered what the mystery behind the woods was, what the secret was. He had searched for answers, seeking out Old Malcus.
Malcus replied to Bully’s queries only with his usual stuttering of, “The golden harp. The golden harp. The golden harp.”
“What is the golden harp?” asked Billy.
“The golden harp. The golden harp. The golden harp” , Old Malcus said vacantly.
“Can you play it?” probed Billy.
Old Malcus rose swiftly from his chair and clenched Billy’s collar in a vein crossed old hand, drawing them close. He stared into Billy’s surprised eyes with terror. Washing Billy’s face in repulsive warm breath, Malcus whispered, “do not play.”
And suddenly, Malcus released Billy and sunk back into his chair, resuming his muttering as though nothing had happened.
Billy pushed these recent memories away. He was determined to find the harp or whatever lay at the center of the forest. But, he was lost in thought, staring at his shoelaces with such intensity that he was surprised to find that he was striding over a mat of thick blades of grass. He looked up in wonder and found that he was standing beneath the swaying bows of the trees he had dreamed of so often. He looked over his shoulder; behind him lay a tunnel of green vegetation and beyond that an expanse of sand and the brown figure of Sandythroats. Billy turned back and delved deeper into the forest, running full tilt with a broad smile and open arms. Bosco barked and ran circles around Billy’s ankles. Soon however, Billy lost his breath and grew oddly silent. He picked up a stick and threw it in a lofty arc. Bosco wagged his tail and gave chase in the direction the stick had disappeared. Billy waited for Bosco to reappear from the cluster of bushes he had bounded into. He tapped his foot and whistled. He listened to the silence and a chill ran up his back.
Bosco’s head pooped up above the tops of the bushes and he barked at Billy to follow. Billy pushed the green fans aside, “what’s up, Bosco?”
Billy followed Bosco to an open clearing and looked where bosco’s snout was pointed. Sitting serenely on the opposite edge of a stream was the golden harp.
“So it’s true”, he thought, “it’s really true.”
Billy hopped across some mossy stones and approached the harp, trembling with anticipation. Bosco growled menacingly. Billy caressed the harp’s elegant curves and tenderly plucked the strings. The wooded enclave around Bosco and Billy resounded with a delicious melody. It enchanted Billy. He settled down beside the harp, becoming more comfortable. His fingers rolled across the chords, sweeping together a song he didn’t know he could play. He felt his eyes beginning to droop, only dimly aware of that the stream by his feet was quickening its tempo. A hazy smile spread across his face, Billy shut his heavy eyelids completely.
Bosco tugged at Billy’s pants as the music continued and the stream became a rapid, growing quickly. The water began to rise. It pooled around Billy’s feet. He did not notice. The water began to suck Billy away from the harp. Billy continued to play, stretching out his arms to reach the strings. Bosco snarled and bit into Billy’s pant leg harder.
Billy’s fingers finally broke free of the strings at last. The melody stopped, and Billy’s eyes snapped open. But it was too late. With a final pull, the water ripped him from Bosco’s jaw and consumed him. The waters went still, save for a single ripple coming from the spot where Billy had been swallowed.
Billy was gone forever. No one from Sandythroats ever saw him again. His mother found Bosco still clenching a piece of cloth Billy’s pants. Only Old Malcus nodded knowingly when he heard of the disappearance, but no one in Sandythroats failed to notice that the forest had grown for the first time since Old Malcus went in.