Children hear it first, and regardless.
Whispers embrace new life like flint creating spark and blaze that is warm as the swaddles of a mother’s encroaching womb. Hums caress like gentle kisses of wind gliding between broad leaves and fir needles as crawling infancy advances to a toddler’s stumble. The tall grass parts way, allowing verse and chorus and inaudible melodies a linear route to entice minds both youthful in innocence and ignorance. When the young hear the final encore plain as day, they are coaxed to that epicenter, and the old tend to forget.
“Don’t stray too far ahead you two,” Anna called out.
“We won’t, mother.”
Madison was ever the tomgirl; overall shorts hung over a green short sleeve. She mimicked her father’s memory and owned his resemblance with pride.
“Yeah, we won’t Mommy.”
Bret wanted nothing more than to be just like his sister and how he protested when Mother dictated his attire. That stubbornness was inherited, not taught, and in the end Bret yielded to the threat of creepy crawlies and wore his loose pants without further argument.
The late morning was sticky and Anna could feel her body warming fast. Patches of cloudless sky peered through the exposed canopy of stout oak and elm branches. Anna felt a sensation of being watched, like many blue-eyed spirits winked and marveled whenever an unsuspecting gust chimed overhead. Maybe he is watching over us. She’d learned not to cry in front of the children, and when Bret smiled over his shoulder, she knew it would be alright to let a tear break over her cheek. He was too young to know the sorrow of loss.
“Mommy,” Bret giggled.
“I think a creepy crawly is coming for you,” Anna hooked her arms and crouched low like a stalking mantis. “You better run.”
Short legs hastened and Brett burst with uncontrollable laughter as he caught his sister’s side.
“Help me Madison, the monster is coming. Run, run,” he said.
“This way, this way. I know a place where we can hide forever and Daddy will be there. He’ll keep you safe, I promise.”
“Is he going to sing to us again?”
“Of course, silly. Let’s sing it together.”
Anna froze, staring like a deer caught in the headlights of a raging big rig as her children ran off hand-in-hand, humming a tune masked by a foul wind that rattled the trees. She couldn’t hear the words nor the cadence. Her mind waded through the caustic mist suffocating her emotions and she gasped breathes that shocked her senses. Why is she doing this? Why?
“Madison, come here, now,” she said. “I need you to stop and come back to me. You too, Bret.”
They skipped together down the path of shadows cast by towering deciduous sentinels and disappeared out of Anna’s view. “Come back you two,” she yelled. “You’ll both be in big trouble if you don’t listen.” Her stride erupted, fighting against sudden trepidation and the meanness of her children. Anna followed into the creeping darkness.
“Madison Jane and Bret Matthew,” cried Mother. “I said stop and I mean it.”
Words stumbled, sight waned. The darkness crowded, concealing the fleeting images of her children running deeper and deeper down the trail. They bound over roots and rocks, dipping below fell pines that cracked from Anna’s boots stepping over. Rays of Sun trickled through the canopy like scattered mists of a Sun shower’s feeble finale. It was dark and cool, yet perspiration leaked from mother as she struggled to keep up.
“We’re going to be okay, mother. You worry too much, such a worry wart.”
“Such a worry wart,” echoed Bret.
Their laughter taunted, always a step ahead of Mother’s relentless advance.
Beige pants flickered between dying spruce while red-and-blue stripes danced with the dead birch. Those colors blended beyond the grey expanse of forgotten woods. Anna sprinted, pausing to lurch over a fallen petrified birch. Her ankle twisted on landing, and she swallowed the pain.
“You two better come back, right now.”
Her breathing ticked upwards to a minor strain and her boots hit the uneven earth with a thud. Muscles burned and joints ached with every yard passed. Anna’s voice rose with distress when she ended at a clearing absent of her children.
“It’s alright mother,” Madison called from deep within thicket of dead trees. “We will be okay and will never have to worry like you do. Daddy said it’s alright, and he’ll be with us soon so don’t worry!”
“Worry wart, worry wart,” said Bret.
“I’m scared,” said Anna. “You two need to stop playing and come back to me.”
Anna advanced, ducking below dead branches and squeezing between dense trees. Her lungs heaved and her skin itched. The winds steady, unrelenting. Oh no Anna thought as she looked up and saw crimson drupes and leaves. Sumac swayed above her head, and she crouched lower, to avoid it from touching her skin.
“Please Madison, Bret. Please come back.”
Laughter danced on the wind, and she saw them ahead. Her children slipped beyond the Sumac’s and out of sight. Anna ducked lower and lower, but it was no use. Boils appeared on her arms and legs, small and pus filled like angry pimples of an adolescent face. She knew that her outbreak would spread if she continued; Mother’s don’t have that luxury to choose.
The Sumac’s crowded her movement and Anna reverted to crawling like a lost baby, looking for resemblance of familiarity and care. Her hands swelled, her breathes hobbled. Gusts morphed into consistent torrents, bleating a song of her rasped cries over the hums of her children—oh they are close, Anna thought.
We return to you oh sweet, sweet forest.
Need not worry oh mother, mother of mine.
We leave only to arrive home and are forever,
forever yours and we cry not for the loss.
We are yours again, and together again,
again to the forest and the spirits so.
“Stop this… stop this now, please,” Anna begged as she crawled.
The drupes fell with an explosion of Sumac dust that wafted to her face. Her eyes burned and vision blurred with fury. Anna held her breath before a forced inhale choked her throat before her windpipe swelled. She slumped forward and rolled to her back, gazing one last time to her children as they stood over her body.
“It’s okay, Mother. The forest will bring you back and you’ll be able to watch over us, reborn,” said Madison.
“Daddy, look, it’s Daddy,” said Brett.
He held the hand of a creature, and when Anna squinted through the blanket of grey that shrouded her last sight, it was her husband, who was reborn as a spirit of the woods.
“Anna, we’ll be together forever,” he said as he bent down to her. “It’s okay. I came out here not to die, but to be reborn. You’ll be with us soon and we will all flourish in this grove.”
Undergrowth cradled Anna’s lifeless body, dragging her below into the earth and her essence twisted into the Sumac.
© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017. All rights reserved.
I found out last summer that I have an allergic reaction to Poison Ivy. This was rather shocking as I have lived in Maine most of my life and played in the woods since I could crawl. I know for a fact that I’ve ran through patches of that, Sumac, and Poison Oak before and I’ve never had a reaction.
Want to see some pictures? You do! Alright then….
Some of these are nasty so if you have a weak stomach, then you might want to buzz past them for the rest of the afterthought.
That’s when I first go it. I thought they were bug bites, and subconsciously I scratched the hell of ’em thinking that it was nothing serious.
I was wrong! Yikes. That is an infection right there.
Other site of the same arm. The white stuff is dried Calamine Lotion. It helped, sure. Not for long, though.
My legs saw the worst of the topical rash/reaction, but the infection stayed in my arm. I remember being prescribed antibiotics and a steroid to fight it. It was awful.
Apparently as we age, our immune systems can shift or weaken or even strengthen; for me it certainly wasn’t the latter. Lesson learned, I guess. What is funny about this is that the patch of Poison Ivy I mingled with was in my new back yard, that is part of the original land for the cemetery behind my house. True story right there. Did I disturb cursed ground by landscaping it? Did I piss off restless spirits by stepping foot on their domain? Or was it just dumb luck?
The realist wishes it to be dumb luck, but the writer and glutton for punishment hopes that it is actually cursed. That’d be kinda cool, right?
Ghoul kicked some ass Figure Skating this week. It’s a two-parter, and next week he will compete against a pair of former Russian Olympians in a pairs competition. Ghoul is an animal on the ice, but can his skills surpass those of proven Athletes? Find out next week!
I have been engrossed by Lore Podcast. It’s amazing. Aaron Mahnke does a great job explaining folklore, myths, and urban legends and if you haven’t heard it before I highly recommend it. Go and take a listen!
Do you enjoy these stories (but not the horrendous Poison Ivy pics)? Then spread the good word! I’ll be posting every Friday, as I have been, and would love for as many folks to read the horror that is my Collection of Endless Nightmares.
Ghoul is every Tuesday, too. Tell your friends if you think they’ll enjoy his nonsense.
John Potts Jr