As it’s the new year, I have created a new writing exercise post that will last for six months. The idea is for me to photograph something that inspires me each week, and use that picture as a prompt for a writing exercise post each Tuesday. The picture can be anything. I’m not limiting myself, so whereas one week a landscape shot may hold inspiration for me, the next week it could be a funny shaped vegetable- who knows?
This week’s picture was taken during a ramble through local woodland with my family. We had to jump a creek, try not to lose our wellies in thick mud, and get back to the car park before it got dark and we got well and truly lost. There was something so magical about the wildness of this particular woodland. Ideas kept springing to mind, and I had to take a plethora of pictures. I have opted for the following:
It’s a photo of a particularly beautiful area on our walk. As night started to fall, the area took on a eerie,magical quality, and that is what has inspired this story. It’s longer than my usual short stories, but I felt it necessary.
The Man in the Woods
“You said you knew the way back,” Libby whispered. Every creak, bird call, and whistle of wind puts her on edge.
“I said, I’m sure we’d find our way back, but that was in the daylight. You were the one who wanted to stay and get those last few pictures.”She huffs ahead of me, no wiser of the path we’re taking. “Do you have any signal?
She laughs out loud. “Of course I don’t have signal. We’re lost in the woods, Fiona. Have you never watched a horror film?”
I roll my eyes, and opt for silence. If we keep heading in this direction we’ll stumble across some kind of civilisation soon. When Libby has subconsciously blamed you for something, there is no changing her mind. It’s a good job that I don’t pay her much heed. If she wasn’t Davey’s girlfriend, I doubt we’d hang out, like ever.
Libby stops, holding a hand just inches from my face. “Do you hear that?”
I swat her hand away, barging passed her, but then I too hear it. “That’s an engine,” I whisper. Headlights filter through the trees up ahead, and swing to the left. The car continues on out of sight. “There must be a road, a house, something,” I say, racing on.
Libby holds her camera to her chest, and jogs behind me. The road is more of a mud strewn dirt track, and on first glance, looks like it heads into deeper woodland. “There has to be something up there,” Libby surmises. Once again she takes the lead, flicking her hair over her shoulder as she does so.
I pull out my phone again- still no signal. Thrusting it back into my pocket, I plough through the mud, my wellies lagged up to my ankles. Libby lets out a little ‘ooo’ noise, and quickens her pace. A building sits nestled in dense trees. We could have missed it, if not for the silver car parked outside, reflecting the moonlight.
Libby’s already at the door. “This place is derelict. Do you reckon someone actually lives here,” she says, knocking.
The house is dying if not dead. Both upstairs windows are cracked, the roof bows in, and the white paintwork is tinged green with algae. The whole place smells boggy, but the car is fancy. I peer in the car window as the front door opens.
A man answers with a candle in hand. His features stretch in the flickering light, appearing demonic. He steps out, his face one of confusion and irritation.
“Oh, thank god,” Libby exclaims. “My friend has got us lost out here. Please, please could you show us the way to the real world.”
The man takes another step, the moonlight exposing him. I’m struck by his appearance- green eyes, dark hair back in a ponytail, and a symmetry to his face that surpasses that of Greek Gods.”
Libby makes a strange noise. She too must be seeing what I’m seeing, but up close. “Sorry, I’m- um- I’m Libby,” she says, holding out her hand. The man looks at her hand, and then giving it a shake, he looks passed her to me. “Oh, that’s Fiona,” she adds with a flick of her wrist. The action irritates me. She always acts like I’m a nuisance, an annoying wasp that could be wafted away. The truth she wont admit is that I’m her only friend, if you can call us that.
I offer a quick wave.
“So, directions would be fantastic,” Libby continues.
“Would you like to come inside a minute,” he asks. His smooth voice stirs something deep in my tummy.
Libby is already heading into the house. How has this girl survived this long. One minute she’s talking about horror movies, and the next she is stepping into a strangers house in the woods.
“No, we’re happy to wait out here, thank you,” I say, grabbing her arm.
The man’s lips purse as if he’s hiding a smile, but he nods, and heads inside closing the door behind him.
“Fiona, could you be anymore rude? I’m freezing, and he was being polite.”
“We are lost in the woods, Lib. He could be a serial killer for all we know.”
“She’s right,” says the smooth voice. He has appeared from the back of the house, wearing a coat, and carrying a torch. “I’m not, but I could have been.” He heads down a narrow footpath, shining the torch at his feet. “It’s this way on foot.”
Libby lets out a flirty laugh. “Ignore her. I could tell you were a good man as soon as I saw you. Thank you for helping us.”
“A good man, well, that’s a new one.”
“Excuse me?” I say. Both Libby and Greek God turn toward me. “Did you say something?”
He raises an eyebrow. “No.”
“I just thought I heard something.” I walk at least ten paces behind them. Libby desperately tries to keep up with our escort, but he moves quickly. He glances at me, his mouth turns down in contemplation, and then he turns his attention back to the footpath.
“You haven’t even asked us why we were out here,” Libby says. I roll my eyes. Here we go. “I’m a photography student. I needed some natural images for an assignment I’m doing. Would you like to see?”
She doesn’t let him reply, just starts flicking through her pictures. He nods politely, glancing down just enough to feign interest, and then something draws his attention.
“Oh, I was just checking the exposure on that one.”
“Beautiful,” he says.
“What one is beautiful?” I ask, curiosity getting the better of me. “Even though Libby enjoys photography, and scrapes by in all her assignments, she doesn’t have a natural talent like Davey does.
His head jerks in my direction, his eyes locking mine. I feel exposed in his glare, and look to my feet. Why is he so intense? Why do I like it?
Libby notices his interest in me; she can’t deal with that. Libby always has the male attention, not boring, weird Fiona. “Alright, Miss Bighead. No one said anything about beautiful.” She whispers something to Greek God, and giggles like a school girl. He doesn’t seem impressed.
“You went pretty far out to get those pictures,” he says, then he stops, turn to face me, and shines the torch at my feet. “It can be dangerous that deep in the woods. Please, don’t go down there again.”
His words seep into me like honey absorbing into my skin. Despite myself, I nod, not able to look away from him. He smiles, and my tummy swoops.
Libby steps in front of me, breaking whatever that tension was. “We won’t be coming back here again,”she says, laughing. “Fiona, doesn’t know her left from her right.”
“Well, she seems much more sensible than you.” The fiery tones in his voice catch me off guard, but I grin to myself as Libby stumbles over her own tongue. “How are you two even friends?” he asks.
“Libby dates my brother,” I say. Libby glares at me. What was she expecting? ‘Oh, how could I ever not be friends with such a talented, friendly, selfless person such as Libby?’
Greek God laughs, the sound rolls around me like thunder. Shit! Did I just say that out loud? Libby appears just as confused by his outburst as I am, so I rein myself in, and concentrate on my own feet. He slows his pace, not much, but enough to allow me to catch up. Libby glares ahead with a face like a slapped ass. Greek God looks to my hand twirling my necklace, but averts his gaze when he realises I’m looking. What is happening here?
Street lights appear up ahead, twinkling through the blowing trees. He points his torch toward a stile. “There you go, ladies- the car park.”
“Thank Christ,” Libby says, sighing. She checks her watch and quickens her pace. “I’m supposed to be at work in ten minutes.” Jumping the stile, she straightens her jacket, and fixes her hair. “Are you okay to get a taxi home, Fiona? Otherwise, I’m going fifteen minutes out of my way.” She’s running to her car before I can even answer, and without so much as a fuck you very much to our rescuer.
I can’t leave it like that. “Thank you for helping us,” I say, turning to face him. He has Libby’s camera, flicking through the images. “How did you-”
“I wanted to show you the image I thought was beautiful,” he says, not looking up from the camera. “That self- absorbed, bimbo of a girl would have deleted it, otherwise.”
“I knew I heard you.”
“I didn’t say it, l thought it.”
He hands me the camera, and my breath catches a little. The image is slightly out of focus giving it a soft quality. I sit on the river bank, leaning back on my wrists. I’m oblivious to the camera, and twirl a yellow leaf in my fingers.
“What do you mean, you thought it?”
His fingers dance over my shoulder, leaving a coursing energy behind them. “Do you feel this?” he asks, centimeters from my ear. I nod. “Impossible.”
“Who are you? What is this?” I step away from him, drawing my arms around myself.
He backs up, holding his palms in the air. “Don’t fear me. I don’t know what this is, but it’s important. Come on, I’ll drive you home. Your idiotic friend thinks it’s okay for you to get a taxi alone, but I don’t. I would also like to have a word with your brother about his taste in women.”
I smile, instantly regretting it as one spreads over his own face. Wow, he is stunning. “No, I’m fine. I can walk it in less than five minutes, and anyway, I can look after myself.”
“Oh, is that so,” says a strange voice. A hand clamps over my mouth, and Greek God’s face falls in shock. In the next instant, he’s launched from his feet, hitting into a tree trunk with such force that the creak echoes throughout the woods.
“Hello, Anneka,” the voice whispers in my ear. He knows my birth name. Not even Libby knows my birth name. Greek God’s eyes meet mine if only briefly. My birth name means something to him too.
Okay, Fiona, think this through. His hand is big enough to cover my mouth and nose easily, I can feel his insane muscles pressed against my back, he’s about two heads taller than me, and there is a weapon of some kind in his waist band.
Inhaling through my nose, I stamp on his foot, and bring an elbow back into his ribs. He drops slightly, releasing his grip on me a little. Spinning in his arms, I bring my knee up to meet his manhood, and as he falls into a crouch, I grab his head, using the same knee to smash his face. Blood spurts from his mouth and nose, and as he topples, I kick him in the ribs, and unsheathe his knife; an ornate, silver blade that looks as old as life itself.
Greek God snatches the knife from me and plunges it into my attackers chest. An eerie hiss emits from the wound, and the man withers in front of my eyes until he’s nothing but dust.
“You can fight,” Greek God pants, nursing a deep cut to his forehead.
I don’t reply. I just stare at the pile of dust on the floor.
Images are the property of K.J.Chapman
Written works are the property of K.J.Chapman