Janice gingerly carried the tray with the wine bottle and glass down the cellar stairs, where Simon stood before the small dolls house that he had finally completed for his niece. He was particularly pleased with himself and had put off the final touches until they had moved into their new home. Now it was done and the dolls house looked very pretty indeed. He looked up at her.
“Could any little girl want more?” He said satisfied with his endeavour.
“I don’t think so,” said Janice. “We have been here just two days and you’ve finished Vicky’s doll’s house. Now that little bee is out of your bonnet we can look forward to new projects.” She placed the tray upon the work bench and poured red wine into the two glasses.
Simon raised his wine glass and he sighed delightedly, “To new projects and our glorious little abode in the New Forrest. I’ve dreamed of this ever since that weekend when you showed me Beaulie and we stayed at that Bed and Breakfast.”
“I know darling, you’ve told me on a number of occasions,” she smiled and then whispered. “I don’t like to think back.”
“We had a wonderful long weekend…” he stopped realising that she was feeling guilty about her infidelity to her husband. “Are you still thinking of Frank? You made your choice and what is done is done.”
She put her wine down. “Oh I know Simon, but I can’t help feeling a little bad at my betrayal. I feel a little sorry for him now and hope he finds someone that will make him happy.”
“He never new we were having an affair, during the marriage, so why worry when he has no idea that he had been a cuckold? You had both drifted apart long before I came along.” He put his arm around her and pulled her to his side then placed his forehead down upon hers and looked into her raised blue eyes. “We have no need to worry about these things any more Angel. It’s just you and me now in our little isolated cottage. I have my job in Southampton and you are now working in Lyminton, we got jam on it.” He laughed in his usual roguish manner, which she had found attractive.
She smiled and could not help wondering how she had ever fallen for him. A rough and ready man from East London’s Bow district – not at all to her tastes normally but he had something about him that excited her. So much so that she had craftily instigated the situation to begin the affair with him – even telling Simon that she was in the process of getting divorced when she wasn’t. Simon had risen to the bait edged on by her attentions and before long they had been unashamedly having a tempestuous affair fraught with clashing egos that seemed to have found a happy medium somewhere along the line.
With her husband, Frank, she had ruled the roost and was used to getting her own way, but Simon had met her head on when trying to sculpture him to her wants, or what she had perceived to be her image of him. To her surprise he had resisted her stubbornly and often came back at her, verbally fighting with conviction and confidence. She admired this aspect of him, but on occasions he could be too stubborn and she had learnt to be more subtle when trying to make a point. However, he had quickly adapted to this and was always on his guard. Sometimes it was a comical thing and on other occasions it could be exasperating because he would be suspicious over small things that she regarded as irrelevant.
She took another sip of wine and smiled to herself remembering some of their arguments.
Simon frowned. “What’s on your mind, Little Bean? You have that dirty Devil may care look – the one you wear when you are thinking up some sly scheme to get over on me.”
Again she giggled and almost choked on her wine – coughing and spluttering between laughs as she dropped the glass on the floor. The bowel of the glass shattered spilling the red wine across the stone floor, while Simon playfully wrestled with her as she continued to laugh.
“Come on Little Bean, tell me what ghastly little thing is on your mind.” He lifted her on to the work bench, so she was sitting and he pressed his way between her open legs cuddling her waist and kissing her passionately. His eyes suddenly widened as he broke away from kissing her.
“I’ve realised what you were saying before.” He grinned at her like he had uncovered some devious ploy.
“What?” she giggled.
“Oh now I know what you mean by new projects – that is the ghastly little something you have planned and the wine is a way of saying, ‘you’ve finished that, now I’ll point you in a new direction.’” He stepped back with his tongue against his bottom lip as he tried to fathom her out. Suddenly, he was on his guard. “God, you little minx – I’m being buttered up aren’t I?”
“No,” she laughed. “You are so suspicious.”
“I’ve learnt to be on my guard around you. It’s become second nature.”
He looked at his fine doll’s house and changed the subject. “What do you think?”
Janice looked at it and replied quietly. “I think it is absolutely adorable. Any little girl would love such a thing. Your niece will be thrilled with it.”
He sighed and looked through the cellar window and shivered. “I’ll be glad when January is gone.”
“Why?” she was beginning to feel playful, but contained herself, knowing that he was having a contemplative moment. She would indulge him, knowing that he always came out of it feeling happy and game for her attentions.
“We only have February to go after that and then the spring will come.”
“The weather forecast had predicted snow but I never thought it would be so heavy,” she said.
“It isn’t too bad – I’d like to see the New Forrest in snow.”
“We’ll take Nelly out for a walk in it; I don’t think she’s ever seen snow.”
Suddenly Nelly, the black Labrador, began to bark and scrambled down the cellar steps excitedly, wagging her tail and jumping up at them whining.
“Where did she come from?” laughed Simon.
“She was in the kitchen in her basket, sleeping.”
“Until she heard her name and the magic word,” he added.
“Oh the magic word,” muttered Janice.
“Don’t say it or she’ll go potty.”
“What ‘WALK.’ Do you mean that word?”
Nelly began yelping and whining uncontrollably in her excitement. She jumped up at Simon knowing that he was the one who did the walks and Janice always said the magic word.
“Aw, you did that on purpose,” he pursed his lips in mock annoyance. He looked down at the boisterous Nelly. “Go get your lead then.”
Nelly yelped again and sped of up the cellar stairs, while Janice and Simon giggled at the dogs antics. They could hear her crashing around in the door less kitchen cupboard where the lead was kept on the wooden floor. In a moment, the lovable dog was bounding down the stairs with the lead in her mouth, shaking her bottom and wagging her tail in un-containable excitement.
“All right then you soppy old mutt,” said Simon. “I’ll get my coat.”
“Wait for me,” called Janice as she jumped off of the work bench. “I’m coming too.”
In moments they were closing the cottage door and Nelly was bounding off along the footpath that led into the woodlands. Her lead was now a symbol of going for walks as they had not put her on the tether for a long time now, even when in town. She had developed a discipline of street life with traffic and kerbs and new instantly that the woodlands were something where tolerance and freedom were allowed more.
As Janice stepped onto the snow covered path, fresh flakes of snow began to fall, much to her delight. “Hey, we timed that well,” she said.
“Do you think it will create another lay?” asked Simon looking up into the grey sky.
“Hopefully,” she replied as they made their way along the path and into the woodland where Nelly had shot off along the pathway that she had come to know so well in the past few days.
“Can you smell the ferns?” she asked.
“Yes – it’s lovely,” he replied. “I wonder if that’s what excites Nelly so much. Dogs have much sharper senses of smell then us. Everything must be wonderfully interesting to her.”
Janice looked around at the beauty of the snow covered woodland and the white New Forrest floor. “It is absolutely gorgeous,” she replied. As she looked more intently, she could make out snow flakes penetrating the upper branches and twigs.
“No leaves left to stop the snow getting through the woodland’s branches to the forest floor,” she said. “It must be getting heavier.”
“We’ll see when we get to the heath land leading to the little wood,” answered Simon looking up at the snow flakes coming through the branches. “Though I think you are right.” He looked enchanted.
“The smell of the ferns is much stronger then I could ever have imagined,” added Janice as she looked around.
Simon agreed, “Strong smell– almost like a pine, but a little sweeter.”
“It’s a wonderful clean smell.”
“Pure nature – uncorrupted and non-polluted,” he added, looking about him and allowing the chill to sweep through his body – a soothing yet uncanny thing.
They came out of the woods to face the heath land, where the thick snowfall had settled thickly. They looked up the gentle rise towards the little cluster of woods at the top of the heath – a place they had named, The Little Wood. They were surrounded by forest land with scattered open heath and there were probably many such places, where small woods grew within the patchy heaths, but this little one belonged to them – their little wood where Nelly loved to run.
They ascended the heath towards the little wood, through the thick snowfall and calling to Nelly not to go too far as she jumped amid the snow splattered ferns.
“The way this is beginning to fall, we’ll be pushed getting back,” laughed Simon as Janice put her arm through his.
“This bit of heath and the path to the cottage is the only open part. I think the woods will allow a little shelter, even though it is penetrating the trees.”
“We still have to get back,” he replied excitedly. “At this rate we’ll be skiing.”
They pressed on up the rise where the ferns were becoming covered by the settling snow and arrived at the fringe of the Little Wood to see Nelly running towards them.
Thinking the dog was playfully excited, Janice bent down with arms out stretched to greet and make a fuss of her, but to her immense surprise; Nelly shot straight past them as though desperate to away from the little wood and back upon the heath land.
Simon was as confused as Janice. “What the hell as got into her?”
She stood up and looked back out onto the heath. “Come here you silly girl,” she called.
Nelly had stopped and was looking back at them as the snow began to settle across her black hair. She had a despairing look as though she wanted Simon and Janice to leave with her. She barked once and then began to whine, wanting – imploring them to leave the confine of the wood.
Janice laughed. “She seems as though she’s been spooked.”
Simon was more serious. “Yes, she has been.” He looked back deeper into the wood and took a few paces among the trees where the snow fall was still penetrating; though not as heavy. The same fresh smell of the rustic wood and scented ferns were present and again he felt captivated by the magical feel of the place. It was then that his heart skipped a beat as his vision swept about the forest floor. His attention was caught by the spectacle of a flower at the base of a tree – a chrysanthemum in full bloom in the middle of winter with snow laying about it – the bright yellow petals looking healthy as though in the middle of summer. He frowned – perhaps it was a plastic imitation that some prankster had left there and with such thoughts he moved towards the phenomenon to investigate, but stopped as an intense breeze swept towards him. There seemed to be voices – eerie and child like that stopped him in his tracks. He shook his head, dismissing the strange thing as a figment of his over active imagination.
“Where are you going,” called Janice looking about her. She had felt the strange breeze too. “I thought I heard voices in the wind.” She looked to him and giggled.
“I was a bit spooked too,” laughed Simon, dismissively. “But look at this for strange.”
She walked to him and looked in the direction where he was pointing. She was equally astounded – a flower in full bloom in the middle of winter, snow laying about it. “That’s a chrysanthemum,” she added. “They can’t bloom in winter – can they?”
“I don’t think so, but then I don’t know much about flowers. So it is a chrysanthemum?”
“I think so, but then it can’t be. I’m sure they don’t bloom in winter. I don’t know much about flowers either, but I’m sure this is unusual.”
“It could be a plastic one?” he suggested. “Someone may have put it there ages ago like some gimmick, perhaps the people who lived here before.”
She frowned and looked more intently at the plant. It would be logical and she slowly moved foreword as another bluster of wind swept through the trees and temporarily engulfed them – swirling about with the distant echo of infantile laughter, like a far of nursery, heard along a distant corridor.
“Did you hear that,” she whispered nervously as the bluster died.
“It’s the wind,” he replied. “It makes strange sounds in a wood.” He was dismissive, but she was not convinced by his sincerity.
“It sounded like children.”
He laughed then answered. “We’re letting our imaginations run wild.”
They were still moving cautiously towards the flower at the base of the tree and as the got closer; each of them became convinced that the plant was not artificial.
Janice knelt down before it and touched the petals. Her hand shot back and she stood up perplexed. “It’s real.”
Simon frowned, but was loathed to touch it. Instead he backed off and said. “Let’s get back to Nelly.” He licked his lips and added. “The snow is going to fall for some time. I think its best to get back.”
She agreed and stood up, not wanting to remain in the little wood. “We’ve never seen it before and we passed by here yesterday with Nelly. We would have noticed it then.”
“It was not snowing then, perhaps it did not stand out.”
She nodded. “Perhaps it is a winter flower – one we don’t know about – one that looks like a chrysanthemum?”
“I hope so,” he laughed. “But I have to admit; I’m spooked like Nelly, but she would not be afraid of a flower.”
“Dogs are strange,” agreed Janice. “And Nelly’s behaviour is allowing our minds to work over time.”
Simon nodded and smiled. “Let’s get back then.” He could not resist another look at the flower then through some compunction that he could not explain; he bent down and gently touched one of the petals. His hand recoiled as though he had down something intrusive as the wind seemed to scold its way amid the branches and falling snowflakes.
“Come on,” said Janice as she looked up at the over hanging branches and the cascading snow. “We’ll feel better when we get back to the cottage. Even Nelly has had enough – it’s probably the snow fall.”
He nodded and followed her out onto the heath land where the snow was falling heavier. Nelly suddenly stopped whining and began to wag her tail as they began to descend through the blizzard – the heath land ferns buried beneath the thick settling snow.
Behind them, the solitary flower of winter began to sway as though trying to move amid whispers of the swirling breeze. Suddenly, its petals withered and died beyond the sight of Simon and Janice as they fell below the brow of woodland ferns.However, new and smaller flora began to pierce through the settling snow – a line of mauve and light blue delicate beauty springing up along in a line like a furrow of unnatural floral splendour that moved towards the fringe of the wood, amid child like whispers of the breeze. As quickly as it bloomed; it withered and died as the head of the flowered line moved forewords leaving dead and dry petals in its sad captivating wake – a snake like entity of moving flora that followed the path of intruders so recently departed. It halted at the fringe as though looking down at the departing people.
Nelly looked up and lingered, aware of the strange phenomenon, but unable to convey her dismay to her human counterparts. She barked once but was called by Janice to follow. The dog was more then happy to comply as she bounded down after them and passing before they could reach the lower woods by the cottage.
Simon watched the dog in amazement. “One minuet she’s breaking her neck to get out and now she can’t wait to get back indoors.”
“I think it’s the snow,” answered Janice. “She’s got a little more then she bargained for.”
“There was something strange about the little wood too,” he added.
“I think we were a little spooked by a winter flower. Because we are ignorant of the plant life of the woods; we are probably allowing our imaginations to run wild.”
“Nelly acted strange though.”
Janice smiled and put her arm through Simons as they walked into the lower woodland before the cottage. “We are putting two and two together and coming up with five.”
He smiled. “You’re right. I must admit – it did feel weird when she bolted out of the wood and back onto the heath land. I suppose it was the sight of the winter flower after all.”
They ambled back to the cottage and dismissed the strange happening as one of those odd little things that sometimes happen.
During the evening, Janice had cooked a meal, which they had both sat down to enjoy. It was complimented by a fine red wine and both felt relaxed by the repast and began to talk of Simon’s Doll’s house that he had made for his niece Vicky.
“I’m going to get some furniture and things to put inside the home,” he said. “It will not look complete without the furniture and all.”
“I wonder if there is a place in Lyminton,” added Janice.
Simon screwed his face into a doubtful look. “I think Southampton is our best bet. It is much bigger and more likely to have what I would be looking for.”
“You will need a table and chairs, a three piece and beds.” She was beginning to get excited by the charming idea. “Southampton would be the best place I think.”
Simon pushed his chair back and stood up. “I want to have another look at the doll’s house,” he said with a smile.
She stood too and they both went to the cellar door, while Nelly followed, not wanting to miss out on things. The light was turned on as they descended into the cold cellar.
“We should have put coats on,” laughed Janice.
“Blimey, you can say that again,” agreed Simon.
They went to the work bench for a quick look at Simon’s finished project – already thinking of leaving due to the unexpected chill. It was much more severe then either had expected.
Suddenly, Nelly began to whine and yap as she retreated backwards towards the cellar stairs. They turned to see what was upsetting the dog this time and found the mutt’s attention fixed upon the empty bottle of wine and broken glass, where Janice had left them earlier in the afternoon. To their utter surprise, both objects were covered in fine gritted sand, as though glass and bottle had been smothered in adhesive then sprinkled with dust to cover all completely. However, the most astounding thing was the two flower pots either side of the bottle and glass. Withered and dead chrysanthemums had grown, bloomed and died in a matter of hours. Their deceased flower heads hung on arched stems either side of the gritted bottle and glass like fallen curtains on some twisted stage – a gruesome finale.
“I don’t believe it,” said Simon dumbfounded and moving forward to take a closer look. “The pots were just full of dirt and now flowers have grown and died, since we took Nelly for a walk this afternoon.”
More whining came from Nelly. She had retreated to the top of the staircase and her tone was almost imploring – like she wanted them to come upstairs too.
Janice had taken a step backwards. She shivered from the cold and the eerie sight before them. “Now I’m beginning to get spooked. I can’t dismiss this one.”
This time, it was Simon who tried to be calm. “Maybe we do not know about things in the forest…” He stopped realising it was pointless to dismiss such a strange occurrence. “Someone has been here.” He said finally. Both became more nervous as they looked about the cellar suspiciously.
“Let’s go back upstairs,” said Janice earnestly.
Simon nodded. “Yes, alright and I’m locking the door and then I’m going to look about the house.”
They went back up the stairs where Nelly remained seated. The dog yelped pitifully – unable to convey her sense of frustration at not being able to draw their attention to the small shadow against the cellar’s white wall, where the dim glow displayed the petite outline of infantile female form and veined wings that gently moved upon the shadow’s back.
The light went off and Nelly yelped once more as the cellar door was closed.
“Come on Nelly,” called Janice as the frightened dog scampered along the hall way.
They locked the door and stood back contemplating what had just happened. Were they over reacting? Had they allowed themselves to be alarmed?
Janice put her hands to her mouth and breathed through her fingers while Simon stood with his hands clasped.
“I can’t believe this. What should we do?” he said.
“We can’t call the police – they would laugh at us or think we were wasting their time.”
“I know, but just to be on the safe side, I’m going outside to check everything. It’s probably nothing and perhaps we are a couple of town dwellers that need to get used to the isolation of the New Forrest,” he laughed.
Janice laughed too. “I’m going to sit in the lounge and cuddle Nelly. Don’t be long.”
“I will be back in a jiffy.” He put his coat on and slipped his feet into green wellington boots and went outside.
Nelly started to whine again, making it clear that she did not want Simon to go.
“Stop that now Nelly – be a good girl and sit with me. Come on now, be a good girl.”
Nelly wagged her tail compliantly and went into the living room to jump up on the sofa with Janice.
Simon trudged out into the night through the freshly falling snow – the radiance of the house lights gently stroking the foliage of the winter forest perimeter as the branches swayed amid the cascading white fluff. He breathed in the cold air and felt the chilling rush in his lungs. It made him feel fresh and alive. For one brief instant he was fine – deciding that he was over reacting. It was only for a moment, however. Because then the realisation that the infantile nursery noises were there mixed with the winter bluster – coming from the woodland – far off and distant, but they were there. It was not the wind making noises in the wood. The childish singing was there – again, like little children in a far off nursery singing a verse in unison.
Simon gulped. How could such a thing be? Perhaps some vagrant was living in the woods and had a cassette or something. There were vagrants, but they never seemed to be around in the winter months and they were usually close to the out skirts of a town.
He felt drawn to the sound and found himself walking into the trees and the engulfing darkness. His mind was scared and he kept telling himself not to do this, but it was as though his legs were moving independently and in the background was a compulsion that nagged him to overcome such fear.
As he moved deeper into the dark woodland and towards the sound, he began to sweat. He seemed to be walking for some time and his eyes grew a little more accustomed to the dusk and trees. While he was absorbed in the brief realisation of his eyes recognising things in the darkness, his ears suddenly alerted him to the fact that the infantile singing was not distant any longer. It was all around him and the realisation that he was being watched made him shake.
“Who’s there?” he asked nervously. “Come out and show yourself.”
There was a brief child-like giggle as he spun sideways and made out shrubs shaking as though disturbed by someone passing.
“Show yourself please. I mean no harm. There is no need for all of this.”
He jumped as scatted giggles came from several directions amid the dusk covered trees and the background noise of impish humming – little children singing, (“La, la, la - La, la, la.”) continuous coming at him from the night.
Then there was a gentle rumble in the ground that made him freeze and then for the first moment he took a step backwards. His heart was pounding and the fear was like a huge bubble of indigestion trying to force its way up from his chest into his throat. Oh God! How he wished he had not followed the noise. He wanted to be back in doors with Janice and Nelly.
Amid the darkness and trees, ahead of him, he could see the dismal white snow covered floor of the winter forest. A giant mound like a moving white mole hill was slowly coming to him. Exquisite tiny purple and pink flowers grew out of the snow. In seconds, they bloomed, withered and died at the head of the moving mound – tiny dead flowers fading in the snow mound’s wake.
The bubble in his chest grew as the mound of colour, life and death washed towards him like the narrow surf of a stream tide. It had an vivacity that contained something sterile – amid the rumbling event he knew there was something terribly hygienic – something he must fear. He felt like a fly caught in a web and as the snow wave of flowers came to his feet there was an explosion of ice crystals, flower petals that cascaded around him.
His scream tore out through the night, but no one heard him in the dark sanctuary of the forest.
In doors, Janice and Nelly were huddled up in front of the television watching a quiz show. Simon would be back soon and both had calmed with the white noise of the television.
As the key went into the front door both Janice and Nelly looked up happily, they had calmed down some time ago and Simon’s return was the complete end to it all – for a brief moment.
Sandy had managed to drive her car up the slippery drive where the snow had been crushed to ice, due to the recent activity of vehicles that had been up to her friend’s cottage – one, no doubt, the ambulance that would have rushed Simon to hospital.
Janice, her friend, came out of the door, looking drained while brushing her close fitting jeans with her brown sheepskin gloves and stamping her foot into one of the brown boots, which she was impatiently trying to put on. She was flustered and in a hurry to be out. Even her light blue puffer jacket was not yet zipped against the cold January weather.
Her black Labrador bitch, Nelly, was wagging her tail and jumping about excitedly beside her – pleased to be out, at last, and oblivious to the serious events that had occurred during the morning.
Janice smiled with relief at the sight of her friend and rushed towards the car, almost slipping in her endeavour to reach Sandy.
“Oh Sandy, thank you for coming and I’m sorry to call you out on such a day. There is more snow to come according to the weather forecast.”
“Don’t be silly Janice – I was desperate to come here when I heard the dreadful news. How is Simon? You said he will pull through.”
“They had to pump his stomach out and for many hours it was touch and go,” she replied. “I just don’t know what has come over him. I can’t get my head round the fact that Simon tried to commit suicide. Of all people, him – never – but he has. I keep expecting to wake up and find out it is a dreadful dream.” She looked down at her dog. “I had to take Nelly out – she has been locked in alone all morning. Do you mind if we walk for a while? I can tell you what’s been happening over the past days.”
“Of course not,” replied Sandy opening the back door of the car to reach for her duffle coat that she had thrown in before setting off on her journey. Quickly she put it on, pulling out her long auburn her to let it fall freely over the black hood. She followed Janice and the playful dog along the small narrow pathway that led towards the woodlands – the perimeter of which began a few meters from the cottage. As their treading scrunched into the recent unsullied soft white flurry, leaving their desecrating prints, Janice began to talk as though needing to unburden herself.
“He had been acting strange for the last two days now, when the first snowfall began. It is as though his spirit had withered and died since then. We were caught out in it with Nelly, up on the heath by the little wood and as the snow grew more intense strange things began to happen. It was all the howling of the wind and the snow fall, the isolation and all – we got a little spooked. Simon went back out to check the outside of the cottage. We both thought someone was on our land. He went into these woods during the night while it was snowing heavily. He got really spooked out and couldn’t seem to talk about it. Even though he was frightened he went into the woods at night and for some time.”
“Why did you not try to get back? It’s not that far from here,” asked Sandy.
“I don’t know – I think it was his intention to wait for a short while assess the fall and then get back, but he lingered. The fall was quite heavy, but not so bad that he could not make it back to the cottage. After all he only had to get back through this wood we are in and he would be at home.”
“For some reason he stayed while Nelly and I cuddled up on the sofa and watched television. He returned looking completely traumatised. I tried to calm him down but she kept trying to alert me to the fact that we must not go back on the heath where the little wood is. I knew something was wrong with him and the next day, I tried to get him to take me through these woods and out into the heath, but he refused to go – even when I tried to drag him out he became enraged. We saw a flower in full bloom in the little wood – a flower in the middle of winter. This spooked us along with the howling wind and snow. But later I began to grow more concerned about Simon.
“In the end I wanted to go to the little wood on my own, but again Simon panicked and physically tried to restrain me from doing this. I just wanted to get to the bottom of what was making him so nervous. I had to scream at him to leave me alone. We almost came to blows and he was so pathetically desperate to stop me going up the heath to the little wood – even these woods next to our cottage. As I left, Nelly began to bark at me from inside the house as though she was trying to persuade me not to go. I know that sounds strange but she were very excitable too, yet still she would not budge from the house, like Simon.”
“So you went out to see if you could find out what upset Simon,” added Sandy – intently listening as a deep frown etched across her forehead.
“Well I thought he might have seen more winter flowers – I was so worried,” she continued as they passed through the snow covered trees and through the forest ferns that leant a fresh rustic smell due to the dampness of the cold air. “I found a line of dead ones back upon the heath towards this wood – frozen pink and purple petals from the type of flower we see in summer. This was strange but I don’t think these things could have made him so mentally unstable. When I got back I sat him down and tried to ask him what happened and he just muttered, ‘I don’t know.’
“I pressed him further on the matter and he became agitated scolding me to leave him alone and to let him get back home.”
“Back home?” Sandy seemed bemused.
“Back home to London.”
“I presume you pressed him further on the matter.”
They trudged out of the wood and onto the open heath land and stopped for a moment to look up the soft white layered scarp where a small cluster of trees were.
“That is the little wood I’m speaking of.”
“Oh, I see,” replied Sandy seeming a little unimpressed by the tree cluster on the Heathland’s summit. “So did you press him further about wanting to go back to London?”
“Of course I did and have continued to press him over the past days. At first he was vague and disinterested as though I was not there. I would have to ask him something two or three times before he would answer. It was like I did not exist or he was pretending I was not there. I had to impose myself upon him to get him to talk and even then he would get cross and babble about weird and strange things in the little wood. I became angry and thought he was being pathetic and self-indulgent with the stupid things he was saying and the melancholy mood was oppressive – it is hard to describe. He kept whispering things to himself – creepy things.”
“Such as?” asked Sandy.
“He kept muttering, ‘that’s why flowers wither and die,’ and, ‘such a wicked and naughty little thing.’ It was all after an incident in the cellar later that evening when night came and he went out to see if someone was outside.” She sighed and hesitated as though uncertain if she should continue.
“Go on Janice,” coxed Sandy. “I’m listening.” They began to ascend the heath land towards the cluster of trees at the summit.
“Well, while I was down there during the day, I accidentally dropped a wine glass. I placed the broken bits near the pots which Simon had filled with soil, ready to seed when spring comes. When we came back from the little wood, there were flowers in the pots – they had grown while we were out, withered and died before we returned. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“Later that evening, when he came back from going outside, he started to wail like a little kid, shouting, ‘She’s been here too.’
I followed him back down the cellar and he was pointing at the wine bottle and broken wine glass, which was covered in grey crystal sand. As though someone had put glue over the bottle and glass then sprinkled it with gritty dust. But the really creepy thing was the dead flowers, leaning over and hanging down like dead monuments to the covered wine glass stem and the empty bottle. I could not explain them.
“He said, ‘Everything her light touches brings life and when her touch passes things wither and die with the sadness of it all.’ I had to calm him down and coax him upstairs and no matter how much I tried to entice him to tell me what was going on; I could not get any straight answer from him. He just kept babbling, ‘That’s why flowers wither and die when touched by her light.’”
Sandy shook her head in disbelief. “Simon is a very brash person – cocky and full of life. I can’t even begin to visualize him being melancholy or introvert in any way. Who was he speaking of?”
“I don’t know who he was referring too and until that day; neither could I see him ever being so dispirited but I swear it is true. Honestly – the things that came out bit by bit. He would also mutter, ‘Stars are dull in night time skies,’ when he thought he was alone and I could not hear him. He has been fidgeting and very restless these past nights too and I have hardly managed any sleep.
“Last night it came to a head and we had a frightful argument and he came out with the most ludicrous story.
“He started imploring me to believe that as he went into the wood, at night during the snowfall, he began to hear distant infantile laughter like children in a nursery in an unseen room down a distant corridor – those were his exact words.”
Again Sandy frowned as they hauled themselves up the deep snow covered heath. “Go on,” she said perplexed.
“He said he was driven to the woods outside our cottage where the sound of infantile and high spirited laughter compelled him. He said he was afraid and yet drawn to it – still knowing that something uncanny was approaching. Then he started babbling about a small aurora amid the snow covered ferns and as this light mound of snow moved, summer flowers rose up through the ice, the way they do in nature documentaries when they film a flower blooming on speeded up time frames.”
“What did you say when he began to talk such nonsense.” Sandy was astounded that Simon, of all people, could say such things. He had to be having some sort of mental breakdown.
“I listened to him because I had hardly been able to get him to talk for days and now he was coming out with this drivel; I wanted him to keep talking the nonsense until he had burnt himself out and then I hoped I might be able to reason with him.
“He went on, saying that the radiance began to move towards him and the infantile voices grew louder and more excited. And, as the light came closer; so more flowers rose up out of the snow as the brightness swept above. In the wake of the light; the flora that had grown and blossomed by the spectres touch withered and died with the lights passing.
“Then the snow erupted like steam and he was showered in cascading petals. Again, he kept muttering; ‘Such wonderful colours.’
“He then started to get hysterical, talking gibberish and stuttering about a small impish looking female of about three feet crouched before him on a slender tree branch within the falling debris – a delicate, fragile looking thing with angelic looks and long unkempt golden hair that had tiny pointed ears protruding either side. He said she had a wraith like body but her head looked like that of a woman – a young woman with an underdeveloped body that was covered in a frock made of layers of frosted cob webs. Again, he drifted muttering about the little sparkles upon the frock”
“You sat there and listened to this?” Sandy felt herself becoming annoyed with Simon for saying such things, but also concerned that his mental state must be even more severe and he might attempt suicide again if he was not closely watched and supported. “You will not be able to cope with this by yourself Janice. You are going to need help with Simon.”
She nodded and looked up as the little wood came closer with every laboured step through the snow. “He even said that her head turned sideways spasmodically as she scrutinised him with movements like that of an owl – ‘Quick slight movements,’ he kept muttering. She had an impish smile and soft white skin. He prattled on about being transfixed in her hypnotic stare and that as she contorted her shoulders; transparent wings opened behind her back, like those of a dragon fly. It was a brief thing he said and then they folded down behind her – out of sight and in one fleeting graceful movement her neck lurched forward placing her face before his and she quickly kissed him before jumping backwards disappearing into a bright ball of light from which came disobedient laughter. Then he muttered, ‘You must never let them kiss you.’”
Sandy shook her head in disbelief. “He has never taken drugs or smoked any weed as he? Some of that stuff can make people think and say stupid things.
“Simon would not take an aspirin – you know the way he is about any type of stimulant. He doesn’t even like drinking.”
“But he is telling stories about being kissed by, what sounds like, a fairy and having his soul smitten forever. It’s as though he is indulging himself in the fantasy of a child’s fairy tale.”
Janice, who had never been one for children’s stories, frowned. “Is that what fairies do then? He does read a lot and is always going on about certain thrillers and things, but he does not read children’s fiction.”
Suddenly Nelly yelped from behind them and both turned to see that the dog was sitting in the snow some way behind. She had just stopped and it was apparent that she did not want to go further.
“Come on Nelly,” called Janice. “Don’t start all this again.”
Sandy leant her voice to the persuading. “Come on Nelly.”
It was no use – the dog just yelped at them as though wanting them to come to her.
“Oh let’s just go on,” hissed Janice crossly. “If she does not come, she’ll go back to the cottage.
They turned and continued towards the bleak woodland with Nelly barking after them and as they entered the fringes the wind began to hail as fresh snow started to fall.
It was Sandy who first commented on a noise within the wind – faint but definitely there if one listened intently. “Where is that sound coming from?”
Janice hushed and took note. “It sounds like far off laughter,” she whispered nervously. “Like children in a nursery.”
Each wanted to take a step back but the high-pitched spirits seemed to be coming closer from deeper within the wood. It was uncanny but neither of them could leave – they were compelled to stand and discover what might be coming towards them – afraid and charmed at the same time.
They were able to clasp hands for comfort – the only movement they could fulfil.
“Look!” gulped Sandy inclining her head towards a far of tinkle of light amid the forest ferns. “It’s coming closer.”
Some of the high pitched giggling became audible and Janice recognised some of the words Simon had been muttering… “Stars are dull in night time skies,” and the words were all about them compelling the women to look all about, wondering from where; someone might appear.
The light separated and became two, slowly circling either side of them while green shoots and bright flowers grew, budded and bloomed into vibrant and tantalising colours through the snow and then, quickly withering and dying in the spectres’ wake. The auroras stopped and lingered above dazzling flora that swayed and danced beneath each ball of radiance. Then slowly the lights advanced towards each woman as they clutched hands ever more tightly while gasping for nervous breaths of cold air and sweating with fear and wonder.
“I can’t move,” exclaimed Sandy fearfully. “What should we do?”
Janice was unable to reply as she watched the glowing ball sink into the flora and snow. The mound grew before her eyes as she gulped in fearful wonder and as the gorgeous plants swayed to and fro. It was as though the infantile chanting was emitting from the dancing flowers.
Suddenly, the plants and snow erupted with a huge whoosh about them and they were surrounded by confetti of falling flower petals and snow. As the cascade of glorious splendour settled, Janice was astounded to see before her, the frame of a small impish boy, crouched upon a slender branch that bent down, allowing him to sway before her. His slight naked physic was oblivious to the winter cold and he had nothing but a small cloth, made from layers of frost webbing covering his modesty. His face was turned sideways as she studied the slender outline of his angelic face and sharp little pointed nose. She made out the tip of a small pointed ear that emerged from the side of his unkempt black hair.
Like a lizard his head jerked with one slight turn to face her and she could see that his face was like that of a young man on an under developed body. His eyes were bright blue and piercing while his smile wore a look of a playful mischievous urchin. The thin lipped mouth suddenly opened and a small purple tongue hissed like a spiteful kitten that was about to pounce, while transparent dragonfly wings quickly opened from behind his back and then folded out of sight. The head jerked lopsidedly – again a slight spasmodic movement as his eyes studied her.
She knew by Sandy’s grip that an impish being, like the one before her, was also facing her friend. The head moved closer as the piercing blue eyes bored into her very soul and enchanted her dreaded wonderment.
Then from his throat, high pitched guttural words came. “Look, look into my eyes,” he shrilled giggling like a little boy intent on torment.