There are always two sides to everything and it is always fascinating to look at things from more than one perspective, but with fiction we can go right to the edge.
We can be taken to that dark corner . . . just enough to be out of our comfort zone without it being a big deal . . . but this is all the more effective when it is close to being real - or at least . . . you can believe it to be.
Enjoy this short tale set in the heart of the English countryside late one spring. It didn’t turn out quite as Sue Lamond expected!
At the end of the story I share with you where I got the inspiration for the idea from.
THE WOMAN OF THE WOOD
‘She’ll be here soon’ she thought to herself as she leaned against the small wooden style that marked the entrance to the ancient woodland.
Their rendezvous was six o’clock at the old outbuilding marked on the map at the far west of Trevalyon wood. She imagined that Tim and Robin would probably already be delving deliciously into the deep undergrowth surrounding the rich woodland rides that, according to the map, were plentiful throughout. She could visualise Tim with his camera almost ‘tasting’ the insect life – he was a complete boffin, but a very likeable one. And Robin . . . with his knowledge of woodland plants would surely have a tale or two to tell when they meet up later that evening. But Sue had to wait for a Miss Evie Pollard, the lady from Woodland Britain who should have showed up by now! She slipped her hand into her jacket pocket to reach for her mobile for what must have been about the fourth time - still no signal!
The rays of spring sun filtered through the trees concentrating a beam of warmth onto the back of her neck, and as they did so she felt a longing to be able to start her exploration of this invitingly ancient site. Her great love was for its larger inhabitants, she had based her dissertation when she graduated from university on the urban fox and it’s effect on woodland ecology. The prospect of an opportunity for discovering any new colony of creatures inhabiting Britain’s timeless greenery always excited her.
They would most probably be waiting for her, that was usually the case. She looked forward to seeing them every time, but this was different. Somehow, she knew her arrival at the cottage today was significant.
She could see the outline image of the familiar building sharpen between the greenery, ever clearer as she struggled closer towards it. Once there, she laid down on the wooden seat in front of the quaint old building. She felt tired and weak, but they would all be there and she was just glad to have them around her. At ease now, she sunk into a deep and peaceful sleep.
She awoke with a start. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep at all. The others should arrive soon but she had apparently beaten them to this unusual spot at the west edge of the wood - their agreed rendezvous. With her usual dose of enthusiasm, she had made both mental and physical notes on her way through. She’d seen much of interest.
It was the sound of low voices nearby that awoke her. She sat up quickly, quite shocked at having allowed herself to doze off. She rose to her feet ready to greet the two men as they came into view.
“By jove, you’ve beaten us to it!” exclaimed the stouter of the two men as he looked at his watch with a look of mild surprise showing in his eyes. Both men were surprised to see that their friend had arrived before them, but she seemed to be alone!
“Not got her highness with you then?” asked Tim, as he carefully replaced the lens cap on his already well used camera.
“No.” replied Sue. “Well, you see, I waited. I waited for ages - tried to ring her mobile but I couldn’t get a signal. I’m hoping she’ll just be here as agreed . . . like any time now!”
“What did you say her name was again?”
“Evie Pollard, I think she’s a ‘Miss’.”
“Goodness, did you see that?” Sue remarked, instantly distracted by movement in the long grass twenty yards or so to her left. Both men seemed mildly surprised, they hadn’t actually seen the fox that appeared suddenly from the undergrowth to their right;
“Quite unusual - to see a fox in a woodland area like this.” Commented Sue.
“This point we’ve agreed for a rendezvous, - it isn’t very significant,” remarked Robin, the other man.
“No, I thought that too. The conservation map actually shows a building here but it just seems to be remains now. We were working from the same map though, I’m sure it won’t be a problem. She seemed to be quite switched on when I spoke to her.”
“So you have spoken to her directly?” Robin raised his eyebrows sharply.
“Yes, the other day, just briefly. It was a bad line but we were clear about the time and place to meet up. It’s just that she was supposed to meet me at the entrance first and we were going to have a gentle saunter through. As it is, after waiting for ages I’ve had to rush a bit to get here.”
A disturbance from above caused Robin to look up. Not just one, two, or three, but four squirrels were all busily scurrying between the branches. But no sooner had the other two followed his gaze and the attention of all three was suddenly diverted towards a shuffling sound coming from the trees behind them:
“Ahh!” came the voice. A woman perhaps in her late sixties emerged, stick in hand, dressed in a three-quarter length brown skirt that allowed just a glimpse of the heavily stocking-clad legs beneath. Sue thought she seemed a little old-fashioned and somewhat overdressed for such a warm day.
“It’s lovely to see you here.” continued the woman, “Have you seen them? Are they all still here?” She looked around at three puzzled faces. “The creatures . . . that’s what you’re here to see isn’t it?” Now it was the woman's turn to seem puzzled.
“Good, good” replied the woman gazing dreamily towards the now setting sun.
There was an awkward pause before the elderly lady looked around then suddenly turned. She prodded her stick into the ground as if expecting to find something.
“Well, this is all wrong!” she muttered, peering into the long grass as she began shuffling away from the trio towards the trees with haste.
“Wait a minute . . . Evie!” called Sue, but the quaint old figure didn’t respond. She just walked off, back into the trees from where she’d come. Sue glanced at her companions. After just a moment’s hesitation all three made their way after her. Surely they were owed an explanation, she couldn’t simply turn up late as the representative of a national conservation body and then just leave without so much as word on the subject!
The three followed her into the trees but to no avail - she was nowhere to be seen . . . gone as quickly as she had come!
“What a cheek, and after I spent half the day waiting for her,” protested Sue indignantly.
They had not to wait another moment before they heard movement in the trees once more. They looked up, but it was a different face that now appeared through the foliage; - a much younger one;
“Ahh!” began a cheerful enthusiastic voice; “Evie Pollard,” she offered her hand to the two men, “and you must be Sue Lamond? We spoke on the phone. . .”
he three stood silent as they looked blankly at each other. Evie continued enthusiastically;
“I’m so sorry for the delay, as always I got caught up looking over some stuff about the place. I've not actually been here before you see, and I always like to research a new venue thoroughly.”
The new arrival looked around slightly awkwardly at the three somewhat bemused faces. Perhaps now would be a good moment to share what she’d found.
“You know it’s amazing what you can discover online. This woodland has a quaint old history. There was apparently a ‘Woman of the wood’ that once lived here in an old cottage. She had an affinity with animals and they used to gather at her cottage . . . in fact, it would be just about here where we are standing. Well, anyway, one spring morning she was found dead outside her home. It seemed she had passed peacefully away in her sleep. She lived a solitary life but was well known to the locals and she had often stated with some passion that whom so ever enters this wood always has a duty to care for all wildlife. Apparently she went on to say that when she was no longer on this earth she would still be watching over them and checking up on everyone who ever passes through the wood.”
Where did this idea come from?
This is a strange tale that we can all identify with. We've all come across someone who just didn't quite add up but we didn't want to go there and find out any more. The events on this story are a tiny bit similar to something that I remembered from many years ago:
Somewhere back in the late nineteen-eighties when I was a teenager my mum worked in a school right in the middle of a wood. One year around about late May she told me about some guy who just appeared one day. He was glimpsed by a few in the surrounding woodland and suspicions were soon aroused as he was dressed strangely in a long tunic that covered him, making him look rather like some representative of a religious order. It soon became the common view that this illusive guy was up to no good.
When he was eventually confronted he claimed to be a Franciscan Monk. The police were informed but couldn’t find him to talk to.
It seemed he had taken refuge hiding away deep in the wood but he was discovered and befriended by a couple of the more courageous female staff at the school. They took him food and hot soup, against the advice of colleagues who said he might be dangerous. He told them some of his story and it appeared he was indeed a genuine Franciscan Monk that had become separated from his order.
He disappeared the next day as quickly as he had come leaving no trace that he had ever been there.
The school building had been many things in the past and to this day it has many stories to tell. I had no doubt even at the time that this little event had been probably quite exaggerated, but it fascinated me all the same.
It gave me the seed of inspiration for writing this story.
I would love to know what you think. Has anything like this ever happened to you? . . .
Strange occurrences can trigger our imagination, they do for me - it's certainly one of the reasons I write, but remember, sometimes the truth is stranger than the fiction!
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