Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Prompt: Nothing ahead and danger behind

Thanks to Nuria for permission to use her hauntingly beautiful image, “Roots”!

Sarabel sat among the roots rambling beneath her, with only one small will-o-the-wisp floating above her for company. She had cried herself to a fitful sleep and didn’t want to be awake. Wanted this all to be a dream. Wasn’t it? Just a bad dream…

She’d said such awful things to Mama, pouring all her insecurities, all her fears of the future into her vitriolic temper tantrum. Why? She was too ashamed to remember. All she wanted to do was run back into the house and bury her head in Mama’s lap and tell her she loved her and beg her forgiveness. She would fetch water and cook and scrub the pots with sand till they were smooth clean if only she could find her way home.

When she ran out of the house, barefoot and wearing the undergown Mama had been fitting for her bridal gown, she hadn’t been thinking about where to go. Where she was going. She ran into the forest, and when she should have followed the path near the edge to Molly’s or even Porter’s house, she ran straight and true, feet flying across the deep leaf litter as if she knew every tripping root and stumbling stone by heart.

Her heart pounded and she gasped for breath, but she didn’t want to stop. Didn’t want to think. Didn’t want to let the shame and regret catch up with her. But she couldn’t run fast or far enough to escape them. Finally she threw herself to the ground, sobbing.

When she quieted, she slowly realized how quiet the forest was, too. And dark. She sat up and peered into the gloom. Surely it wasn’t night already? How had she found her way this far so easily? She pulled the long edges of her thin, white gown’s skirt and sleeves around her, shivering in the cool and gloom. Afraid to move, afraid to stay, she felt frozen in place.

A light slowly brightened in the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, she saw nothing, but she sat still, it brightened more and more. Another appeared, just above her forward sight. She couldn’t look up and catch a glimpse of it, but she knew it was there. And another pale glowing white light. And another. She stood up and brushed the leaves from her dress. If she looked down at the ground, she could almost see them bobbing around her. She took a step forward, and they surged to her right. She turned and took another step. They moved ahead of her. Another step, and they swayed to the left. She followed them in careful, dancing steps through the trees.

Whenever she looked up, they drifted above her head, out of clear sight, leaving just enough light to cast a dim glow around her. She didn’t recognize anything. She couldn’t hear anything from the village. Surely someone was searching for her? Had she wounded Mama so much she wouldn’t send anyone?

She looked back down and continued her dance with the white lights. She knew they were will-o-the-wisps, knew they could lead her astray. Somehow, she trusted them, sensing gentle kindness and joy in their dance. As long as she followed them, she felt no fear. So she placed her trust in them to lead them where they would.

When the growls sounded from the darkness behind her, the lights blinked out. Sarabel froze. Had they led her to danger and abandoned her? One flashed quickly beside her left cheek, and she was reassured they were still there, hiding from whatever else was in the forest nearby. Her dress gleamed in the darkness. She pressed up against a tree and hoped she was as invisible as the wisps.

The rumbling growl sounded low and steady. She heard padded steps through the leaves, moving closer. Her heart beat so loudly, she feared it would give her away. When the creature roared, she bolted and ran through the darkness.

Once again, her feet found their way through the dark woods with a speed and grace she could not have imagined. The wisps showed quick flashes to help guide her. The creature roared and crashed behind her. At any moment, she expected to feel sharp claws, hot breath, killing fangs sinking into her back.

Up ahead, there was light. She ran desperately toward it. Two trees leaned together, combining above her head, and the wisps flashed between them and disappeared. Sarabel felt the ground shaking beneath her as the creature was almost on top of her. She dove through the trees and stumbled on the roots that her feet had avoided so easily until now. She cried out, expecting death.

Silence. The creature didn’t follow. She lay among the roots and looked around. The trees had disappeared, and in their place stood a stone arch. Carved men stood in front of the decorated columns, while cherubs and a lion took the place of gargoyles. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Through the arch, she saw the woods she had escaped, the roots flowing out around her. But on this side, there was nothing. No trees, no light, no sign of life.

She reached a timid hand toward the arch, and as it passed through the middle, she heard the snarling of the creature, cheated of its prey. She snatched her hand back and buried her face against her knees. Looking up once more, she saw a pale light still floating near her right eye. She didn’t know when she drifted to sleep.

Sarabel sat among the roots rambling beneath her, with only one small will-o-the-wisp floating above her for company. She had cried herself to a fitful sleep and didn’t want to be awake. Wanted this all to be a dream. Wasn’t it? Just a bad dream…

Dogs in house
Houdini, Brindle
Time writing:
30 minutes
October word count:


  1. Prompt: Nothing ahead and danger behind

    I stumbled over roots and fell to my knees and elbows. I could hear the roar of the beasts behind us, and the yells of their handlers. So close! We could not fail now.

    A strangled scream, far behind. A wail, closer: “Rylan!” It was Evema’s voice.

    The beasts had stopped roaring and instead sickening crunches filled the forest. Gods, one had gotten him.

    “Run! Run, while they’re occupied!” Vinrot tugged on Evema, dragging her behind him.

    I vomited onto my hands as I pushed myself up and stumbled ahead. I could see the gate, in flashes through the trees. Just one of us had to make it. Just one of us needed to pass through to the Mages’ land, to deliver the message and save the world.

    “No, Evema! There’s nothing you can do!”

    I looked behind me. Evema had broken free of Vinrot’s grip and was running back towards the gastly sounds. I caught Vinrot’s eye.

    “Make it,” he mouthed, then chased after Evema.

    I wiped my hands on my thighs and kept going. The gate was bare horselengths away, deceptively far due to the thickening of the forest right before the entrance. I fell forward as I crossed the threshold; tingling magic swept across my body like a waterfall.

    It was cool. The light was grey, but brighter than in the forest. I lifted my face from wet sand and squinted. I was on a beach. I turned. A deserted beach. Sand stretched out ahead, water behind, vanishing into a grey fog. Waves lapped softly, splashing against the gate behind me.

    Where were the Mages? Their cities? The temple of which this gate was meant to be a part?

    I buried my face in my arms and wept.

    Time writing: 25 minutes

  2. Oh, wow, I love the circular ending. Will she just keep doing the same thing? I hope she can escape!