Cedars Upper Odyssey: episode two
Snow is startled awake by the loud sharp snap of a twig breaking. Someone’s here. Someone has found her. She lifts her head from her mossy pillow, cautiously. Perhaps they won’t notice her if she stays still. She has been dreaming. In her dreams, she heard chanting, monotonous chanting, repeating the same thing, over and over. It was strangely comforting. In her dreams, there was a crowd of people in a forest clearing, standing in a large circle. In the centre of the circle, there was a mirror.
Another twig snaps, the sound comes from further off, now. Snow arcs her head round, sharply. Who’s there? She can’t see anyone. But she can feel … something. A presence. She stays still, and silent, for a few minutes longer, and then gently, quietly, she gets to her feet.
She peers through the leaves towards the place where the sounds have come from. There’s a blur of movement, there one moment, and now gone, in a clearing a little way off. The clearing is different … changed, but it’s the clearing from her dream. It’s unmistakable. Was it really a dream? Snow can’t be so sure, now. That big tree just off to one side is the same, she is sure of it - covered in brambles now, but the trunk is recognisable. The place looks forgotten, abandoned. Lost in time.
And then the sunlight glints off a shining object in the very centre of the clearing, and Snow realises that the mirror is still there. Waiting. Is it waiting for her? Is it a magic mirror? Perhaps it will show her what to do. Show her where to go to be safe at last. Snow steps forward and into the clearing.
* * * * * *
When Kylie reaches the edge of the forest she slows down. She’s run all the way out here without stopping. Her heart is pounding in her chest, and she’s finding it hard to draw breath. She doubles over, just for a moment, and her head clears a little. She hasn’t thought this through. Typical Kylie, just reacting and not thinking, and this wouldn’t be the first time that kind of thing has got her into trouble. She hasn’t brought anything with her. No food, no warm clothes, no nothing. She’s going to have to go back, of course. That was pretty obvious right from the start. But she doesn’t want to do back. What’s the point in going back? What would happen if she didn’t go back. Anything might happen, that’s what. Anything. All of a sudden, a little excitement blooms inside her. Things can’t really get much worse, can they? And if they can’t get worse then they could get better, couldn’t they?
Kylie waits until she can breathe easier, and then she straightens up.
Right in front of her, just at the edge of the clearing, is a man with an axe. The same man, she knows it in an instant. The same man as before, when the car crashed. The same axe. Kylie screams, but the scream is trapped in her throat and only a squeak comes out. The forest spins around her, and Kylie feels her head hitting the hard ground. Just before she blacks out completely, she sees the man walk past her. He doesn’t seem to even notice her. He looks … strange. Like something from the past. Then, Kylie watches the forest slip silently away from her, and everything goes dark.
* * * * * *
On second thoughts a teddy bear’s picnic seems a little bit too old fashioned, eh? What do you think, Ronald? As usual there’s no reply, but the old man doesn’t take this amiss. He’s used to filling in Ronald’s side of the conversation. Prefers it that way, if he’s honest. Some of his best ideas have come to him through Ronald, and one of those sorts of ideas is coming right now, he can feel it, flitting about waiting to be caught. Ah yes, a really, really good one.
Perhaps a playground might be a better scene. More modern, certainly. Something that will be right at home for the modern audience. Swings, a slide, a roundabout, maybe. With a touch of mystery, too. Always something sinister about a deserted playground, isn’t there? What happens to the roundabout where there’s no children about? He sniggers. Perhaps just one, lone child, then. Perhaps just one, little, lonely child asleep … or, well, that would remain to be seen, wouldn’t it? Depends on what materials are available, of course.
There’s one, over there. Right sort of age, right sort of look. She seems to be all alone, too. Maybe he could read her a story from his book. Something a bit scary, something to give her that particular rabbit-in-the-headlights look in the eyes that he loves so much. Hansel and Gretel, perhaps. But with a different ending, of course. Not that happy sappy kids get back home ending. No, not that. Something with a little more trauma. Trauma’s good.
But this one isn’t alone. She’s got a mother, keeping an eye out, waiting to swoop. Mother’s don’t like him, much. Don’t seem comfortable with him. He waves cheerily, just to give the mother something to think about, and moves on.
Soulful little things who want to be alone, there’ll be plenty of those up in the woods. Communing with nature, enjoying the peace and quiet, that kind of rubbish. He sniggers again. Bound to find one of the right sort, somewhere roundabouts.
* * * * * *
It takes a little while for Serié to get the fire going enough for the book to catch light, but after a few moments it’s burning brightly. She watches the pages curl inwards and smoulder, until the whole book is blazing. Once there is nothing of the book left, Serié throws earth and then stamps on the fire, until she’s sure it’s gone out. The trees lean in on her, as if they are watching. She looks up at the sky, through them. The first stars are just beginning to come out, and it’s time to get back to the orphanage. Even though the orphanage has been where she’s lived for almost as long as she can remember, Serié has never once thought of it as home. Still, the people there care about her, she knows that, and it’s time to get back.
On the way back, Serié passes someone coming the other way. Oh, it’s him. That creepy old guy. Just looking at him always makes her flesh crawl, so she doesn’t look. She ignores him and hurries onward.
Once back in her room, she puts her coat across the chair and flings herself down on her bed. There’s something hard, just under the duvet. She pulls back the covers. There, in the centre of her bed, with not even a black smudge on the cover, is The Book. She can see clearly that it’s the same book, with her name in gold on the front. But she burned it. She stood there and she watched it burn. So how did it get back here? And not a scratch on it?
With trembling hands Serié picks up the book. Something flutters out from the front cover. It’s a note, and there’s writing on it, in old fashioned, spidery handwriting. The ink is rusty coloured. The note reads: A worthy try, Serié, but this is your past, your present and your future, and there is no running from it.
Serié’s mind is blank. What should she do now? She has no idea.
* * * * * *
Nathan has no plan in mind, no destination, almost no thoughts at all. He can feel The Blood Beast, now, he can sense it drawing nearer and nearer, and the feeling consumes him. The fog in Tenebris Forest is without end, and he is passing from the familiar part of the forest, where he has eked out his existence for these past few decades, and into the utter dark. The black trunks around him seem ominous, now. They surround him, close in upon him, haunt him. At night he dreams such strange dreams, and the blood runs freely within his mind.
During these strange dreams, Nathan walks. He wakes up, with the morning light just beginning to stutter through the dark canopy, amidst strange trees, with no idea where he is. Now, even as he falls into uneasy slumber, he holds the axe close to him at all times. It is the only thing he has left in the world.
The further into Tenebris he walks, the more Nathan is losing his sense of himself. Even Oren, now, is far from his mind. He has left the memory of her somewhere amongst the trees of his old camp, along with his cooking pot, his flint and his tinder. Those things are all far from him now. He doesn’t need them anymore. The beast, and the blood travel with him.
Suddenly, Nathan hears a stirring in the trees. Is his long search drawing to a close at last? Nathan begins to run and, as he runs, he howls, a long and lonely howl.
* * * * * *
When she peers inside the door her necklace has opened in the tree trunk, it’s completely black. She’s scared, really scared. She doesn’t want to go in there. Not into that blackness. But the trees have guided her here, the trees have whispered to her, and there must be a reason for all this. The trees give her comfort. For the first time in a long time she feels that she might have a purpose.
Holding a bright clear picture of a sunny glade deep within her mind, she steps into the pitch blackness inside the tree. She hears a low murmuring, like a thousand voices all whispering at once. And then the murmuring becomes louder until it’s like a tornado in her ears. Her skin is buffeted as if by a strong wind, and she has the sensation that she’s in motion. She’s moving, fast, and then faster, faster than she’s ever travelled in her life before, all while standing perfectly still. Where is she going? Help me!
And then it all stops. The tornado fades, until all is silence. Blackness.
She needs to open her eyes. She doesn’t want to open her eyes. She’s too scared of what she might find. What might she find?
She steps forward, and opens her eyes.