we are a little different this year:
some contributions are exclusive stories, others are excerpts
from the authors' novels,
but all have our traditional format of...
Read the Story - Guess the Song
Here's a clue to the song title
The Great Forest
by Barbara Gaskell Denvil
The great forest stretched from north to south, and my cabin sat snug and content on the very edge of that northern border.
There was one room. I did not need anymore. The bed was a wooden platform and over it I had spread dead leaves, dried moss, one threadbare old woollen blanket next and a covering of fur from a huge bear I had long since discovered dead, poor creature. But even bears grow old and eventually die beneath the winter trees. I had skinned it, leaving the meat for the scavengers.
It was the pack of local wolves who had quickly found the fresh meat, and within hours the bones were clean of past life.
It was deep winter as I watched the wolves lope back amongst the trees. Most animals grew desperately hungry at this time of year, even me. I ate fruit, berries, nuts and the leaves from herbs, nettle soup and roots of other plants. The idea of eating meat made me slightly sick, but I sympathised with the wolves.
Only a few years ago, the wolves terrified everyone.
‘They will steal your baby from its crib.’
‘Wolves will surround your house at night, and rip you apart when you come out to collect water in the morning.’
Seeing the carcases they sometimes left, bones cracked and flesh ripped from the skeleton, folk believed this was how wolves would kill and devour. I knew differently having lived here for many years. Wolves would chase and eventually kill and eat another animal they could catch on the run. But they would not kill a human, unless the fool tried to attack them or were so starving, they had no other choice. They would certainly not creep into a hut at night to steal a baby.
I loved the wolves. I loved the eagles. They sat high on the leafless trees, their beaks closed in that incredible curve of menace, and their eyes golden as the sun. Once the wolves had finished with the flesh of the dead bear, so the birds came to take the last pieces.
Here there were moose, huge, so graceful, and their young would dance and kick as they followed their mothers. Sadly the packs of hungry wolves would indeed attack those recently born, being easier to bring down than the full grown and fierce adults.
Such amazing wildlife! The calls of the birds woke me each morning and the shuffle of the beavers and ferrets was like a sweet lullaby as I crawled into bed each night.
But other creatures also live in my great forest, and these are those that whisper my name in the night, whistling down my little chimney, swirling in dreadful sweeps of shadow and tap-tapping on my walls.
I always knew the hills were haunted, and the demons would slip down from the snow-clad slopes each evening as dusk whispers in the grasses, making me shiver each night as I try to sleep. I thought I would not care. I came here to live alone, to enjoy my privacy and walk in solitary peace through the beauty and wonder I adored. Isolation seems lonely to many. Folk avoid it and seek the comfort of village cottages close together, and surround themselves with family and friends.
However, I had always felt the opposite and never longed for company. Loving my own freedom and the beauty all around, I avoided those who would tell me how to live or expect me to care for them even before myself.
My younger brother, when I first made my plans as a boy, used to tease me about being scared. “Reckon you’re frightened,” he used to laugh. “That’s why you want to be all alone.”
“Rubbish,” I had told him, and meant it. But then I had been told of the demons.
The warning had been clear. ‘They howl at night. It is far worse than the wolves. The wolves call to each other with a call of territory or friendship. But the demons howl at you, threatening you and telling you never to leave your bed once the moon glides out.’
I’d answered. “I’m not afraid of demons.”
Unfortunately a lie. But of course, I hadn’t entirely believed at first. I wasn’t sure that ghosts were real, let alone demons. But now I know without doubt. They are all real. And so, for long years I slept every night in my warm bed and tried to sleep, eyes tight shut with my ears covered.
Was I frightened? Of course I damned well was. Whether silently swooping or marching heavy footed, every night belonged to such strange creatures while I tried desperately to sleep. Usually, I managed but it could take me hours.
Having chosen the joy of living out here in a wilderness of isolated beauty, how could I then admit to the fears of the night?
But, one night I was tired, not of the monsters I’d heard but never really seen, but of myself. Fear can also be called cowardice, and a little courage can bring amazing peace which is what I craved. So one night, absolutely determined, I waited until the birds, the animals were all quiet and sleeping, and then hopped out of bed again, swung open my door, and marched outside.
The winter night was chilly, but the half-moon gave light enough, and the milky sweep of stars blinked like a million pearls from the blackness above.
There was an owl sitting in the thick foliage of the giant fir tree beside my hut, and it stared down at me as I stared up at it. Then in complete silence, it spread its wings and flew up amongst those stars.
Looking around for the horrors of past nights, at first I saw nothing. But then I heard them. Whispering and cackling, I knew they were all around me. I heard their movements in the undergrowth long before I saw them, but as the darkness deepened, I began to see their shadows.
Like the swirl of a silken gown, something long with a silky sheen seemed to smother me. While fingers, thin and elongated, danced over my face and around my neck.
For a moment I was afraid of strangulation, but the fingers danced away again, tickling through my hair, then returning to their origin within their pale swirling skirts.
I stood there like an idiot, trying to think of something to say. Then another strange shape descended on me, wrapping its icy hands around my mouth. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, but I managed to pull away in time, and leaned back against the trunk of the fir tree.
“What are you?” I whispered.
“Your fear,” answered the shape.
“But I’m not afraid of you,” I lied. “That’s why I’ve come out tonight to face you. What are you?”
“We live here, always here,” said another swirling mass. This one seemed even more demon like, for its hands were curled around long spiked fingernails, and from out of the shadowed swirl, loomed a face. The nose was long, crooked and hooked, but it lacked eyelashes or eyebrows. The face was startlingly white. The eyes themselves were slits that held flashes of green, lit like threats whenever the moonshine caught the thing’s gaze. The mouth was huge, cutting through the lower face, and it opened in one gigantic black and toothless hole. The tongue was visible, however, long thin and scarlet. It seemed to be licking its chin when the mouth slipped open.
As it pointed one horrifying finger directly at me, it screeched, “Only a fool would not fear me. I am the devil of the forests.”
Now of course I was shivering and grasping at the tree trunk to stop myself collapsing. My determination had wavered but was not yet entirely gone. So I tried to shout back at the thing, even though my voice was faint.
“I am a Forester. I love the trees and understand every species here. A yew tree, almost two hundred years old. Beside it, branches bare, is a sycamore. Along that path is an oak tree, even older than the yew, but it is also bare as all leaves die in winter. Only a month ago it was dropping acorns, one of my favourite foods when I roast them in the ashes of a fire. Look, there is a fig tree. I have eaten all the figs, but they will come again next autumn. I chop down dying trees, but they forgive me. I prune others, I coppice some, but I love them all. The stream gives me clean water that’s cold and refreshing all year. The fish are so beautiful, but I never go fishing. I refuse to eat anything that might suffer from my knife. Many animals and birds live here too, so you mustn’t hurt anything. You night demons are the only bad things in this amazing place.”
Breathing deeply, I faced the night. I began to wonder was I asleep after all? Were these my own imagined nightmares? Loving to live alone, was I fooling myself?
“What makes you think we’re bad?” demanded one of the smaller wisps. “I’m a nice little demon. I love frightening people. Swooping up and tapping on doors to make people afraid. It’s great fun. I recommend it.”
This was more irritating than terrifying, and I reacted by lashing out at the thing, but I found my fist went right through it, so I couldn’t even protect myself properly. I couldn’t help gulping, and sidled back to my front door, ready to admit fear and escape.
But I was interrupted, and my decision went floating away. I could hear galloping, and the most wonderful sight came hurtling into my gaze.
It was a great white horse, snorting through wide nostrils. Its magnificent body was gloriously muscled, and its hooves seemed almost golden, while its coat was white pearl. The eyes were blue as the summer sky, and it bent its head to me, as if in supplication. I scratched between the stallion’s ears and caressed between its eyes. It rubbed its face back against mine and spun its great tail in a circle.
The stallion’s mane swept around its body, long and beautiful in the breeze while it stood so close, as though it was going to protect me, as I couldn’t protect myself.
As the demons swirled once more, darting closer to me and screeching, my stallion reared and head butted those evil things, kicking out with the enormous hooves, and standing on its hind legs to rear as tall as the demons.
They swooped backwards, clearly worried, even more frightened than I had been of them. But they tried to come again, and once more the magnificent white stallion kicked out, snorting, and snapping.
At the third attempt, once more blocked by the stunning horse at my side, the demons began to disappear. Some swirled back between the trees and into the night. Others swooped up into the shadows of the sky, while more twisted like furious winds, and actually shrank into themselves.
As the beautiful white horse shook his magnificent mane, so I realised that every demon had gone. Nothing ugly or frightening remained. I hugged the stallion’s neck and kissed his forehead, running my fingers down to his nose. “You are so beautiful,” I whispered. “And so strong, and so kind. You are an magical. Could you stay with me? I wonder what is your name?’
I had not expected an answer, for this, however wonderful, was simply a horse. But it answered me with a strong voice which sounded just a little like mine, and echoed from the deep thoughts at the back of my head.
“I have no name,” the stallion said. “But I will stay with you, and I will never leave you now so the demons will never come again. I need no name, for I am your courage.”
Song: A HORSE WITH NO NAME
I was born approximately two hundred years ago (It sometimes feels that way) in Gloucestershire, England, right in the heart of the Cotswolds. After a few years I moved to London and fell in love with the history which oozes through the old stones, and the medieval atmosphere leaks from the beautiful old buildings. For many years, I walked the old cobbled lanes and researched the 15th century from original sources, and the books in the British Museum. I worked there in the Department of Ancient Documents, a place which I adored, full of scrolls illuminated by medieval monks, and hordes of informative parchments.
Already a passionate reader half crazed by the avid consumption of literature, I had grown out of Enid Blyton when I was about six. Next came a passion for Georgette Heyer, although far too young to understand romance. Once again it was the historical details I loved and I moved quickly onto Shakespeare, Dorothy Dunnett, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and a host of others.
I started writing. Nonsense naturally! But I kept it up and eventually write articles and short stories for current magazines and newspapers. I was also a tutor for scriptwriting, and a reviewer for Books and Bookmen.
When my partner died I deciding to come to Australia for a change instead of sitting around in stagnant tears. Writing again, and seriously this time, I wrote full length books in all my favourite genres. I was accepted by one of the big top 5 publishers, and two of my historical crime/mysteries were published in the traditional manner. However, although I was reasonably well paid and sold reasonably well, I also found myself disliking the control system. I had to write as commanded, insert bucket loads more romance, accept covers I hated, and generally do as I was told.
Now, happy and free, I self-publish, and enjoy every minute of my writing. I live in Australia, adore the weather, the birds and the wildlife, and live a placid life during the day and a wonderfully exciting one in my dreams at night.
Writing is and always has been my passion, now that I am able to do this full time, I am in my element and life couldn’t be better (a little more sunshine might help though).
images via: Pixabay unless otherwise stated
Note: it is illegal to copy lyrics but there is no © for ideas!
our stories or excerpts to enjoy
1st Deborah Swift - an excerpt from Pleasing Mr Pepys
2nd Graham Brack - The Clock Struck One
3rd Cindy Vallar - Rumble the Dragon
4th Barbara Gaskell Denvil - The Great Forest
5th Nicky Galliers - Two Stories
6th Annie Whitehead - excerpt from To Be A Queen
7th Judith Arnopp - an excerpt from The Winchester Goose
8th Paul Marriner - First Love
9th Loretta Livingstone - Labour of Love
10th Marian L. Thorpe - excerpt from Empire’s Heir
11th J G Harlond - excerpt from A Turning Wind
12th Amy Maroney - excerpt from Island of Gold
13th Richard Tearle - excerpt from the North Finchley Writer's Group
14th Inge H Borg - Excerpt from After the Cataclysm
15th Juhi Ray - the movie Jodha Akbar
16th Clare Flynn - Excerpt from The Green Ribbons
17th Anna Belfrage - A Light So Bright
18th Elizabeth St John - excerpt from Written in Their Stars
19th Nicky Galliers - Duty
20th Erica Lainé - La Belle Russe
21st Anna Belfrage - Excerpt from A Rip In The Veil
22nd Kathryn Gauci - Excerpt from The Poseidon Network
23rd Cryssa Bazos - Excerpt from Rebel's Knot
24th Debbie Young - The Secret Ministry Of Frost
* * *
you might also enjoy books by Helen Hollick
or direct to an Amazon near you
* King Arthur Trilogy
* the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings 1066
(includes US The Forever Queen USA Today Bestseller)
* the Sea Witch Nautical adventure series
* Cosy Mysteries