The forest behind the Horn property was ancient, and the Deadman triplets, Lycan, Gentry, and Hells, had spent many a summer in their youth avoiding it, and being drawn to it.
It was rumored throughout the family that Great-Grandmother Horn lost her left ear in the forest after a deal went south with Mephistopheles, and to this day, the demon keeps it in a bag full of lavender and horehound, fastened to his right hip. Grandma Rosabald always explained that that was how her mother attained the Infernal Secrets, for her ear never stopped listening, and through it she heard all. It was also told, within closed doors, that Grandma Rosabald had actually been conceived right there in the forest, under what Uncle Aesop described as “suspicious energies”. He said that Horn Magic itself came from the land, that the first Horn Woman millennia ago sprang from its soil, a manifestation of the Earth’s will to do and dare. It was Horn ground from then on, and would continue to be Horn ground for all the coming ages, until the sun drew its last breath and swallowed itself up.
All of them had memories of that wilderness just beyond their stoop. The triplets, when they had turned seven, had awful dreams of the wood for seven days and seven nights. In near-perfect sync they would wake at 2 a.m., rousing the whole house with their screams and cries. None of them could remember the dreams, but they could each remember the terror, and the sweat. Hells could recall a time when Glastig would refuse to leave the house, throwing a tantrum every time she laid eyes upon the tree line. Once in high school, during 3rd hour it was reported, Lycan erupted into a fit and had a breakdown, throwing his desk across the room and bracing himself into a corner, raging. When their father came to get him, he kept ranting and raving that a red wolf had come for him from the forest and was hunting him, intent to steal his heart. He had to be physically restrained. Lycan claimed he remembered nothing of the event. No one was sure if he was telling the truth.
But in those very trees the triplets, and all the Deadman and Black children for that matter, had played and roamed. Gentry had cast his first spell there, Newt and Hilde went and caught small toads. Before she graduated and moved away, their eldest sister, Maddalena, would bring them all into the forest each Saturday, and together as siblings they would light a bonfire, tell tall-tales, and she would fasten wreaths for their heads and dub them Courageous, Valiant, Of Bird, Of Thorn, or Crafty. The forest was deep, and rich with stories, both good and evil, but it was a part of them.
It gave and it took. It revealed and withheld. It had no name, but it was of consciousness and thought. The forest was alive, and it knew their highest hopes and darkest secrets.
And it was of its own will, and agenda.