by Bailey Bones
Hoia Baciu, located in Romania, is the most haunted forest in the world. Find out why.
|The air was unnaturally still. Heavy snow carpeted the normally lush green hills barely visible from the window in the tiny upstairs bedroom. Rhana, cloaked in her mother's old fur cloak, shivered. She tugged at her sister's jacket pocket, begging her to change her mind.
"Please don't, I'm too scared, you know what they say."
Lidia did know. She knew it all. She knew the folklore; legends and rumours.
"It's a lie, to get the tourists here, you know that. Father told us it's for those rich tourists from Paris and Bavaria."
Dragging her younger sister along, Lidia opened the glass door stained decoratively with ice, entering the second story balcony of the old style Romanian pub. While the freezing cold bit their face, the still air meant the weather was perfect for her father's pub patronage, and so they'd be left alone for at least the morning, free to do what they liked. And today, according to the vivacious Lidia, it was to explore the famously haunted Hoia Baciu Forest. Lowering a rope made from bed sheets tied together, Lidia urged her stubborn younger sister to climb down. Predictably she refused.
"Mother would never want us to do this!" Rhana Squealed, a tear forming in her eye.
"Mother isn't here," reminded Lidia with little conviction, "she's gone."
The old bangle her mother had given her rattled on her wrist as she let go of the makeshift rope, landing on the soft newly fallen snow, her cheap shoes caused her to lose her footing for a moment before retaining her balance and taking a moment to glance up at Rhana, her gaze offering one last opportunity to come with her. Lidia knew she would.
"What are you doing child?" called their interfering neighbour Margery, passing the pub with her tiny dog grasped in her bony hands, "does your father know you're out here?" Her excitable dog barked and snarled at them.
Ignoring her inquisitive coos, Lidia again dragged her apprehensive sister towards the back alley of the pub, through the old style beer garden her father had designed from sketches he'd created of the great Lipscani Weiss halls of Bucharest, and across the frosted white hills that flanked the quaint little village.
The view towards the forest was beautiful - a ruptured cluster of magically poignant trees, huddling together, their branches extending. Their trunks were fat and slimming, rising from the snow-covered terrain like the shape of a pear. Nowhere else had Lidia seen such peculiar trees, rich with character, flawed with ugly elegance which only she could appreciate.
They were different - like she was.
The books her mother used to read never boasted trees of such ridiculous stature. They were always simple trees; rigid, green, lush with vegetation.
Rhana didn't share her older sister's apparent sense of kinship.
"We mustn't go in," Rhana pleaded, "we mustn't!"
"There's magic inside!" assured Lidia, her face lit with explorative enthusiasm, "don't you want to see magic?"
"Father says there's only evil inside. It's what everyone says. And it's so cold. He's preparing pork knuckle, we must go back."
Lidia offered no response; instead taking hold of her younger sister's shaking hand, leading her into the forest, past the one remarkably ugly tree skulking inauspiciously by the entrance, coated in a magical layer of ice. Passing it, Rhana tried to shake the feeling it was watching her, its shimmering yet magnificent icy bark and unrelenting wooden gaze filled her with a sense of dread.
Lidia knew something was very wrong, she could feel it immediately. Somehow, in the last few minutes she'd lost sight of Rhana, and it felt like the forest was trying to suffocate her. They'd been inside amoungst the dense dark maze of oblong shaped trees and lingering stale musky air no longer than twenty minutes, surrounded by ominously treacherous orange shaded foliage that hung from bleak trees in righteous obscure angles in true testimony to how the local legends described. Most of the trees were devoid of any leaves, just bark skeletons with dying branches and solemn trunks. As soon as they past that giant scowling tree guarding the entrance, Lidia had felt a presence. Mist rose from the forest floor, hovering waist high. Seconds ago, it felt like she had momentarily blacked out, and now her head throbbed, her throat corrosively dry. The tiny hairs stood on her arms, her teeth chattering uncontrollably. All she wanted to do was run. Run towards the direction home, to her father, and the pub, and her little town with her close friends and family. But she couldn't.
Where was Rhana? This was not like her sister at all.
Then she heard the voice again in the rustle of the wind, the branches creaking. What was it saying? Who was it? She felt something grab her arm, squeezing tightly. Screaming, Lidia turned to nothing but an audience of dark brown leafless trees and a forest floor carpeted with a sinister haze, dying roots and slime ridden rocks. She circled twice, still no one. Again, she heard the voice, deep and agitated.
"She dies," it whispered.
"Rhana!" screamed Lidia, her eyes welling with tears. The sound of her terrified voice seemed to get swallowed up by the air, now heavy with an overwhelming stench of rotting meat, similar to the pig carcasses her father would dispose of in the pits. She had to run and find him. Father would help, he would persuade the patrons to assist in looking for Rhana. He would inevitably scold her, tell her how ashamed her mother would have been, knowing she had come into the forest after all the times she was told not to. But she had no choice, she had to tell him. Lidia glanced down at her feeble hands, shivering and weak.
She felt her throat go tight, her windpipe crushed within seconds.
She gagged for air, dropping to her knees, wailing her puny arms in protest. The forest grew dark, heavy and threatening. Her vision fluttered. She saw stars.
"She dies," the voice whispered, as though it had come from right beside her.
A gust of stale repugnant air penetrated Lidia's nostrils. With a pitiful scream, she slid sideways, gashing her leg on a rock, before standing and running. She didn't know what direction she was headed, as long as she got away. She ran and ran and ran, until her lungs felt like they were caving in. She collapsed to her knees, catching a glimpse of daylight through the trees. An exit! She sensed a strong dangerous presence sweep over her followed by a wave of panic. A deep clasp on her groin made her scream in terror.
"She's dead," the deathly voice croaked.
Lidia leapt to her feet, her shoes squishing in the cesspool of mud and slush below her. With the last of her energy, she battled fatigue, running past the cowering trees, out of the forest.
"Father!" screamed Lidia, running into the open, embracing her freedom with outstretched arms. Her feet didn't trample the newly fallen snow, nor did the tenacious freezing air burn her face. The hill that rose up to the forest, the bridge that crossed into her town and the prairie that lay nearby were all lush and green, like a mid summers day, devoid of any snow at all. Distressed, Lidia held back tears, running down the rise towards the pub. Bursting into town, past the water spire and the circular gardens of the stone chapel, she reached the humble town centre, packed full of villagers. Immediately, there was something odd about the town square. She couldn't help but notice the outlandish looks she seemed to receive, familiar faces glaring at her with menacing scowls. Regular people in the streets nearby ceased their transactions and conversations to watch her. She turned the corner towards her father's pub and stopped dead, a lump forming in her throat.
The pub was completely boarded up. The windows, doors and front gate harboured rows of festering wood nailed in zigzag formation. The outside paint once boasting an inviting red glow, now a gloomy, monstrous maroon and yellow splotchy eyesore riddled with mould and dust. The front yard was overgrown, spider webs encompassed every corner. Every outdoor gas-lamp shattered and decayed. The pub was abandoned, and it looked like it had been for years. But she was here just this morning, how could this be? Her hands trembled, her body shook. Running through the piercing tall grass, cutting her exposed legs like sharp needles, she reached a boarded window, banging loudly on it with her tiny fists. Dust and debris showered down onto her, into her eyes and hair. She spluttered, taking a step backwards. Wiping away her tears, she left a smear of dirt and dust across her face. She sniffled, and called out again; "father!"
She raced to her left, to the front door of the abandoned pub. She had never seen the giant door closed before, it's grand arch permanently open for patrons well into the night. Now, only planks of wood, damp and sorrowful, abundantly nailed tightly across the entrance. She slammed both brittle hands against the wooden barricades, pushing with all her might; "father please, it's me, I can't find Rhana! I need help!"
She noticed a small opening between two planks of wood, a peephole just wide enough for her to peek inside. Pressing her head against the beams of wood, she flicked away a mound of dust, and gazed in.
The sight made her nauseous. The impressively long gold-panelled bar, routinely cleaned by her father, now lay riddled with grime and mould. Along the wall, moss grew, vines hanging undisturbed from the ceiling, the beautiful pinewood floors now a cesspool of murky puddles and weeds, and screeches of unseen water rats the only sign of life. Beer glasses lined against the wall resting on their shelves now covered in black speckled filth, the grand old piano perched up on its platform carpeted with a sticky film of slime, covered in webs, a single giant vine encompassing the entire base.
Lidia heard a soft splash - a footstep inside. She darted her eyes to the left, although her view was interrupted by the top plank of wood angling down, she caught sight of a tall, slim, well dressed figure. He wasn't moving, staring right at her. His ghostly face was skeletal, protruding cheek bones and dark rings under his eyes. She gasped, holding her breath. Stumbling back from the door, her expression turned to horror, her hand placed across her mouth to stop herself from screaming.
"What are you doing child?" chirped a curious female voice, behind her. Turning with the hope of finding a familiar face, Lidia's expression turned from despair to relief.
"Margery!" Lidia cried, overwhelmed with excitement to see her neighbour. For the first time since Lidia could remember, Margery didn't have her dog with her. Lidia had never seen her outside without her beloved puppy. But there was something else a bit odd about her that Lidia couldn't quite grasp.
"How do you know my name child?" hissed Margery with distaste, backing away, "who are you, another dreadful orphan in town to cause trouble? Where have you come from child?"
"It's me!" wailed Lidia, raising her hands in desperation, "what happened to my father's pub?"
"Get out of town this instant, I'm warning you," Margery scoffed, briskly departing down a nearby alleyway, casting various backward glances at Lidia as she scurried away.
Trembling, Lidia looked down, noting her once pretty white cotton dress her mother had sewn for her years ago now destroyed, cut open in various spots, haggard like a dirty old mop.
"Girl," chimed a voice nearby, "girl, can you hear me?"
Turning in fright, Lidia clasped her arms around herself, a single tear rolling down her dirt stained cheek. Standing before her was a church pastor, an old man with stringy white hair and a toothless grin.
She had never seen him before. This was not her local pastor.
Lidia said nothing.
"Come with me girl," invited the pastor, urging her to follow, "I will tell you what's going on. I know you must be frightened."
Inside the nearby stone church, the pastor offered the distressed Lidia water in a dirty glass, a chip imbedded in its side.
"Many orphans have turned up in town recently," the pastor explained, lighting a wick amoungst a myriad of unlit half melted candles.
"I'm not an orphan," Lidia protested, "I'm not! That is my father's pub! My sister and I live there and we went to the forest for just a moment to see-"
"The forest!?" the pastor gasped, shaking his feeble head with disdain, an untrustworthy grin across his wrinkled face. The flickering light gave her little solace while she gazed around at the church walls. This was much different to her church; she didn't recognise the windows, the darkened brick, and the stone staircase in the corner. The outside was the same, but inside was completely different.
Lidia began sobbing. She felt weak, alone, scared.
"Please help me, I want my father," she begged, "please I just want to see him, I want to see him."
Growing nauseous, she stumbled ungraciously down a single step near the pastor's pew, before tumbling over, blacking out instantly.
Lidia woke to the sound of a distant dripping, and the strong stench of rust and lime scale. She couldn't see a thing, nothing but pitch-black darkness. Taking a moment to let her eyes adjust, she soon realised she was in the catacombs below the church, locked in a dark cell surrounded by walls of century old rock. Her breathing began to quickly accelerate, her fear taking hold. The oxygen was thin.
"You're an orphan too?" asked a soft voice, from over in the darkened corner inside of the cell.
Lidia gasped, turning in fright, her bottom lip trembling.
"Who are you? Why am I here?"
"He takes us," the voice heralded, "the old man, was he the only one who spoke to you in town? He takes us and he locks us in here. He says we need to trust him, and the God of Saint Rivilous will save us."
"Why are you saying this!?" Lidia cried, falling to her fragile knees. Her hand slipped down the rocky wall, and she caught a glimpse of thousands of faces - children locked up in this hellish dungeon before her.
"Will you bless Saint Rivilous with me?" the soft voice questioned, a frail gaunt looking girl with scars on her ghoulish face appearing from the darkness.
Lidia screamed in terror. She felt the life slip from her body. The overwhelming smell of rotting flesh returned.