It's been a while, but I've finally joined in with another writing prompt. When you're focused on a novel it's sometimes a bit of a relief to write about something entirely different.
The theme this time was: How did you end up in these woods?
I could only ever hear her in winter, when the mist clung to the branches of the trees like a funerary veil. In summer her voice was drowned by the thousand-mouthed life-force of the birds and the rutting stags. I listened, but she was never among them.
Perhaps it also made her sad, to see such joy and energy when she herself had lain cold amongst the crushed leaves for so long.
I would sit, my back pressed against bark until the damp seeped through my jeans. Some evenings I would sit until I shook with cold, until I could no longer feel the extremities of myself.
“Come back,” I’d whisper.
A crow cried overhead, jolting me from those frozen thoughts.
Through the eerie whiteness I saw a shadow move. I knew it could only be a mirage, a trick of my over-tired, grieving mind, yet it looked so much like her. That shape, that slim waist, that dark, knee-length coat that flared out like a frock.
“Emma!” I called. “Emma, wait!”
I cried her name but only echoes answered.
Suddenly the scent of decay and rot was overwhelming.
Let her go, my heart said.
Follow, urged my feet.
“Emma, I’m sorry! I didn’t know. I never knew—”
I tripped on the knotted root of a tree, grazing my hand as I fell. There in that nothing, that void of existence, I held it to my eyes and watched as my garish red life flowed through the grit on my palm.
I had to go home. I had to stop this. No amount of guilt could change history. I had to pull myself together, move on, move away if necessary.
Pushing myself shakily to my feet, I turned to retrace my steps.
Which way had I come? All of the trees looked alike: tall, slim, hardly stable enough to support themselves, like me. Between the thick ground mist and the chill clouds above, they looked like poles – prison bars – solid and unforgiving on either side. For the briefest of moments I wondered whether I was standing on my head, for I could no longer tell my up from down.
Panic started to rise.
“Emma,” I whispered.
“Yes?” she replied.