It's been a while, eh? How's your 2021? Seems so far to be pretty much the same as 2020, so I can't really say that I'm a fan... but it's early days.
Although I've been pretty slack with my writing generally, I do have a monthly zoom meetup with some of the guys from my creative writing course in 2019. One of the things that I enjoyed the most on that course was - surprisingly - listening to other people reading their own work. I still really enjoy listening to these guys reading whatever they've written over the last few months, whether it's a poem or a short story or the next chapter in an ongoing work. The meeting has also been a good spur for me to pull my finger ou and at least create something every month.
Here's one of them:
It was one of those dank, gloomy September days; the kind of day that is oddly grey from dawn until dusk, as if the darkness has refused to fully retreat and is just biding its time until it can seize control again.
The little girl didn’t seem to mind.
She left her house towards the end of the afternoon and made her way towards the forest. In those parts and in those times, you were never far from the forest. Everything for miles around was dominated by those gnarled trees. It was ancient, so they said, and looking at those huge, gnarled trunks with their grasping branches, that was very easy to believe. Man came late to these parts and was not welcome. As the girl approached the treeline, tendrils of fog seemed to reach out of the forest and wrap themselves around her, pulling her in. Even before she had reached the trees, the forest seemed to grasp her claim her as their own. She quickly disappeared from view.
If there was a path, there was little obvious sign, but the girl strode between the trees confidently and without any hesitation. The leaf litter lay thick upon the ground, the branches almost bare, but still no light penetrated through to the forest floor. Sound seemed muffled here, just the gentle swoosh of the leaves piled on the ground as the little girl walked through. She was watched as she walked: squirrels paused in the burying of their nuts to stare at her curiously with their liquid eyes, crows watched her without comment, their judgment plain. If there were songbirds here, there were none to be heard. If this troubled the girl, she showed no sign of it, walking purposefully through the wood.
After a while, the path – such as it was – seemed to split in two. A junction. Neither way looked inviting and both seemed dark and overgrown. But the little girl did not hesitate: she choose the left-hand fork without blinking. Before long, she faced another fork, then another, each time making her choice without a heartbeat of hesitation as she worked her way deeper and deeper into the forest. By now, in spite of the chill of the late autumnal day, the press of the trees around her must surely have felt claustrophobic. In the gathering darkness, anything could have been watching; anything could have been waiting for this guileless child. Still she went on, plunging deeper and deeper into the gloom.
Who (or what) lived in this forest? Wolves? Bear? Grumpkins? It was often whispered in warm, safe rooms filled with light that those who entered the wood carelessly were sometimes never seen again. Witches? Maybe so. Perhaps their cottages can still be found nestled deep within the trees, all made of gingerbread and with hot ovens ready to roast any child careless enough to wander too far from the safety of home. Perhaps this child? She walked on, steadily and without a hint of haste. She never looked anxiously over her shoulder to see what might be following or scanned the treeline for eyes tracking her progress. She walked steadily on into the forest.
After some time, the girl came across a briar patch that stretched across the path. So thick had it grown that there seemed no way through, with thickly layered, thorn-covered tendrils tangled across the way. The girl stopped. Surely now, this must mean the end of her journey. No matter how determined she might be, there was now surely no way forward. She must turn back and leave the forest before the night closed in and abandoned her, all alone amongst those dark and forbidding trees and all the horrors that they might conceal.
The girl did not flee; she did not turn on her heel to escape the oppressive darkness of the wood and to seek the safety of the warmth and the light. No. Carefully, and with no haste at all, she calmly and methodically began instead to reach into the briar thicket to pluck the ripe and juicy fruit to be found there. There would be blackberry crumble when she got home. With custard. Perhaps enough for bramble chutney too.
Next week, she would return for the sloes.
The forest was bountiful.