Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

Happy Hallowe'en everyone! I figured that since it was written as a creepy stroy, I should post this today. This story is entitled, The Madness of Faith.

The leaves of the trees made a thin blanket over the forest, blotting out all but the most determined rays of sunlight. In the dim half-light below the canopy layer dwelt birds and creatures who enjoyed the peace and solitude of their home, and deeply resented the intrusion of Faith Amanda Richardson.

Faith Amanda Richardson was travelling through their forest, though the animals did not know it, because she had been entrusted to deliver cloth and chicken-feed from Salem to one of the newer pilgrim villages. She had the things in a pack on her back, and did not notice the animals because she was concentrating on keeping to the narrow, winding path.

The animals watched Faith as she wound her way through the trees. They saw a girl of the normal height for a fourteen-year-old. They saw a plain, puritan beige dress with a plain white apron and cap. They saw straggly, dusty brown hair escaping from under the cap and falling over a pale, rounded face with large brown eyes. They saw a pair of small black-booted feet emerging from under the hem of the dress and stumbling occasionally on stones and twigs. And some of the more intelligent animals, who had learnt not just to look, but to really see, saw a girl who was terribly, terribly afraid of being so alone.

Faith Amanda Richardson was not used to being alone. She had grown up in busy, bustling London with a large family full of siblings and cousins. When the family had left for the New World, the ship had been cramped and noisy. Salem, her new home, was a fairly large town with a strong community spirit. Faith had never been alone before. There had always been someone to talk to, to befriend. Faith got along with everyone. As far as she was concerned, all people were friends. But in this forest there were no people, and the world as Faith saw it was suddenly very still and quiet. Quiet worried Faith as well. Darkness and silence were the sort of things that could hide monsters, and Faith had been brought up to believe in monsters.

It was the fall season, and the days were getting shorter, but it wasn’t too cold. The pale path in the sandy soil glowed faintly in the failing light, as did Faith’s pale clothes. As the sun set, the shadows of trees and undergrowth and animals merged and blurred, until either side of the path lurked a menacing darkness which appeared to shift and shiver and move by itself.

And suddenly, the darkness broke and released a shadowy animal onto the path in front of Faith. It looked like a deer or possibly - as it moved its head and the fluid light blended shadow with substance - a wolf? The mysterious animal watched as Faith froze in horror, staring at it. There was no point in screaming for help, because no-one would come. The animal was glaring at her. She decided to run.

She turned slowly, then broke into a sudden sprint. She ran and ran and ran, but then she turned her head to see if the animal was following and ran headlong into a tree. The world spun. It heaved and shifted, and the scene swirled violently. Faith staggered a few steps in no particular direction, and fell. And then, much later, stood up…

The forest had changed. The sky was dark between the leaves, and the moon shone ghostly shapes on the tree trunks. And in the silver moonlight, every animal track, every disused hunting trail, every random clear line through the trees, shone as brightly as the true path through. There was no way to distinguish between them all. Faith hesitated, then began to walk along the path that lay directly in front of her. In the threatening darkness around her, the animals chuckled to themselves. They knew she had taken the wrong path.

The darkness thickened as Faith stumbled on. The moonlight couldn’t find any way through into it, and the temperature dropped as the clouds drifted away. From far away, or it might have been quite close by, Faith thought she heard a wolf howling. She jumped, shook herself, and walked a little faster. She could hear something in the darkness, but the night air seemed to twist the sound. Two legs, four legs, six legs? One animal, two, three, four? Hooves? Paws? Claws? The sound suggested all of them, and none of them. A monster?

Faith blinked, and a flock of huge black birds erupted across the path in front of her. Then they were gone, into the darkness or her imagination? A scared whimper escaped through Faith’s lips, and she sped up again. Her speed was not enough to blur the forest, though, and she still noticed the faint pricks of light in the blackness. Moonlight? Or eyes? The horrible, unidentifiable, monstery sound was following her, keeping pace with her.

There was a rush of wind behind her. Faith spun around in time to see a large something melt away into the shadows. There was a snickering sound. Underbrush, breaking under heavy paws? Laughter? Laughter meant people. Exhausted and terrified Faith needed people. “Hello?”

No reply. It must have been underbrush breaking. This was enough to start Faith running again. She was crying. The monster was following, she knew. From around a corner, there came a sudden, terrible sound. A snarling, menacing growl, like nothing Faith had ever heard before. A wolf? A pack of wolves? A bear? Images flashed through Faith’s mind. A blunt muzzle covered in blood, sharp teeth, claws like steel, and maddened, glowing, blood red eyes.

Eyes which Faith was sure she could see watching her from the shadows. She blinked. Nothing there. Blink. There they were, on the other side of the path. Blink. Red eyes on both sides of the path. Blink. Nothing but blackness, pressing in…blink. Red eyes, a million pairs, advancing from every direction…run.

Brambles ripped Faith’s ankles, branches pulled her cap from her hair. She dropped her pack so she didn’t need to carry the extra weight. She thought she could hear something savaging it behind her. Stones tripped her, but she got up and ran on, driven by pure terror. Her apron came off, her dress and her skin tore. The monster was still following. The red eyes glistened. Howls, footsteps, cruel, cold laughter…Faith sprinted on, and suddenly broke through the forest, out into a large clearing. She stopped short.

It was the village. A dozen houses, a village hall-cum-church, a granary store and a well. Deserted. No lights on in the windows. No late-night wanderers. No animal noises. No hushed, don’t-wake-the-children voices. No-one. And the light, pouring into the clearing from the fat silver moon above, hurt Faith’s eyes. Too bright. Suddenly, she was too exposed. The open area was too cold. But Faith was thirsty. She moved slowly to the well. That felt wrong too. She should be running. Suddenly, Faith missed running. The monster had left, too. Faith thought the world seemed too quiet and lonely without it.

And the face in the still water of the well was not, could not be, Faith’s face. It was dusty and dirty and bruised. Its hair was matted and tangled, coming down out of its bun and floating in wispy strands. Its lips were split and bleeding in several places. And its eyes…its eyes were huge, wild, desperately terrified. They reminded Faith of the street cats back in London. Except that no cat ever had eyes that glowed more than faintly red where they should have been brown and white.

Faith screamed, but it came out as a feral snarl of fury. There was surely no-one in the village, or they would have woken. Faith howled again, in misery and pain, before darting off into the forest at random. The dark and warmth wrapped around her like a cosy blanket. Faith was not going to leave. She liked it here. She ran with the monster now, not from it. She was wild, free, running, running, running with exhilarating speed, missing trees by inches. A huge rock, the kind that could smash your skull if you ran into it, loomed out of the darkness. Faith dodged it with barely a second to spare, laughing madly.

Colours began erupting out of the black, spoiling the lovely darkness. Dawn already? Couldn’t be. Faith had lost track of time. A large part of her mind told her to run, hide in the shadows, remain a feral creature of the dark. A smaller part pointed out that now the light was back, she had no reason to be afraid and could find her way home. The very smallest part of her subconscious, however, knew that the dawn was not really here, and the colours were not real.

Virginia Stewart wandered along the edge of the forest, picking wildflowers and thinking to herself. It was so very sad. Another village wiped out by disease, but that was not uncommon. The saddest thing was that the delivery girl who had been going there - what was her name? Fate, was it? No…Faith? Yes, Faith - had been found dead in the forest. She had apparently run into a rock in the dark. Her skull had smashed to pieces, poor thing. They had thought the forest was safe, having eradicated the wolves a few months ago. Faith’s body had been so badly bruised and battered, too. The priest suspected that she had gone mad...

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