Read the full story here: Group Novel 2017-2018
Stirring quietly, I shuddered against the chill of the woods. The wind blew low and mournful, an eerie lament whistling its way through the trees and, unbidden, memories of flute lessons at school came to the forefront of my mind. Marie had been a beautiful flautist. When I finally opened my eyes, it was to the crushing realisation that the past hour or so had not in fact been some horrific nightmare. I lay alone, save for the mysterious woman who still brandished her axe and glared down at me suspiciously.
I sat up, trembling as the leaves crunched under my weight. They had said there was death in the leaves. For Marie’s sake, I prayed that wasn’t true.
“Get up,” the strange woman said, her voice sharp but not unkind. I scrabbled to get to my feet, grimacing as yet more dead foliage accumulated around me, the golden leaves fluttering down from the boughs above.
“What the hell happened?” I asked, well aware of the mild note of hysteria that coloured my voice. I don’t know why I expected this woman to have answers to the questions that plagued me but still, I looked to her with woefully misguided hope.
All I got by way of a response was the woman turning and looking at me, although it felt more like she looked right through me, staring off into the distant darkness of the woods. “There is death in the leaves. You should have known that.” With that cryptic message, the woman began stalking away and I scrambled forward, trying to keep up with her.
“My girlfriend is gone! What are we meant to do?” I called after her, my own voice ringing out and ricocheting off the trees, coming back at me tenfold. The woman said nothing, merely continued on her walk forward although I noticed the way she flinched at the sudden way my voice shattered the stillness. “How do we fix this?” I cried, feeling white-hot desperation lash through me once again.
“We aren’t going to do anything. I’m going to end this. There are faery folk in these woods and they have to pay.” I had no idea what I was doing but I couldn’t leave here without Marie and so, I followed this woman who seemed so hellbent on revenge. Evidently, she too had been wronged by the forest.
What a ridiculous thing to say. Not that I was still cynical about the dangers that were present here. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. We had been cocky and naive and now Marie was paying the price for my foolishness. Guilt seized my heart and i only just managed to swallow back sobs as I continued to follow the woman.
“Where are we going?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t notice the pleading tone in my voice. She obviously did however, as she slowed to a stop, turning to face me. For the first time, I really took in her face. She couldn’t have been much older than I was and yet her eyes looked old, set in an exhausted looking face. My heart yearned to reach out and offer her sympathy but something about the set of her shoulders and the way her axe still rested wickedly on her shoulder made me think that perhaps she really wouldn’t care for such a thing. Instead, I bit my lip and met her cool gaze, despite feeling my heart beating furiously at my ribcage, as if longing to burst free and return itself with Marie.
“The myths say that the faeries stay at the standing stones. I’m going to destroy them.” She said firmly, mouth tightening into a scowl as she spoke. “I have had enough of this and I will suffer them no longer.”
That explanation was obviously sufficient to her and off she strode again. How she knew where she was going, I had no idea but it was better than being alone so, obediently I trotted along behind her. If we found these so called faeries, perhaps Marie would be nearby.
As we moved, the wind grew slow and silent until no sound remained except our own breathing and the rhythmic crunch of leaves underfoot. Every single step made me wince a little more. The mere reminder of the apparent death that these leaves heralded was enough to make me feel ill all over again.
Then, in the distance, dappled sunlight illuminated our way and its golden rays led us into a quiet clearing. All was silent and yet, when we stepped into the soft, warming light, we were confronted with a ring of standing stones.
There, in the centre, stood Marie. To my surprise and perhaps my horror, the careless sunlight reflected off her glassy eyes. Delicate wisteria blooms were woven through her hair, the stark white of the flowers standing out considerably against dark locks. Transfixed, I began moving towards her before I had really registered what I was doing, only realising when I felt a sharp grasp on my upper arm. The strange woman yanked me back.
“Don’t. It’s a trap. They won’t hurt her – not while the sun is still in the sky,” she whispered, as if afraid of disturbing whatever creatures lingered in the clearing. We stood there for a moment, unsure as to how to progress. The forest made that choice for us. The wind picked up once more, a soft zephyr snatching at my hair as it gradually began to increase in strength. Eventually, I was forced to tear my gaze from Marie in favour of covering my face, scrunching my eyes closed in the hopes that it would stop me from hearing that haunting flute lament once more.
When the wind died, Marie was still stood where she had been previously except now, her hands were curled elegantly around an ornate golden flute, fingers poised perfectly. My gaze immediately fell to that and so it was to my shock when I heard the strange woman scream. When I tore my gaze from Marie, I saw just why she was screaming. I recoiled as my own desperate howls joined that awful chorus.