the flames chapter 1

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

The orchard

Chapter 1 (v.1) - The Flames Chapter 1 "The orchard"

Submitted: January 27, 2017

Reads: 501

Comments: 1

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Submitted: January 27, 2017

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1.

 

The open field hums with the preparations for an early spring. A gentle breeze whispers through the tall grass as the late evening light forms patches of red and orange across the sky, reflecting off of the darkening clouds.

In the orchard, the hardened trees stand stoic and solemn, unaffected by the breeze. A doe raises her head to nibble on a branch as two fawns move in close behind, watching their mothers’ every move. They remain tense, as if the air is filled with only shadows and remorse. The evening breeze soon turns to stale gusts, unseasonably warm for this time of year. Rising up the ridge, the wind carries the scent of blood and fear.

As if blinded, the deer spin in search of danger, unsure which direction to run. The doe stomps in defiance, hoping for a clue as to where and what the danger is. Dust rises from the ground, engulfing the panicked deer and her young, grit filling eyes they would never dare close. In a final burst of pure fear and instinct, the doe sprints uphill and away, her young following close behind.

The dust continues to swirl against the trees and apples appear from nowhere, falling from the manicured limbs, skin blistering brown and black. The orchard starts to smell sickly sweet, like cider gone to mold. As purple, red and orange settle onto the eastern ridge, the swirling dust becomes filled with small sparkles of unexpected light, coalescing into a faint but still imperceptible form. The orchard takes on an almost prime-evil feel, the apple trees flickering between old and forgotten limbs, then back to their rescued and trimmed form.

In the shadow of the dusty and ancient orchard, a singular form soon becomes apparent. A hint of perfume mingles with the pungent aroma of rotten fruit.  The sparkles remain in the air, like summer fireflies desperately swirling in their mating dance before a storm. Auburn hair sprouts from the top of the chaos, draping over pink shoulders. Soon delicate hands thread through the twinkling lights as breasts, torso and arms all unite in the gloom. Framed in crimson, long legs form as delicate feet push into the thin moss and snow. The sparkling lights momentarily fade as the orchard is engulfed in darkness. The only light to be seen is the small faint glow of a single flame, which seems to float in the dark air. A low moan seeps from the gloom, rising in strength and tone. The moan soon becomes a shriek that cuts the stillness and nothing dares to move in the forest and fields. The screams of anguish, birth and pain paralyze everything within earshot, and echo off the surrounding mountains into the pale evening sky.

Thick fieldstone walls, several hundred years old but ones that have stood the test of time, frame the entrance to the orchard. Only the lichen and moss reveal their age.

The clouds above and beyond the horizon have cleared, and through the crisp northern air, the stars burn into existence. The apple trees are now just lone guardians, their shapes mostly darkness, shimmering slightly in the reflected starlight.

Merely one hundred yards away, Sean is begrudgingly pulling himself from his couch. The television is on much too loud, but it at least provides some much needed light. Beer cans are scattered across the table, and a full ashtray threatens to dump its contents. Its nicotine burned stench hits Sean like a slap across the face. Only now does his headache really breach his consciousness, and he wonders if the shrieking that had broken his stupor was only the blood pounding in his temples.

Struggling to his feet, Sean makes his way to the edge of the great room and manages to turn on the lights. After several minutes of searching through the cushions and pillows on the couch, he finally finds the remote and switches off the TV.

He was always disconcerted and astonished by the silence of the mountains this time of year.  Fall and winter could be unbearable in their stillness. The sounds of the insects, frogs and other wildlife that caressed his loneliness day and night in the spring and summer were now completely silenced by the grip of the long winter. Nevertheless, Sean knew that he had heard something. Enough years in solitude has given him a sixth sense about these things, despite his daily attempts to silence his inner dialogue with drink.

Sean’s home is spacious, the one thing he had managed to successfully acquire during his “money” years. He finds his boots and coat, and then stalks about the house, turning on all the necessary lights. Thankfully, his gloves are where he left them and the fireplace still glows. After puzzling over which glove goes on which hand in his hung-over state, he unlocks the back door and steps onto the porch.

At this elevation, the nights are always cool, even in summer. In the fall and winter the temperatures could drop well below the norm. Several deep breaths of the frigid air clears his head as he stacks pieces of wood into his arms.

From the porch, Sean has a clear view of the surrounding acres. To his left, the pool is covered with thick green plastic to wait out the winter. Just beyond that the orchard lies solitary. His property is beautiful, with sections of birch forest bordered by spruce, swampy dipped saddles and valleys, all of it spied on by dry, windswept ridges.  He knows and loves every inch, but nothing on the property holds his heart like the orchard.

Perhaps it is the fact that he found it by mistake. Another misfit in a world unexplained. The previous owner had left it to fend for itself, essentially leaving these centuries old trees to suffocate and die as they were hopelessly overwhelmed by soft maple and brush. Months of hacking through overgrown brush had unearthed many treasures. Old cars, old tires, old trash. Just an endless stream of shit that had to go. One day, sweaty, disheartened and just plain over it all, Sean broke through a particularly nasty patch of prickly undergrowth and found an opening. It was hard to discern through the high grass, but the well placed oaks and the break in the wall were obvious signs that something lay beyond.

After discovering the orchard, Sean had made its revival his mission. In between drunken drug-filled weekends, two wives and many loose women, he always made time to trim and nourish these fruit trees. He spent years cleaning away the invasive brush, wielding axe and chainsaw that should never have been in his hands, until miraculously just the previous autumn, the trees began to bear fruit.

On this night however, the peace and solitude of the orchard is interrupted.  To Sean’s amazement, as he gazes past the pool, he is certain that he can see the twinkling of fireflies through the trees. It’s a football field away, and his head is pounding, but still this couldn’t be just his mind playing tricks on him. There was no moon, so he doubts it is simply reflections of the evening condensation. There is a slight breeze, but not nearly enough to create this illusion. Somehow the lights fly erratically back and forth, darting in all directions. They flirt with each other like summer had never left, and winter had no place at this dance.

As beautiful as it is, the scene in the orchard is so out of place, so foreign, that Sean knows something is wrong. He goes upstairs slowly, trying not to make any noise…”why?” He wonders. For some reason stealth feels appropriate even though the sounds from the orchard are rising in volume. He pulls out his shotgun and slowly clicks a shell into place as he makes his way downstairs.

Once outside, Sean is shocked to feel the bitter cold easing from the air. Long icicles, winters’ sculptures, are dripping from the awning, and the frost on the bushes is visibly clearing. It’s as if someone is holding a giant torch to the ice. Sean steps onto the lawn from the front porch and begins to walk towards the orchard. No longer able to see his breath, he makes his way through melting snow. The glow from the orchard stretches towards him across the ice, lighting his way in the dark.

As Sean closes the gap to the entrance, the air becomes more and more oppressive. By the time he arrives at the fieldstone wall the heat is stifling, and his skin crawls with sweat beneath too many winter layers. The fireflies have multiplied exponentially since he first glimpsed them. Now, they hover and spin in larger groups, like living lanterns, or glowing bees in a hive.

In the middle of the orchard, the epicenter of this magnificent display, is the only spot that is not lit. It isn’t just dark, but best described as a void, defying Sean’s senses as it seems to absorb light from the shimmering air. The living orbs are slowing down, sweeping together in decreasing elliptical orbits. To Sean, they look like newborn planets, settling into place around a black star.

The temperature has become unbearable, and sweat turns from a prickle on his skin to an all out torrent. He wipes his eyes and pulls off his jacket, still mindful to keep his gun at the ready. The darkness continues to pulse and moan. Sean is astonished to see the trees passing through many cycles. Leaves sprouting and dying, apples forming from beautiful pink blossoms only to engorge, turn sickly brown, and then burst as they fall to the ground.

As birth, life and death repeats itself, just breathing becomes intolerable. Sean falls to the ground gasping as waves of intense heat pound into his body. Ears covered and hands shaking, he watches the orbs join with each other, expand in one final mating dance, and then plunge into the darkness.

In an instant the orchard is still and quiet. The only proof left for Sean’s tormented senses is the overly sweet perfume that clings to the air and to the thick moss he lies in. He rises slowly, the crisp night air has returned and the frost begins to once again crystallize across the ground and the now dormant trees. As Sean paws for his jacket, a gentle sigh escapes into the night air. Sean jumps to his feet and wildly searches for the source. It’s hard to see, but his eyes are slowly adjusting. Another sigh reaches his ears, much closer this time. In fact, right behind him. He can feel it on his neck.

Sean isn’t afraid; he’s without fear, having passed so far beyond unimaginable terror that it’s indescribable. He looks up through the branches, stares at the bright winter stars, and slowly turns around, guided by the sensual yet commanding touch upon his shoulder.

Despite the darkness, what stands before him is not just the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, but a spirit, raw power, a goddess. Something ancient is conveyed along with a playful and dangerous innocence. Slack-jawed and immobile, Sean watches as this exquisite creature takes his hand in hers. Only now does he dare look into her eyes, their deep green sparkling with flecks of gold. Rich full lips lean in as they embrace. Anastasia.

 


© Copyright 2020 M.J. Sage. All rights reserved.

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