Into the wood

Here’s the latest episode of my novel about Clare Mason who meets up with an old school friend Jenny-Lee when she moves to Easthope:

Clare was drawn back to Camel Wood but walked away from the path which would lead her to the Mill. She seemed haunted by Jenny-Lee, like a worse than bad penny, a positively malign penny, the damned woman kept appearing. It was almost as if she was stalking Clare, even though every time they had met it did seem pure chance – or would have been if it had been anyone else.

Clare had walked to the wood and taken the path between the old gateposts, past the noticeboard and turned right to follow the blue signed path. It was five miles but she had brought a small picnic lunch and a coupe of flasks and she was looking forward to losing herself – not literally among the trees.

The sky was a brilliant blue above but gradually she saw less of it as she followed the track. It hadn’t rained for a while but there were the imprints of hooves… should she hire a horse, would that be fun? Maybe… The spindly trees and light undergrowth had given way to older beeches, oaks, a few elms… many of the trees here had been coppiced in the past but now they just grew unkempt.

She came to an intersection with another track; a sign with a horseshoe pointed the way down it for riders, but walkers followed the blue arrows, plunging into the denser, older woodland. There was the sound of cantering hooves and a pair of riders approached and Clare waited for them to pass, lifting her hand in answer to a wave from one.

She glanced over her shoulder, thinking someone was coming up the track behind her but there was no-one there, Woods aren’t silent places, even without the birds there’s always the mysterious scuffling in the undergrowth, the crack of a broken twig, the rustle of something moving… but woodland creatures are expert at concealment, their lives depend upon it.

Clare crossed the track and plunged into the old wood. Fewer people came this way, there weren’t as many foot prints, human or dog, and now there was a different sort of quiet, a denseness as if things were listening to her as she passed. Stories from her childhood returned, Mohicans moving silently, making no sound, leaving no trace… she had practised walking like an Indian when she was a child.

She glanced back again, but it was the wood playing tricks, no-one was behind her. She stopped at the sound of a woodpecker quite close by and looked up, but in vain, she couldn’t see it… and again she thought she heard a movement somewhere behind her. She was spooking herself now. A normal walker would come striding down the path.

She hefted her little backpack and walked on, more quickly now, and as she strode on, barely looking around she became more and more certain someone was behind her, not on the path but going through the trees, trying to be quiet.  Whoever it was didn’t try and get any closer, and when Clare slowed to catch her breath, pretending to look at an interesting fern, the other slowed too.

Should she ring someone? But who? And say what? Maybe it was some kid playing Mohicans as she had… but kids should be in school… She couldn’t say she was frightened, not yet.

There was a sharp bend in the path and as she passed a giant oak on what was in effect a corner, she noticed a hole in its trunk. She slipped off her red backpack and stowed it in the, hole, a squirrel’s nest maybe, and feeling less obvious in her navy hoody, she walked on, quickly again.

There was a dip like an ancient ditch with fallen trees covered with velvet moss straddling it like a bridge. She jumped the ditch, scrambled up the leafy slope and at the top she was directed by a blue arrow on a post to the left this time. She pushed through a stand of hazel and slid t the ground, rolling slightly into a dip, sliding down a slope to rest against a tree. She pulled her hood over her head and her hands up her sleeves.

She lay still and heard someone… was it the someone who was following her, or just an innocent walker?

© Lois Elsden 2018


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