Something of a nothingness lingered in the stagnant air, wrapping itself around the father and his only daughter. Thick and suffocating, it darted here and there weaving like a snake between the skeletal trees, penetrating the shrivelled earth beneath their dampened feet, and spreading across the starless night sky to smother them in a deathly blanket. Struggling to inhale, the girl stopped to catch her breath.
"Wait," she called to her father who was several steps ahead of her. "Daddy stop!"
But her father continued to walk straight ahead of him as if possessed by something ghastly, his eyes dull and glazed, and oblivious to his daughter's cries.
The daughter tried again. She yelled this time, at the top of her lungs: "Daddy please stop for a moment. My legs ache and I can't go any further. We have to take a rest!"
Still nothing. Silence swirled around her and a high pitched buzzing sound filled her ears as her blood began to pound. He didn't even turn back. It was like she had never existed. Without him she was alone, alone with the whispering trees and their coded language of rustling their leaves. She felt like an outcast, abandoned in a faraway land, with no form of communication. Wait. She thought that she heard something that she could understand. A strangely familiar but unfamiliar tongue rustled the leaves of the nearby yew and crept inside her ear.
"He can't hear youuuuuuu..."
Spiteful and mocking, the last syllable vibrated the airwaves in an echoing fashion. With a gasp, the girl clasped her right hand to her pale cheek. She thought that she had felt the heat of someone's breath on it. Her fingers trembled and her lower lip quivered. Terrified, the girl closed her eyes and took a deep breath, filling her lungs with icy cold air. She waited for a few seconds before trying to exhale but she couldn't. The air stuck at the back of her throat, and she felt something tighten around her, crushing her ribcage inwards. She imagined being crushed by a giant fist and her bloody juices oozing out and slowly seeping through the gaps between clenched fingers. Her eyes snapped open and she saw a handful of red berries fall from a tree. Through her peripheral vision, she watched as they plummeted to the ground and splattered into growing puddles of red on impact.
"Help!" the girl tried to shriek but it was to no avail. No sound escaped her trembling lips. Her throat was as dry as sandpaper and her eyes bulged unnaturally from their swollen sockets. Frantically, she rolled her eyes in all directions to look around her. There. There was her father leaving her behind. Suddenly the earth started rattling underneath her feet and the trees began to shake with manic laughter. Panicking, she noticed that they were closing in on her. She must run for her life! She tried to move her feet but they were stuck fast. Sobbing uncontrollably between fits of choking, she begged the retreating figure in the distance.
"Please Daddy, no! Don't leave me!"
As helpless as a new born baby, she fell to her knees and rocked back and forth. Without taking her eyes off him, she watched her father gradually fade away before eventually being sucked into a black nothingness.
Filling the empty space left by the father was the ominous clanging of a church bell. The way in which it pierced the silence was invasive and felt like it had forced entry. Sinister and sadistic with malicious purpose. Dong. Dong. Dong. Betrayed, the newly orphaned girl wildly swung her head around searching desperately for something, anything that she could latch on to. She needed love and comfort, someone to depend on. Everything she'd had was now lost. It was then that she caught sight of the most harrowing thing that she'd ever seen or dared to imagine. Peeking out from behind the yew tree, a pair of brown eyes pierced the darkness. Eyes that were identical to her own. Then a pair of cracked, whitish lips that parted and breathed a single word: "Death..."
The girl's throbbing blood froze in her veins and paralysed her from head to toe. Her heart thumped frantically, painfully colliding with and pushing against her shrunken ribs. She screamed a silent scream with as much strength as her lungs could muster. This was to no avail as the sound was smothered by a second bell toll ripping through the taut air. Dong. Dong. Dong.
Then, a movement among the trees. A shadow loomed. A shadow of a little girl, the same size as herself. For the first time, she noticed an old fashioned lantern hanging from a branch, swinging and creaking in the wind. The girl heard an eerie humming tune, horrifying but irresistibly alluring at the same time. The humming seemed to talk to the little girl, beckoning her closer. She knew that she was nearing the close but that was okay. She needn't be afraid now. Filled with awe and wonder the girl crept towards the yew tree. She no longer felt in control of her body. The choking atmosphere had worn her down and filled her body and lungs with its essence. She felt weightless as she gravitated towards the two orbs of light that fascinated her so much. A pale and crusty hand grabbed hold of the girl's tiny wrist and pulled her closer. Then it reached up and grabbed a handful of berries from the tree on the other side before handing them to the girl. It grabbed her hand, placed the berries in her palm and forced her thumb and fingers to clasp them. Once it was satisfied, it pulled down some berries for itself and like what the girl had imagined earlier, crushed them into a bloody paste before smearing it over the girl's smiling face.
A light flashes on and illuminates the owner of the eyes and disembodied hand. The hand smears the berry juice over its own face and as it moves away, the figure is revealed. Standing there with a psychotic grin etched on its bloody face is a mirror reflection of the girl herself, distinguished only by the pointed jaw. Her mother's jaw. The jaw widened as the sadistic grin stretched further.
"Listen". The abomination raised its eyes to look upwards into the sky and to the right. Right on cue the dreaded church bells tore through the deathly silence again causing the girl to clutch her womb instinctively. With bloodshot eyes and trembling limbs she whimpered helplessly. She felt violated. Feeling sick to the stomach she looked as her double pointed towards the source of the sound. It spoke again:
"Hear those church bells? They toll for thee".
The girl took a sharp intake of breath and fell limp to the ground. Her head snapped, disjointed, twisted round to face the other side.