Emily loved to walk in the woods, through the sun-dappled shade to the dell where the bluebells grew. She could lounge for hours upon the grassy bank gazing at the dainty silvery-blue flowers as they bobbed their heads in the slight breeze that made the summer afternoon bearable.
“You must be careful,” said her mother, “not wander too far, nor stay away too long; the woods can be a dangerous place.”
Then, Emily would laugh and scoff, for she could see no danger in the woods, only beauty and peace, and her mother would tell her the story of the little girl, Maggie, who had lived on the far side of the wood and vanished a short while before.
But, Emily didn’t care and never worried when she walked in the woods. She felt almost at one with the woods and the bluebells that nodded a greeting whenever she visited their dell. Only when she was in the woods did she feel whole; alive.
Although the years passed, she never abandoned the woods. Her father died and she and her mother moved to a cottage in the next village, but the woods remained the same. She changed schools and, later, left and took on a job as a help at a local farm, but still the woods called to her and she kept coming back to them.
“You should be careful,” said the farmer’s wife, “it’s not safe for a young woman like yourself to wander abroad at dusk. You hear all sorts of stories…”
But, Emily didn’t care; she didn’t fear: She had never felt scared in the woods. They were her place; they were her. Every day, after work, she would head to the woods and the dell where the bluebells would refresh her. Her only regret was that her job kept her away from the woods for much of the day.
A little more time passed, but nothing much changed, save her mother greyed and Emily turned down two proposals of marriage. Another little girl, Tabitha, vanished from a meadow by the woods and people spoke darkly of Maggie and wondered what dark secret inhabited the woods. But, Emily didn’t find the woods dark, even at night when the moon turned the bluebells a ghostly silver.
“You shouldn’t wander about at night,” the preacher said, shaking his head at her behaviour, “you will earn yourself a poor reputation. People talk.”
But, Emily shook her head and laughed.
“What do I care what people say about me, if what they say are lies?”
All she cared about were the woods and she and the woods were one in a way she couldn’t articulate. She knew no-one else would understand. She didn’t care.
Then, one evening, as she lightly tripped her way between the trees towards the bluebells she loved so much, she heard a voice:
“Hello, you look lovely, tonight, Emily.”
She halted, surprised. It had been a long, long time since she had heard a voice in the woods, and never before a male voice. Sometimes, she felt as if the woods talked to her through the rustle of the leaves, but never with a voice; soft and subtle, not bold and brash.
Emily turned, slowly. She didn’t feel afraid. Here, in the woods, even alone with a strange man, she felt secure. Nothing could ever threaten her here. It was her place. She was the mistress of the wood.
“Hello,” she said.
The young man who had spoken her name smiled at her. She recognised him as a lad who worked at a nearby farm. She didn’t know his name. She didn’t care.
“I hoped I might meet you here, Emily. I have admired you for a while and thought, perhaps, you and I could…”
Silently, she conceded the preacher may have had a point, after all. Not that she cared what men thought, but if it brought unexpected attention… Still, she wasn’t concerned. Not here.
“Really. I believe you are a beautiful, sensual woman, Emily.”
“You believe I am a harlot,” she said with a smile of invitation.
“I would put it a little more delicately; experienced and carefree, perhaps; a child of nature.”
She laughed as if to say he was right, then gestured for him to follow her and walked to the dell.
Emily slipped down the grassy bank and settled herself upon the ground. She patted the earth beside her.
The young man hurried after and settled himself next to her.
Emily reached out. She didn’t need to see what she was looking for; she knew exactly where it was.
The young man leaned towards her, body tense with expectation.
She struck him with the cold, hard stone and he crumpled, body devoid of life.
She struck him again, just to be sure. Then, she fished a hankie from his pocket and, tenderly, wiped the stone clean. The stone was part of the wood and, so, part of her: She had shaped it and cherished it since she was a little girl.
Emily got down on her knees and began to scrape away the dirt beside the bluebells as she had done twice before. The flowers would bloom all the stronger in the future.
A little later, she sat and chatted with Maggie and Tabitha. Like her, they were part of the woods. Them and the young man. All of them. All of them, together, forever in this place that held her memories. One.
Emily never felt afraid of the woods.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chillnng Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Hypnos, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer’s website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
DJ Tyrer’s Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/DJTyrerwriter/
The Atlantean Publishing website is at https://atlanteanpublishing.wordpress.com/