It had been a very long arduous day; my feet ached and I felt them scream in protest as I gingerly hobbled towards our heat emanating campfire. My muscles surrendered to exhaustion as I slumped down on the ground and with minimal effort crawled into my warm sleeping bag. I loved hiking, but this particular trip through the Chimanimani mountains had been difficult. Many of my school friends were suffering from strains and sprains, we had even gotten lost and after weaving through pine trees for 20km we had decided to make camp. Our guides were eager to escape the towering shadowy grey pine trees and keep going, but we had pushed as far as we could and were not walking another kilometer. Now huddled around the luminous fire we began questioning our guides uncertainty, wondering why they hated this forest so much, and why they had made such a bright, big campfire.
The leader of the group was the first to answer, he was a coal black Mozambiquan with a sharp angular face, high cheekbones and a strong muscular physique (I heard he used to be a soldier during the war); until now I had never seen him afraid -his usually proud piercing eyes were laced with anxiety as he began recanting his tale. ‘It is the lady of the woods,’ his deep voice vibrated across the fire, accompanied by crackles and pops from the burning wood. ‘It is Mrs Willows,’ at the mention of her name the other guides grunted, mumbling to one another in quick fearful Portuguese phrases, ‘She is always seeking, she searches for children, for children and revenge-always revenge.’ One of our group overcome by curiosity squeaked across the fire, ‘Why? You know ghosts don’t exist, right? However, we are all tired and dying to hear a scary story!’
With a deep sigh full of anxiety and a curious resolute acceptance of his fate, he began his story: ‘It was in the middle of the war, Mrs Willows lived in these woods with her two young children, she loved the land and did all she could to help and love others-but most of all she loved her children, protecting them fiercely like a lioness.’ His voice echoed through our ears, creating vivid pictures in our minds. The forest itself seemed to be listening and the only other sound was the rhythmic lick of the flames which drew our gaze to their glow, creating a mesmerising percussion accompanying his deep throated voice.
‘One day a young group of Mozambiquan soldiers came patrolling through this forest, they stumbled across her hut and full of suspicion began interrogating her, they were consumed by the evils of war and saw her as an enemy. She tried to explain her situation to them but they didn’t understand English, and despite her efforts they were hungry for blood; one of them began threatening her not believing her story, he thought she was a spy. He waved his machine gun from one family member to the next enjoying the power he felt, and murderous thoughts played with his mind.
All of us were now fully consumed by his words, the scenes played in our minds as we pictured Mrs Willows at the mercy of death, the bright flickering flames hypnotised us drawing all our attention. In the woods a twig crackled which caught my attention, I glanced up to see a grey wraith like movement of fabric behind a pine tree-it billowed similar to a white robe in the wind. My concentration was then recaptured as he continued the story and I temporarily forgot the whole experience.
The soldiers felt no pity, believing she was a lying spy they ruthlessly shot one of her kids in front of her and with the pull of a trigger they doomed themselves, the bang that ensued echoing through the forest was quickly replaced by the scream of a banshee as Mrs Willows consumed by pain and a first of rage went mad. She erratically tore and fought them with brute animal strength caused my the loss of the dear child, the other child was said to have unleashed a shrill cry before escaping the horrors by tearing into the woods behind her.’ A strange silence shot through the night, even the constant lick of the flickering flames seemed to hush as we all waited for the conclusion of the story. ‘Mrs Willows was distracted by the scream of her second child and looked up just in time to see her running into the forest, this momentary glance cost her life and doomed the forest, the murderous soldier who had been waiting for this opportunity as quick as a flash bear hugged her from behind, and in one clean motion satisfied his bloodlust by sliding his blade cleanly across her throat.’
Our hearts raced as he finished this sentence, the shocked silence was quickly replaced by a chattering stream of child like questions, in a mix of high pitched queries his deep earthy voice rumbled on, quickly hushing the group as we strained to hear. ‘Mrs Willows head and body were buried at opposite ends of the forest because the soldiers were superstitious and feared her ghost and the repercussions of their actions. They left the last surviving child to die alone in the forest and carelessly threw the body of the dead child off a cliff. Soon after the war ended she reappeared, haunting unfortunate hikers who happened to enter this forest, many people, especially children have disappeared terrified by her ghost which forever seeks revenge for her dead child, and which tirelessly searches for her living lost one. It is said that she chooses her victims by sending them a dream, inviting them to come and play soccer with her and her children-she is always wearing white, and as soon as you get close you realize the soccer ball is actually her decapitated head.’
This statement was followed by a chattering chorus of ‘Eww’s’, ‘That’s so scary’ and ‘I don’t believe in ghosts’ from the braver few. Excited chattering continued as we settled to bed, and just as I started to close my eyes I remembered the strange billowing white fabric I had seen earlier-it seemed to unnerve me; I shrugged it off as a silly illusion and drifted off to sleep. I began to dream, and the rest of the hikers woke up to two empty sleeping bags each with a bright red streak along them.