24th Aug 2016, 12:00 AM
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LilyRose 24th Aug 2016, 12:00 AM edit delete
Chapter Ten

Stepping into the woods is like entering a spacious building, its roof a translucent green, its floor a carpet of loam. The light becomes muted; a soft shadow that soothes the heat of the day. At first it seems all quiet but then she realizes she’s hearing bird song; a few different kinds, it sounds like. She walks a few feet in and then wonders what the likelihood of her getting lost might be. She turns and looks back. Well, if she doesn’t walk any farther than she can see the house through the trees, then it shouldn’t be a problem. That settled, she walks in a little more.

A harsh sound overhead; a crow, or a couple of crows, loud bastards, sounds like they’re telling the rest of the woods that she’s barging her way through. No, that’s the same thinking as before, like she doesn’t belong here or something. “Hey, this is my property, sweetheart”, she says in the direction of the departing crows.

And then she is at the edge of the little stream, flowing along at an oblique angle, winding farther into the woods. It’s actually running kind of nicely today; the water level up to the moss overhangs of the banks, the surface sending off shimmers from the sunlight seeping through the canopy of leaves overhead. On an impulse, she kneels at the edge of it to put her hand in the water. The moss is so spongy and soft that she gets down on both bare knees; they sink into the green stuff like it was eiderdown. She dips her hand into the water. It is surprisingly cool; she takes some in her palm and rubs it over her face. That feels so good that she scoops up handfuls of cold, clear water and splashes herself silly with it. It feels absolutely wonderful. Almost as good as air conditioning.

Laura stands up, and dries her face on the front of her shirt. She can still see the house from here, which means that if she just walks along the stream, she really can’t get lost, because all she has to do to get back is follow it in the other direction. This thought reassures her, and she sets off stream side, with the sound of the birds and a quiet gurgling of the water accompanying her.

Babbling Brook, she thinks. It’s not a babble, though; it’s really more like a song. But it does sound like voices; that’s the truth. It’s a funny thing, but the more you listen to it, the more it really does sound like voices, making words, even if it’s no language she’s ever heard before.

They can only be seen if they want to be seen. That’s it; that’s what someone had said to her in her dream. The memory just appears as if it had been there all along. Someone said it and they said it here in the woods, or in some woods, a dream-woods that she supposes couldn’t have been this one because she doesn’t think she’s been back here more than a few times since they’ve owned the house. Maybe she’s never even been this far in.

There’s a fallen tree blocking her way; it had come crashing down and stretched right across the stream to the other side. The big trunk is furry and green with moss, and there are scalloped ridges of those fungus that grow up and down the trunks of dead and dying trees. She walks along the trunk till she comes to the stump, where the splintered wood of the original fall has been worn and softened by time and weather.

There is a young tree growing directly out of the rotting stump of the dead one. It’s trunk is long and slender, and the bark is totally smooth; almost a velvety, soft brown that looks more like skin than the bark of a tree. Laura knows she’s no horticultural expert but still, this looks like it has to be somewhat unusual. She follows the trunk up with her eyes; it’s amazingly tall, stretching way up toward the leafy canopy, where it forks into two long branches that reach up the rest of the way.

On an impulse she reaches out to touch the bark and it really does feel the way it looks; soft, kind of silky or velvety, and even a kind of warmth about it, as if it were skin. What kind of tree is this, anyway? The branches are so high she can’t see any leaves. The leaves laying on the ground are ones that she does recognize: oak, maple, beech. Pine needles.

She continues on, walking close to the edge of the stream. The ground seems flat but it must not be, since the water is flowing the way it is. The stream looks to be about five or six feet wide; more than she’d want to jump, at any rate. It’s very shallow; Laura can see the bed of stones clearly through the running water. Medium sized rocks, oblong and smoothed by the water’s eternal action, various shades of grey and brown, with a few whitish and yellowish ones here and there. The fireplace in the house is actually made from these water-polished stones; it was another selling point on the listing: creekstone hearth! But they are nice stones. Even when there were first shown the house, she’d had to admit it, and there’s something about seeing them here in their native habitat, as it were, that sort of tickles her. It’s pretty; the water and the stones and the sunlight. Shifting patterns of light and shade. She suddenly wishes that she’d brought her camera with her on this walk. Damn; had she even brought it up this weekend? She doesn’t know. She can’t really remember the last time she used it.

A little farther on she finds a metal pipe, painted red and buried in the ground close to the edge on the far side of the stream. Rebar, she thinks, that what they call those things, and it marks the far corner of the five acres. If she keeps walking she’ll be off her own property and on someone else’s land. But what the hell; it’s been a nice walk so far, and as long as she’s alongside the stream she knows she’s not going to get lost. She doesn’t know the neighbors, really, but she figures this land must belong to one of them. So she keeps walking, just following the water and listening to the birds. When she gets back to the city she can tell everyone how she ventured out into the forest all on her own, and survived. As long as she doesn’t start hearing banjo music.

What she does hear is the sound of rushing water. At this point she really doesn’t know how long she’s been walking anymore. Sort of lost track, there. But somewhere along the way a distant hiss has become a definite sound of water rushing and spilling and falling on rocks. It’s not exactly a roar, but if you could turn up the volume on it, it would be. A baby roar, you could call it. Yeah. It’s baby stream, so why shouldn’t it make a baby roar?

A little more walking, and she arrives at the source of the sound. The ground she’s walking on just sort of comes to an end; the trees all stop and then the grass becomes bare rock and that just stops and there’s a drop off into empty space. Laura inches up toward the edge, leaning forward to be able to see without getting too close. It’s not a terribly big drop; a rock overhang and then a really steep, craggy hill. Still, she wouldn’t want to accidentally fall off it.

Where the water of the stream spills over the edge it really is almost a vertical drop: random shelves of rock catch the water in descending levels so that together they make a symphony of waterfall noise. It’s hypnotic, watching the water falling like that, an endless sheet of glistening liquid, no beginning, no ending, just a constant flow that seems to come from and go into nowhere. It’s so constant that it has substance, this column of water. It could be glass, or ice. It feels so real.

“Oh, shit,” says Laura, spinning around. “I didn’t know you were th -”

There’s nobody there, even though she saw someone moving on her left, out of the corner of her eye. Her heart had jumped, when she’d seen it, but now it’s beating hard because she’s scared. She turns around; turns again: but whoever it was, he’s hiding. Has to be a he, no woman would do that to another woman out in the middle of the woods. Oh, fuck. This would have to happen to her. Oh, God; get me out of this one, please. I’ll never walk in the goddamned woods again.
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