Hello everyone! Back on schedule this week. Hat tip to my father for giving me the prompt for this story. As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled The Journey. Please enjoy.
A faint bit of moonlight illuminated my path. Dark clouds covered the sky. A middling bit of moonlight managed to penetrate the thicket of tree branches dangling overhead.
I clutched my coat against my chest. Not in response to the cold, though the wind had picked up and the temperature certainly had dropped significantly as the night approached the witching hour. No, it was due to the fear induced by my hostile surroundings.
Wolves inhabited these coppices. Their howls were barely audible at first but had grown noticeably louder and angrier. They were savage. Merciless. Cruel. They would not hesitate to eat me alive. Those woods had claimed many a traveler. Only the most brave or foolhardy dared to make that trek.
My pace quickened as the wolves gradually began to close in. It was foolish for me to be out there but there was no alternative. It was the only time when I could meet her. I needed to see her again.
The wind picked up suddenly. I reached up to insure the bonnet placed atop my head out of convenience to keep my hands free to better navigate the woods remained in place.
Without warning, the wolves made their move. They were rapidly approaching. I began to run until I was sprinting, clutching the bill of the hat with one hand while trying to ward off my assailants with the other. My coat flew off as I frantically flailed my arms and legs in my desperate attempt to flee.
They nipped at my heels. One of them managed to catch up. An exasperated scream escaped my lips as a pair of teeth clinched down on one of my legs. My pace briefly halted, a struggle ensued. The frantic blows I applied the creature freed me from his fangs but not before I was severely wounded.
Putting any sort of weight on my lacerated ankle caused agony so great that for a moment I considered it impossible for me to crawl, nevertheless run. Fear makes an excellent anesthetic. As soon as I saw the rest of the pack catch up to their more fleet of foot companion, I did not hesitate and continued running while ignoring the excruciating pain.
As the pack approached, their howls grew ever more frenzied. Their voracious drool dripped upon my legs as they drew ever nearer. Their hot breath warmed my backside and my legs they were so close. Even healthy I stood little chance of outrunning them but with only one good ankle? It seemed like it was inevitable that these woods would become my final resting place.
I tripped. My feet failed me and I was suddenly laying face first on the ground. I was prepared for the end. I closed my eyes and braced for what was to come.
Moments passed. Any moment their fangs would be bearing down on me. Their claws would rip me apart. My flesh was to be torn from my bones. Soon I would be food for these ferocious fiends. At least, so I thought.
My mind suddenly grew cognizant of the fact that I was not experiencing any pain. In fact, I felt no sensation at all other than the gentle breeze and the cold damp ground. Perplexed, I gradually opened my eyes.
As I raised my head and looked over my shoulder, there was more than a little trepidation. I still believed that the feral beasts were near and that by looking over my shoulder my eyes would meet with my eventual executioners. Yet, I had to know. More out of curiosity than courage, I managed to muster the resolve necessary to raise my head and move to my side in order to take a look. To my bewilderment, the wolves were gone.
Something else was missing but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I looked down towards my ankles and realized what it was. Pain was missing. My ankle no longer felt pain and no wonder. My wounds had vanished. Even my pants were completely intact.
The wolves had disappeared. My wounds were healed. There was no explanation.
I rose to my feet in a daze conjured by a feeling of confusion and relief. I decided to continue my journey. Not two steps in did I find myself back on the ground sitting upon my rear end. A figure had appeared before me as if by magic.
Any disgruntlement immediately evaporated once my eyes laid upon her face. Looking down on me was a flaxen-haired angel that shimmered in the moonlight. She was wearing her familiar Sunday dress practically oblivious to the cold. Her trademark red bow accentuated her pony-tail. I felt immediately at ease looking upon her soft blue eyes and warm smile. It was a face I had known for years.
Laughing nervously, seemingly embarrassed for startling me, the woman offered me assistance to help me back onto my feet. Pride prevented me from accepting the offer. I insisted that I was not scared as I picked myself off the ground.
I took off my hat and handed it to her. “I found it while cleaning my house. I should have returned it to you years ago.”
“My favorite blue bonnet,” she said, placing it upon her head and tying the ribbon around her chin. “Thank you very much! You didn’t have to go all this way to give it to me, though.”
“I didn’t come all this way just to give you that. I needed to see you. Besides, I can’t picture you without it.”
“I appreciate it.” She bade me to follow her. I eagerly complied.
We strolled up a winding, uphill path. The dangers that surrounded me were no longer a threat. They had evaporated into the ether. I felt a kind of peace I had not felt for years.
The two of us conversed on a multitude of topics. There was no theme to our little chat. We mostly discussed what I had been doing the last couple of years and how much I missed her. Our exchange didn’t have a purpose or underlying goal. It didn’t need to have one.
There was so much I wanted to tell her, so much to discuss, but there wasn’t enough time. Inevitably and lamentably, we arrived where she currently resided. Here is where our conversation needed to come to a close. Like all good things, that is where our meeting had come to an end.
“This is where we are going to have to part,” the woman said with a fleeting smile. “It was good seeing you again.”
“Must we part now?” I asked.
“Of course. You don’t belong here.”
“Why not? I just think it would be easier for me if I just stayed here with you.”
“Don’t say that! Don’t even think that!”
Tears began to form. “I just think it would be easier if I joined you.”
“Easier than what?”
“Easier than, easier than facing life! You left me and now I’m all alone! I can’t handle the stress, the worry, the danger, the hunger, the pain, the suffering, all by myself! I can’t do it.” I began to sob. “I just can’t do it.” I fell to my hands and knees.
A soft hand lifted my head up. “Of course you can,” the woman said as she helped me back to my feet, “I won’t lie to you. Life can be cruel, vicious, and merciless, especially to someone as young as you. I wish I could say it will be easy but it won’t be. It will be difficult and arduous. You will need to be strong, brave and wise just to survive. But.” She paused for a moment and moved in for an embrace. “I know you can do it.”
“How can you be so sure?”
She placed a hand on my cheek. “Because I raised you.” Shortly thereafter, she was gone.
I reached down and picked up the bonnet that was resting on the plot. Taking the ribbons used to tie the headgear under the chin, I wrapped the bonnet as well as I could around my mother’s tombstone.
“It’s been four years. I’m a man now, not the boy I was. When will the pain go away?” Though I heard no response I knew the answer.
How long I stood there I could not say. Time had no meaning to me at the moment. It could have been minutes, days, months, or years, it all meant the same to me. I almost could not bear to leave hear grave.
Yet, a resounding thought echoed in my head. It provided the resolve I needed to depart. With a final adieu, I promised my mother I would always remember her. After reciting a short prayer, I turned around and made my way home.
It did not feel like I was there for long but apparently my experience lasted through the entire night as it was already early morning. The clouds had mostly dissipated allowing rays of light to shine through the trees which had parted possibly due to the earlier wind though at the moment, the wind had stopped.
The wolves did return. Their cries could still be heard but they were muted now and distant, more akin to whimpers than howls. They still posed a threat but I was ready for them now. Whatever threats they posed, I could defeat them.
I knew I could do it. I knew I could be strong. I knew I could face life head on regardless of its challenges. After all, I am my mother’s son.
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