Today’s writing prompt and my response.
The last day of this week’s challenge. The story starts here.
Girl in dark forest: picture prompt
Granddad gestured, whispering, ‘Careful now.’
The old man had a gleam in his eyes, which Robert recognised as mischief. He was certain there wasn’t much to be happily mischievous about. It was the way Minna held her knife high, and the care with which she disappeared into whatever was beyond.
When Robert stepped through, he wasn’t surprised to find he wasn’t in a musty hallway, or a vestry. He was in a forest, winter-bare trees gleaming shades of grey in the moonlight. He could see neither Minna nor his grandfather. The cat had jumped from his arms. It stood very still, staring into the trees behind Robert, hackles raised.
The shiver of fear which ran down Robert’s spine turned to disbelief when the cat grew, reshaped, and morphed into the figure of a child – a girl with long, dark, tangled hair, bare-armed, dressed in a filthy shift. She held her hand to her face and kept staring beyond Robert.
Reluctantly, as if what was there wouldn’t be real if he didn’t see it, he turned. His own hand flew to his face. The trees filled with ghostly shapes, weaving between trunks, melding into each other, splitting apart, reforming. A buzzing sounded all around him, the anger of the ghostly figures. They milled about, not moving towards Robert and the cat/girl, who now spoke, in a mewling voice.
‘Minna and Grandfather … they’ve gone around. They plan to herd these, like sheep.’ She glanced around, exhaled. ‘It’s here, we came out right.’ Her voice lost its purr, but was rusty with disuse.
‘That?’ Robert pointed to a small windowless shed, like an old-fashioned outside toilet. ‘What’s it doing out here in the middle of the woods?
But he knew. He knew what the shed was. He knew who the child was. Minna’s daughter, sent with him when last he left this place to be his connection to home, his real home. Here.
As memory eased into his confused mind, he understood also what he needed to do. He held a hand up to the shed, twisted his wrist and murmured words he recognised but didn’t understand. The shed door opened, revealing a golden light which brightened as the opening widened.
Robert faced the white mist of figures in the trees. Ghosts of the past, caught in a world to which they did not belong. Frustrated and angry, they threatened the peace of his home land, for if they roamed further, their deathly touch would destroy all life.
It was why he and his grandfather had been summoned. Ghost whisperers were rare. Robert’s role was clear. He strode towards the mass, his hands shaping signs and signals of their own accord, their meaning becoming clearer to him as he went.
‘Follow,’ he murmured to the ghosts. ‘Follow me to your own times, to where you will be restored, find life again.’
The ghosts ceased their aimless milling, began to drift from the trees towards him. Their buzzing softened, a susurration of relief. Behind the mass, Robert glimpsed his grandfather urging them forward, also signalling with his hands.
When he knew he had captured the first rows, Robert eased back, towards the glowing opening. Step by step, ensuring the ghosts kept coming, the hand movements consistent, fluid. Until he reached the shed.
Minna appeared from the other side. ‘Keep me in your sight, Aden.’
She used his home-world’s name and he breathed it in, soothing as warm cocoa, even as he waited for the ghosts to follow him into the golden light. They came, bringing with them the iciness of long dead bones, floating past him as he stood just within the doorway, his eyes fixed on Minna.
It seemed an aeon before all were through – and perhaps it was – and his grandfather stood by Minna’s side, the child holding her mother’s hand. Robert – Aden – moved away from the fading glow into the woods. His grandfather closed the shed door and grinned.
‘Good to be home, hey, lad?’
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2 thoughts on “Girl in dark forest: picture prompt”
This is my contribution to this week’s prompts:
The shrill sound of the doorbell woke him from a deep slumber. Still groggy, he stumbled to the front door, opened it and stared at the large brown package that confronted him. “What on earth,” he thought as he dragged it into the hallway – then went back outside to see if he could locate the delivery man. No sign of anyone. “Strange,” he mused. “Ah well, wonder what it is.” Intrigued, he tore off the brown paper wrapping and, with a knife, sawed through the straps surrounding the cardboard carton. Whatever, it was it was very heavy. The cardboard fell away to reveal polystyrene packaging – and beneath that a large brass urn. Not something he had ordered, that was for sure, so why had it been sent to him. He frowned thoughtfully and gently touched the surface. A pungent blue puff of smoke almost blinded him.
Dressed in a turban and Arab getup resembling Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a figure emerged from the haze and floated before him. “Surely not,” he thought, “not one of these mythical genies. I don’t believe it.”
“Master,” the figure bellowed, “your wish is my command.” Alan Rickman had seen many unusual phenomena in thirty years on this Earth – but never a full-blown genie. And he wasn’t about to be hoodwinked by what very well could be some elaborate ruse played by one of his more adventurous friends. He remembered the Tim Tam ad he had seen on TV and thought I’m not going to be sucked in to wishing for a never-ending packet of biscuits. However, a young woman draped over the bonnet of one of his favourite cars – a Chevy Corvette – was a different proposition all together. “Bring me a Chevy Corvette with a young woman on the bonnet,” he commanded – and “woosh” there they both were jammed into his not overly large lounge room.
Alan recoiled in horror as he realised this genie person was no joke. The young brunette slowly made her way towards him and coiled her arms around his neck, planting a moist kiss on his lips. “Wow! What a beauty!” He peered over her shoulder at the bright red speed machine. His grandfather would be so jealous. A mad keen petrol head who had never lost his passion, Alan had not seen the old man since they had last teamed up five years ago for the Indianapolis 500. He had almost won that day – but a terrible mishap on the last lap where he collided with the circuit wall had cost him the race. His grandfather was furious and they had not spoken since. As the young woman continued her passionate attention, Alan thought it might be time to finally mend bridges.
He extricated himself from the girl’s embrace and turned to the genie. “Are you able to bring my grandfather here?” The turbaned head bobbed in the affirmative. “Ok, let’s do it then.” With a slight rumble, his grandfather appeared before them – older and slightly more frail than Alan remembered. The old man, now 90, looked slightly confused at seeing his grandson. ” I was just weeding the garden, and now I am here. How is this possible?” he queried shakily. “Because I asked the genie to bring you here,” Alan explained. “What genie,” his grandfather asked. “That one.” Alan pointed at the floating figure. “My lord,” the old man looked aghast. “I brought you here to apologise, which I should have done years ago,” Alan said. “I should not have stormed off in such a temper that day at the race. You had every right to be upset that your car was virtually a write off after I hit the wall. I was trying to be too clever and thought I could squeeze through on the outside and take the chequered flag. The move was never on.”
Tears welled in the old man’s eyes as he shuffled forward to embrace his grandson. “No, it’s my fault,” he mumbled. “I should never have been so hard on you. After all it was only a race and you were just trying to do your best to win.” His frail arms hugged the young man even more tightly. Alan was suddenly transported back to his youth and he saw himself as the little boy whose idea of heaven was to hang out with his grandfather while he prepared his latest V8 beast for the next event.
With sincere apologies exchanged about the Indianapolis 500 race all those years ago, the reason to be mad at each other was no longer an issue. Memories crowded Alan’s consciousness as he recalled all those wonderful times he had spent amid the intoxicating smell of high-octane fuel excitedly tinkering with an engine to get the last possible ounce of speed from it.
He even recalled the time someone, obviously jealous of he and his grandfather’s successful race record, had somehow slashed two of their tyres with a knife just before an event and the panic that had ensued as they rushed around trying to find last minute replacements.
Looking at his grandfather, he realised those days were now long gone. The wispy white hair, paper thin skin and ageing stoop – even more pronounced than what he remembered – would preclude any active involvement in race day preparations. The best Alan could hope for was the old man watching contentedly from the stands cheering him on as he once more roared around the circuit jostling madly with other competitors to set up yet another win.
“I know we haven’t spoken in a long time,” he said. “But have you been following my success on the race track?”
“As a matter of fact, I have,” the old man replied. “And I must say, I am impressed at your ability to win no matter where you start on the grid.
“Looks like I taught you well.” His grandfather grinned wryly.
All this time, the young woman and the genie had been listening carefully to their conversation. Now she intervened.
“I think it’s amazing that you have had such a successful career and you are obviously very confident in your ability,” she said. “I really would love to get to know you better.”
Alan turned and looked at the girl, her long dark hair cascading over her shoulders, framing her pretty face. He didn’t have a girlfriend at the moment. The last one had left in disgust, tired of all the time he spent at the racetrack.
“Are you sure? After all, being a race car driver is pretty full on and I don’t have a lot of spare time.”
“I don’t mind,” she smiled. “I love watching car racing.”
Alan laughed. “Oh yeah! What’s your name then?”
“After the Venetian boats?
“Yep. I was born there and my father used to work on the canals so he and my mum decided to name me Gondola as a permanent reminder.”
The genie started to fidget. “Master, do you need me for anything right now? Any wishes? I can always come back at another time. All you have to do to summon me is rub the urn,” he explained.
Alan shrugged. “Can’t think of anything at the moment so I guess you can have a rest,” he said.
With that, the genie vapourised into a plume of smoke which disappeared into the brass urn, still standing in the hallway where Alan had unwrapped it.
His grandfather reached for a chair and slowly and carefully lowered himself into it. “I’m getting tired, son. This has all been a bit too much excitement for one day and I would very much like it if you could take me home now so I can rest.”
With so many things happening, Alan realised how he had ignored the old man’s frailties and immediately apologised.
He and Gondola helped his grandfather to Alan’s car and carefully placed him in the front passenger seat. The girl hopped in the back while Alan climbed behind the wheel.
It was now dark and, with no moon and little street light illumination, difficult to see more than a few metres.
Alan turned the car headlights onto high beam as he drove towards his grandfather’s home. The old man lived some distance away in the country and to reach his house he had to pass through a dark forest of pine trees that was sufficiently foreboding during the day, let alone on a moonless night.
Suddenly, a young girl was illuminated in the halogen beam and Alan was forced to brake hard and swerve to avoid her, almost ending up in the ditch beside the road.
“Bloody hell,” he cursed. “What on earth?”
“That’s my sister,” Gondola exclaimed.
“What’s she doing out here in the middle of the road so late at night,” Alan exploded.
‘It’s a long story,” Gondola replied softly.
Great use of the prompts, highly imaginative – loved using gondola as a name, it might start a trend LOL
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