They tore at my clothing from all directions. Pinching my skin and ripping the vest from my back. Before I could react, three hands were already gripping my arm. They pinned to the oak dining table as I heard scissors snip the air. I screamed as the cold metal ran up my ankles and down my back. My trousers slipped off with little effort. I shut my mouth in preparation for the searing pain of the blades they had sliced across my legs but I felt nothing. Rosemary twisted into vision and placed the scissors on the table like a doctor showing the child the needle before the prick. I clenched my legs together in one final protest at the hand curling into my pants. I bucked and pulled away as Rosemary watched the whole thing. I was not going to lay down and wait for this to be over. Rosemary picked the scissors up once more and snipped the sides of my underwear free as another’s hand pulled them away like a thread from between my legs.
‘Bring them in.’ Rosemary instructed as she threw my clothes to the side. Yarrow walked into the room holding two large wooden buckets. I could see what looked like handles sticking out from the large rim.
‘What did you do my sister and mum?’ I spat out and felt someone grab the roots of my hair and yank my head back. Rosemary knelt down and placed a white bundle of clothing at my feet.
‘Wear this.’She said as I attempted to wrench my arms and head free of the womens grip. Standing up she raised a white ski mask to my face. I twisted away in protest.
‘She still fighting you Rosemary? She is a survivor after all.’ Yarrow said and I heard the bucket drop down on the wooden floor heavy. ‘Look at this Aspen. Look over here.’ I couldn’t stop even if I wanted as the others twisted my head towards her. The buckets were filled with large black branches dripping red. Yarrow gripped one and pulled it out like a whip. It titled down from the heavy clusters of red berries still on it. I recognised them from the trees on the estate. Yarrow slashed it through the air and I felt my legs begin to give way.
‘Why are you doing this?’ I asked in some way to get them to stop what was about to come.
‘We have to protect you. The blood of the Rowan will be your ward against evil spirits. You need to live a long healthy life to look after the baby. As did Yvonne and her aunt before her. Let me place these on you or the whipping will be worse.’
I felt the hands loosen. I swung forward and slapped Rosemary across her ear. Scrambling past her I could feel the women behind reach out and miss me. Yarrow stepped between me and the door. With one strike I felt my legs slip out and I hit the floor. Instinctively I had raised my hands to protect my head but a foot lodged itself in my gut. Forcing the air out my body I retched and vomited across the floor.
‘Jesus wept. That’s pathetic.’
I heaved again as I crawled forward. Every single part of me burned from the inside out. I didn’t raise my head. I kept my focus low and on the floorboards.
‘Let her crawl around first. Get it out of her system.’ One of them jeered.
‘Don’t you forget she’s one of us. She will grow through this but we can’t have her despise us.’ Rosemary said standing over me. ‘Aspen…I’m going to cover you up.’
All I could do was breath as I felt her bony fingers lifted my hair from my face. The cotton mask dragged down my head. I kept my eyes clenched. My thoughts going to my mother. They had said she had gone through the same thing as me. How could she take me here with that knowledge. To know what they were going to do to me this whole time. Raising me to take the very same tortures. All for this family we she never mentioned. If it was me I wouldn’t spit on them even if they were burning. They had picked me up and slid the white thermals over my legs and breasts. They said it would be easier but those branches would still cut through the thin fabric.
One by one they took the branches from the berry filled buckets. Raising them in the air they circled and picked their spot. Yarrow held me in place while they each marked their spot to cover red. The first branch slipped over my bicep and smacked across my chest. I screamed out as the heavy blows began. The sodden berries burst with each thwack. Softening the blows at first, they smeared on the skin and fabric. Each spattering thinned and sharpened the branch. Twigs jabbed and stuck in my soft parts. Catching the skin with their hooks. Picking me apart like a hundred birds. The welts never softened the pain. They made quick work covering their patch of skin before whipping the next part. It wasn’t long before I felt the air cut across my face. Clenching tight I felt the branches start to be replaced by hands. The buckets sloshed as handfuls of the berries were now slapped onto my skin. Chopping at my neck and smearing across my lips. Yarrow laid me out as they stung the backs of my legs and ass. Nails scratching over my thighs. I raised my arms up again and again and felt them slapped away and knelt on. They never wavered, never stopped their work, until I felt the juices from the two buckets come pouring down over me.
Frozen in preparation for the next swift whip or beating I waited. The grunts and thwacks replaced by a choir of exhausted breath. I couldn’t remember the last time I breathed. Like a cricket on an open window I felt a presence behind the pain. It felt familiar. A hand to hold in the darkness.
I picked at the last shreds of the meal almost numb to the flavour. After a day of drinking the preparation and delicacy taken in creating the banquet had been wasted on me. All I wanted to do was fill myself with as much bread and offerings in the vain chance it would soak up any alcohol that had been stewing. I was pickled and buzzed. I pressed my forehead down onto the dining table and closed my eyes. The wood was cool and refreshed me more than any glass of water could. I hadn’t seen one glass of water the entire afternoon. Every time I requested one or reached for a jug it was always the same aniseed alcohol. A few cheered in the background as I kept my eyes shut. They were playing some game and I needed to rest for a brief moment before it was my turn. A loud bang shook through the room and the women cheered. I couldn’t look, I had to stay in this brief moment of peace before I was yanked up to play more games.
‘Are you sleeping? If you are then we can’t have that.’Rosemary said as I felt her hand stroke my back.
‘No – I’m just resting… Eugh how are you all so fine? You should all be passed out.’
‘You can’t sleep here. You’re next.’
‘I don’t want to be anything.’ I knew my head was going to feel like a pumpkin carved out by a fork tomorrow but I was enjoying myself. I could smell the gin and spa salts on my skin.
‘She’s wasted look at her.’ Yarrow shouted from across the banquet room. I could feel the breeze from the glass doors leading to the outside graze the back of my ankles. A gunshot went off again.
‘Aren’t you afraid of the police?’
‘No, not at all. We are real far out from any neighbors to complain. Yarrow she’s just resting for a moment before we begin.’ Rosemary said as she got up from her chair.
‘Get up and play. It’s your turn to hunt.’ Yarrow was behind me now. I could practically feel her towering over me. ‘Water is for the weak.’
I rose up and heard clapping from afar. I was ready what ever stupid drinking game they had in mind. Yarrow gave a big beaming smile and placed the rifle in my hands. I moved past the table as myself and a few others followed Yarrow through the glass doors and into the night. I padded over the cool grass as I saw three others ahead.
‘When do I pull the trigger.’ I asked.
‘First we spin you round…’ All at once I felt them grip me by the shoulders and twits me round catching my whole body off guard.
‘Get the scent. Whiff it. Catch it. Kill it. Hunt hunt hunt.’ They span me harder as the crowd jeered and emptied their glasses on the floor.
‘Catch it. Kill it. Hunt hunt hunt.’
Like a divination rod the rifle began to lower and I worried I might already fire the blank.
The others had fired theirs before me. Running out after the white rabbit.
The rabbit masked lady would skip out and always come back through the other door.
‘Hunt’ My mind was whirring. Their hands all over me making sure I kept on spinning. I clenched my jaw and hoped I wouldn’t puke.
‘Hunt…’ I settled my gaze down to the grass. A white blur stepped out. The plastic ears flopped down. Another’s hand twisting their arm. Faces. Rifle. Hunt. Hunt.
They shook me loose and my legs sprang to catch the ground. The rabbit was off. Darting from the light. I followed and fumbled but they were not quick. In the darkness we ran. I was lined up to them. Catching their scent amongst the cold air. Almost ready. I raised the gun but stumbled on a muddy patch. The rabbit increased the distance. I was losing sight of it now. The liquor was rising out from every place in my body. My lungs were burning. Legs shaking but still going. Never wavering. The rabbit twisted in the darkness and hit the ground. They had hit a low branch from the dotted trees. I slid forward and pressed the rifle down. Squeezed. Hunt hunt hunt. A crack ran through my arms. The rabbit flopped down and played dead. I had caught it.
I waited for the game to be over. I turned to hear screams for joy like a Guy Fawkes crowd finally hearing the bang from the rockets. I could see a few running over. Like a pack of dogs. Black eyes and smiling.
‘Come on now get up.’ I nudged the rabbit with my foot. It didn’t move. Kneeling down I looked at the still plastic face reflecting the moonlight. The seeping stain that was growing over the white shirt. The others bounded across the grass with abandon. Their feet drumming louder and louder. I placed my hand on the rabbit and felt the wet warm blood coat it. I brought it up close as I saw another rabbit broken against a tree. A few paces further another lied down face first with its mask blown off. The women were closer now but not slowing down. As if they had picked up the scent a new rabbit.
I finally felt like I could relax and not worry about how others saw me. These women had lifted me out of the ice chamber with praise and encouragement. They all smiled when I said I wanted to do it again because they too felt the same way. And just as I had been dunked into the ice it was me now who held the wooden lid shut as the rest took the plunge. “Hold down with all your weight.” A few said as I placed my palms on the wood in bated breath. I was pressing down with all my strength as the old lady scratched against the lid. I could feel some sort of exhilaration building in me, heavier than the fear I felt in the well, that lingered on the edge of my mind. Pushing me to think unnatural things; hold it just a little longer, just a few seconds that’s it.
I followed the crowd out into the garden. The stretch of land carried on until the red berried trees faded into a black line of woods that threatened to prick the sky. Birds chirped and the warmth from the sun pressed down on us heavy. A table had been prepared; At each seat was a large tankard of beer, one crystal shot glass, and a chopping block of white wood. In the center of the table was a dark oval bowl. As I sat down at the seat with my name I could the large bowl centerpiece was adorned with apple shavings and various sprigs of herbs.
‘Is it lunch time already?’ I asked Bay who was sat beside me. She was rolling her sleeves in preparation for the food. Bay stared at me for a few seconds, as if she was trying to read my face, and raised her shot glass to me.
‘We are preparing for the feast Aspen. Drink with me.’
I raised the shot glass to hers and slipped the drink down quickly. Aniseed washed over the tongue with a sweetness that plunged to bitterness quickly. Bay was already calling over Lily to pour another.
‘Another?’ Lily said already pouring the clear liquid back into the glasses.
‘Of-course, the girl needs strength.’ Bay replied. She slapped the table and Yarrow jumped from her chair in shock. ‘Yarrow is a bag of nerves!’ Even covered in a robe Yarrow could not hide her muscular frame. She had been quiet all morning, simply watching from the back for most of it. When it was her turn to drop in the well the others moved aside. Yarrow had plunged into the water and after a moments pause I saw her arm stretch out from the brick and slide the lid shut. When she was done she dragged herself out on her accord.
‘You want to play slaps with me while we wait?’ Yarrow smiled and I was reminded of those grinning cowboys in westerns. That smirk right before they pulled the trigger.
‘No she does not. Yarrow will smack the skin off your knuckles. Trust me.’ Lily chimed in as she poured a shot for Yarrow.
‘What is it you do Yarrow?’ I asked trying not to glance down at her forearms.
‘Sports?’ I asked.
‘Wrestling. I made it to Olympics in freestyle before the weight category restrictions. You ever tried it?’ I felt as if Yarrow was leading me down a path where I was going to end up knocked out on the ground.
‘I’m surprised. I trained with your mum all the time when we were younger before…before you that is.’
‘How was she? I couldn’t imagine her-’
‘She was a cocky shit. But good.’ Yarrow laughed. ‘It’s a shame she isn’t with us. I’d like to see if she still has the moves.’
‘When are her and Cora heading over.’
‘Yvonne and Cora have to take it easy. The babies and all.’ Yarrow spurted out.
‘Babies?’ I asked unsure if she knew something I didn’t. How could she?
‘Baby, Yarrow, it’s just the one I imagine. But Hentan’s are known to come out in twos.’ Bay replied in place for Yarrow. Yarrow raised her hand annoyed slightly.
‘Then Aspen here will have to drink for her sister and Yvonne. Ready…get that glass in your hand. Here we go. Cheers.’ I downed the clear mixture and thought that it tasted less bitter this time around.
I couldn’t handle another but before I could protest Lily lurched over and poured another.
‘Oh here we go. Time for work.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked but noticed them looking behind me. I turned from my seat to see three women carrying small wicker baskets in their hands. One of them smiled and placed the small bundle on the chopping block infront of me.
‘We honour our own strength this weekend. We prove we can fend for ourselves like those before us.’ Bay said as I tried to look through the tightly knitted basket. My fingertips dragged across the basket surface numb almost. The baskets had been placed on each of the guests seat. I could smell wafts of hay and fruit.
A hand gripped my shoulder jolting me. It was my mother smiling at me. A warm smile but like she was consoling a crying child.
‘Ladies. We are never given mercy so we must hunt for ourselves. This is how Dando taught the very first ladies of Hentan and we give thanks for that. Show Dando we can look after ourselves. Raise the lids and prepare the feast.’ The women lifted the lids off quickly with me following. As I slid the basket lid off the dropped it down onto the lawn as my stomach sank.
The rabbit twitched it’s head to the side and with black pearl eye stared at me. I glanced over to Yarrow to see her snap her rabbits head back. Bay had her fingers placed over her rabbits head as she quickly slit its neck. Mum squeezed my shoulder harder. She was urging me not to make her look bad infront of the others. Her sisters. My family. I had the runt of the litter – in an act of mercy to not have me slip up and let it run. The brown speckled rabbit did not twitch as my fingers nestled into the soft neck folds. My mothers hand drifted over my other hand and guided me to the knife. Bay and Yarrow and so many others were whispering me encouragement. It’s heart tapped against my thumb to a quickening beat. Drifting the knife over I wavered but Yarrow cheered me on. The whole table smiling at me like it was my first baby steps. I wanted to talk to you little rabbit. To place you on the grass and let you run free. To say a hundred sweet calming things as I did to the pets I owned as a child. But the knife was already parting your throat and your warmth was spraying out across the nestled hay. That tick tick ticking was now nothing but warm punctured meat.
When I looked back my mum had already left without a word. I continued to stroke the rabbit.
‘There is love from this Aspen.’ One of them, I think it was Bay, said to me. ‘You must honour them. Never let them go to waste. That’s the meaning of the hunt. Now turn them on their back and pinch the skin so your knife can make a slit easier.’
A few had already flung the skinned rabbits into the large bowl in the center. I followed the instructions and Yarrow helped hold it in place when I tugged at the flap of skin over the legs. Cutting through the sinew and strings. Into the dark oval bowl I placed it. Amongst it’s own as my own wiped their hands on paper towels and raised a glass. The deed was done. I scraped the purple viscera from my nails and downed another shot.
‘Now we de-core the apples and snap the rhubarb. Our work is never done.’
A knot gathered in my throat. It held me there motionless as my eyes bulged with an intense heat. Threatening to burst all I saw was my body hover over the cobbled ground. All I felt was cloth and rope. I had been hung. But it wasn’t me. No. I was somewhere else in a car. This was another person and I was merely inside. Shallow enough to feel just an echo of the throbbing violent pain. A passerby watching, with chin tucked to chest, as urine sprayed out across the rocks. A great shift and I felt myself slipping through the folds of skin. Falling out. My vision covered in a wet red and purple smear until light breached and I was free. Ejected, I looked up at the hung woman I was once inside. I knew those swollen blue eyes were vacant, but the feeling of her watching was so powerful I wanted to just weep there in the pool of blood and juices. A clacking of shoes approached.
A buzzer scraped through my head jolting me up. A large gate to the front of a property was retracting back automatically.
‘Play that song again Mum.’ Cora said from the back seat. I wondered just how long had I drifted off for.
‘No I can’t listen to it for a third time. We’re almost there so just let the next track come on.’
‘Come on, it’s my weekend. Let’s arrive there upbeat. I don’t want to listen to this old stuff.’ Cora continued as I pressed my temple against the cold glass of the door just waiting for it to end. If I could sleep in the car I would.
‘Let Aspen choose. You there Aspen?’ Mum waved her hand towards me but I barely moved. I grunted to show I was awake. My body body felt off. It was tight like breaking in a smaller pair of gloves. You could feel the second skin stretch.
‘What are the choices?’ I asked.
‘I want Spice Up Your Life but mum wants some Talking Heads old thing.’
‘It came out in the eighties. It’s not old at all. You know it Aspen, it’s Road to Nowhere.’
‘You know Spice Up Your Life is about crack right?’
‘Shut up!’ Cora shouted.
‘You and your friends all dressed up and sang it all the time. You made us watch you perform it.’
‘Yeah it’s got instructions on cooking meth.’
‘You’re talking shit Aspen.’ Cora said as mum beeped the horn.
‘No arguments. Okay. Aspen you’ve ruined it so we’ll just press random and listen to whatever comes on the playlist next.’ Mum fiddled with the buttons as I spotted another car approaching the gate too.
‘Here, I’ll sort that out while you drive.’ I clicked the small skip track button as we ventured onto the private land. As the gospel singing of mums choice ran through the car I stared out the window. Past the gate yellowing trees were fat and heavy with clusters of red berries. Like a pox the berries had filled the entire woods with a bloody sheen. And just as I began to wonder what they were the trees parted and the spa house stood proud over the trimmed green grass.
‘You used to live here?’Cora asked as she stuck her head forward to get a better look. I was surprised she could move so well considering she was as swollen as a gourd. I couldn’t believe a person could live in a place that large. You could house a small convent inside. It was amazing we had never heard of it let alone visited it.
‘The family still owns it. We rent it out mostly for private events.’
‘How come this is the first time we’re visiting it? I’d come here every summer if I had the chance.’ Cora said as she stroked her belly.
‘Because I like our space.’ Mum said. I could see on her face that there was more to it. We rarely saw our family except for Christmas when our Aunt Janet and her kids would visit. Janet was the youngest and was quite care free. Her two kids on the other hand were spoiled rotten. Maybe that was why Mum kept us removed from this side of the family, to protect us from becoming self-entitled brats. But there was a moment when I spied on Janet and mum talking about the past. Everyone except those two had gone to bed but I couldn’t sleep. I had caught sight of them on the decking in the back garden stood in the snow as Janet pressed her hand on our tree. As steam rose from their mouths I heard them speak about another sister called Lana. It was the first time I had seen my mother cry as she flung the last glass of red wine over the snow like a blood spatter. After that I rooted through all the house to find anything related to Lana but there was nothing.
The manor house turned spa stood proud over the gravel entrance and surrounding twice a week trimmed grass. A red streak of ivy ran across the front like a deep cut across the face that had been wrenched open and left to bleed down across the yellowing stone. The front of the building reminded me of the Jane Austen films Cora would make us watch when we were hungover in our teens. The clacking of the horse-drawn carriage and Cora’s deep sighs at those being the better times. I twisted my head and Cora was wide-eyed and dreaming. I had to check where her hands were to see if she was pinching herself. It made me happy to see her forget everything for even just a second. To not have to delve deep back into that hole filled with missing posters and baby worries.
‘Can we live here?’ Cora asked but Mum said nothing. She kept her eyes on the end of the road where the other cars had parked. There were six parked and one behind us. I had always wanted to ask her why she never spoke of her dead sister. But then she would change again. Further turning inward on herself until all we saw of our mum was this hard shell. My mum turned into the closest spot on the driveway and I went to the boot as her and Cora gathered their things. Just stepping down on the ground filled me with this overwhelming sense of comfort. If there was anything stressing me out or I needed healing then I would slide my shoes off and step barefoot onto the ground. It was electric.
‘Put your shoes back on.’ Mum said as she helped Cora wrangle herself and the belly full of baby out the car.
‘No need for shoes here. Hey there!’ A ladies voice bellowed out from the concrete steps leading to the large door. To call her an old lady was a disservice. She was the woman from the denture commercials, the actress who grew old with grace, those yogi woman who lived her life one pose at a time. She was definitely the right person to run a spa hotel. Turning to greet her too quickly I felt Cora’s suitcase slip from the boot. Suddenly I was not all smiles as the reinforced hard shell suitcase corner cracked my big toe.
‘Fuck,’ I shouted as the suitcase tumbled onto it’s side and I reeled back.
‘Jesus Christ Aspen,’ Mum spat out without even craning her neck around to check on me. I stared down in disbelief as my throbbing toe began to bleed out like a burst zit.
‘Are you okay there?’ The spa lady said as I continued to stare down. My face tingled and began to chill as the cracked half-open nail started to drain me like I had sprung a leak. Almost a perfect split across the top half of my toe nail. It reminded me of the hard boiled egg I had had for breakfast. The tip of the shell had been botched open you could see the cracks and runny yolk. It all went white.
When a person or neighbour in your village cries out “troll”, lock your children inside the house and keep your hunting rifle by your side. I used to believe they were only children’s tales supposed to scare the kids from stepping deep into caves or under bridges. They had bright pink hair and you stuck them onto the end of your pencil. There was nothing to fear because they were nowhere to be seen.
This all changed a few years ago. I was walking Hunter through the forest on a warm Summer’s day. He was off the lead and jumping through bushes and hopping over streams and rarely waited for me. But when I stopped to tie my shoes I looked up and he was gone. There was nothing but the faint groans of pigs. I moved through the bushes closer to the noise and to stop Hunter from scaring the animals. Clearing through the bushes I saw what looked like three children all dressed in black. They were hopping around the front of a cave and throwing something between them. I stepped closer and noticed they were not children at all. Standing four-foot-tall and covered in wiry black fur. They squatted at the entrance and squealed as they chucked something against the rocks. Stamping the ground and smashing their swollen grey hands down onto the item like they were pressing grapes for wine. Their faces were a mess of mangy hair and bulbous snout covered in warts. For a second I caught sight of their small pebble black eyes scan the trees. I stood horrified as one flung the creature they had been stomping on to the other. Amidst all the blood I saw one of the trolls spinning Hunter’s collar between its fingers. They were throwing my German Shepherd around like he was nothing more than a wet towel. They squealed and painted their cave red with his blood. Only after some time had passed, they finally grew bored and lazily clambered back into the darkness. As I stood there paralysed in fear the last thing I heard where the echoed howls of twenty more.
When I returned to the village and told them of the trolls the older men looked at me displeased. They said they had warned us many times of the trolls, but no-one listened. It was several days later when I heard that they had built a fence around the cave and done nothing more. Looking back now I agree with how they handled it. It was too much of a risk to try and fight them as an angry troll will often follow you home and sniff out your loved ones. Best to let them lay in their caves and hope you don’t catch their eye.
No matter how much we cleaned the rooms and scrubbed the floors I could never escape that jittering restlessness I had as a child when visiting my grandad. Outside of the semi-detached castle my memories of him are cherished. Sitting at the head of the table at the pubs we would visit for Sunday roast, letting his hand get wet from the frosted glass of his second Guinness in his paws, as he played babysitter and the fool. But inside his castle, amongst all his familiar things, the mask would drop. I could never escape that feeling of unease since he slapped me. After that when visiting I would sit still on the edge of the sofa. Accept a biscuit and cup of tea. Tell him how school – college – work was. Then wait for that thirty minutes to go by before I made my excuses. He’d nod and hug me goodbye. He knew how it worked now.
‘Bit of a ride but you know Burton always has the best fish and chips.’ My mum said as she closed the front door behind her and dropped the white plastic bags on the living room table. I sat up from the sofa and closed the heavy photo album.
‘I’ll get the knives and forks. You want any sauce or vinegar?’ I said sliding the photo-album under the sofa for later.
‘Ketchup is great – no, vinegar. I asked them to basically drown those chips in it on your request. I’m going to go wash my hands.’ I saw her hesitate for a second before pushing through the door to the downstairs bathroom beside the kitchen. I had forgotten about it too throughout the day while cleaning up. It was like a parasite wriggling under your skin every now and then just to remind you it was still there. I would rather piss in the sink than sit on that toilet. A blue streak passed the window causing me to flick my head in its direction. There was nothing there, but I had to check. Pressing my face close to the glass I could only make out the whistling branches caught in the nights wind. There was no place for a person to hide in the small patio garden with its dotted plant pots and swaying tree. Continue reading “The Bedite Borrows”
Oliver had spent the rest of that evening weighing up the invitation. There was nothing else, no small lead or person he knew who could help. It was only Una and Caspar. Even if she could not fully help then perhaps she had knowledge of something that could. Her son had the same affliction. Oliver wondered if he would ask the boy about the moth.
After his conversation with Caspar he had thanked the man and withdrew to his room. The slip of paper with the address of where Una was staying and Caspar’s number burned in his pocket. He lay that evening on his bed with an ice pack wrapped around his neck. Between small naps he watched trashy TV shows and documentaries on animals. He was worried about the hag. Caspar seemed to think it would come for him. It had found something in him the man had said. Oliver gripped the oversized straw the hotel waiter had given him, and drank the remainder of the orange juice.
Checking the jotted-down address he saw it was a day or two drive north with the fastest method being by train. He would pack first and then head down to the help desk and have them order a taxi.
Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter Four”
Autumn leaves were scattered over the black water. Wrinkled and crumbling they floated almost still in shades of sun-burnt orange and maple browns. Clinging to Olivers pale skin. Waist high in the water he tread forward. The floor below was loose and shifting between his toes. He could see something in the distance. Piercing the black sky and water on the horizon. Leaves clung to his skin as he waded through them. Sliding over his stomach they wavered. Connecting to one another they trailed from behind like a brides gown. Tree trunk. Oliver stood in front of it now. The great remains of a tree split open at the base. Carved out like a butchered cow. The gathering leaves floated ahead of him and into it’s split wooden mouth. Touching the shadow within they began to twitch and jerk. Clustering together into one great ball of wriggling life; Droplets of yellow oil began to cover the bark surrounding the mouth. As if it was sweating out a virus, the yellow sap seeped through the cracks from within the wood framing it.
Was it open?
The leaves floated back towards him. Clustered over the water they flapped with abandon. Twig legs struggling to turn itself over. They were not leaves anymore. Oliver felt them find solace on him. Pricking his skin to compose themselves, they crawled one on top of the other. No part of him was safe. Fluttering to dry their wings they crept upwards. No patch of skin free from their needle-like feet. Raising his arms out they followed over and up his neck. They were no longer dead leaves. Moths transformed anew. They would crawl into his mouth if he opened it. He could let them.
Was it open?
The window frame.
Was it open?
The yellow mouth of misshapen wood began to bleed its yellow mess all over now.
She was close. Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter Three”
A mist encroached the hardening woods. Covering the dead autumnal leaves and foliage in a crisp shaving of ice. Gary Tumnal had found peace in those early mornings where the birds barely sang. He would leave the warmth of his bed and wife for a chance to hike out into the vast forest. She never understood it but there was a wonder out there only Gary knew. It swallowed all the thoughts and pressures of his daily life – giving him a sense of peace. He had scoffed at his wife when she referred to his practice as meditative. It was enough to curl the bottom of his lip up like a dog snarling. How could she call me a fucking hippie he thought. He was a man who knew what he liked. He drank ales and enjoyed lifting weights. There was nothing peculiar about him.
He stooped down over a muddy creak and scanned through the dark water to see how deep it was. The floating specks and mulch made it look deceptively shallow. Gary chose to walk around it until he could find a way to cross. He had gone further into the woods this morning. He had seen a pattern emerging from last year. After a severe argument with his wife he remembered slamming the door to his kitchen and retreating upstairs. Smashing his hand against the window frame he glanced out over the town view and stopped dead in his tracks. Swiped clean of all rage and bitterness he stared deep into the matchstick rows of trees fading out. There was a scratching sound or perhaps pressure. Like a spinning top on a wooden desk it peaked every now and then before the scratch would turn to a dull hum.
Through discussions with his boss and meals at their families Gary felt that scratch linger. Every night he would linger in his bathroom before bed, opening up the window to catch sight of the trees. Alittle piece of his soul seemed to float further ahead and into the unknown where the woods began. It wasn’t until he had heard the news from the doctors did he finally take his first step. Dropping his wife off at her mums he fumbled with an excuse to putting extra time in at work before taking off. He didn’t feel guilty – “she had her shows to watch” he reasoned to himself. Parking his car in the back parking lot of the church he stepped out and walked. He walked over puddle ridden pathways and through squelching grasslands. He walked a whole hour out until all he could see was bark and branches. Then, kneeling down, he placed his hands over his face and wept. Beyond the scratch something had finally turned loose and a great wave of emotion poured out. Long snotty snorts and blubbering wails resonated out from between his cupped hands. He pushed his body down further into the dirt and grass. Welcoming the cool touch of something natural on his bare skin. Stretching his arms out he pushed his hands out into the ground. Digging hands into the mud and pulling it all away. The base layer of dried leaves and rocks gave way to wet soil. Wet soil sunk between his webbing until roots found his grasp. Like a loose thread he wrapped them round his fingers and pulled it out. The spinning-top scratched harder around the bone of his inner skull. Smelling that mix of dirt in the air fuelled him on with excitement. He tore the roots out fully but that wasn’t enough. He needed to corrupt them more. Sinking his teeth around them, he pushed them to the back molars and crunched down hard. Gnashing the root to paste as tears streamed down his eyes and rolled off the chin. Poison bled out and filled his mouth like a dry paste. He needed it. It was his initiation. His ritual for the woods. For the scratching. Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter Two”
Oliver stared at himself in the circular mirror. Wiping the condensation from the surface he saw the air gather against it and droplets pool together before sliding down. This was his second shower of the evening. He stood there in the spray, letting the force crash against his face and closed eyes. Gradually turning the temperature dial one peg colder each time until unbearable. Then with gritted teeth and clenched muscles he counted down to ten. Never reaching zero, switching back to five again and again, until he could not cope with the sharp sting of the icy water. The shower had done its purpose though; he was more awake than ever.
The plughole gurgled and spat across from him. A shadow darted over the sink upwards, Oliver span his head to see the fluttering of a moth attempting to land on the cornflower yellow wall.
It was barely alive, trying to cling to the everlasting halogen star that hung from the ceiling. Oliver leaned in, holding his breath. The head was bleached white like a tiny skeletal man with a dusty brown anorak on. He dared not blink for the bug could, within that split second, crawl onto his face. Cupping his hand against the wall, he gently blew against the insect until it scuttled into his palm. Before it could retreat, the hand closed. Little skeletal man legs scratched between the folds to no avail. Oliver listened to the wind whistle from the window. The image of a sour yellow window-frame appeared in his mind. Slowly but surely it grew closer from the dark recesses. Everything had started with a choice and Oliver knew he had the freedom to deny what was given to him back then.
He squeezed his hand tight around the moth. Chewing it between the fingers until only dust remained. A change of scenery was needed. Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter One”