They say that the glade in the middle of the forest is cursed.
A girl once disappeared, spirited away. Gossips call it a witches’ meet, say that’s why dogs whimper as they pass, why there’s absence of birdsong.
It’s the most peaceful place I’ve ever known. Thirteen tall pine trees, robed with ivy encircle the glade. In the centre there’s a stone slab, carved like an altar, softened with patches of moss. I lie on it, listen to fluttering leaves shush and hush, murmuring, “Come to us…” I lift my T-shirt and the stone is cold against my skin, soothing my bruises.
I discovered this place the week after I’d cut my hair off. I took scissors to it, fed up with Mum dragging me by my ponytail across the cider-soaked carpet, pile burning my cheek.
Mum doesn’t think life is fair. “He fucked me and then fucked off…Fucking la-di-da poofters, how can I live on nothing…This place is a shit hole.”
The flat has damp in the corners. Mould creeps across the ceiling like grubby fingerprints, trailing a smell of decay. I know Mum doesn’t really hate me, just that I’m at hand to take her rage out on.
After I’d cut my hair, they called me tramp at school. Elbows stuck out when I passed, my bag got torn; spittle webbed the tufts on my head. I’d never fitted in and now it was worse. I escaped into the forest, went as deep as I dared; found this place.
One afternoon, flowery stars of wild garlic glowed beneath the trees. I picked a bunch, thinking their astringent scent would cover the stench of fags and mould in the flat. But Mum grabbed the flowers as I put them in a jam-jar. “What are these for fuck’s sake?”
“I picked them in the forest.”
“Don’t you go there. It’s a wicked place.” She grabbed the flowers. I watched her heel grind them into the carpet. She threw the water in my face.
I ran away. Laid on the altar in the dusk, watching patches of sky getting smaller, darker. The air folded me under a sheet of blackness. “Come with me,” a husky voice whispered, as if a tree had spoken. A gnarled hand grabbed mine.
The woman who took me, is chopping herbs from the forest to make potions to sell. She murmurs their names; sorrel, yarrow, mugwort. I watch and listen. Her arms are scarred and pocked like bark; her nails tinged green. The radio is on. An announcement: “Another girl has gone missing in Bramber forest. The site of an unsolved disappearance thirty years ago…” I hear Mum’s voice whining, “If anybody knows where Sylvie is please help. If you hear this Sylvie, come home. I miss you.”
As I watch the knife slice leaf, I realise the woman’s marks are blade cuts and old cigarette burns. “You’re her, aren’t you?”
She need not answer; I see a figure like me reflected in her eyes.
About the author: Stephanie began to take writing seriously after being shortlisted for the BBC End of Story competition. She enjoys writing in a variety of styles and genres and entering competitions. Her work has been long and shortlisted and sometimes won. Her first novel, ‘The Memory of Wood,’ a psychological thriller, is set in her home county of Northamptonshire and was self-published in 2011. She is a member of the Creative Writers @ Museum, in Northampton.