The following is a short story written on the ILVN Facebook page on Thursday. Thank you to all of the contributors I have edited it slightly, for continuity purposes. Hope that you enjoy….
In the deepest, darkest forest the first flakes of winter snow began to fall. Frosty white specks against the obsidian sky. She shivered in her wool coat. The dark night was bidding her to come closer into the woods. Next to her a child stood, not afraid of the night. In his heart he knew of beings that ruled the night.
She clasped his hand tightly and said, ‘Be brave, my son, only a few more steps and we shall be home and safe.’
They continued their walk through the trees. In her right ear came a warm rush of breath and a low grumbling growl that made her skin crawl. She turned sharply and saw something lurking in the depth of the trees, not much more than a dark shadow with a pair of glowing eyes. As the two locked eyes on each other, both sniffing, the emotions running through the air, their minds racing who would be prey and who would be victor.
With a snort the creature turned and ran deeper into the trees. She shuddered and tried to reason with herself that it was just a fox or some other creature of the forest. As she tracked the creature’s retreating form she noticed something laying in the snow. They feel without any care to the bundle that was hidden beneath the tree.
As she walked along the snow covered path towards the bundle she heard the sound of a baby’s cry.
‘Leave it,’ said the boy, knowing nothing good could come of this. The shadow in the woods watched them and then turned to the tiny bundle. Approaching slowly they knelt to pick up the bundle and heard…nothing. Absolutely nothing. The noise from the bundle completely stopped. What came next is worse than anyone could imagine. Just behind them a branch snapped loudly. A high keening wail came from behind them, it was loud and very close, the owner of the noise could not be seen, but it was clear from the sound that it was extremely distressed.
The child crouched down at his mother’s side and slipped his hand into hers. She smiled at him with reassurance that she didn’t feel herself. She should have known better than to try to take the shortcut through the woods. She had thought that it would have saved them time, rather than walk the long way around the road. But as she looked again at the bundle she had never felt further from home. As much as her instincts were telling her not to, she had to look inside. It could have been an abandoned baby in there, these things happened, she had read about it in the newspapers. It was freezing out there, she couldn’t walk away without giving herself the knowledge that there was nothing in that little parcel that could come to harm out there on that cold, dark night.
She reached out her fingers. Just as she made contact with the fabric that shrouded the package the howl resounded again behind her, causing her to jump and withdraw her hand.
‘Can we go home, mummy?’ her child asked.
‘In a moment, sweetie,’ she said. ‘I just have to check something.’
Taking a breath she turned back to the bundle. This time she drew back the swaddling despite the howl that keened again. She had been right, there was a small baby inside, all pink skin and flailing arms. As the cold night air touched the baby’s skin it began to cry. Without hesitating she picked up the baby and cradled it in her lap. A howl came from behind her, it seemed louder, closer this time.
With the baby in her arms they turned to see if something was approaching, then they heard a voice filled with pain and sorrow! ‘Please take my baby and keep her safe! PLEASE…’
They both turned to see a small, pale woman, wearing only a flimsy white dress in the snow.
‘This is your baby?’ she asked. ‘You can’t just leave him here. You must take care of him.’
‘I can’t,’ the lady in white cried. ‘He needs to be protected. I can’t do it! You must!’
She was about to protest further but the lady ran, her bare feet crunching through the snow. Her son tugged at her arm. ‘Can we go home now?’
With a sigh she stood up, still holding the baby in her arms. Her son tapped her arm and pointed, his eyes round, his mouth gaping. Her gaze followed her son’s pointing, shaking digit.
A hunched figure with cat-like eyes stood behind them. The woman raised a hand, pointing a gnarled finger in their direction when she spoke. ‘You must flee. Run from this place as fast as you can. He’s coming.’ Her eyes went wide with fright and she looked over her shoulder, before once more pinning them with her eerie stare. ‘He’s here!’
Her son began to cry as another figure appears through the mist. As she looked at the unearthly figure she noticed that as he moved there was no cloud of breath coming from his mouth. She thought, he’s not alive, but how can he be walking around in the woods if he’s not alive? As she tried to figure this out he gets closer and closer. She took hold of her son’s hand and attempted to run but her feet were stuck where she stood.
She was not sure if it is fear or fascination that kept her rooted there, probably a little of both. However, it did not take long for the fight or flight mode to kick in. She had to protect the baby in her arms! Somehow she senses that the strange creature that moved towards her wanted the child. She thought, animal, human or other, a baby is a baby and this one was going to live! She had made a promise to her and her mother and she was going to keep it or die trying!!
“Stop!” she cried. “Stop!”
A drape of snow fell before them when a startled owl reacted to the echoes.
Taking her son’s hand in hers she began to run, holding the baby in the crux of her other arm.
Noises of pursuit followed them, footsteps, or something far worse, crunching through the thick snow.
Ahead she can see a break in the trees, dragging her son she picked up her pace, feeling sure that if she can get out of the forest she will have found sanctuary. The footsteps get closer behind her but with one last surge of speed she clears the trees, out into the open air.
She stumbled and fell to her knees. She dragged her son down with her but managed to hold tight to the baby in her arms and no harm comes to her. She looked back towards the trees and sees a shadowy figure lurking in the darkness but it is not venturing beyond the edge of the forest. But she isn’t in darkness anymore. The snow had stopped and the clouds had cleared. The moon’s glow bathed the three of them and she welcomed it after the gloom of the forest. Breathing a sigh of relief she looked back to the bundle in her arms, wondering what she is going to do with the baby next. The breath that she had been letting out stopped when her eyes focused on the creature she is holding. It was no longer the mass of baby pink skin and curly brown hair that she had first seen. Instead, in the true light of the moon it was a tiny, snarling, hairy beast with a mouth full of sharp teeth. Teeth that were snapping at her hungrily.
She began to scream.
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