This is story written in shadows and hoof prints along a long, empty ride . . .
The Pilgrim Woman brought this tale back from a Story Taker in the Land of the Red Dragon. ‘It is a warning,’ she said, ‘to all those who hope for greatness.’
It gets tiring riding under the lichened branches, dodging tree roots, settling the horse’s fears. No matter how many times you enter the Dark Woods, the way is never the same twice.
Smells change according to season. Read your Winter haul afterwards – and they are scented by pines. Spring tales will have you sneezing with pollen and blossom. For Summer, gorse’s coconut blooms remind you that kissing is never out of season.
And Autumn brings the toadstools, bracket fungus, earthstars and spores. Each taint in the stories reminds you of the effort.
Then there’s the sounds. The slithering of needles under hooves, cones dropping melted ice, bursting of seed pods, hooked and gripping – and the call of birds that wear black.
Gathering is easy enough – it’s the hanging on that’s hard. Clutching them to your heart when the bony fingers come to snatch them away. Holding on when the voices call.
There’s a better one!
You’ve only got a snippet – here’s the rest.
That one’s rotten to the core.
When the shadows come down from the branches in nets. When they stick, webbish and confused. That’s when the story-taking comes hard.
Beware most of all the proffered ones. Luscious, gilded, rattling with the seeds of applause. The People of the Dark Wood do not appreciate thieves. The words inside drip poison.
They coat the listener’s heart with yet another layer of stone.