She stands, her feet on the edge of a small river, toes in the cool rippling water
From where she stands, she can see down the valley to the small village where she once lived, and across the river she can see the road that winds upwards and away from the village
It is incredibly peaceful, the sound of the rippling water gurgling and bubbling at her feet, the birds in the trees.
She has memories of this glade in which she stands. Good memories, happy memories, memories of friendship, of growing up wild and free
She remembers being a young girl in this clearing, chasing butterflies, plaiting daisy chains, drinking the cool clear water and dosing in the midday heat
She sighs and remembers the friends she had back then, their laughter still rings through the trees, their flashing smile and warmth. The memories bring warmth to her in the winters cold now that she is alone.
Not completely alone she thinks. The birds and squirrels keep her company, always active, always on the move, never still. They are used to her and even the butterflies settle on her outspread arms
It is in the darkness of winder, when the wind blows and bites and the squirrels and birds hunker down, when the butterflies are gone, when
when the butterflies are gone, when the butterflies are gone, when the chill wind tears through the forest and dead leaves rattle and dance along the ground in a terrible dance of death. Then the dark dreams come, the dark memories, the anger, the tears, the drowning sorrow.
And in due course as the seasons swept by, she and Bennie spent more and more time together and she came to appreciate his gentleness, his adoration, his faithfulness. Even down to "saving us for after we are married". At times she would go home in a frenzy of desire, shrouded in frustration and anger. At such times their partings would be acrimonious.
It was, she noticed worse when the huge full moon dominated the sky, at such times she would feel most frustrated, restless, most angry, most, most. She could not define the feeling, but it bit a her, tearing at her flesh, her heart, leaving her wanting something she did not know how to describe or define
It was four weeks before her wedding that the full moon flooded the valley, that she and Bennie went out walking, that they kissed and touched but went no further, it was then that she went home aflame, restless, burning for what she knew not. It was later that night as the moon rose to it fullest and flooded the world with its cold dispassionate light, it was then that she climbed out of her window, a bag in her hand her shoes in the other so as not to waken anyone. It was then she crept down the road, avoiding the houses where the dogs would bark, that she set out on the rising road and, as she crossed the bridge, she pulled on her shoes and started to walk about from the world she knew, from her home, her friends, her parents, her future. Away from Bennie
She had almost reached the top of the hill overlooking the village, when she stopped out of nostalgia, regrets, something, whatever it was that plagued her, chased her out of her bed, out of her village and onto the road, could not stop.
She stopped, turned and looked back at the village sleeping gently in the moonlight and her heart lifted, she knew she was doing the right thing and she rejoiced. She turned to cross the brow of the hill and hide valley from her sight and erase her past and heard, faintly in the distance the sound of someone whistling. A jolly cheerful tune, as she listened the whistling got closer and the heavy tread of a man walking could be heard. How did she know it was a man? She knew not, but man it was and a possible danger to her alone on the road so she slipped off the road and hid in the trees alongside the river.
It was cool and dark in the trees and the bridge was clearly visible from where she hid so she could see the figure come down the hill, slow at the river and stand staring down in the river for a while. Still he whistled his jaunty song and he stood looking down and away from her. A gentle breeze blew up the valley carrying familiar scents to her, mowed hay, the sheep in the field below, the flowers in the open field.
It also carried his scent. Warm, musky, dangerous, exciting. It filled her body with fire and her head with scarcely seen, dark, rustling images, she heard things in her head that made her body burn even more. She sighed.
And when she sighed, he laughed out loud. Happy, cheerful, full of something indefinable.
"Come on out. It must be awfully cold crouching next to the river like that." He turned and looked directly at her as if he could see her.
"Come out, come out. I smell you, I see you and I know what you want. I have the cure for your restlessness. Come out come out."
Her legs disobeyed her, her body too, she rose and like a dream walker she walked up onto the road and toward him. Her instincts screamed "Run, scream, escape!" her body disobeyed and soon she stood opposite him on the bridge
"I have what you need. I have what you crave. I will feed you, but first let us dance. Dance, here in the moonlight,"
He started to whistle again and without any resistance she found herself wrapped in his arm, enclosed in his warmth, breathing his musky smell and dancing with him. The whistling filled her head, his eyes held hers and her body followed his, round and round and round. They swirled faster and faster, off the road, down the path ways of the forest.
Unresisting she went, slowly merging her movement, linking her desires to him, unable to do anything but follow his lead.
Her shoes went first, lost in a wild whirling dance, her stockings next, snagged on a briar, and soon she dance with him naked in the moon light, absorbed in his strength his mind his sound his scent.
Ever deeper into the forest they danced, till they were in her clearing, the clearing she had grown up in, found safety and friendship and happiness. And still they danced.
"Look up, look up!" he cried and she did, up, up through trees, through the leaves, and into the face of the moon. He swirled her round to face the river, her toes just in the water, he rand his hands across her body and then let her go.
And as she stood and looked up to the moon, up to the skies, she raised her arms to greet the moon and then her feet took root, her legs became rigid and her arms and fingers sprouted leaves. When she looked down she found her body gone replaced by a tree trunk.
On a deserted road out of the village and into the forest there is a track that leads off the road in a twisting, turning casual way under a dark, black as night canopy and if you walk that way, branches seem to lurch out of the forest and trip you up. If you don’t watch out carefully you end up going back the way you came, out on the road headed back toward the village with an urge to stop at the ale house and chat to the owner. No one goes there without good reason, few get to the end of the road, even fewer are invited into the small ramshackle house. Few who enter there it is whispered come back sane.
Bennie walks the path, slowly, carefully but the stories seem to have no substance in reality. The canopy is not so dark, no branches whip out and try to trip him and he is soon standing at the door. He is still afraid, cautious, working up courage to knock on the door. He doesn’t have to, the door opens of its own accord and a cat oozes it way out, purring noisily. It weaves in and out of his legs and heads back into the house. He pauses still, unnerved by the silence.
“Come in. You are letting the cold in.”
Reluctantly he crosses the threshold and feels a slight tug at his clothes as he does. The room is dark, except for a single candle burning in a sconce.
“It has taken you long enough.” A voice in the dark says softly.
He bows his head. “I didn’t . .” his voice trails off.
“Fool.” The voice says. “Stupid. You knew.”
He stares at the floor.
The unseen figure sighs gently.
“You are a good man. A mistaken, foolish man, but still a good man. You denied the old powers, the old gods, even against the evidence of your own eyes and ears.”
“Why did you not tell me?” He is suddenly angry, head up, fists clenched.
“You sat moping in that clearing, not listening to the world around you. If you had listened, you would have heard her scream. I could hear it here.” “And you did nothing?”
The silence bore the answer and a rebuke.
“What will happen to Angie?”
“Retribution. Angie did evil, it will take its toll.”
“And the child?”
“Depends on her. She in the tree. If she is vengeful both will die. If not. . .”
The silence drew out again.
“Go, go. She has waited long enough for you. Put your hands on the wounds. Say you are sorry. Promise her protection and all possible assistance. Take that rabble of the village with you. And make sure you keep those promises.”
She stands in the clearing, her feet on the edge of a small river, toes in the cool rippling water. The sap has started to dry, the outward wound is healing slowly, the inward wound is unchanged. She feels his approach, she smells him, she tastes him, feels his gentle power. Soon he stands in front of her. Not moving, not speaking. Waiting. And then the people of the village arrive, slowly, in drips and drabs. Reluctantly, unwilling to acknowledge what they know to be true. She recognises them, some have aged others who were children are now adults, some who were young adults are aging.
Silence settles over the clearing.
He stares at the cuts in her bark, the sap stains running down to the river.
He looks up,
“I am sorry. I absolve you of any and all promises you made to me. I will assist you in any way possible to make your life better. It is the only way I can make atonement for my sin.”
The crowd behind him shift and mutter. He steps forward, places his hand on the cuts and murmurs softly under his breath.
The leaves fall first, like tears. The clearing is soon carpeted with fallen leaves, then the fruit falls next and finally the flowers drift to the ground.
“Come out. Come out. Come out and live.” He says clearly and from the dying tree she steps, unchanged by time, changed by her terrible imprisonment. She staggers, nearly falls into the river, he steadies her, gently firmly. A woman wraps a blanket around her and for the first time five years, she leaves the clearing.Back to Stories