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The Short Cut - Halloween Competition Winner!

By Winter Masters

Through the widow, Aurora could see that the light was fading fast. She had been wholly engrossed in completing her pencil study of an onion, that the time just slipped away. Looking around the room, she was amazed to see everyone else had already left. Mr White was s

huffling papers noisily and coughing profusely, obviously trying to signal home-time, and she was late for dinner again. She'd have to speed walk all the way home, her shoes would rub, and no doubt she'd trip and stumble as always unless she took the Shortcut.

Aurora lived with her Mum and Stepfather, who'd been together since Aurora was tiny. She had no memory at all of her biological Dad. He left when she was just six months old, and they had not heard anything from him since. Family life was bliss. She had a younger brother, Whitt, who was funny and cheeky. Although Aurora was timid and a little shy, she'd found her place in life and school and was happy almost all the time.

Aurora packed up her books, carefully stowing her pencils in the tin so as not to snap the lead inside them. She half-smiled at Mr White and made her way through empty corridors decorated with ghosts, spiders and pumpkins, ready for the Halloween Dance at the weekend. She shivered. It was getting colder every day.

Her thoughts drifted to toffee apples and treacle toffee, brightly coloured cupcakes and pumpkin soup, the treats of Halloween. Just on cue, her tummy rumbled loudly

Aurora lived on Foulness Island, a small island just off the coast of Essex, accessible only by boat. The school was small, and eventually, she'd have to become a border on the mainland. The Island was divided into two parts. The main town included a school that doubled as the community hall on the one side and a forest surrounded by a coastal path leading to the tiny hamlet for estate works on the west side. Speed being essential, she decided to break a cardinal rule. She was going to take The Shortcut through the forest.

Aurora stood staring at the dark huddle of trees.

"Don't you dare", a warm, familiar voice shouted from the bushes.

"You've been waiting?" Aurora asked

Noah Duke stood with matted red hair and textbooks sticking out of his backpack. A straight-A Student and Aurora's best friend but also the loudest boy in school.

"We will be late unless we take The

Shortcut", Aurora is hard to argue with, so with one big, over dramatic sigh they headed into the ghostly dark Wood.

McDermid Wood wandered across the hillside for over 4,000 years and is considered a national treasure.

Noah grabbed her arm; he was spooked at something flying ahead. The glowing light had dissolved into a thick, macabre fog.

"Noah ", Aurora whispered, "where are we going? ", the horrible feeling of being lost swam over her. Noah stopped dead. "What", her voice tremoured ", was that?"

"I…I was following you, "Noah replied.

The Wood fell silent. A low, angry growl radiated from the forest floor to their left. The noise seemed to creep around Aurora's neck, tightening its grip, stifling her voice. She was sure she was screaming, but no sound came from her mouth. The forest floor shifted. The noise circled them. Aurora whipped around, hitting Noah with her hair.

"Aurora ", Noah hissed.

She nudged him hard to shut up.

"What? "He replied

"Listen", he fell quiet. His grip on her arm tightened as the low growl connected with his ear. Noah stepped toward

s the sound. He was mesmerised by the constant hum.

The growl quickly became a motor, deafening them and freezing them to where they stood, shaking like jelly. The wolf stepped forward. It lunged. The smooth white teeth flashed as they bit into Noah's flesh. Noah shrieked a blood-curdling howl.

Adrenaline rushed through her body as the thud of Noah's fall echoed around the forest.

"Noah", She dread her voice full of dread,

"Stay calm ", Noah breathlessly whispered. Then, he paused, "they can sense fear."

Aurora was hyperventilating.

"Noah, are you hurt? "she asked.

No answer. She tried again. No reply. She did what Noah said. In her mind, she drifted back to the thought of summer. Swimming in the sea with Noah. Her eyes flicker open as a loud twang, and a

whooshing sound echoed off the trees. The mutt was slumped on the ground. Noah lay motionless on the floor.

"Noah …Noah"

Aurora rushed over to his side. She wrapped an old scarf from the bottom of her backpack around his leg. The scarf quickly was soaked with blood. Noah grabbed her hand. They huddle together. Laying on the haunted forest's uneven mossy ground, and of course, it started to rain. Time passed very slowly.

The light shone in through the window as Aurora awoke. Looking around, she saw whitewashed walls and beeping machines. Her Mum and stepdad sat on twins chairs next to her bed, holding her soft toys. Her body ached and her mouth was dry.

'Mum? 'Aurora gasped

'Aurora, love, you're awake!', her Mum cried.

'Where's Noah?' Aurora croaked

'He's fine, weak but smiling. You can see him soon,' Aurora sighed, sagging back onto the bed.

'Love, there's something though you need to know.', her Mum said

The trepidation in her Mum's voice caught her attention. Something wasn't right. Aurora pushed herself up onto her elbows.

'Mum, What's wrong?'

'The man you were with in the Woods, who was he? '

'Mum, what man? We got lost, and there was only a wolf, it attacked Noah'

'No love, no one found a wolf. The search party found you, Noah and a man with a silver arrow in his chest.'

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