Both boys quickly became friends. Some people thought they were brothers and even confused them as so. They looked almost alike with their blue eyes, blond hair and altruistic personality; the only difference was their height. Alden was shorter and liked telling Walter many stories he had heard at the Swan Inn and from his grandfather. His grandfather had passed away four summers ago, he still spoke about him as if he was still alive. Like Alden, Walter the taller of the two, stayed out of the way of his mother. He felt closer to his sister though lately she was distant. When they were not at school, they would hang around at the Swan Inn. When not at the inn Walter would help Alden with one of his odd jobs.
This afternoon when they encountered the Sullivan brothers, Alden was trying to demonstrate to Walter that every time the brass compass got near the Black Forest it would swirl around erratically. Sadly, Alden had not seen the brothers or watched where he was going when he stepped on a twig, frightening the deer away. The brass compass was the only thing he had left from his grandfather, everything else had been sold by his mother and father.
“Did they stay as mice?” Walter was doubtful of the story.
“Of course not,” Alden said. “It was only temporary, but the witch had told him to not say a word about it and he never did.”
“But he told your grandfather?” Walter made a point.
“True,” Alden said. “She was long gone by then.”
“What happened to her?”
“He never knew. She had lived here all her life and was still alive when his grandfather went off to war, but when he came back her house was boarded up and he never saw her again; not even the cats. Some say she moved into the Black Forest and that is where she is. One thing is for sure. Whoever lives in the Black Forest has cursed it.”
Walter found it bewildering. Before they moved here they use to live next to an old house atop a hill that was supposedly haunted. It had an eerie, dark feeling like the Black Forest. It was abandoned and nobody dared to go in there. How much of the stories were true, Walter never knew. His sister doubted them and always told him people told tales because they had nothing better to do.
As if Alden was reading his mind he said, “The Black Forest is more than haunted, it is bewitched. Strangest creatures like the phantom cat live there or so they say.” Whether all this was true or not Alden was fascinated by the stories. Walter was skeptical but he knew Alden took it seriously and never tried to persuade him otherwise. It was a creepy place, thought Walter. “What is a phantom cat?”
“That’s the thing, nobody knows,” Alden said excitedly. “There has been sightings of a big cat, like a panther, that lives in there.” He pointed toward the Black Forest. “Some who pass by the forest have seen something walking in there. It stays in the dark shadows, never coming out.”
They waited awhile longer, but Walter and Alden knew it was hopeless, even if they were able to get a glimpse of the compass the problem would be retrieving it. They were unaware a raven sat just above them, listening. The wind began to pick up, it looked about to rain and soon it would be getting dark. Alden resigned with a sigh. “I think we better go home, it’s getting late.”
“Maybe we can try to get closer?” Walter said.
“No, it will get dark soon and it’s not safe to be here,” Alden said disappointingly. They both slowly climbed down from the tree and walked back to town.