He had arrived at the house made of ashwood. Its walls had been stained a deep chocolate giving it the appearance that it could melt in a blistering sun if it were not for the sister ash trees that crowded and grieved over it’s felled siblings that made up the house. A small break in the leaves and branches, the shape of a thin rectangle, ran parallel to the dirt path leading to the porch of the ashwood house. A Traveller traveled on this path, his horse perspiring due to the stress of the harsh run. The setting sun had disappeared over the trees and her dying light had dimmed seconds before the Traveller reached the porch. His horse whinnied and neighed weakly and the Traveller leaped off his horse. He landed on his two feet and led his exhausted friend to a patch of green grass thriving comfortably among the roots of three trees.
A breeze ruffled through the air and the ashwood trees moaned deeply, waving their branches back and forth. The Traveller hardly payed no mind, with the exception of patting one of the trees’ trunks and feeling its smooth sturdy wood. The tree in turn moaned again in a lesser breeze that rustled her branches. The Traveller stood there a second and then returned to the path to the house and slowly climbed the four steps leading to the porch. Two windows stood incorporated into the house on either side of the chocolate stained door. Their glass was thin and weak and at another breeze they rattled timidly in their frames. The Traveller reached for the doorknob, a stout piece of brass, but he let go. A bead of sweat gathered on his otherwise cold brow. The Traveller glanced to the door in front of him. The moon was at such an angle over the forest that its light illuminated the door. He raised his left arm and gently clenched his fist. For a second, he hesitated, his knuckles hovering over the wood. Then he knocked on the moonlit door.
“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller. His question was met by the silence of the forest’s night. A bird flew out of the turret disturbing the branches causing the Traveller to squeeze his shoulder blades together and duck his head just a bit, in surprise. He glanced behind him and saw the fleeting image of the small bird lift itself into the purple sky.
“Is there anybody there?” he said, panic lifting his heart. His knuckles stung softly from the knock and he decided to knock one last time.
“Is there anybody there?” He called out louder. The ashwood trees moved even more in the consistent breeze and their branches scratched at the wooden walls of the house. The Traveller wandered away from the door and stood on the moonlit path. He was greeted by a shower of leaves. He stared out at the forest of ash trees clustered together on the front lawn of the house. Their branches intertwined with one another and their twisted trunks resembled faces. One tree looked sad and another, if one squinted one’s eyes, looked angry. But all the trees seemed to have negative expressions. They cried and wept and growled in anger. They gathered around the house and on their knees and gnarled roots prayed that their sisters were well.
As the Traveller hardened his stare at the forest of trees, they turned into rippling masses of translucent bodies. The bodies turned into those of women and they crowded around each other. The Traveller watched in a trance as the bodies floated around him and gathered around the house. Some even stopped to gaze at the Traveller. His heart hammered in his chest as a few decided to come and investigate him. They swirled around him reaching out their long fingers, but never touching him. Tears rolled down their cheeks.
“I am sorry sisters,” the Traveller apologized. He looked back at the house and the women followed his gaze. “I am sorry.” The women rippled and began to float away. A breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and the bodies of the women rippled like puddles.
The Traveller bounded to his horse, being careful not to run through any of the spirits. He clicked his tongue catching the horse’s attention. His horse seemed to not notice the shining bodies swarm around him and stood still as he awaited his master. The Traveller grabbed a hold of the saddle and hoisted himself up with ease. He swung his leg out and caught the stirrup. His hands found the reins and he pulled on them sharply causing the horse to whinnie in protest. The spirits with the sad faces stared at him. The Traveller looked at each one of them in turn.
“Listen!” He cried holding the reins, “Tell them I came, and no one answered. That I kept my word!” And with that the Traveller kicked his heels into his horse and the steed took off. His horse’s hooves pounded hard on the dirt path and as the two rode down the path the gathering of the spirits dispersed. The bodies seemed to explode into particles of ashes which twinkled in the moonlight and floated away in another breeze. And the silence surged softly backward, when the plunging hoofs were gone.