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East Of...

January 23, 2020

The Writers' Block #51: Theme - East of...

 

Sam appeared. Eyes scrunched tight. She was less dizzy than the jump used to make her. She was standing up, at least. That was certainly an improvement.

 

She felt a cool breeze on her face, then the tingling of cold raindrops hitting her skin at intervals. She relaxed, open her eyes and once they had focussed, looked about her.

 

It was a crossroads where two straight tracks met, so all four directions led away from this point. There was no signpost or marking to explain her location. Off the track, surrounding her, was woodland, rising steadily and making it appear that all the gnarled trees were leaning in to get a better view of her. By their feet were bushes and scrub, useful places to hide, perhaps. The track itself wasn’t a road by modern standards - more a dirt track. Used by carts and horses. There were footprints in the dried mud where puddles had once been.

 

Everything looked hungry and thirsty.

 

Standing by the apex of one of the corners, she sighed.

 

For the moment she was safe but it would be foolish to stay here. It was overcast and there was a nip in the air. The clouds were so thick it was difficult to work out where the sun must be. But the light was dim - was it dawn or dusk? If the latter, she needed to be off the road, sheltering somewhere. If dawn, there would be a day’s travelling ahead. But which? And there was something else, too. Something wrong. It took a few moments for her to realise what it was - the silence. There was no bird song. Nothing at all. No visible life. What was this place? Was she really alone? She couldn’t be.

 

She inhaled, deciding to seek answers from her ancestors. Using her thumb and middle finger, she forced her eyes to close and allow herself to fall inwards, peering deep into her mind, into the darkness. As she fell, she asked for advice, seeking guidance. Then the mists and whispers came. They surrounded her and caressed her. ‘East,’ they said. ‘Go east.’ She thanked them politely, then asked which way east was - but there was no time for a reply. The crack of a twig behind her was enough to clear her mind of everything but the here and now. She opened her eyes. Her left hand moved instinctively to her sword’s scabbard. The right hand slid towards the hilt as she turned to face the bushes from which she now knew she was being watched.

 

‘I know you’re there!’ she said, her voice somehow rude in the stillness.

 

Nothing.

 

‘Show yourself!’

 

Nothing.

 

She crouched down, calmly, to let her right hand move to the dusty road’s surface. Not letting her gaze drop from the greenery ahead, her hand felt for a stone of good size. Finding one, she calmly rose.

 

‘Last chance!’

 

Still nothing.

 

She focussed on an area near the ground at the base of the shrubbery. The grass below looked slightly flattened. A well-used ambush point. So she took aim and hurled the stone with such ferocity that the action almost toppled her over. It whirled through the foliage struck its target deep in the shadows. There was a shocked yelp and the sound of running. The creature moved away, beyond the bushes into the trees behind, rising up the slight incline. Then, in between the trees, it became visible. It was shaking its head, dazed and growling. It stopped and turned back, looking at her with a strange mixture of bewilderment and anger.

 

Sam was likewise staring at it as it stared at her. What was it? Like a wolf, but not quite. It had a badger’s snout and the tail of a fox. Whatever it was, she had made her point. It barked at her - the sheer force of the action making its front paws leave the ground for a moment. Then it returned to shaking its head again.

 

It would return. She had better leave in case it was not alone. Leave now. But which direction? Which way was east? What was it her father used to say? ‘To reach any destination, there is never an incorrect route. Just some are quicker than others…’ That advice would have to do.

 

She scanned all four routes than started walking. This one would do. With the wolf-thing behind her. She tramped away. Walking at a steady, calm pace. Who knew in which direction it was? Judging by the light it was either west or east. And that was good. It felt right. And, turning quickly behind her and noticing the creature following at a distance, she felt a little better knowing it was there. At least she wasn’t alone. And anywhere was better than that crossroads. She was walking. Walking east. East of… here…


 

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