Ava wandered slowly through the wet woods. The sun never quite pierced through the thick green canopy, allowing the things that flourished in dark and damp to grow unchecked. Her small feet crushed toadstools as centipedes and woodlice skittered in the moss. Bulbous spiders swooped low, on skeins of silk, stretching tiny legs to reach her.
With every step that carried her further from the glen, she felt more frightened. Mother would be pleased, so why was she filled with panic? Unconsciously, she slowed, and began to waver. Maybe go back… and just peep into the soft grasses…
Mother appeared in her mind. Eyes that turned down at the edges. Waves of red hair, strong arms folded tight.
No! Ava bit her lip to galvanize her spirit. One spider reached her, and touched along the tiny path of her parting. She scratched at it, the egg-filled body splitting under her fingers and smearing her hair with gluey innards. She gazed at her fingertips in distaste and wiped them swiftly on her jeans.
The sight of a cluster of sweating yellow toadstools brought her to a sudden halt. Why was everything so rotten here? She chewed her lip, thinking hard.
The forest was telling her to stop, to reconsider. Her heart beat faster.
‘You’ll never be able to,’ Mother’s voice rang in her ears. ‘Why put yourself through it? A girl as young as you should have no extra cares.’ More arm folding, and now, violent pacing. She was angry.
Ava wobbled on the spot, frozen by indecision. It was one of those life points, a decision which would affect everything. Her entire future. One simple choice, one direction to walk. Each route would lead to a wildly different life. Which should she choose?
Resolutely, she turned around and faced the past, looking back through the trees, craning to see the glen. A voice in her head, it was Mother again. ‘Stupid little ninny.’ The words stung like needles.
She twisted around and looked toward the darkness of the future, because even though Mother was smiling, it was a cold smile and Ava somehow knew that it would not be enough. How would it ever be enough? A tear dripped from her nose. Nothing would ever keep her warm again. Everything would be sharp with ice and she would be punished by the world. It was the first time she could see, as clearly as a reflection in a calm millpond. Mother could be wrong.
Ava felt a stirring of something, a pumping of blood. She stood a little straighter and lifted her jaw. Her mind was made up, and although terrifying, it was right.
For the first time in weeks she felt excited, and recognised a small flame of hope. Hope! It could be alright. It would be alright!
She took a deep breath, and headed onwards. This time the path was familiar, and friendlier. She trekked back, retracing the path to the glen and to the sunshine. To a warmer destiny.
But the path was longer…and had it curved like a bow in this way? Was that willow as yellow? The mud to the side as red? She felt a snap of worry deep inside. Was she lost?
Gasping back a sob, Ava began to stumble, to run along the slimy forest floor. The path split, and split again. She couldn’t breathe and her throat burned. Would she ever find the glen?
With a final twist, there it was.
The only sunny spot, filled with a rainbow of wildflowers. Her eyes cast about, panic tightening her chest, when at last she saw it. The bassinette was still there, tiny pink fingers reaching up toward a blue butterfly.
‘It’s time to go home, Kira,’ called Ava, tears in her eyes. ‘I’m taking you home.’
About the author:
Carolyn Ward lives in the West Midlands and is working on her debut children’s novel. She enjoys writing flash fiction and her shorts are featured in places as diverse as a writers’ café in Wolverhampton, the Express and Star newspaper, and anthologies including Original Writing’s Second Chance and the Birmingham (Alabama) Arts Journal. Her horror-themed flash is featured on several websites including Twisted Sister Literary Magazine, Horror Scribes and Sick Lit Magazine, and she’s won writing competitions run by Senior Travel Expert, 99 Words, and a co-author competition for Movellas. For more, follow @Viking_Ma on Twitter.