Archive for: August, 2011

The Market by Dan Shelton

Aug 28 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Celesé only had a small plastic umbrella to keep the rain off her.

She wandered the Marché des Produits Exotiques that cold Wednesday afternoon, in the 42nd arrondissement of Greater Paris.

Her daughter, four year old Kerry, followed closely at her side. Her nostrils sniffed up the smell of the damp, the stinky chemicals in the rain, and the odour of food being cooked at various stalls.

It was mid-afternoon and Celesé knew she had to be back at their apartment soon. The Russian would be coming for the rent, which he knew she did not have. Times were tough, especially after the worldwide banking collapse of 2060 and the wars that followed. If she were philosophical about things, she would wonder about the future of the human race; but for now, her only concern was herself and her daughter.

She guided Kerry through the market, away from the myriad homeless and luckless who occupied the streets and avenues of this once-great city, this once-great world.

She stopped at one of the food stalls.

The old man at the stall greeted her with a broad smile, “Good afternoon. What can I offer you today?” He spoke no French but their electronic translators allowed them to communicate.

“Two croissants, please.”

He handed two warm croissants over.

She gave one to Kerry and kept the other for herself.

Kerry wrinkled her little nose. “I like the taste of pastry.”

“Let’s go back home,” Celesé said.

“I don’t like home.”

Me, neither, she thought.

 

*

 

Kerry was safely encased in her fantasy world of playing with her dolls in her bedroom. Celesé envied her, being the child. Being the adult was tough. Too tough sometimes.

She cleaned the apartment a little before he came. Compared to the grime of the block their apartment was in, their little abode looked like a palace.

Three rough knocks on the door signalled that he had arrived. She put her cleaning cloth down, straightened her dress and composed herself. She opened the door.

He was tall and big; one felt dominated just being in his presence. A large, thick moustache rested on his upper lip like a slug. His black hair was slicked back, his clothes drab and dreary. The ruddy red of his cheeks was perhaps the only colour in his life.

“Afternoon,” she greeted him, smoothing her hands down the sides of her dress.

“You got it?” the Russian asked. Smalltalk was not in his nature.

She shook her head. “You know I haven’t. Just give me a little more time, please.”

“You know I’m not the type of man to offer concessions. You owe me.”

You’re no type of man at all, she thought bitterly.

“Please.”

“You know what happens if you don’t pay the rent. Tomorrow night at eight.” His eyes looked her up and down with a stare that made her feel uneasy. “Wear something… skimpy.”

He left. Celesé fretted. She knew what he was like. All the girls in the apartment block did, which was why most managed to pay on time.

She returned to her cleaning to take her mind off tomorrow. She didn’t want to think about it.

 

*

 

Celesé was in the market again the next day, her little umbrella raised above her head to protect her from the omnipresent rain.

She had one item to buy, and it wasn’t something skimpy. Kerry was at a nearby free pre-school, run by a local charity; even in their broken society, there were still a few good, selfless people.

The stall she wished to visit was towards the west of the market. It was small and nondescript and sold all manner of things. If the woman who ran it did not like the look of you, she would not do business with you. Many of the items she sold were illegal, so she had to be careful. If the authorities discovered what she did, they would give no mercy.

“Morning,” Celesé greeted her.

The woman got out a small hand-held scanner and pointed it at Celesé. It buzzed and whirred, taking readings. Satisfied with the results, she put it away and used her human judgement before finally deciding whether or not to sell her anything.

“Is there anything I can get you?” She also spoke French, like Celesé, so their translators were silent.

Celesé cleared her throat. “Do you have one of these?” She handed over a scrap of paper.

The woman read it, raised her eyebrows, and passed the paper back. Celesé dropped the paper to the ground and let it wash away with the rain water.

“What rating are you after?”

“1700 hertz.”

The woman sucked in her breath. She disappeared into the back of the stall, hidden behind a thick curtain. Celesé looked about nervously as she waited for the proprietor to return. Momentarily she reappeared. “This is a highly illegal device, the cost reflects that, dearie. Seven hundred credits. Ten per cent more if they’re anonymized.”

Celesé gasped. “I’m sorry, I don’t have enough.” Her plan was unravelling.

The woman shrugged.

“Can’t I not owe you?”

The woman shook her head. “Sorry, dearie. People don’t always pay – I can’t trust anyone these days.”

She thought, what can I do? She hadn’t expected it to be so expensive, she could not afford it. Her face contorted in anguished thought.

The woman sensed her dilemma. She nodded at her free hand. “I like that ring of yours.”

Celesé instinctively pulled her hand to her chest. “It’s my wedding ring from my late husband,” she said, though the woman probably cared little about its providence.

She knew what she had to do.

 

*

 

Celesé read a bedtime story to Kerry about three pigs and their comical adventures in Pigtown, which always had a happy ending. Kerry loved it and didn’t want to go to sleep.

“It’s late,” Celesé told her. “You should get your sleep.” She pulled the sheets up to her neck so she was snug in the bed.

“Mummy, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, hun. Why do you think that?”

“You’re nervous, I can see. You aren’t normally nervous.”

“Everything’s fine, hun. Now go to sleep.”

She waited until Kerry fell asleep and kissed her forehead. What a world you’re growing up in, my little princess. What a world indeed.

In the living room, she tidied up, washed the dishes, and paced nervously as the minutes ticked by. She was wearing a simple skirt and blouse, nothing skimpy. After all, she did not intend to allow him to have his way with her. She would do anything to keep herself and Kerry safe, but selling herself like that was out of the question. Even when times were tough.

She took the device she’d bought, carefully regarding it. She stroked a finger along one of the two inch-long metal pins, which protruded from its side. She hid it behind the sofa’s left-hand side cushion.

She gave the place one final tidy up and prepared the drinks. She placed two filled glasses of red wine on the living room table.

The sound of his banging against the door caused her to jump.

She let him in.

Before she could direct him otherwise, he slumped into the left-hand corner of the sofa, where the device was hidden. Damn, she thought.

The Russian patted the vacant place beside him. “Aren’t you gonna join me?”

She nervously seated herself on the edge of the sofa, next to him.

“How about a drink?” she said.

“Not thirsty,” he said. He then grabbed her with his big, clammy hands and pulled her towards him. She closed her eyes tight, as though bracing for impact in a car crash. She felt his hands roughly exploring her body, then their cold, unwelcoming touch as he slid them under her blouse.

She needed to get to the device. This was all going wrong.

“You must be thirsty,” she said, jerking away from him and grabbing a glass from the table. As she handed it to him, she purposefully spilt it on his trousers.

“Idiot!” he yelled, standing and looking with annoyance at the dark stain over his crotch. “You bloody idiot, look what you’ve done?!”

She reached behind the now exposed cushion and grabbed the device.

The Russian only had time to see the small electronic device in her hand, his eyes widening in realisation, before she thrust it into his leg. The two metal pins dug into his flesh, contacting with the metal underneath.

She held on to it for a second too long. The substantial charge it held discharged into his robotic body. Celesé was thrown back against the sofa. The Russian began staggering about uncontrollably as every circuit and microprocessor in his body fried. He fell to the floor, dead. A terrible smell – the flesh on his metal body was smouldering – drifted into the air. Celesé felt sick.

She rushed to the window. Rain slid down it, blurring the view of the city below. She didn’t want to look back at the body of the dead man/robot but couldn’t help herself.

She thought of Kerry. “I did this for you, sweetheart.”

Unbidden, tears began to well in her eyes and slide down her cheeks.

I have become demeaned, she thought. I am humanity in all its horror and sin. May God help me.

*

 

Dan Shelton writes about whatever comes into his head. He veers towards science fiction, fantasy and horror most of the time though. He likes chocolate.

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MM by MM by Mariev Finnegan

Aug 21 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

“I dreamed about Mia Manson last night,” I tell my psychiatrist.

“Mia Manson?” asks the Doc, who is a mirror image of me: tiny, long dark hair, small features.   We both are dressed in long skirts.

“You know, Mia Manson… The Hollywood legend?”

In my dream, she’d worn a long white dress. Together we were climbing the spiral staircase in the center of my house. The stairs continually doubled back on themselves.

“You know, there’s a family secret!” I tell the Doc. “They used to tell me, when I was a little girl, that I was found on the doorstep, adopted or something. My real mother was Mia Manson! Or so they said.”

“Never heard of her,” says the Doc.

“Mmmm, that’s strange.” I thought everyone has heard of Mia Manson.

*

It began to snow as I left the doctor’s office. On the way to the Hospice, I click on the car radio. Mia Manson is dead, says the announcer. Mmmmm.

*

Mama’s body is on a bed, still breathing, but her mind has been on the other side for years. I climb onto the bed, hold her in my arms, my head against her heart as it stops beating. Her soul follows her consciousness, home. It is a relief after all these years she’s been little more than a vegetable. But now, I’ll never know if I’m really Mia Manson’s secret daughter.

*

Harvey, my ex-husband, is at the house with our son, Mike when I arrive.  “We came soon as we heard,” says Mike.

“I’ll fix your furnace,” Harvey offers and disappears into the basement. I mother Mike by baking chocolate-chip cookies and mention in passing that Mia Manson died, same day as Mama. Mike is leaning against the counter. He pushes a lank of sandy hair from his eyes. “Oh, is she a friend of yours?” he asks.

I plop on a kitchen chair to wait for the cookies to bake. “Mia Manson… The movie star!”

He looks blank.

“Mmmmm, I can’t be that old…. You’re not that young! Mia Manson!”

“I can hear you!” Mike huffs. He was close to Mama; he’s extremely emotional about her passing, switching between anger and sorrow.

I lower my voice. “You know… She was in A Space in the Distance… Mmm, Darkfield 8? She was married six times! Married to the Governor? You know!”

“Oh… I can’t place her. How did she die?”

“Suicide, I guess. She overdosed.”

*

In the basement, Harvey’s swearing ricochets from the recesses of the furnace. I sit on the stairs, and when he’s seated beside me, I give him two cookies, still warm. “So what do you think– do I need a new furnace?”

Harvey explains the whole thing to me, the pipes and connections and blowers and how they each function, and relate to each other, too. Gesturing with greasy hands, he explains how he might fix my furnace. Finally he gets to where he tells me what I should do. “You should sell this house… then I could retire.”

“You are retired.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have to fix all the stuff wrong with your house,” he seethes.

“Mmmmmm.”

My house, on the edge of the Erie canal, has thirteen rooms, each a different brilliant color. My house has gingerbread trim, and grapevines covering the stone walls and sloping porches. Gargoyles. A spiral staircase.

Harvey intones, “You’re nuts, holding onto this big old house. Living here alone is crazy…”

“Maybe we’ll have grandchildren some day,” I muse, seeing in my mind their spirits made of light, like fireflies.

“I doubt it.” Harvey rolls his eyes to indicate Mike upstairs. “Your only kid is gay.”

Oh, Harvey!” Harvey has other children. They aren’t gay.

He grunts. “This house is haunted.”

The soul of a woman wanders this house: Mama forever incarnate on a double-helix staircase, like DNA.

I can never leave.

Harvey goes back in to see if he can save the furnace.

“Did you hear Mia Manson died?” I call to him.

“Who’s that?”

“Mia Manson! Come on… are you kidding? Child Star. Oscar winner… You know who Mia Manson is!”

He pulls his head out of the belly of the stove to speak to me, all excited. “She was that blond in the movie we saw at Tinsel Town! With that guy… What’s his name? The Nano Nano guy?”

“Robin Williams! No… Mia Manson was a famous sex-symbol. She was in Not Every Kind Of Frantic Humor. Dark hair, pale skin, purple eyes? Big boobs? …You must know who I’m talking about!”

“Yeah, I think I do. She died, huh?”

“Do you know who I mean?”

“No.”

“This is strange! You’re the second… no, the third. My psychiatrist didn’t remember her either!”

“You still see that  psychiatrist?” He tells me a story about his cousin Pete, who I don’t know, and a psychiatrist. Ditto. But it seems the psychiatrist drove Pete insane, and he did terrible things after that. He ends with, “What do you go to see her for?”

“I feel very alienated,” I call to him.

His head is back inside the hollow furnace. “Mmmmm.” His voice echoes, like a dirge spiraling endlessly.

 

After Harvey and Mike leave, I search the channels for news about Mia Manson’s death. Nothing. Mmmmm.

 

Thunder rumbles in the distance. Sitting halfway up the spiral staircase, I watch the storm approach over Lake Erie through stained glass. I call Fran, who lives across the road; she’s almost 80. She’ll remember Mia Manson.

Lightning and thunder merge in a sound wave, a low hum of scarlet. I ask Fran, “Did you hear that Mia Manson died?”

“Who? The bus driver, you mean?”

“No, the actress!”

“Never heard of her.” Lightning and a sonic boom of thunder. “I’m going to hang up, before I conduct lightning into my hip replacement!”

The connection crackles, the phone goes dead, the lights flicker, then go out. The atmosphere shakes the ground with sound waves. A light as pure as God illuminates the whole space.

A voice from the tv says, “Mmmmmm,” and then silence.

Time seems to slow, stop. The phone rings. I still have the receiver clutched in my hand. Hit the button, quickly say, “Mmmmm?”

“Mmmmm. Mia?” A male voice.

I realize I’ve been holding my breath. “Wrong number. This is 555-0151.”.

“Yeah, that’s right! Is this Mia Manson?”

“Mmmmm…” I think one second, then say, “Yes.”

“This is John Hudnut. The detective you hired to find your secret daughter.” The wind reaches a banshee shriek. Lightning and thunder are simultaneous.

“I’m sorry to tell you…”

“She’s dead,” I breathe.

“It was suicide. MM overdosed.”

“Mmmmmm, it’s strange,” I moan. “I had a dream about her last night. And you say she’s dead… I didn’t know that. Mmmmm.”

The phone falls– or does it pass through, my hand? I don’t know. Maybe I’m dreaming. Mia Manson and I are climbing the staircase shaped like a helix, doubling back on itself. In my dreammm.

*

Mariev Finnegan – I am Matriarch of the Erie. I live in upstate New York with my grandson, a three-legged dog and an owl. I’ve published in print and online venues.

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The Depth of Puddles by Steve Helbling

Aug 14 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Shawn first noticed the puddle when his dog, Topaz, lunged into it during a late spring rain. By then, the greens of the trees had changed from the varied softer shades to a hard green, a common green. Streams of water spilled over the gutters that edged the roof of the porch. He visualized them filled with debris, mostly leaves and pine needles, that had collected over the years. Watching the dog pounce about in the street, he remembered his weekly promise to climb up and clean the gutters.

A flash of lightening and a crash of thunder sent the dog bolting from the cul-de-sac to the porch. As he sloshed through a puddle at the side of the street, his entire body submerged. Even more panicked, he clambered out of the hole and sprinted for the house.

Shawn’s wife, Hallie, opened the front door and stepped out.

“Hey, did you see that?” he asked, as the dog rushed onto the porch and weaved in and out and around his legs.

“See what?” she asked.

“The dog just fell into a pothole. It swallowed him up.”

“I don’t remember any hole that big in the street. I think we would have seen it by now.”

“That was really odd. Freaky.”

“Come inside and eat lunch. You can check it out after it quits raining.” She threw him a towel, “Dry off Old Blue Eyes before you let him in the house.”

Topaz was a large Husky. As Shawn dried the nervous dog, he tried to imagine the size of the hole that would hold an animal that big. He gave the dog a final pat and a hug around the neck, and they went inside.

After lunch, he grabbed a tape measure and headed out toward the street. He wanted to have the dimensions of the hole when he called the county road department.  It had been over an hour since the rain stopped. As he crossed the yard, the tall, wet grass clung to his legs and deposited seeds in the hairs from his ankles to his knees. Steamy fog hung over the warm pavement. Nearing the spot where the dog hit the puddle, he scanned the street. There were no potholes. There wasn’t a dip in the asphalt. Nothing was unusual.

“How deep is it?” Hallie called from the porch.

“There’s nothing.” he called back. “It must have been an optical illusion or something.”

“Maybe you’ve been sitting too long. Let’s get cleaned up and go job hunting.”

He felt the muscles in his neck constrict, like someone had wrapped both hands around his throat. It had only been six months since he stopped painting. “I think I need to stay and get the grass cut. I guess I let it get away from me again.”

“It’s too wet. The KIA factory is hiring. Let’s go.”

“Let it be. You know there’s nothing there for me.”

“You can do graphic art and still keep trying—waiting for inspiration, but I think you need something to keep you busy.”

“We don’t need the money.”

“It’s not for the money. It’s for your sanity.”

He stopped listening, and walked around to the garage. Bending to open the door, he noticed that the handle was rusty and broken. One more damn thing to put on the list. He pulled open the door and was greeted by stacks of boxes and bags of trash. After a quick look, he couldn’t locate the lawn mower. He slammed the door shut, and the handle broke off. When he turned to go back to the front, he found Hallie standing behind him.

He said. “I’ll be fine.”

*

It started to storm after he finished shopping. Huge drops pummeled down in a nearly solid mass. He rounded the corner down the street from their house, and the receipt from the hardware store slid off the seat. Leaning to pick it up, he read the total, $585.34. It would cost ten times that for him to cover everything on the list. At least, he had mustered up some motivation to get started. Just as he slowed to pull into the driveway, the front passenger side dropped. The car bottomed, scraping across the black top, then, it lurched free. The jolt bounced his hands off the steering wheel. As he regained control, the rear of the car crashed down and up again. Cans of paint, bags of screws, and hand tools were slung about. Shaken, he stopped at the edge of the driveway.

A pounding on the window brought his thoughts into focus. Hallie stood outside the car door, “Shawn are you okay? What was that horrible noise?”

He looked out the window at her. The pouring rain seemed to add to its thickness. She appeared wavy and distorted. “I think I hit that pothole,” he answered.

He got out to inspect the damage. The front tire was flat. Walking to the rear, he noticed a thick gouge in the street. The rear tire seemed undamaged. Then, he went to the puddle. Hallie stood beside him. He took off his sandal and dipped his foot into the water. When it reached ankle depth, he put one hand on her shoulder to keep his balance. Bending as far as he could, he still could not touch. He sat down in the street and dangled his legs into the hole.  “Let’s get to the bottom of this,” he joked as he poked his legs deep into the puddle. It didn’t start out as a joke, but the words escaped from his old self. He was surprised and relieved that his sense of humor had reappeared.

Something about the water relaxed him. He visualized a collage of unfinished and not started paintings rippling across the surface, but ebbing rain drops shattered the images, drove them beneath the surface. He leaned out and peered down.

The touch of Hallie’s hand on his shoulder and her question broke his trance, “What are you doing?”

“Huh?”

“It looked like you were ready to slide in.”

He reached his arm around her legs and thought about going in together. But he remembered his vision and decided that this was his place. Another joke came to him. It went unspoken.

As she moved back and away, she pulled him to his feet and asked. “Where did this come from? Did you touch the bottom?”

“I don’t know and no.” he answered.

He walked over to a forsythia shrub in the yard, broke off a branch about three feet long, and walked back.

Hallie said, “I can’t believe how calm you are. That would have scared the bejeezes out of me.”

When the stick hit bottom, only six inches were above the water line.

He asked Hallie, “Could you get that old red bandanna off the back seat?”

She brought it to him, and he tied it on the end of the stick.

“I’ll have to jack up the car and take the tire to get it fixed. When I get back, I’ll do something about this hole.”

“I’ll get my car. We can go together.”

They drove in silence. Finally, she spoke, “Friday, I’m going with the girls to the beach for a couple of weeks. Did you want to call your brother and see if you could go down and visit?”

“Nah. I’ve got this list to work on. How long are you going to be gone?”

“You’re not listening. I told you two weeks.”

“I’m sorry. This pothole thing has me distracted. Plus, I’m starting to get an idea about a new painting series.”

“That’s great. When I get back maybe you’ll be feeling better.”

At dusk, they returned. The pavement was dry. He saw the red bandanna, and then, he stopped in the middle of the street. “What the hell is going on?” he asked. He jumped out and ran over to the stick. There was no hole. The twig stuck out of solid asphalt. By now, Hallie had passed him. She bent over and yanked on the stick. It didn’t budge.

She said with exasperation, “Someone is playing a joke on us.”

“It isn’t funny,” he said.

*

A man from the county came and inspected the area. He had no explanation for how the stick had become embedded in the road. He assured them that the road was solid and safe. “Maybe your tire blew out and the rim scratched the road,” he suggested.

Shawn had given up finding a rational explanation. He kicked the stick breaking it off at ground level. Then, he ripped off the bandanna and shoved it in his pocket.

*

The smell of wet paint lingered. He had painted two panels on the front door that morning, but it would not dry. The humidity weighed on everything. Sniffing about the yard, Topaz’s ears perked. Shawn knew a storm neared, the first rain since the flat tire.

The phone rang. It was Hallie. She asked, “I was just watching the Weather Channel. Is it raining?”

He knew why she asked, and answered, “No. But if it does, don’t worry. I’m too busy to think about it. I’ve already knocked off three items on the list, and this morning I started a painting.”

“That’s great. Oh, God. I’m going to cry.”

“I haven’t fed the dog, and I have wet paint on my hands. Call you back later. Love you.”

“This is so great. I love you too. Bye.”

His first project, the front door, remained unfinished. The list lay crumpled on the floor beside him. In the studio, a blank canvas leaned against the easel.

The temperature dropped, and wind gusts shook the trees. Topaz curled up beside him. Trying to ignore the coming weather, he grabbed a brush and turned toward the door. He shut his eyes. The rain began. It pounded the ground and sounded like sizzling bacon. Drips from the overflowing gutters increased in frequency and loudness. To distract himself, he attempted to count them, but they came so fast that they blended into one giant rush of liquid.

He moved the brush down and then, inched it up. He wanted to go check the puddle, but he promised he wouldn’t. Down stroke. Pause. Up stroke. Stop. Finally, succumbing to the temptation, he turned and walked to the street. The frightened dog yelped but remained on the porch.

The curls of his long black hair were stretched down by the weight of the water. The saltiness of his sweat mixed with rain. He tasted it as it poured over his mustache. When he reached the puddle, he stopped. Diluted red paint dripped from the brush in his hand. It mixed with the swirling rainbows of gasoline and oil film that had lifted from the surface of the street. He watched the colors mingle and merge.

Like a high diver, he wiggled his feet to the edge of the puddle, put his arms at his side, and hopped feet first, slicing into the puddle. The coolness and darkness of the water calmed him. Except for the anticipation of hitting bottom, the experience pleased him. Glancing up toward the surface, he saw a steady eruption of ripples spread out above him. The light dimmed, but the wonderful images he just experienced filled his mind. Then, a disturbing thought occurred to him. How would he be found?

He paused and suspended himself in the murky depths. Still worried and unsure, he drifted back toward the surface, forced his hand that held the brush into the air, and waited.

*

BIO

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The Apparition by Tala Bar

Aug 07 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

For some years now, come September, Ofara the Witch would take a month off her regular occupations and go for a retreat to the highly wooded Hills of the Moon – thus called because of some strange rock formation around their top.

She was in her middle age now, a small, compact, city woman, who always wore dark clothes; but she had known those wooded hills from her youth. When she had finished her final high school exams, at that time still called by her original appellation, Clara Piers, she was called one day to the school’s Principal, Ms. Aileen Courtney, who presented her with a surprising suggestion. There was a camp, the woman had said, set on the Hills of the Moon on a slope by the edge of the forest, where certain people go and spend a few weeks before they make their next move in their lives. To Clara’s question, What kind of people? The Principal’s vague answer was, that the girl would fit in perfectly among them. Having no particular plan for herself, or any idea what she wanted to do with her life, she agreed. Only when she got there – having been picked up by a special transport together with other girls around her age – she found out to her great astonishment, that the camp was a base for holding a beginners course for Witches… She had no way of going back, as the transport stayed at the camp for at least two weeks, and by that time, she was too well assimilated to want to go back. At the end of the course she had changed her name to Ofara, and the course of her life had changed in a way she could never describe.

Memories of the camp and its wooded surroundings remained in Ofara’s mind as the best period of her life; but only in recent years she had the idea of returning there. She had found out that in the month of September the camp was usually empty, the instructors went on holiday and let their cabins to former students who wanted to stay there for a short period of seclusion, meditation, and communion with Nature. She had been doing it for the past ten years now, although the previous year she had been ill and did not go; so, this year, she had made a special point of going there, whatever comes.

*

Nothing came between Ofara and her plan to go to the Hills of the Moon, and on the first of the month she had hired a car and driver to take her there, with the understanding of coming to take her back at its end.

Things had not changed much since she had been there two years before. The hut was made up of two rooms, a large living room and a small bedroom. It was well stocked with dried and tinned food, some logs for fire and fuel for heating up water for a shower. There was no electricity, though, but she liked the use of candles or lamps for lighting. With no television or radio, and not a very good light for reading, it was easy to spend the time in reflection and meditation. Sometimes, there were other guests in other teachers’ cabins, but Ofara consorted very little with them, her main purpose was to get away for a while from people who, as a rule, filled her every day life.

As soon as she got to the camp in midmorning, Ofara threw the bag that had contained the necessary things for her stay on the bed and went out. It was such a change from her usual city environment, that she breathed the fresh air as some strange and attractive perfume. On three sides of the camp were the woods, pristine and wild, with no human hand touching them to cut down trees, no houses built among them to disrupt their natural environment. At some distance from the Witches camp there was a Hunters camp, and here also people came every September to hunt in the forest; but the two sites had very little to do with each other.

A stream of water flowed not far from her cabin, and after dipping her hands and drinking deeply from the cool water, Ofara went into the woods. The mere spending time among the tall trees and the thick undergrowth, filling her eyes with all the colors of autumn, listening to some birds chirping and insect buzzing, and watching silently the small animals or a deer or two passing by her, were enough to refresh her soul and calm down any turmoil that might have come to her heart just from everyday living.

*

Toward evening the Witch came back to the cabin, washed, prepared a meal and ate her supper. It was a warm night and she stayed outside by the brook, reflecting her thoughts and absorbing the forest’s sounds until it was time to go to bed.

It was far into the night when a loud noise awakened her. Ofara sat in bed, listening to shouts getting nearer and nearer from the direction of the forest. As the shouts sounded human, she did not think she had anything to worry about, so she rose, put her dressing gown on, lit the oil lamp and sat to wait for the people to come. In her mind eye she could see them, as she had always been able to, a group of hunters with their shotguns thrown over their shoulders, hurrying and half running toward the Witches camp with no clear purpose in their minds.

At last, the loud knocks came, and she opened the door for them. One of them burst in followed by two others, while three or four stayed outside, undecided. She left the door open and came up to the man who seemed to be their leader, who was pacing up and down the cabin’s living room.

He stopped his pacing and looked down at her from the height of his own tall stature; he was a well-built man and decisive in his approach, but now he was looking shaken from some inner emotions.

The man put down his gun and, without letting go of the barrel, said in a voice that sounded cultured but roughened by inner turmoil. “We have encountered a problem we’d never had before and I thought the best place to go for help about it would be the Witches camp.”

“Will you sit down,” Ofara said, calmly, trying to use it to influence the agitated hunters. A little unwillingly, as if by compulsion, they congregated around their leader as he sat on one of the chairs; their colleagues outside, though, continued to walk about and talk in loud voice. “What is it, then?” the Witch asked.

The Leader coughed and cleared his throat, as if embarrassed for the very question. Ofara waited patiently for him to talk, as he did at last. “I’m not sure how to describe it, that phenomenon, as we’ve never encountered anything like it before. It looked like an apparition…” His words hung in the air, as if he was not sure how to express himself in the right way.

“An apparition?” Ofara repeated. “Do you mean, a ghost of some kind, or anything more frightening?”

“Can there be anything more frightening that a ghost in the middle of the forest at night, when you’re on the hunt for live animals?” he looked at her with disbelief.

“Well,” replied the Witch, “I wondered if it was not any kind of monster, in which case it could have been mass hysteria, a product of someone’s imagination, or even a mask, an artificial object of some kind or other.”

“Would you, then, accept a ghost but not the other kind of thing?” he still doubted her.

“Well,” she said again, “I’ve had some experience with ghosts, and they would be more difficult to fake, if looking genuine, than any substantial monster.”

“You’ve had experience with ghosts, then?” the Hunter said, sighing with relief. “In this case, we’ve come to the right place, because that what it looked like, out there.”

“All right, then,” Ofara said, “tell me about it.”

So he told her. They were alternating their hunt between a day and a night chase. That night, they were following some tracks they had seen during the day, when one of the men thought he saw something and signed to the others. It looked like a light moving in the darkness of the wood, and they tried to approach it to find what was it that had disturbed their plans.

The Leader had then stopped all movements, and they watched the light closely. It had no definite form, nor any source they could discern. It seemed to be dancing about, close to the dark earth, but it was not reflected from rocks or leaves as ordinary light would. Shining in great contrast to the darkness around it, it danced among the black trees, moved in circles all round the hunters, bursting toward them occasionally in motions of attack, then retreating again among the trees, just to come back again. The men were both enchanted and apprehensive; once or twice, when any of them tried to move away, the apparition came at them as if preventing them from leaving the spot.

For a while all this was done in silence, then they began hearing distance sounds. These were like barking of dogs, and soon enough they got closer and closer, joining the ghost in its dancing. Now the hunters got really scared, as the unseen dogs barked at them furiously, and the apparition danced to the sound of the barking, preventing them from getting away.

“How did you managed it, then?” Ofara asked with interest.

“I used my whistle, and they vanished – both ghost and invisible dogs. But we were too shaken to get on with our business, and I’m not at all sure of what will come next, so I made a decision.”

“To ask a witch…” she smiled at him and he nodded, adding by the way, “though some of us preferred going back to our camp.” Silence fell in the room as Ofara fell into reflection. Then she said, “Let’s go out, I want to include the others in our talk.”

They came out of the hut into a night, where the sickle of the waning moon hovered on top of their heads. Ofara sat herself down on the step in front of her door; some of the hunters sat down on the ground around her, but others stayed at a distance, as if keeping away from her unfamiliar character. The Leader stood not far from her, creating a kind of barrier between the Witch and his people.

“What do you want to talk about, then?” he asked, gruffly, not altogether happy with the arrangement; Ofara thought he might be regretting coming to her for advice, though knowing it was too late to back out now.

She looked around at the men. The moon sickle afforded only a faint light, and they appeared more like silhouettes than detailed figures. As was her wont, though, she did not need to see their outer form to understand their minds, and she searched for those she could question profitably. Apparitions did not appear, to her knowledge, out of nothing and without a cause; there must have been some connection between the hunters, dogs and a certain human being represented by the ghost, and that was what the Witch was looking for in the minds of the hunters.

She concentrated in search for it and, finding after a while in two of them signs of some frenzied barking of dogs and great unhappiness, she said to the Leader, “Two of your men know something that happened here last year. They are crouching over there, a little apart from the rest of the hunters. Please, bring them over so that I can ask them a few questions.”

“You think that apparition has something to do with them?” he asked with astonishment. “Why?”

“I don’t know why, that’s why I need to question them.”

“All right. Barker, Grevitch, come over and talk to this woman.”

“You can’t command us to do that, Walker,” said one of the men as he stood up. “You’re our leader in the hunt, but not outside it. Come on, Barker, let’s go back to Camp.”

Walker looked after them as they walked away in the direction of the Hunters’ camp, then turned to the Witch, “I’m sorry, it does not look as if we can do anything tonight. I apologize for waking you up and I’ll see what I can do on my own. Good night. Come on, people,” he turned to his men, “Let’s go back. There will be no hunting tonight.”

For a long time Ofara remained sitting on the step in front of the cabin, deep in meditation. At last, when the sickle moon had sunk low above the treetops, she went back inside, closed the door and went to bed, slipping easily into a deep sleep.

*

By the time she got up the next day, Ofara had come to a certain decision. She would go into the forest, looking for some experience that would lead her to a better understanding of what had been happening. She had known the part of the woods not far from her cabin, but did not usually venture more inward, knowing the danger of losing her way in the thicket, where it was difficult to be sure of the direction from which the sun was shining. For that reason she had decided to follow the brook, which on one end flowed down the slope into the valley, but on the other it was flowing from its source, which was a fresh water lake inside the forest. The Witch had been that way once or twice before, but not recently, and she had never gone there on her own. Still, she had enough confidence in herself and her abilities, so she took some provisions with her, intending to spend the best part of the day along the stream and at the lake.

The day was lovely, and promised to become as warm as autumn days could. The sky was clear with only some white feathery strands scattered on the deep blue background that shone above the multicolor forest. Ofara put on her walking boots and a pair of jeans, threw a light jacket on top of her light weight back bag, and set out on her way without looking forward to any particular adventure.

The walk was supposed to take her between one and two hours, depending on her speed. She started with vigorous steps, knowing the near by part of the wood quite well and not expecting anything new to appear. After half an hour she slowed down to a regular walking pace, paying more attention to her surroundings and learning something about the goings on in the natural woods. She noticed the lively movements all around her, for it was rutting time for animals large and small, while some birds were preparing for migration, and others were gathering food to last the winter. Ofara had a knack of effacing herself to near invisibility, which she used at times among humans; it was also a good quality to be used among non-humans, so as not to disturb them from the activity they had been absorbed at.

After a while she stopped walking and stood listening. Accompanied by the forest sounds, she thought she heard something different – human voices. She concentrated, then knew in her mind that two men were walking in her direction, perhaps meaning to join the flow of the stream as well. She decided to wait for them, hear about their intentions, and soon they appeared from among the thicket. One of them Ofara recognized immediately as the tall, ruggedly handsome figure of Walker, the hunt Leader from last night. The other was less familiar, and only when Walker presented him as Barker, she recalled he was one of the men from last year, whose friend did not want him to talk the night before.

“Are you going along the stream toward the lake, as we are?” Walker asked after the initial greetings.

“Yes, I haven’t been there for sometime and just felt like visiting again,” she answered calmly. She saw a glint in the other man’s eyes and knew her hunch was correct and she was on the right track.

But the man Barker did not let it lie at that. “Why!” he demanded in a harsh voice. He was a smaller man that the Leader but with a strong body, and face that had been scarred by some long passed brawl.

“Why what?” Ofara asked in an innocent voice.

“Why are you going to that lake? What do you know?” He insisted.

“What is there to know?” asked the Witch, while his mate admonished him at the same time, “Come off it, Barker; what is it to us what she’s doing on her vacation? It’s a free country, isn’t it?”

The man fell silent and Ofara said softly, “I once was there with someone dear to me, which I like to remember, that’s all…”

Barker grunted, and the three turned to continue together, following up the brook in an awkward silence. Soon, they heard a sound that stopped them abruptly. The sharp voice of dogs barking pierced the jolly chattering of the woods.

“Are you going hunting today?” Ofara asked, looking with wonder at the two hunters.

“Not today, not after last night,” Walker said. “The men needed their rest, and they had barely got up when the two of us left the camp.”

The Witch looked at them closely, especially at Barker, who scowled and turned his gaze away from her. “The two of you?” she asked, as if saying, What have you two got to do with each other?

“Barker is one of the only two men who were here last year, and I wanted to hear from him if anything happened then.”

“And did it?” The man shrugged and she let it go. “The dogs wouldn’t go out on their own, would they?” She asked, as they could hear them now quite clearly.

“Never!” Barker said. “We left them all tied up and they are too well trained to go on their own, aren’t they, Walker?”

“Sure,” the Leader agreed, “but to be on the safe side, let’s try calling to them.” He put two fingers in his mouth and emitted a sharp whistle. They waited a moment, but nothing happened except the continued distant barking sound.

“Can they belong to another group of hunters?” asked Ofara.

“Not so close to our designated area!” he answered decisively. After a moment silence he said, “I suggest we continue on our way to the lake, and take it from there.”

They did that, and after another half hour reached the lake; while they were walking, the sound of barking came closer and closer, growing louder and louder, until it became deafening. As they came out of the wood into the grassy, leafy bank of the lake, though, there was nothing there, but the barking of the dogs was raving around the still water.

“What is the meaning of all that?” asked Walker in a fierce whisper.

He was answered by his mate who whispered back, his voice trembling, “That’s how it was last year…”

“What’d you mean?” the hunt Leader asked aggressively, but at that moment the Witch cried out, “Look!”

Out of the calm water reflecting the green shade of the forest, a figure rose slowly. It was formless, transparently whitish, like a ghost out of some fantasy stories.

“That’s her!” Barker burst out shouting. “I’m sure that’s her! And the dogs’ barking, just like last year!”

“What happened last year, then, man?” Walker demanded. “Speak up and tell us about it!”

The hunter, though, seemed unable to speak, only shook his head wildly, then he turned and ran into the forest, shouting some gibberish words the others could not understand. As the Hunter started with the intention of running after him, Ofara uttered a curt command, “Don’t!”

He stopped and turned, the question freezing on his lips. Ofara didn’t look at him but at the ghostly shape that was performing a hideous dance full of fright and pain on the surface of the lake, to the wild barking of the unseen dogs; but the Witch’s eyes were closed, dead to the world, and Walker realized that she was concentrating with some unknown intention. After a while she opened her eyes and looked at him. “You were not hunting here last year, were you?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I’d been invited to join another group somewhere else. Why? What’d you think happened here last year?”

“That’s what I was trying to find out,” she told him.

“Find out? How? From Whom?” He was both confused and enlightened at the same time, as if not wanting to understand what she meant.

“Her,” she pointed at the ghost.

“Can you converse with such a strange apparition, then?” he asked, full of doubts. He did not understand what was going on, but it seemed to him that the woman did, and he was ready to give her the chance of explaining.

In the meantime, the scene over the lake had changed. The barking of the dogs became faint again, as if coming from a great distance, while the figure on the surface of the lake had changed her frightful dancing into a different kind of movements. It now looked more definite, alternating between bending down, straightening up, and stretching her arms, as if picking things from the ground and from the trees; she was also humming softly as if singing to herself, as if happy in what she was doing.

“What is she doing?” the Hunter asked after watching the apparition for a while in her new act.

“She is repeating what she was doing in the forest that day last year…”

Suddenly, the ghost straightened abruptly, as they heard the dogs’ barking getting closer again. “There they come,” said Ofara, tensely.

“The hunters, after her?” the Hunter said.

“Not intentionally, at first,” the Witch replied.

“But they went after her, with the dogs…” he continued, insisting on the horrible idea that had appeared in his mind.

Ofara shrugged. “The hunter’s instinct, would you say?” She looked at him, then decided, No, not under his leadership. Never!

“They chased her,” he whispered, shuddering at the sight in his mind’s eye…

“By that time,” the Witch said, “the men went berserk, running with the dogs, shouting and urging them on instead of pulling them back… She was frantic, and in her fright she came up to the lake and jumped in. The dogs continued to run around the banks, barking madly, while she was caught by some weeds and, unable to swim ashore, drowned…”

“She drowned…” The Hunter repeated Ofara’s words, closing his eyes.

*

Walker accompanied Ofara on her way back to her cabin. “Are you going hunting tonight?” she asked.

“No, we’re going out tomorrow morning, at dawn.”

“With the dogs?”

“Yes, of course! You don’t think anything bad may happen again?”

She paused a little before answering candidly, “I don’t know. I have no idea at all what may happen.”

*

Ofara woke up but continued to lie in her bed, listening, trying to figure out what had wakened her. From a distance, she heard the faint barking of dogs, and she knew. It was dawn, and the hunters were setting out into the woods for their chase. There was nothing she could do, either to stop the hunt or prevent any calamity that may happen. All she could do was stay where she was and watch the happenings in her mind’s eye.

The hunters were going after one of the mature deer with its precious enormous antlers. They had planned it all in the previous day and night, had found the tracks and were following them into the woods. The animal was clever and experienced and led them a good chase, which was half the fun for men and dogs. They were running together, shouting and barking, intent on tiring the deer until it could run no more. Perhaps it would turn round to fight them, then the fun would be even greater, and they had great expectations in their hearts for the tall tales they would tell at home when they were back.

Two of the hunters were the keenest, and they were those who had been there the year before, not liking to miss any such meeting. They were Barker and Grevitch, who now ran at the head of the group, urging their dogs more than anyone else.

Then it happened. The ghostly apparition appeared again, right before the hunters’ eyes, dancing its ghastly dance, with the ghostly dogs answer the real ones with their barking. Everything stopped. The bark of the real dogs turned into a whimper, the men started shaking, crying out for help instead of shouting on, with their leader Walker helpless to know what to do. To turn back in shame, or to try to overcome their fear and move on regardless? He tried to do the latter, urging the men to pay no attention to the apparition and go right through it. It did not work, as if a physical barrier prevented them from moving on.

At last, some of the men started getting back, calling for their dogs, giving up the chase. The hunt was obviously off for the day, but Walker stayed on, watching, expecting, he did not know what. Then it happened. Somehow or other, the two hunters at the head of the group, Barker and Grevitch, got separated from the rest of the hunters. Now they seemed surrounded by the ghostly dogs, whose barking became stronger and stronger, sounding as if they were actually attacking the two men, jumping onto them and biting their very bodies. The men cried out of fear and pain and started running. Nothing seemed to prevent them from doing so, and they ran through the forest with the transparently whitish ghost chasing them, jumping on all their sides and urging them on, and the ghostly dogs running with and at them. Walker, now curious but unable to stop what was happening, came hurrying after them. They ran and ran and after a while he discerned their direction as toward the lake. They never stopped when they came to it, plunging right into the water, as if it could save them from the dogs and the apparition…

*

He appeared at the cabin sometime later that day, finding Ofara busy around it with no intention of going out.

“I watched them drowning,” he told her, and she nodded, having seen it all in her mind’s eye.

“You couldn’t help it, I know,” she affirmed. “You might say that their bad conscience drove them to it…”

“They did not have any conscience!” he replied harshly. “They deserved what they got!”

Ofara shook her head, not believing in violence of any kind. “Did the ghost disappeared after that?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Vanished, as if it had never been there,” the Hunter smiled grimly. “I’m glad of that, at least, I wouldn’t want to see anything like that again.”

“Are you staying on, then?” she asked, just for the conversation. At last, she could have an ordinary conversation with that man, as she really did like him.

“We’ll see, but I don’t see why not. Accidents do happen, don’t they… Now, what are you cooking for lunch? I wouldn’t mind a meal made by a woman for a change.”

*

Tala Bar – I am a writer and artist and I live in Israel. I studied Hebrew and English languages and literature and I hold a Master of Philosophy degree in literature from London University; before my retirement, I was a teacher of Hebrew and English languages and literature. I am interested in anthropology in general and in mythology in particular and I write with these subjects in mind. In literature, I am particularly interested in fantasy and science fiction and I have written and had published stories, novellas, novels and essays both in Hebrew and English. A list of my published works in English can be found (I hope) in this address: http://www.myspace.com/537888539/blog/541695998
Samples of my art works and some family photos can be found in the following address: http://cid-27cbdd735d2a1560.profile.live.com/details.

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