The New Forest. Hampshire. England. 1872.
Harsh social and economic conditions throughout the countryside ferment a febrile unrest in which cults and sects flourish, desperate for a better life, in this or another world.
This gathering has only two acres on which to live. Here in the dark corners where the human eye cannot penetrate, or instinctively chooses not to, are nests of echoes where in summer piles of feathers crackle like fire, and in winter the air in the shadows catches in the back of the throat.
Since she’d joined she hadn’t felt confident enough to talk to any of the community. She’d watched them though.
What immediately stood out was Grenn’s effortless proficiency with rope and knot.
When she’d first seen him, it had been a cold clear morning of slime trail and spider web made bright and glorious by the fourth day of a keen hunger.
Inside the gloomy interior of a small outbuilding, where on the exterior walls last spring’s communally applied coat of hastily slapped-on whitewash was now being peeled off by wind and rain, leaving large raggedy patches of open stone, the noose Grenn had made and thrown over the thick interior wood-beam would have been admired by even the most exacting of hangmen.
She foresaw, but could not change — her gift, her curse — that there wouldn’t be enough of a drop to efficiently snap a neck in a split second.
That here in the dense air there would be creaking and kicking and convulsing and woodlice tumbling from the beam before death would come as the glorious metamorphosis they had all been taught, and that she would be there chanting with the motley group the villagers would soon call monsters, and that as they filed out afterwards what she would notice most would be flakes of whitewash sticking to the soles of everyone’s cold bare feet; and that later in the day’s gloaming, two thin cats, bedraggled in the torrential rain, would circle each other, spines arched, emitting haunting baby cries as she watches a militia man in uniform vomiting, and soon afterwards she would be led away by rough stupid hands with grips that indicate dissent will me met with brutal violence – until she hears their hoarsely whispered words, furious, cheated — “She’s vanished…” But she hasn’t.
She has taken her place in the echoes.
Tim Goldstone is a published and broadcast writer now living deep in rural Wales. Against all advice enjoys walking into marshland until he begins to sink. You can find him on twitter @muddygold