•¤†¤• The Dark Lane •¤†¤•
“To all else he is blind
Turning death into this art
As the beating in his mind
Pounds in rhythm with his heart”
Epilogue: The Running Man"
He was late. He hurriedly collected his satchel. He felt his heart beating. He should not have lingered.
The precious berries collected in his satchel were not a price worth paying. In one swift action, he placed his satchel on his shoulder.
The pounding in his heart took over his body. His vision was blurred. His body was shaking- realisation dawned on him as the sun was setting. The day’s dying embers coalesced beyond the horizon, streaking through the trees.
The quietness of the forest seemed more threatening as the gloom descended. He had misjudged how long it would take him to reach the path. This was happening to him far too often. Winter’s day ended far more suddenly than he again anticipated.
His stride led him to the makeshift path. Stumbling at first, as he regained his composure, adrenalin and fear coursed through his veins. A mechanical hurriedness set in, as the calming effect of treading familiar paths eased his anxiousness.
“Why did I stay so long? I should have left, but still time enough.” He smiled to himself. He knew he would reach the gate, as many times before. The tales of the terrors of the night echoed in his thoughts. He had heard the recent tales. He knew of the disappearances from his village. He knew that as night descended in the forest, it fell swiftly like a guillotine.
He continued along the path, his thoughts caught between a cat and mouse game of fear and faith. He could hear the soft lull of the rustling leaves swaying delicately in the glow of twilight. He caught the comforting scent of the ferns and grass as he hurried on. He knew that he would not reach the gates before night descended- but he had trod the same paths countless times before. The sound of his padded feet rhythmically carrying him forward resonated in the twinges of pain he felt in his thighs with each step. Each step closer to home and safety. Each step encouraged him to walk faster in fear.
A soft rain fell from the darkened sky. The taste of rain only increased his fear of urgency. Somewhere in the wood, at a distance behind him, the unmistakable sound of a branch snapping fractured his senses. He froze in terror.
He could only feel the pounding in his heart; it beat so fast his senses were overcome. He could not move. Fear speared him to the spot. His body was palpably shaking; his breathing was heavy, his panting echoing the pounding in his heart. He was too afraid to look behind. All sense of anything in front of him was dimmed as he strained to listen. He could only hear the rustling leaves in the gentle breeze, the soft tap of rain as it fell upon the boughs of the swaying trees and birds singing their lullabies of sleep nestled in the forest canopy. After what seemed to be an endless time, his breathing slowed, the pounding in his heart subsided, and he was conscious that soon night would set in.
He slowly turned his head to peer into the path he had taken through the forest. He was still able to make out the path he had trod in the gloom. His eyes scanned the forest, his eyes darting like a hawk, looking for any sign of what had caused the branch to snap loudly. He perceived nothing through the forest, other than its familiar sounds as it settled down to sleep. Steeling himself to continue, he shook off his numbing fear and thought, “I need to get back and quickly. I cannot believe I am terrified by the sounds of the forest. It must be a forest animal.”
He continued on, his senses alert, beads of fear slowly falling from his brow. He was walking as quickly as his limbs would allow, not running, but with an increased sense of urgency. The rain had started to fall more heavily from the sky; the darkness had almost set in as the sun’s final rays slumbered behind the horizon.
A sound seemingly closer than before punctuated his senses- more branches snapping. Something rustling and moving quickly towards him. Something closing on him. He needed no more warning, without looking behind he pelted along the track.
He ran, as fast as he could, gliding through the tall towers of Hallowvale wood. He ran without heed of any other senses, his focus solely that of flight, to run as though death itself was on his heels. He ran on through the path until the pain in his thighs and tightness in his lungs meant he was spent, and needed to rest before continuing through the forest. He looked behind. Nothing. No sign of anything in pursuit.
He set off again, this time setting off in a manageable stride, not running, yet a pace which he would maintain for miles ahead. After a longer period, scanning the forest for any sign of pursuit, he slowed his pace to a fast walk. Sweat was beating down his brow. The rain was pelting from the sky now- he was so transfixed with flight he did not notice that it was falling hard. A half moon shed scarce light into the forest; he had walked down from a ridge.
The moon was low; he turned to sense whether there was any sound or sight of pursuit. What he saw tore his courage from his heart. Clearly silhouetted by the moon at the top of the ridge stood more than a dozen figures. Human-like in their form, still quite far away, but unmistakably moving swiftly in his direction.
Despair set in, nearly crying in fright, he turned about and ran. Pain coursed through his limbs, and burned his lungs. His thoughts were now incomprehensible, he was crying in dread, all his failing energies focussed in flight. His heart was thumping in his heart as fear shuddered through his body.
To his left, in the near distance, a dim red glow appeared. A glow which he had never seen before, not even once in all the time he had travelled through the forest. It was tiny at first, but deviating from his path, like a moth to a flame, he started off the hut’s direction. He recognised the flickering glow as he ran on; it was fire dancing, as the sight of a small hut came into his view. The flickering flames of fire inside the hut had called to him.
Sudden hope sparked into his consciousness. Running as fast as his failing body would allow he ran to the small hut. He reached the door of the hut, shaking in fear, his thoughts incomprehensibly straining to gain entry. He tried to push the door- it was locked from the inside. Sturdy wooden beams held in place- he would not be able to break in that way.
He pounded on the door, frantically, not noticing that he had hit it so hard that blood was grazed on his knuckles. His mind was too numbed by fear to even consider breaking into the hut from one of the high windows. He pounded on the door again.
His heart was nearly breaking in his chest. The beating pulse of his heart sounding in his mind. He could not die like this. He could not die like this. He pounded on the door again. Sweat was pouring down his face, despair shuddering through his soul.
“Please help me” he cried, “Please help me”
He pounded the door again. Again no response.
“Please help”, he whispered too exhausted to say out loud. Nothing, no response.
His shoulders started to slump as he was about to give up, and then without warning the door opened. Silhouetted before the warm glow of the fire, the frail frame of an old woman presented itself to him, her face lined with time. She spoke softly spoke to him, “Is it late to be out in these woods my little one, quickly come in, it is not safe after sundown”.
Without needing any further prompting he staggered through the door...
“I don’t know what is out there my dear”, said the old woman with a hoarse voice, “but no longer do I tarry in the woods after dark”.
She took the tea that she had boiled over the fire and poured it into two small cups which already contained tea leaves.
“I am sorry I did not open the door when you knocked the first time, I was sleeping and I am somewhat deaf these days”
He recounted to the old woman why he was in the forest, why he had mistook the day passing, focussed on picking the berries that he wanted for the filling of his son’s birthday pie.
There was a knock on the door, loud and rhythmic as though coded in some way.
“That will be my children returning” said the old woman, as she opened the door to her hut. A tall human-like figure stood at the door, covered on all sides by similar figures.
“Come in my dears” said the old woman menacingly, “there is someone here you should meet.....”
The wind gusted through the boughs of the forest until dying down in the middle of the night.
The Dark Lane was silent.
Part One: "The Cat"
“It is strange,” said Amelia de Ville to her sister, “it is quiet tonight. Mistress is singing gently to herself and I want my milk”.
“Yes”, yawned Cathy Cat, “I am content to remain curled up here for the moment. I might go hunting in a short while”.
“You have no sartorial eloquence, feral beast”, replied Amelia Cat, as she preened her fur- looking good was Amelia’s top priority in life, her mistress always ensured that she was fed the best chunks of tasty meat and always ensured her milk was lukewarm- just the way she liked it Amelia regarded Cathy Cat as an uncivilised brute, and indeed Cathy was nearly twice her size.
Mistress had adopted the filthy stray and upset Amelia on that day; ever since Amelia had taken every given opportunity to undermine Cathy, ensuring that she always fawned and purred the loudest, looked the prettiest and on one occasion place a dead mouse right in the spot where Cathy usually curled up to sleep (of course when Cathy was off hunting during her feral night time meanderings). When mistress found the dead mouse she blamed Cathy of course, much to Amelia’s delight.
“I wonder if the sisters will be gathering tonight for their midnight song”, remarked Cathy “It is a full moon and I love the song of the moon”
“Filthy strays screeching in the night does little for one’s decorum or status in the feline world my dear, you really should find a more civilised pastime, especially since you are now being cared for by mistress”
Cathy sometimes did not understand the language Amelia used and she simply replied “When it is past time I will go hunting, Amy”
Amelia de Ville always took offence to being called by her abbreviated name- she was of pedigree stock, of blue blood and not born in the gutter like this dirty cat.
“You mistake my vernacular dear,” remarked Amelia, “I mean you should find more constructive things to do with your time”
“If the sisters are gathering then I will join them” Amelia sighed “Sisters are doing it for themselves, or rather they should be”
Mistress could be heard gently snoring in her comfy chair, the dancing embers of flames cackled as Amelia giggled to herself knowing that this socially inferior creature did not even understand what she was saying.
“As I was saying”, Amelia continued “you really do need to preen yourself more dear, you look like a sewer rat”
“I am what I am” replied Cathy
Uncivilised and filthy, no class or decorum, mistress will soon tire of the wretch Amelia thought.
“Anyways pretty cat I am off now, I will see you later Amy. Oh, Amy?”
“Yes” replied Amelia flatly, continuing to preen her beautiful coat.
“You really should get out more, you know, experience the thrill and smells of the night, sing with us and fight, try to catch bats in flight…”
Cathy was rudely interrupted
“When I want to demean myself by entertaining the company of lower feline species I am sure that I will be suffering from dementia. If I wanted to smell like a sewer I would bathe in it like you and your filthy kind. If I wanted to caterwaul like an uncouth kitty then I am sure that someone would have scooped out half of my brain. If I wanted to look as tatty as a ball of fur that has been gathering cobwebs and ridden with fleas then I would be as dead as a dormouse”
Cathy was particularly taken aback by the cattiness of Amelia de Ville, but had come to recognise that she was probably very jealous of her, Cathy was of course the top cat in these parts and no-one would dare challenge her authority. Amelia sniffed the air and remarked, “Hmm smells as though the hunt is on tonight Cathy, well I hope you have fun with your little sewer friends”
Cathy simply turned her back on Amelia and walked in the direction of the door and its’ specially designed cat flap, she turned her head to look directly at Amelia, “Are you sure you are not coming Amy?”
Amelia de Ville simply turned her nose up at Cathy and continued preening her beautiful coat. Cathy remarked, “Why do you preen yourself? I reminds me of something mistress often says, “Keeping her face in a jar by the door… who is it for?”
Amelia simply continued to preen herself. At that moment just as Cathy was waiting for a response from Amelia, mistress stirred from her light slumber and woke up with a start. Stretching awake, mistress in one swift motion kicked her right foot in the direction of Cathy Cat, who was startled by the sudden movement and bolted out through the cat flap, her ears back, eyes wide and hair standing on end. “Get out you mangy cat", shouted mistress after her.
Amelia de Ville purred and licked her left paw, staring knowingly at mistress as she awaited mistress’ prompt to jump on her lap. Mistress beckoned in the usual way "Come here my little pretty”, and Amelia jumped into her lap purring loudly to feign her appreciation.
“What will I do without you Amelia de Ville?” said mistress in a warm, kind tone of voice, all the while softly stroking the beautiful coat of her favourite pet.
“What would I do if you ever ran away or grew old; I would miss the touch of your beautiful fur.I have a wonderful idea…” said mistress and Amelia knew she was in for a treat...
“Yes she is quite cosy”, remarked the old woman in dulcet tones, “she is always curled up by the fire like that this time in the evening”.
As she addressed the guest who had started sipping her tea she could see that the stranger was certainly more comfortable. On her lap, the old woman stroked a beautiful coat of perfectly preened fur, the form she was stroking sat upright and motionless.
"I had this one stuffed because she was useless and never caught rats, but I do like the touch of her fur” said the old woman.
The other cat by the fire had straggly hair and was somewhat unkempt.
Cathy Cat stalked her midnight prey, padded footsteps oblivious to the dormouse nibbling on a piece of fruit dropped from a nearby fallen tree. No midnight animals could be heard, no sound of bird or call of any of her sisters.
The Dark Lane was silent.
Part Two: “The Owl"
The moon hung heavily in the night sky as the owl looked down into the forest. She espied a young man frantically hammering the door of a small wooden hut. Immediately beneath the owl the night creatures were gliding towards the man, making such a noise that they could wake the dead.
The owl hooted in the night sky to see if a mate was within calling distance. Receiving no response she started to preen her wing with her beak, keeping clean was always a priority in this season.
The man below pounded with his fist again on the door of the wooden hut. In that instant the owl heard the clicking chatter of a bat, she could not see it, but could guess where he was from the frequency of his chatter. The bat scythed through the night air with impossible ease, catching small prey floating in the breeze.
She looked below; those creatures were still passing underneath, and scaring away any chance of a midnight snack of rabbit or other small mammal. It was times like this that she instinctively required to release the day’s collected waste, and this was no different from any other time. As she looked down, the mess she had caused to one of the creatures was simply casually ignored as they continued underfoot.
They were closing in on the man now, and she could see that the man had almost resigned himself that he would also be a tasty morsel for his pursuers. He pounded on the door of the hut again, human words screamed in an urgent way from his throat- it was clear all of this commotion had scared away her prey.
This neck of the woods however was her haunting ground, her marked territory that she fiercely guarded and she would not be giving this up because of a few minutes of commotion, she was far too wise for that.
She was a wise old bird, not as young as some, but still of chick bearing years, though her mate had died last spring. The noise of the crashing creatures assaulted her senses and hurt her delicate hearing.
The man appeared to start to hunch and looked as though he was about to collapse. The owl started preening her other wing, trying to keep a close eye on the events being played out before her beady eyes.
There was a flash of amber as the door opened- the sight of fire streaking through the night sky always caused her to shudder. “Stupid humans” the owl thought, “they should not walk through the woods at night. Twit twoo, human twit”
Still preening her wing she watched the creatures reach the hut and gather together in a huddle as though waiting for a signal. They stood together for some time; she was transfixed, waiting to see what would happen next.
So intent was the owl watching the events below, stretching all her senses in the direction of the small hut, she failed sense the rock until it came hurtling towards her. With the thump the rock found its’ target and all went dark..
“Yes, my dear” said the old woman, as she stirred the pot of bubbling broth, “this should taste rather nice, owl does have a certain flavour to it”...
The wind whistled through the trees, no sound of birdsong could be heard.
The Dark Lane was silent.
Part Three: "The Mother"
Dawn seemed reluctant to shake off the shackles of night and soar above the rim of the world, and when it did, the rays it sent spinning across Hallowvale were bitter and pallid. Dawn moved swiftly on, stretching her long fingers of light through the streets bathing them first in a deep red glow, and then bleeding to amber.
Through her bedroom window Rebecca felt the first warming rays caress her cheeks, and delicately whisper the first murmurs of a warming sunrise. She looked across her bedroom; a cage of light and shadow danced on the wall, filtered by the cloth curtains that hung loosely from the window frames. She was young at heart, but not of body.
Her mind was always in the West, with her beloved, who had gone to war many months before. She was looking after their three children alone. Each of her children acted as a form of crutch, each of them propping her up when the weight seemed too heavy to bear. Her youngest, Bow Bangles, was always the first of her children to rise; she would already be preparing the morning breakfast of cheese, ham, cornflower seeds and milk for the rest of the family. Bow generally helped her mother to tidy the house, and tend to some of the crops in the small holding that the family owned in the town square allotment. Bow was generally too young to actively help to support the family by her own endeavours and supported her mother whenever possible. Rebecca loved her dearly and she always felt uneasy that her daughter was far too mature for her natural years- innocence had been ripped from her heart before she had the opportunity to enjoy her childhood.
Her middle child, Medwyn Maleciss, had always been a disruptive child. Always rebelling, even from a very young age, Medwyn always was the child who was fighting in school or generally getting himself into trouble with an Icyene or Human teacher; he always looked as though he had been dragged backwards through a hedge when he came home. Medwyn had also grown in a very short space of time and Rebecca was proud of her son. Medwyn spent his time gathering the precious white berries in the heart of Hallowvale Wood- he had a certain knack of being able to find the elusive berries which were highly prized by the local apothecaries and herb traders in the town marketplace.
Medwyn was effectively a man by military standards, but to her son, he was still her little boy- he was soon to be drafted into the military campaign on his next birthday. Her eldest child, Herbert Hannigan, had suffered from a club foot ever since his birth, but this had caused few him problems in the way of mobility. He was nearly seventeen years old, easily reckoned an adult by the Hallowvale military, but because of his disability deemed unfit to serve in the army ranks. He was an adept hunter, able to use a catapult to shoot prey one hundred yards distance away from him, and well respected in the marketplace. Rebecca’s two eldest children’s produce, together with their small holding of vegetables in the allotment meant that their family always had a surplus of food available for meal times, and considering that there was a war, their family lived quite comfortably by Hallowvalian standards. The surplus of what the family caught and produced was sold in the town marketplace to provide a comfortable standard of living for the family.
As she stretched her arms to wash away the raiment of slumber; she knew that this day would be the same as any other- but still, she had her family around her and knew that they loved her dearly. Rebecca nonchalantly picked up her gown and placed it about her shoulders, the chill of dawn still lingered on latch of her bedroom door as it’s iciness momentarily stung her fingers as she depressed the handle. She walked down the bedroom stairs, the old floorboards gently sighing under her weight. Her shadow danced on the wall and followed her like a ghostly familiar.
“Good morning Bow” yawned Rebecca as she sat down at the breakfast table
“Good morning mother,” replied Bow, “would you like a drink?”
Mother and daughter conversed a while about the day’s chores ahead and Medwyn tentatively pushed open the door, his gait revealing that he may not have had a full night's sleep.
“Look at the rings under your eyes Medwyn”, rebuked Rebecca “what were you doing last night? You know you will have to gather as many berries as you can today if we are to stand any chance in the competition. You spend too many hours with your friends- they do not have to rise as early as our family. You really should know better.”
“Err, yes Mum” murmured Medwyn, wiping sleep from his eyes, “it won’t happen again”
“If I had a penny for every time I have heard you say that Medwyn I would be able to afford third age armour or the Zarosian throne!” said Rebecca slightly rising her voice in an effort to rouse her son. Medwyn simply dropped his head in his heads and yawned loudly.
As the folds of night recoiled from Medwyn, like the wave of an ocean of awakening, his senses started to clearly focus rather than be clouded in a misty haze of tiredness.
His mother said to him “I hear that young Tabatha Bridges has been missing since yesterday, she was last known to have been playing in the Hallowvale Woods before sunset”
“Yes I heard that too” remarked Medwyn, relatively disinterested in the line of conversation “I am sure that she will turn up- she is probably hiding to get attention- you know what she is like mother”
“Medwyn…” his mother smiled as she poured milk over her cornflower and fruit breakfast, “yes for her age, considering that I bore Herbert at her age, she does act like a little child. I cannot believe that she still carries that old tatty teddy bear with a missing ear around with her, even to the marketplace when she is running errands”
The conversation continued on. Herbert sat down at the table as the family discussed the usual breakfast banter. Motivating himself to start the new day as though it was really a new day, unlike any other day when he had collected berries, Medwyn smiled at his mother and said “I will collect more white berries today than Silas or Trent- just watch me! And I will win the prize! I will win roast hog for the family mother, just watch me!”
“I really hope you do son” his mother replied with a strained smile across her careworn face “Just remember not to linger too long in the woods please, you have heard the stories”
“Mother!” replied Medwyn “I will be fine”
Rebecca handed her son his satchel to hold his precious white berries. She had packed it with a selection of two cheeses, some ham, bread and a flask of elderflower juice to keep him refreshed throughout the day.
“Your luncheon is in your satchel Medwyn, and do remember it is getting much darker now Wintumber is nearly upon us”
“Thanks mother” said Medwyn, affectionately kissing his mother on her cheek.
Rebecca then waved goodbye to her son. She always watched him walk to the bottom of the street before he turned out of sight, and as he did so, a sharp gust of cold wind whipped up and the iciness bit at the tips of her nose, neck and collarbone. Instinctively she drew her gown closer around her to shield her from the penetrating cold.
The old woman glared at the teddy bear resting on her mantelpiece.
“Yes” said the old woman “it is strange how I have never thrown that tatty old thing away, I can’t even seem to recall why it only has one ear”
She stared at the young man in front of her, who was still pale with shock and did not completely digest what she had said. “Do not worry my dear, all will be well”
The wind of winter wound his horn and whistled through the tall towers of green with boughs of hanging blades. On the floor lay a satchel, with dozens of white berries strewn around, some trampled underfoot.
The Dark Lane was silent.
Conclusion: "The Muse of Night"
The sky was dim, the night drew in,
the guillotine of day scythed through
and as Day fled Night's dark chagrin-
of gloom in shadow simmering.
Day lingered late and overdue,
the rays of light grew ever thin,
the glaring moon reborn anew
and rose in darkness shimmering.
Beneath the boughs of leafy tides,
the hemlock stirred-their umbels stood
in reverence, whilst on all sides
Night leached light’s life and Following.
Dusk soon drew in- He understood
as raiment of the day subsides
He felt night's breath draw wooded blood
In Harrowvale’s Hollowing.
As fear then coursed through mortal veins-
He knew that gallowed time stood still,
Unschackled night broke daylight chains
And pierced him; unsettling
the fragile threads of his weak will-
A semblance of his strength remains.
The bitter taste of judgement’s pill
thus choked him as the night set in.
What happened thus to this young man?
What ending do you think prevails?
Make of this just what you can
Thank you for reading Dark Lane tales.