Reads: 125


The last of the settling fall winds screeched a rhythmic hymn upon the town of Chant wood the skies gloomed with a sharp tint of silver frost and in the dismal graying haze of the winter shadow a voice awoke the mourning flower.

“Hazel ... Hazel darling the morning is fading fast dear, please hurry I don’t want you to be late ... Again” Sara said in a small huff as she knocked on Hazel door and hurried down the stairs towards the kitchen.

“Coming mother” Hazel called out as she brushed her blood red bangs out of her eyes, she pulled the warm bedded covers from her and stretched out her arms in a magnificent yawn.

The petrified frozen floor burnt to the touch of her warm toes and the tiny fireplace flame had withered down to near smoldering embers.

Hazel walked over to the window and pulled the silver curtains away and peered into the misty darkness of late October clouds.

 A silent whisper of wind brushed past her as carriages plunged and crawled down the snow-covered cobble streets below, smoke engulfed the chard covered sky’s billowing out of decrepit decaying chimneys and old workhouses, school children built snow packed forts ready for winter warfare snowballs barged left and right as they clambered about screaming and snickering at fallen comrades.

Hazel cherished the twilight winter mornings the cold was an enchantment to her there was a certain comfort, something beautiful about the simple silence and feeling of security in her toasted little abode, she turned and stared at her crowded bedroom it was littered with old manuscripts, books and blotted papers, many of them lay upon her bed the rest spiraled sharply across the floor.

The floor itself glittered with a light olive green, her room was draped a perfect lilac purple, sturdy black gothic furniture sat firmly in place quite dusty from the books and constant clutter, a clutter of knowledge Hazel always observed.

She shuffled papers away from her bed and end table, among the disorder laid her private diary that she kept since childhood, she stared at the open date Oct/15/1820 written sporadically across the top of the page it was now Oct 25th.

With remembrance she glanced back through her history and smiled at the drawing of her childhood and the notes that seemed of great importance at the time. 

She sat at the foot of her bed and flip through the pages, writings about her dreams and her little adventures brought back her memories of childhood, family, old friends and new.

She set aside her diary and let the thought thicken in her mind she watched the flames of the small fireplace flickered and cackle, the embers smoked and wisped and captured her entrance, slowly her mind became heavy and she began to drift and to wonder.

 A sudden recollection about her dream that night speckled across her mind, below the surface of her dream she could hear it.  A terrible screaming, an overwhelming sense of  terror and a woman trapped in darkness. 

A small knock at her door pulled here from this intense image.

“Hazel…? A calm voice called out … Hazel may I enter… are you decent?” Hazel’s father asked behind the door.

“Yes father…yes of course come in” Hazel replied.

The door to Hazel’s room slowly opened and in stepped Hazel’s father… David. 

“My darling child, are you quite ready, your coach is waiting outside dear” David said with a small smile that delicately wizened the lines under his sapphire blue eyes.

“I’ll be out in a moment father” Hazel replied somberly as she turned away from him and stared out her window.

“Hazel... what happened dear.” David said with gentle care “What’s wrong?” David inquired as he came suddenly and sat at her bedside. 

“Nothing father…. Really … Just a nightmare ``she quietly replied.

David turned to her, his deep blue eyes full of care as he took her hand.

“Don’t be troubled my dear, you have nothing to fear... Dreams are just…. Canvases painted in the mind...Nothing that can physically hurt you” he said as he grasped her hands in a reassuring way to which Hazel slowly reached around and hugged her father close.

A knock at the door and a clearing of a throat announced the butler and door man Mr. Tip “pardon my intrusion mam” Mr. tip said solemnly and with slight embarrassment to his voice he stood outside the door and called to Hazel's father. “Sorry to be a bother Mr. Marvel sir, but the post has just arrived”. 

David turned towards the doorway “Thank you Mr. Tip” he replied back.

“Sir” Mr. Tip replied as he bowed and quickly turned from the entrance and jaunted down the stairs.

A voice from below called out “I have the post David” Sara called “Just more replies from the invitations we sent out”.

“Wonderful darling I’ll be right down.” David replied as he turned to Hazel.

“Quickly now dear get ready don’t want you to be late remember to study hard, be safe and your mother and I love you” he said as he pulled the crimson curl from her face and kissed her forehead he turned and exited the room and headed down stairs Hazel could hear him and her mother down below exchange words of love as David left for work.

Hazel turned to her closet and pulled out a black dress and a large heavy stringed corset she tried to pull the gripping straitjacket around her struggling to tighten the strings, and with increasing frustration threw it to her bed.

She pulled on the slimming black dress and grabbed her black purse hanging from the bedpost her hair always fell perfectly in tune in its natural way, examining herself in her full sized mirror she smiled at the image portrayed she hurried down stairs as her mother came down the hall.

“Just a moment Hazel” Sara said.

“A post I received is from your professor, he has written to all students that he is recovering from the flu and has canceled your studies but they are to resume as soon as he is better.” Sara said holding the note as she walked towards the kitchen and put on the kettle.

“I do hope he begins to feel better” Hazel said with concern, but also a slight tone of relief, though she loved her studies and relished the idea of intellectual stimulation the morning had come too quick and some of her assignments had gone unfinished. 

Hazel started back to her room when suddenly she stopped and turned and thought for a moment “Well best not waste the day I’m off anyway, Mr. Tip you can tell the cabbie he won’t be needed, but thank him all the same.”

“Yes mam” Mr. Tip said with a small bow.

“Where are you off to dear?” Sara called from the kitchen.

“I’m off to take a walk, and breathe in the beautiful countryside” Hazel replied. 

Sara looked up slowly and gave Hazel a quick look.

“Yes of course, a walk about the countryside” Sara replied with a look of giddiness and a small smirk.

“What?” Hazel replied growing a bit flush in the cheeks. “Why are you looking at me like that?” 

Sara smiled as she poured herself a cup of tea “Your ears my dear, they burn bright red when you blush, or tell a fib,” her mother said. 

“I know where you’re going and who you’re going to see.” Sara sat at the table and slowly set in a lump of sugar and continued.

 “He’s a bit more… adventurous than I like but, strong and caring … and quite handsome.” Sara said with a small look towards Hazel as she raised the glass to her lips.

Hazel turned away slightly embarrassed as she slipped on her shoes at the door, Sara continued to watch her with a small smile in the other room and called out.

“Be back before supper, be safe and dear child I wish you would take a coat” Sara huffed as she shook her head slightly.

Hazel shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“I’ll be fine” Hazel said as she turned away and walked towards the front door.

 “Bye mother” Hazel called as she closed the door behind her and walked out to the Iron Gate.

She plucked through her purse and undid the lock with her key she placed it back into her bag and stepped outside the boundary surrounding her house.

Hazel jolted down the snow-covered streets making her way passed children playing in the snow turning the corner at North Struthers and Bleak.

 As she walked the heavenly scent of freshly baked pastries and apple cider greeted her senses.

“Hello mam care for a fresh pastry to warm you this chilly morning” asked the local baker Miles.

The years of drink and pastries has treated Mr. Thompson quite fare, his nose a bright red with or without the cold and his jolly warm attitude made him a delight to be received in this cold October frost. 

“Thank you Mr. Thompson” Hazel said appreciatively “How is Miss’s Thompson?” she said as she wrapped the two little fresh pastries and placed it in her purse.

“Fine as ever and twice as beautiful” he replied with a smile. 

“Well you give her my best and the children as well” Hazel replied. 

“Thank you mam” Mr. Thompson said.

“Here you are sir” Hazel said as she offered up payment. 

“That’s all right mam your beautiful smile this morning is payment well received” he said as he turned back into his bakery, Hazel quickly dropped the coins into his basket and hurried down the cold cobbled streets.

As Hazel crossed the dark alley of Midstrom a voice called out to her. 

“Excuse me … Miss … Pardon me … Mam”. An old beggar woman softly spoke as she appeared from the alleyway.

She was small, thin and walked with a heavy step “Please.” She spoke sadly “I’m hungry… Please … Please, help.”

Hazel watched carefully as the beggar walked towards her, she seemed somewhat familiar but Hazel could not place it.

Slowly Hazel reached into her black handbag and pulled out one of the two pastries she smiled at the old woman as she handed her one.

“Here you are ... Go ahead …You can have it” she said as the woman reached out hesitantly as grasped the pastry, she then placed slowly in her pocket and smiled back at Hazel.

“Thank you kindly child, please … Let me do something for you.” She said happily.

“I can read your fortune, tell you of the stars and love in your heart?” The beggar woman questioned.

“That’s alright, I haven’t the time and I’m off for a walk and then hopefully to meet someone” Hazel replied innocently as she turned slowly and started off to the edge of town.

“A strong young man if I’m not mistaken Miss.” Called the old beggar behind her as she inched closer to Hazel her quiet demeanor and soft spoken words brought Hazel to ease.

“Yes.” Hazel said turning around questionably “How did you know?”

The old beggar eyes wizened with a grandmother smile “Your eyes dear” she said smiling. 

“Soft and innocent, but … There is something more … Something mysterious … Something … Adventurous.” The woman replied as she approached Hazel calmly. 

“Come dear … let’s have a look … hold out your hand …” 

Hazel stepped forwards and opened her hand.

The old beggar took it slowly and as she did Hazel felt a warm sense of relief and relaxation as if everything was at peace, she traced lines on Hazels palm with a talon like fingernail.

 “A strong life line … a heart of love and luck … and here.” she said through a smile that was hopeful yet yearning and sad “… Adventure …” she said quietly as she continued to trace.

“A spirit of hope … quite stubborn …,” The old woman said with a raised eyebrow as she looked up at Hazel who smiled back and then back down at her hand.

The beggar traced more and more lines; suddenly the woman’s demeanor changed as she pressed her hand hard against Hazels, a jolt of fright engulfed her eyes.

“Something dark, something evil ... A shadow” The beggar cried suddenly with a scream as she let go of Hazels hand.

“O child” The beggar said as she stared into Hazel’s eyes, her own seemed to burn and dance with a haunting purple radiance. “You are branded.”

 Hazels backed away from the woman confused and afraid.

“Branded by the dark”! The beggar cried as she backed away from a fear struck Hazel.

“The shadow is here, hellfire is here!” The beggar screamed as she turned and ran.

“Wait ... please, come back … please!” Hazel called out running after her but the woman rounded the dark alley of Midstrom and disappeared, onlookers from the streets both in front of Hazel and behind whispered and pointed.

Hazel looked down at her hand but could not see what had frightened the woman so severely.

She paused and studied her palm when suddenly a burning sense erupted from her ankle just above her birthmark.

Hazel winced, reached down and soothed the feeling noticing nothing abnormal, studding her ankle and palm for a moment … nothing occurred, with a calming sense and conviction she proclaimed finally to herself. 

“Rubbish … Absolute rubbish.” Hazel shook her head slightly “Nothing more”. 

She turned the corner at the next street and tried not to stare at her hand, it swayed beside her and she began to trace the lines with her eyes at a glimpse.

Preoccupied in her mind she accidently bumped into Father Grey, causing him to lose his balance and fall, his top hat fell from his head as he slowly gathered himself and stood. He was a rather tall lanky individual dressed in a black overcoat and a smile on his face. 

“My dear child you nearly knocked me into the netherworld” he chuckled “How are you this morning?” he asked as he reached down and blew the damp snow from his hat.

“I’m so sorry father, please forgive me” Hazel replied as she reached up and patted the snow from his overcoat.

“It’s quite alright dear.” Father Grey replied as he dusted off the snow from his rear.

“Again I apologize father … it’s just I was startled a moment ago” Hazel replied.

“Startled my dear, startled by what?”  Father Grey questioned as he wiped the snow from his hands.

“I’m not sure father, just a woman telling me … I am evil.” Hazel said quietly.

Father Grey turned towards her with a raised eyebrow “My child.” He replied as he dusted his hat against his pant leg and placed it atop his shiny, balding head.

“I have been a man of god for many years … I have seen evil, and a great many dark things … terrible things.”  Father Grey replied with a look of hidden distress.

With a small bend he reached down towards Hazel and grasped her shoulder reassuringly “You my dear are far from it.” He smiled.

Hazel smiled up at the father.

“Now… no more talk of evil.” Father Grey whispered back as he stood.

“I must be on my way, Seth will be waiting,” he said as he turned and walked up to the old chapel.

“Of course” Hazel said as she watched Father Grey nearly slip as he walked up the slick stone steps.

Hazel smiled and looked towards the church she had only meet Seth a few times, she knew his story of being an orphan boy but not much else, they had exchanged pleasantries at social events and church picnics, Hazel found him to be somewhat quiet and reserved.

She felt better and safe as she glanced over the chapel, it felt secure even if she sometimes was not sure what to believe she watched as Father Grey opened the large wooden doors and entered.

Hazel smiled again, turned and headed off further down the narrow streets passing buy little homes covered in light October snow till finally she was at the end of town.

A giant forest of white willow trees covered the landscape blending in with the new fallen sleet, Hazel headed off towards Elephant Rock a meeting place of young lovers where she was sure he would be at this early hour cutting wood.

As Hazel walked throughout the woods she suddenly felt a small pinch at her ankle and reached down to alleviate the feeling.

A distinct birthmark wavered just above her heel, like two wings of a dove.

Her mother had told her when she was a child it was a sign of love and of peace the feeling faded again and with little distress she shook her head and calmingly walked on.

She marveled at the beauty around her and felt a sense of home, a sense of peace, and her mind began to drift when suddenly the ground shook ever so slightly the wind began to blow through the trees making a whistling note…almost like a scream.

Hazels stopped for a moment shaken as the quake quickly faded, the wind began to blow swiftly, the screech started to grow her ears perked at the sound as the air sent shivers down her spine, the cold chill of the wind sharply blew increasing the echo the screech pierced the air frightfully and suddenly it came to her, a vision that haunted her dreams, a woman screaming in darkness…

Hazel breathed heavily as the image seared her mind, shaken and afraid she suddenly heard a twig break behind her and breathing coming from an unknown source.

Hazel turned around slowly to find nothing; she turned back towards the forest and with a quickening pace started to run faster and faster.

The sound of staggering steps erupted behind her, twigs tore at her hair and face as she blundered quickly down an unused path her heart pounding harder and harder as fear began to rise the sound of heavy breathing came to her as she paced quicker and quicker, she could hear footsteps matching her every step then something reached out, grabbed her and she screamed.


Submitted: July 17, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Mark Anthony. All rights reserved.


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