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by Gareth Spark

She followed the song over stone and dirt, through frozen air and caught stars, over grass blades keen as obsidian to the wood behind the house. A somnolent moon shed light like prayers onto the frost of a fallow field between the building and dark trees. She walked slowly, with a purpose that was not her own, placing naked feet on cold earth and sharp stone without hesitation. She did not feel the night’s chill or the ragged wounds open on her soles that left sanguine footsteps on old snow like the broken letters of a forgotten tongue. A smile haunted her thin face. The ancient trees twisted above her, black and bare against the moon’s pale eye. Her stained nightgown trailed in the mulch of rotting leaves and tore on twigs and branches but she did not notice. Her world was song, coming from the shadows ahead. It filled her dreams, called her out with sweetness and melancholy, a longing she’d never known. The song held everything she’d wanted from a past gone under rubble and fire: it was her family; the long summer before the war; she saw the blue sea burned up in the summer’s sun, the orchard of her grandfather’s house, the smile of her baby sister, gone now too; she saw everything but the black wood, the wet trees and cold stars.

She did not know how long she’d walked, only that the song was louder now, underscored by something more subtle, the low crash of a small waterfall in the forest’s heart, tumbling into a broad silver pool shimmering through the twisted trees ahead. The woods watched, black and still and the only sound other than her quickening breath was the singing, low and sonorous and beautiful. There was a glow to the water; it was a sharp luminous blue, like the flash of stained glass in sun, sparking below the surface of the pool. The girl moved like a marionette with one cut string. Her wounded feet bled into the mud as she drew closer to the pool. Water broke as something struggled upwards, dripping and chill. The girl reached out, her smile broad and her hair wet. The smoke of her breath panted upwards into the iron blue of night and she wanted to say something, but the words wouldn’t come. Her heart sounded through the visions entrancing her, an animal warning upon which she was powerless to act. The song ceased, and suddenly the girl felt cold. A rush of goose pimples flashed across her naked arms and she frowned into the darkness, crushing her arms across her chest and stepping back into the black.

Her breathing grew wild, she glanced about with wide eyes and when she saw what stood before her, she started to scream.

Gareth Spark’s prize-winning short fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, The Big Adios, Out of the Gutter, Near to the Knuckle, Line Zero, and Deepwater Literary Review, among others. Gareth has contributed stories to collections such as The Shamus Sampler 2, Near to the Knuckle Presents: Gloves Off, Twelve Mad Men (edited by Ryan Bracha), and Exiles: An Outsider Anthology (edited by Paul D. Brazill), as well as the recently released Trouble in the Heartland. He lives in Whitby, Yorkshire, and works a day job as a forklift driver. He is 36 years old. https://garethspark.blogspot.co.uk/.