Read the full story here: Group Novel 2017-2018
“Mother?” I called out, hurrying over. “What’s wrong?”
She had been a strong woman, my mother. The indomitable head of the household, a source of comfort in the madness. When I got scared in the night by the howling winds and shaking trees, she would regale me with tales of conquest of good over evil. In my child-like imagination, she was an Amazon warrior with a shield to protect and an axe to fight against the armies of darkness. She was a fighter, undaunted and unafraid. Perhaps the only thing she ever feared was losing her husband.
But ever since that day, my mother became a perpetually frightened woman. She was always looking over shoulders and was spooked by loud noises. Fearfully hiding in her own home.
While seemingly suffering from a terribly similar affliction, she was unlike my father, who would stare at the woods. He would sit on the porch, where she never could. He too was haunted, but I thought I saw awe and reverence in his eyes.
Perhaps out of habit or some kind of imitation, I find myself frequently looking out at the leaves, even sitting in the same spot that he would, trying to see what he saw and trying to imagine what he thought. Sometimes I looked at the shades of green and ochre in contemplation: how could something so simple be so evil? And other times, with a rational mind, I steeled my gaze in challenge.
But my mother was different. She never looked out and shuttered all the curtains. She was scared to be seen and afraid to be heard. She muttered hysterics and whispered in her distress. That’s the thing: she never screamed.
Death greeted me as I entered the room, with the sharp coppery tang of blood and the cold that sent chills down my spine. The drapes had been torn from their holsters and thrown haphazardly across the room. The window was smashed in, letting in the frosty draught. There it was painted in sloppy capitals over the walls and windows: “DEATH”.
She stood in the centre of the room, a solitary figure at the scene of the crime. One hand clutched at her face, where her mouth took ragged breaths and her eyes took in the view with shock. Her other hand betrayed her actions, blood dripping from the centre of her palm as she held it out to point a damning finger. It might have been comical, if she didn’t look so genuinely mortified.
“Mother, what happened?” I rushed to her side and laid a hand on her arm.
She remained rooted to the spot, petrified in place. Her gaze transfixed, her form set in stone. She took in a deep breath, and whispered, “…the leaves.”
Several lines of blood languidly trailed down the side of her arm, staining her clothes. A small puddle of blood had formed at arm’s length, rippling slightly with each new drop from her hand. And yet a tremulous finger held out in accusation.
I followed her direction, with my eyes, to the window. To a spot just beneath the “A” and just beside the broken edge of the glass. Through the glass and to the oak trees.
It was gone in an instant, and one could never be certain, with such overcast skies and rustling leaves, through dirty windows and blood-stained streaks.
But for a second, I swore I saw a face.