You Can’t Get There From Here (Short Story)

 

She watched as tiny figures drowned the bracken ocean’€™s rippling tide. They followed the trail which wound up the gorge, skirting the tumbled rockery she lay, her supine form, lost in shifting shadow. Cool wind spoke of celandine and crushed nettle stalk; the sticky tension of rain, maybe not to come till evening. Mingled in the mountain’€™s breath, something else, which despite instinct and everything her mother taught her, she could not place.

Nearer, the melted figures formed into distinguishable shapes. Both Twolegs. The smaller, a girl, billowing outline gossamer bright, in the springtime sun, no threat even this close. Behind, striding purposeful, darker, taller, older, perhaps wiser, though you could never tell with a Twolegs, a man. His crumpled features, an immobile mask, as he peered after her. Pausing, he scanned the path they just trod, then plunged the chest high fern, cutting the corner, lest she swirl from his view in her haste.

The path they followed led to the quarry. A few untidy slabs, shaded by a stand of twisted trees, visited by dog walkers and noisy cubs. These two, the first she’€™d seen, since the long nights of winter. She assumed, hikers, kids on bikes, this mismatched pair, hailed from the angular cloud makers, which crowded the boundaries of her domain.

On a clear day, in the long moments before the sky circle sank behind the edge, it was possible to pick out movement, among the sombre cubes. Each indistinct figure, haloed with a fiery mane.

Sometimes she wondered if she should walk between the uniform boulders which squatted in cramp-snake lines. Then she might understand why they blinked their yellowing eyes throughout the long dark.

Where the stream stepped sideways, the couple paused. She on tiptoes him stooping, noses almost touching. It seemed they might settle together to the long grass and soak up the sun.

Without warning the girl spun away. As she pivoted, he caught her hand. For a few moments they struggled before she pulled free, stumbling a few paces more. Turning to face him, she spoke. A single short shriek, before she moved to follow the stony path. Now the man cried, a baritone bray, baring his teeth to the youngster’s back, before starting quickly after her.

Soon they would pass the granite wall which served as the porch to her lair. Their voice murmur, drifting up with the breeze, which ruffled the fur of her silvery neck. His slow and measured, bees busy on summer heather, contrasting the chirping girl, morning blackbird to his croaking jay.

No longer able to see, she snoozed and lulled by early insects in the flowers above, slept.

Sometime later, the day all but passed, cool and lichen grey, she woke, ears pricked, listening hard. Moving stealthily to the edge, tested the gloom, with a practised eye. There, a withered form, the girl from the morning, shivering and pulling the now muddied covering, to her fragile frame. For long moments she watched, the gurgle-glop of the stream the only accompaniment. Rain began, a few light spots shaking the canopy, heralding the coming storm.

For her, wet weather was a good time to hunt. Prey scurrying from dry place to dry place, less wary. Any telltales, marking her progress through the forest, lost to the pattering cacophony.

She allowed her eyes to drift up past the prickly roof of her watchtower to the mounting banks of cloud. As the rain came in earnest she again looked down to the girl, who now stood, arms straight, fists balled, oval face turned towards the skies. For a second they each looked, each seeing the other, contact held deep, eye within eye.

As the first flash of lightning fractured the sky, the girl set off at a run, back to the world from which she’d come.

 

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