A crow sits in a dead tree, a leafless reminder of mortality within an ocean of green. His krraaak krraaak sounds echo and are returned by a sky of fluid blackness. He spreads his haughty, metalled wings and hangs their tips as he listens for a sound of dying. Blue sky glints, jet eyes glisten, the bird seems lit from within as knowingly he watches and waits for a prophecy of carrion.
In a shallow gorge beneath the tree a stream flows. Deep amongst the shadows a splash of red edges the water, affirming the fluidity of movement in a fleck of discordance. A face stares upwards at circling black in a sky framed by rocky protrusions and jagged branches. The face is pale, gaunt and haunted. Short breaths emanate from between bluish lips. A red tee-shirt, wet, clinging, covers the torso but conceals little of the skinny frame.
The gorge is overgrown and lush, simultaneously welcoming and unnerving. On the other side, vegetation parts and a face appears. A long face, a thin face, a face that belongs. A twig breaks underfoot and the face turns to look directly at you. The eyes are deep green, intense, penetrating, hypnotic, and you feel the gaze reach deep into your soul. Memory bubbles in your consciousness: memory of childhood, of longing, of misunderstanding, of mystery; and still the green eyes hold you. Virescence fills your perception; the leaves and grass and lichen and ferns and still the eyes, the knowing eyes.
The sound of the water gurgling in the gorge increases in volume until there is no other sound but water, there is no other place but here, no other time but now. And below you the motionless figure in red.
You begin to scramble down to the stream. The earthy sides of the gorge crumbling under you as you descend. The roots of saplings and the bracken provide uncertain security, something to hold as you slip downwards. A rock dislodges and tumbles ahead of you, bouncing and rolling. The sharp clack of stone against stone, softened by a subtle plash, and the rock comes to rest mid-stream, making new patterns in the water, changing the shape of the brook.
To your left, slightly upstream, lies the reason for your descent. You move closer and find it is a young girl. All she is wearing is a red tee-shirt and underpants. Her left side is in the water, her right lies on wet stone and sand. The edge of the stream caresses her, strokes through her fingers, laps against her waist, her leg. Her wet clothing glistens and you can clearly see the shape of her narrowness under the material. Her ribs are discernible, the concavity of her abdomen and the slight swell of her belly. Her hips, the joints of her shoulders the flow of her skin. She breathes shallowly and, as you lean over to look in her face, her breath catches and a soft moan escapes her lips.
“Please. Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help you,” but you have no idea how you are to help her.
You look upstream, downstream, there is no sign of how she got to this place. No evidence of passage. Did she fall? Was she thrown? Perhaps she was born out of the earth of the stream bed? You look upwards and the face of the forest is still there, watching you, encouraging you, pouring warmth into your soul. A hand appears by the face, three fingers outstretched, making some sort of sign, and then there is nothing. No face, no hand, only the bushes and the walls of the gorge echoing the soft water sound and the noise of the watching crows far, far above. And the motionless girl.
Leaning over her, you see her eyes move to yours; blue eyes, alive, aware. There is no fear in them, only sadness and acceptance. You pick up her hand, her cold hand, and, as your warmth flows, you feel an answering pressure from her; she needs something.
Just at that moment there is a grating sound and in the stream above her head the waters part, flowing around empty space. Unnatural but not out of place. The stream bed is visible and the silt trembles. Slowly a mound appears, growing shakily, uncertainly; and a noise emanates from it, a deep earthy croaking, as of something long buried and long forgotten. The wet earth falls away and a large, ugly bullfrog sits disoriented; its grotesque body made beautiful by the nature of its skin. Pearlescent, multicoloured, glittering, bejewelled, a Faberge frog made living. Croaking deeply the frog hops to the side of the girl’s head and appears to nuzzle her ear, then it turns and leaps into the stream, sparkling into the depths of a small pool.
As if released from invisible restraints the girl moves; first her head, then her shoulders, arms, hips.
Around you the gorge has gone, melted to a shallow depression. You find yourself in a sandy glade, through which the small river runs. Rock edges enclose a pool and beyond fades into forest. You are on a pebbly beach and, close by, a huge fallen tree lies over a runnel, creating a sheltered haven. As the girl struggles to move, you help her to her feet and stagger to the sheltering tree. In front of it is a wood-fire, prepared but never lit.
[To be continued]