This is the conclusion of a three-part short story for Easter. Parts One and Two are available below, so you might want to read them before you read on… Also, a small warning of some elements of witchcraft, some creepy and some sensual (all 12 rated stuff though!)
Abi awoke. The room she lay in was dark although strong, pink-tinged light drifted through the large bay window and settled in a soft pool on the floorboards, stretching long and pale to the door on the far side. She was aware that there was blood on her sheets and on her legs, and streaks of mud. She felt no shame. She had no memory of getting to bed nor of putting on the white smock she wore now. It was all as though this was quite normal. She felt no panic, despite the blood and the dirt and the darkness which suggested she had slept through the day. She merely gazed around in the half-light to gain her bearings. She was in a small bedroom. Wooden beams supported the white ceiling and ran through the walls like roots. The floor was polished oak, worn and rutted with time. It felt good under her grimy bare feet as she walked to the sink against one wall to wash herself. She did not question the dirt. The reluctant pipes banged out a resistant tattoo before sputtering out cold water. A memory of a more luxurious bathroom, with hot running water and expensive soaps and moisturisers came and went; it seemed of little consequence now.
She peered out of the thick, warped glass of the window. In the moonlight, she could see quite clearly. Directly below the window was a small beer garden; the grass was recently mown, and bench-tables were set out in ordered rows. Beyond that, a low gated fence marked the boundary between the garden and the woods beyond. The trees were old and even in the gloom, Abi could see that they were marked with green lichen. On the trees closest to the garden, she saw thick buds on the branches, heavy and expectant. A dirt path led from a gate into the woods, but it disappeared into shadows only a short way in. The gate stood half open.
His head was thrown back, and the toothless mouth was wide open and gulping at the air. Long toenails grasped the branches like the talons of a hawk, or some terrible damnation of a baby bird.
A nagging unease tugged at her consciousness. She had a feeling that she had to be somewhere else, that someone was expecting her, but she could not place it. As she determined to dress herself and leave, (although to go where, she could not say) something very strange caught her eye, so strange that it caused a chill to pass through her and the hair on her head to prickle and raise. Uncertain of what she had seen in the shadows amongst the trees, she looked again and, this time, she was sure; there was a naked man, skin pink against the grey bark, curled up in the dense branches. He was old, in fact she thought the man to be the oldest she had ever seen. His paper-thin skin stretched tight over his bones. He had bulbous, blind eyes over which a thin layer of skin had grown. His head was thrown back, and the toothless mouth was wide open and gulping at the air. Long toenails grasped the branches like the talons of a hawk, or some terrible damnation of a baby bird.
She stepped back, away from the window, horrified. But when she looked again, there was no old man; only a twisted gnarl on the trunk of a tree which, if one squinted, could be supposed to be a figure. And the gate leading on to the path gaped, still open. Her eyes moved along the path into the shadowy nether-darkness of the trees, all stygian and black as pitch, and there, they met another, much smaller pair of eyes. The hare was sitting at the very edge of the wood, its huge ears touched with silver from the moon’s light, and its white breast shone bright amongst the dun-brown wire of its fur; it stared at her with dark eyes and she, in turn, gazed back.
Then, without knowing how she got there, or why she had opted to leave the relative security of the room, Abi was outside, the gate leading to the dirt path open before her. The hare sat only yards away from her, fixing her with a black stare. She felt the cool night air on her exposed skin, causing it to pucker into hard goosebumps. Her white nightgown clung to her form, but she was unashamed of her near nakedness, or of the abstraction of scarlet which stained the gown between her legs. Her red hair poured over her shoulders in thick, glossy waves; her lips too, bruised red against her pale skin. The pink moon was swollen and malevolent above the trees, and it tugged at her, beckoning her to the woods. She felt the pull in her womb, ebbing and flowing, growing more insistent, more needful with each sharp pang and she knew she had to follow the call. The wind pushed gently against her, shaping the gown more tightly to her body, and moving her hair as she stepped towards the gate. The hare, seeing her approach, spun around and disappeared into the shadows amongst the trees and she followed it into the darkness.
They were there to meet her, Nan and the witches. They lined the path in their multitudes, dressed as she was, in white robes, or they were naked, their ancient skin drawn tight over sharp bones, thick and wrinkled by time, like the trunks of the trees which crowded around them and above them, and their fingers clawed at the air around them as though they were fashioning something from its canvas. Long, twisted toenails tore at the dry earth as they swayed and chanted, strange, guttural cawing, like rooks and ravens crying out in the night. And in the branches, men, old and naked, bent into shapes which mirrored the branches, blind eyes searching, talons clinging to the trees, returned the calls, heads thrown back so that wattles of pink skin wobbled below their ancient throats. There was laughter too, manic and cracked, cackling and screeching and, amongst it all, the name, ‘Abigail’ whispered through the darkness, a hissed chant. Abi, walking the path through the hideous crones, felt no fear. Her head was raised high to face the moon, still visible through cracks in the vaulted ceiling of this cathedral. She felt the earth beneath her feet, and felt its power coursing upwards between her legs, felt the throb of her femininity there and the pulse of her blood fresh on her thighs, as strength she had not been aware of before.
At its heart a fire raged, the flickering flames throwing broken shadows of strange creatures, angular and twisted, sharp jointed and black as pitch, that danced and spun amongst them.
Ahead of her, lined by swaying old women, all naked so that Abi could see their skin hanging from their bodies in loose folds, was a clearing in the trees; a circle of ground, bright against the shadows. At its heart a fire raged, the flickering flames throwing broken shadows of strange creatures, angular and twisted, sharp jointed and black as pitch, that danced and spun amongst them. The hare danced there too, standing erect on its hind legs, or skipping between the shadows and the air became sulphurous and heavy.
The ground softened beneath her feet as she stepped into the clearing. Thick grass grew here, soft, forgiving. And as she stepped from the path, the noise stopped.
For a moment there was a terrible, empty silence, save the whispering of the trees and the crackling of the fire; Abi’s head swam, her senses stretched thin with the powerful stench of sulphur, the dancing light of the fire and the ominous glare of the pink moon which was clearly visible above them all now that the trees had cleared. The singing began then, dark and low, a tune ancient and strange in a language she couldn’t place. It grew louder and more intense. The hare had stopped dancing and now stood before Abi and she saw that it wasn’t a hare at all, but a man. It was, in almost all description, the man she had seen tending the bar, but now he seemed larger, and his eyes, in which horizontal slices of wet blackness blinked, were quite yellow. Horns, gnarled and skeletal, curled from his forehead and his thick blond hair appeared as a coarse mane which spread down over his chest and onto the legs like fur. Powerful hooves dug at the ground where Abi was sure feet should have been. Still, she felt no fear, but a strong attraction. There was a heady scent in the air, his scent, and she sniffed at it greedily, her senses craving more. She became aware of an urgent, throbbing need for the beast. It beckoned to her, raising its powerful arms outwards towards her, and the singing grew louder, strange harmonies which made her body tingle.
‘You’re ready. Give in to your senses, woman, let them go, let it all go.’ The woman she knew as Nan was beside her although Abi had not seen anyone approach, and now rough, dry, clawed hands tore at her gown so that it fell from her shoulders and she felt the heat of the fire on her skin, and still she felt no fear, nor shame at the blood that spilled from her onto the grass at her feet. The singing grew in intensity, louder and louder still, and the smell of the beast filled her twitching nostrils, and the moon dominated the sky, and Abi, or the woman who had once been Abi, gave herself to the savagery of the beast and the night…
It is pale dawn. The sky is still dark but, on the far horizon where the woods touch the sky, a sliver of silver light marks the arrival of the sun. Birds flit between the branches of the trees, sudden flickers of black in the branches, and their song begins to burst forth, coruscating trills and swoops. Then, with a sudden flash, the sun breaks above the trees, bringing golden light. Just as abruptly, there is a heavy aroma of blossom: the apple trees on the edge of the pub garden are, at once, garlanded with white flowers and wildflowers spring from the earth around the trees, pushing through the earth and stretching upwards with pregnant buds straining and then exploding into colour: magenta corncockle, white anemone and cow parsley, brilliant yellow kingcup or Lady’s Bedfellow with its strong aroma of new-mown hay. Even an untimely field poppy with its bright scarlet flower blooms here amongst the grass. Insects hum busily in the day’s first light, bees responding to the call of the flowers and butterflies, the Red Admiral or the smaller, pale brimstone that flutter drowsily on the gentle breeze of Spring.
A hare skips lazily across the pub garden. It lopes past the old wooden door to the pub and onwards down the path, past two benches, and down to the roadside where a green Mini Cooper is parked. It stops by the car, sniffing the air, as though familiar with the scent there. It is a large hare, much larger than average. Its keen eyes fix upon the car door for a while and then, as though whatever memory it may have had has passed, it goes back towards the pub, down the path to the side which leads to the garden at the rear, and on, through the open gate into the woods, until it is lost forever in the shadows of the trees.
And there, above it all, still visible in the orange glow of the morning sky, the pink moon fades slowly until it too has disappeared from sight.
If you enjoyed this and would like to read more, then please subscribe by typing your email into the box below to receive each new post directly. Or, if you’re feeling more generous, then you can maybe buy me a beer, or a beer a month, or even beer for a year, using the form below. Thanks!