Gremli trudged through the forest. The forest around her was alive with the sound of birds and animals going about their business. A delightful discovery meant she had business as well; a small blackberry bush. Sadly she had stepped on it while searching through the brush, but it had not damaged that many berries. It took her 10 minutes to get at all the remaining berries on the bush and note the bush’s location on her rough map. Once the time was ripe, she could return, gather some shoots to plant in the village. It had been a very good foraging trip, and her bag was plenty full. She could return, but she would rather keep going. Gremli had been to this forest many times before, but this particular section was new to her. She had already managed to note over 10 bushes and edible-fruit trees in a single day. Leaving the empty blackberry bush, she struck out in a random direction, continuing into the forest. Before long, she had reached the edge of the forest, signalling that it was time to turn back. Since Greenboughs founding, very few of its inhabitants had gone beyond the borders of the forest that surrounded the village. Up until now, Gremli had not been one of the famous few to go beyond the borders of Warden Forest.
A short distance from the edge of the forest, an iron fence had rusted and fallen. Lord knows how long that must have been there, neglected by those who had survived. Once the fence would have separated the (relative) wilds from the order of the complex that lay beyond, but now it was more symbolic than anything. The same weeds grew on both sides, and trees and bushes had sprung up in some of the gaps created by rusting iron. Gremli stood at the threshold for a moment. Hoarse might worry for her if she did not return soon. On the other hand, none of other Youngs in the village, Hoarse included, would let her forget if she passed up such an exciting opportunity for exploration. Tying her bag closed, she carefully picked her way through the remains of the rusting iron fence and various weeds. The last thing she wanted was to have to trek back to the village alone with swellnettle-stings on her legs. Beyond the mess of old fencing and stinging weeds was some old building complex. Squat grey buildings sat surrounded by the growing wilds. From where Gremli stood, it looked like they had mostly withstood the years since their probable abandonment. Gremli was too young to have lived before the founding of their village, and had never left the forest, but she had heard the elders speak of the supermarkets of the world before the plagues. Tons of foods, sweets and plant seeds, finding even one would be an enormous boon to the village. Having never seen one herself, Gremli knew not what they would look like. From what she remembered of the stories from Organasia, none of these grey, nearly identical buildings matched how supermarkets were supposed to look. Trying to squash her dissapointment, she began to approach the closest of the large grey buildings. Whatever materials they had been made with, they had withstood the test of time far better than the iron fence that surrounded the complex. Gremli had walked about the area, hoping to maybe find something to bring back, but she had only found various metallic remains too heavy to carry back or shards of glass. Back when the survivors had left, they must have taken everything of value. By the foot of one of the buildings, she found what she guessed to be a door. She would have opened it in a heartbeat if not for one thing. A crudely-made wooden sign, bearing the words ‘DO NOT ENTER’.
Darkness had fallen by the time Gremli arrived back in Greenboughs. When she was noticed, The Youngs swarmed from everywhere and surrounded her, bombarding her with questions. Before she had the opportunity to answer any of them, Wida divided the group like someone pushing a bush away.
“What took you so long?” The large woman towered over the Youngs. She was not actually particularly tall, she just had a way of making herself seem way larger than she was.
Gremli tried to match Wida’s stare, but found she could not match the older woman for long. “I got lost in the forest, and only found my way when the light started fading,” She wasn’t sure how much she should say about her discovery. “But I did find a good haul.” Gremli held out her bag of findings, full as it was of plant clippings, fruits, berries and other good things.
Wida accepted the bag and walked off, leaving Gremli and the other Youngs on the edge of the village.
“I knew there was no reason to worry.” Hoarse put a hand on her shoulder, breaking the silence left by Wida. Hoarse and Gremli were one of many gathering-parties in the village, spending their days combing the forest for food or plants to add to the growing farmland on the other side of the village. Part of the reason the Youngs was considered a smaller group within the village community was that most of the parties were comprised of Youngs.
Another of the Youngs piped up. “You don’t get lost, Gremli,” Rukka gave have a questioning look. “So why are you actually late?”
Before Gremli could respond, nearly all of the other Youngs repeated the same question. She stood on tiptoes and looked over their heads. No one in the village seemed to be paying them much attention. As she leaned forward conspirationally, so did everyone else. “On the northwestern edge of the forest, I found a fence. It was rusty and full of holes, so I went past it. Beyond were 4 large buildings, left over from before the village. Largely intact, too.”
Hilda, one of the youngest of the Youngs, gave her a look full of awe. “Supermarkets?”
Gremli slowly shook her head. “No supermarkets,” The sounds of disappointment were quickly shushed, “I did however find a door into one of the buildings. Barred by a great barrier.”
“If you found the door I am thinking you found, then you didn’t open it.” All the Youngs jumped a little in surprise as Organaisa, one of the villagers Elders, walked up next to Gremli, his cane held out in front of him. The old man had snuck up on them. A few of the Youngs quickly excused themselves and left, but Hoarse and Rukka stayed, their gaze hopping back and forth between Gremli and Organaisa.
Gremli made a show of looking around to see if other villagers were sneaking up on them. “So it was you who put that sign up?”
The old man nodded. “I did not put up the first one, but I replaced it, aye.”
Organaisa pointed at Gremli. “Greenboughs found those buildings long ago. There is nothing but a curse on them, nothing to find. One of my predecessors put the sign there to deter explorers from repeating an old mistake. The previous sign was falling to pieces so I simply made a new one.”
“A curse?” Hoarse squeaked.
Organaisa nodded slowly, trying to appear wiser than he actually was. “Indeed. One of our ancestors opened the door carelessly and was cursed. A horrible wailing assaulted the village, and for weeks our people slept badly and gathered little food. Only when the wailing stopped could we return to normality.”
“What caused the wailing?” Gremli asked, genuinely curious.
“The curse!,” Organaisa responded, stomping his cane on the ground, “The curse, of course. That building is not to be entered.” Evidently finished, the old man turned and walked away.
The three remaining Youngs stood on the edge of the village. There was a moment of silence before they said their farewells and went their separate ways.
The morning sun had only just crested the low horizon when Hoarse found Gremli walking out the north of the village. As he’d expected, she had brought enough food and water for a day outside the village. “I knew I’d find you here.”
“You always know a lot of things, Hoarse.” Gremli replied with a grin.
He patted the bag of supplies hanging from a strap around his neck. “I want in on this, whatever you’re doing.”
Gremli looked past him, towards the village. “I don’t believe in any curse. We’ll figure it out.”
They set off at a brisk pace, treading familiar ground as they continued northwest past the border of the forest. The iron fence was just as she had left it the day prior, rusty and filled with weeds. Arriving at the complex, they stalled opening the ‘cursed’ door for a while by searching for other similar entrances. Any that seemed usable was similarly signed off with crude wooden signs.
They found themselves back at the initially-discovered door, trying in vain to peer through the dark windows on either side of the door.
“See anything yet?” Gremli shouted. They had each moved further and further from the door to try and spot anything through the windows.
“I think I see a chair!” Hoarse responded, cupping his hands over the glass to cut out light.
Gremli sighed and started back towards the door. “Right then.” With that, she pulled the door-handle and opened the door.
The door swung open with a lot of creaking. Who knew when it had last been oiled. The wailing followed immediately after. It was impossibly loud. Both Gremli and Hoarse had to cover their ears in pain as the constant eee-EEEE-eee of the wail blasted over them, coming from somewhere beyond the door.
“Blasted children! I told you to leave it be!” Turning around, they saw old man Organaisa storming towards them, big tufts of wool in each ear.
Gremli could barely think straight through the deafening noise, so when the old man pushed her away from the open door, she did not protest. Organaisa slammed the door shut, then set the sign back in front of the door. His face quickly sank when the wailing continued unabated.
Organaisa turned around to glare at them. “Satisfied now? The village is cursed again!”
Hoarse cowered under the old mans glare, but Gremli had an idea. Taking a deep breath, she removed her hands from her ears, bracing for the full force of the wail. She moved as quickly as she could when she snatched Organaisas cane from his hands and opened the door to step inside. She looked about to see where the wail was coming from, intending to give this spectre or whatever it was a piece of hard oak to the face. Instead, she found a small metal device, made up of various metallic bits and a large cone, which was quite clearly emitting the wail. A few solid hits with the cane and the wailing gurgled and stopped entirely.
The wailing gone, the silence it left behind seemed almost as deafening in its own way. Organaisa slowly stepped inside. “What happened?”
Gremli pointed at the device. “I just hit that thing a few times.”
The old man snatched his cane back, then began to examine the device. “So this thing brought the curse on us?”
Gremli truly had no idea, so she just shrugged. “Seems so. Might be the same story in all the other buildings.”
Hoarse joined them inside and there was a moment of silence between the 3. Organaisa sighed and turned towards them. “Don’t think this gets you off the hook. You still defied an Elder.”
She was not quite paying attention. “Can it wait? I would really like to go exploring.”