**The prompt from Magpie Tales got me going on a twisted little tale.
Thanks for reading.
It was a kind of disaster out in the woods. Only one that no one knew about. Alona hadn’t been able to go there since it had happened, since she’d done it.
She figured it was guilt keeping her looking northward instead of southward to the woods or maybe it was a fear of getting caught.
They say all killers retrace their steps. Alona had never believed it but now she could see the truth in it. The desire to go back to where she’d buried Marty was overwhelming. She thought about it all the time.
Sometimes she caught herself halfway to the escarpment. She’d buried him right at the bottom of it. The ground had been hard, full of roots and rubble. It had taken her four hours to dig a decent hole. Her hands were bleeding by the end of it and her arms were burning.
Every time the shovel crunched against the earth she heard the word murderer in her head.
That’s what she was now.
Alona was glad Marty was gone – relieved to the point of elation – but she hadn’t been prepared for the guilt beating her about the head. Raven’s wings.
The rub, the real rub that Shakespeare had been talking about was that Marty had been going to kill her.
Let’s go for a walk in the woods, he’d said.
In the middle of the night.
Alona wondered what was going on. Marty was in the middle of doing a jigsaw. A thousand piece challenge of Velazquez’ 17th century masterpiece Las Hilanderas. He considered himself an expert on jigsaws but this one seemed to be getting the better of him. Alona was worried he had discovered the missing pieces. She had left the window open in the sitting room even though Marty forbade it. A jigsaw enthusiast is not fond of an itinerant wind. It can mess up the jigsaw puzzling process. But the room had been so stuffy, slightly rank; Alona felt nauseous whenever she went in there. So she had opened a window.
The wind burst in straight away. She could see it. Like smoke. It bounced, skidding on Marty’s antique jigsaw table, ruffling up the pieces he had left to place, casting several on the floor.
Alona ran and shut the window.
Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.
She picked up all the dropped pieces and noticed a curved edge sticking out from the broken bit of wainscotting by the door. She couldn’t get it out. She tried tweezers, pliers, kitchen tongs, a pencil, a screwdriver, but she couldn’t get it out.
Holy shit, she said. Damn that wind.
Then it occurred to her that there might be a few other pieces carried by the wind, hiding . Her stomach knotted, twisting. There was nothing for it but to count the ones remaining.
It took her an hour to count all the pieces. Three times she counted with three different results.
There was a sharp pain above Alona’s left eye. If she had lost 13 pieces she was in deep shit. Deep.
So she agreed to go with him. Into the woods at night.
As she walked she realised she hated Marty. For being so pedantic, so mean-spirited, so violent. For making her less self-assured than she had been in her youth so that she couldn’t make a decision to stay or to leave.
Walking in the woods in the middle of the night with a man she used to love but whom she now hated was no fun. Especially when she realised she was too afraid to run from him in case he hated her more than she hated him and his hatred put wings on his feet so no matter how fast she would run away from him he would catch her.
Time and time again.
After walking in silence for ten minutes Alona noticed the gleam of the shovel. The moonlight caught it, rendering it trophylike in the dark.
She grew afraid, very afraid. The shovel looked heavy. Like it could do some damage.
Why are you carrying a shovel? She really didn’t want to know but she had to ask.
They were almost at the escarpment. The place where the trees leaned like trapeze artists. The place where you could slide down in cardboard boxes. The place where you could play forts and castles and crouch down low to hide from the wind. The place where the black cherry trees grew. An accident of geometry.
The place where you could bury the man you used to love.
At the edge of the escarpment Marty looked into her eyes. Alona knew what he was going to do. The sadness at what things had come to was a piece of elastic being tied tighter and tighter. Severing her heart in two.
She didn’t know what to do. She really didn’t. So she closed her eyes, flinching. Waiting for the first blow.
She heard the shovel being raised. A rush of air and steel and malicious determination. Inexplicably, she opened her eyes.
She heard a scream and then a grunt. Saw the shovel being flung over the escarpment. And the rich bitterness of the blood.
But it wasn’t her scream or her grunt or her blood. It was Marty’s. Also inexplicable.
And even more inexplicably she saw that the trees, the black cherry trees, so frail and precarious on the sloping ground had moved. Surrounding Marty.
He was bleeding, he was moaning, he was on his knees. And the trees with their slender branches like foal’s legs and their tiny black whimsical buds were pushing him over the escarpment.
He screamed. The branches were in his hair, his ears, scraping the back of his neck. The blood was in his eyes, blinding him.
They pushed harder and harder, the sound of wood on flesh sickening; and he fell, tumbling like a sack of kindling down the escarpment, landing, pitched, on top of the shovel.
Alona was shaking so hard she couldn’t move.
Marty, she said, croaking, whispering.
Marty didn’t move.
Marty was dead.
The trees were gone from the escarpment. As if they had dissolved into the woods.
The package came on the day Alona couldn’t get her washing dry. Her jeans, her favourites, were streaked with blood and dirt. She had soaked and washed them three times and it was only now after the fourth wash that the stains had come out.
But wet, dripping on the laundry floor as it stormed outside she could still smell the rich loam of the soil and the blood, all that blood.
The postman knocked on the door, handed her a package. It contained a jigsaw puzzle print. One of those created from computer software. It was a scene Alona recognised all too well. A scene that made her look over her shoulder and down the front path where the postman had come.
There was no note. No return address. Just the puzzle. Disparate parts that looked like they shouldn’t fit, but did. She dropped the print on the floor in the hallway.
She could still smell Marty’s blood.
That afternoon Alona needed a cable for her computer. She decided to walk to town. The storm had eased but the sky was churny grey, like white paint when you put black in.
Leaves flew around her feet. All sorts. Oak, alder, birch. And the dark buds of the black cherry tree.
The girl at the store was demonstrating. Software for turning photos into jigsaws. She had on a silk shirt with dark purple budlike dots on it. Like the berries on black cherry trees.
Alona felt sick.
She bought the cable, stood at the counter waiting for her change. The girl with the silk shirt gave her the change and a note written in a spidery, wispy hand that read – You’re safe now.
As Alona walked home she remembered the sound of the cherry trees flexing their branches on Marty’s flesh. Abrading, scratching. Quills on paper.
They had moved so quickly. Purposeful, branches pushing like antlers. Saving her, cursing her. How could she ever speak of them without being thought insane?
As she neared her house she realised there was no wind. No wind at all. But she could hear the rustling of leaves.
The cherry trees stood on either side of the garden path. Sentries, dream trees, real trees, their topmost branches leaning downwards as if they could see right through the earth.
Alona heard the word in her head but she no longer believed it.
The trees, alert as spears, lanced the windless night.
You’re safe now.
The note was still in her hand, crumpled, damp. She dropped it, searching for her keys and it tumbled, rolling like a rock down the path. Propelled by some momentum other than the wind into the thick shadows of the trees.
The trees, stiff, religious, solid, in solidarity, stood. Earth formed, wood formed, blood formed.
Leaves like eyes, budding branches intertwined like jewelled hands.