This is off my usual talk of ghosts, but along those lines I also enjoy writing horror. I’m currently working on a manuscript entitled “The Thicket” and I thought I’d share a scene from it. It’s a very rough draft (no editing yet), but will give you a sense of spine-tingling potential (I hope).
The premise is a woman who finds out she was adopted and has inherited the old family home in the hills of West Virginia. She wants to know why her parents gave her up and wants to escape the city, so she packs up and moves to a mountaintop where she finds an intriguing community of pagans who were the founders of the town below. In the community’s origins the her ancestor, the daughter of the founding father of the community, performed black magic in the woods, casting a curse on the females of her lineage. Hence, the reason her mother sent her to her aunt’s to be raised. Since the early 1800s the woods grew to a huge gnarled mass that is impenetrable and the people call “The Thicket.” Eventually, it will encompass the entire mountaintop, driving them out if the last of the lineage cannot stop it. The unmarried women of her family were known to go missing in the thicket in the month of October ever since the curse 200 years ago. Savannah’s move to the mountaintop was a prophecy fulfilled for the pagan community who want to stop the curse and right the wrongs so that they can practice magic once again. Everything rests on this woman who is not a believer in magic. In this manuscript the antagonist is the cursed forest that watches her every move, but the hero is the Green Man (a Celtic figure, guardian of the woods). In this scene, Savannah doesn’t believe the pagans who tell her the woods are cursed and that she especially should not go near them. She does, however, have plans to clear a path into the woods to prove to them that it’s not a place to fear:
Dusk, that ambivalent time between day and night. It was impossible to begin something new with darkness impending, so Savannah stared into the shadows, witnessing the slow death of another day. It was odd how the same light at sunrise could make a person feel such promise and hope of a new day and dusk could make one feel rushed to get indoors.
She peered into her surroundings with just enough light to see the surface, enough dark to sense mystery. Everything was bloodless and quiet and her eyes seemed to become unfocused the more she stared into one spot. Obviously, too much of the day had gotten away from her to start a new task this late.
Savannah remained before the thicket considering her approach. All plans to clear a path and put up the beautiful wrought iron arch and make an official gateway to the mystery that surrounded her would have to wait another day.
Perhaps she shouldn’t test the local’s beliefs? Just go on with her life as if there were no supposed curse. If she pushed at this tender sore, would it just infect the madness that was already spreading through the town upon her arrival? She was to the point of dreading going to The Lower because of the open stares. And, although those in The Upper looked at her like a savior, she had no reason to believe she could live up to their hopes. If she truly wanted to endear the neighbors and make a place for herself in the community, to finally belong somewhere, should she be known as the woman who probed their darkest fears and made them all look foolish for believing in curses and magic?
Pacing in one spot, rivulets of sweat dribbling down her back, she could easily reason this was a task better tackled some time in the fall. She had a warehouse to set up in the basement, a house to furnish redecorating, and a new website design to consider. What was she doing contemplating gardening at this point in time? Likely as not, the bushes would just grow back before summer’s end. If she waited until colder nights, it would be easy to break down the dying raspberry bushes and wild grapevines.
Feeling pleased with her decision, she nodded to the bushes.
You’ll just have to wait until autumn.
Studying it one last time she realized the shadows of the thicket that always ran dark, ran exceptionally opaque at dusk. The black line that usually covered the mossy narrow backyard was now shadowing her and the backside of the house. Studying her place in its depths, she was primed for a shiver. Looking at it right now as the last of the light was being squeezed from the surroundings, it was like one solid silent tsunami bearing down on her, waving in its usual frenetic manner. The wind never stopped for the woods, even when the farmland was stagnant.
Dwarfed by the darkness, fingers of chill air emanated from the structure and made her skin break into a rash of goosebumps. She rubbed her sweaty arms. How was it possible that on a hot twilight evening in the middle of summer the woods could contain such a chill?
Savannah stepped forward bravely and held out her hands to feel waves of crisp air rushing between the webs of her fingers. She rubbed her hands together. They felt cool. She stepped in closer, taking a breath of the wet forest and putting herself fully in its reach now. The thicket seemed to create its own cooling breeze. The dusk was still, soggy, and hot, but the woods were crisp.
She leaned forward into the dark growth. Feeling a leaf brush her cheek, she startled and gasped, pulling back. Just then, she felt her hair lift and float around her face gently. Individual hairs began to rise, dancing towards the woods. Just as she observed the strange floating of her hairs, it blew out again, taking her hair out to the sides of her face and away. Her hair rustled lightly, her eyelashes fluttered.
Then, it drew in again.
Savannah clutched her hand to her breast in horror. Her mind was playing tricks on her. A cool breeze could not be spitting itself in and out from the woods in patterns that mimicked breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.
But, it is.
She felt it again, the rush of air coming at her, greeting the still soggy air of her backyard. The mass of plant life was so gnarled and packed within the thicket that it moved like a giant diaphragm pulsing slowly.
One, two, three…
One, two, three…
Her fingers clasped tightly in a fist against her sternum. The rhythm continued for minutes. She was unaware of anything else. Afraid to back up. Afraid to turn away. Afraid it would stop. Afraid it would not stop.
Then, she counted again in her head. The breeze danced over her as she exhaled. She inhaled counting. She exhaled as it breathed over her.
Her heart skipped two beats as she put her hand to her mouth to keep a small scream from escaping. In her fear, she held her breath, but then continued to hold it.
And the breeze stopped.
The breeze rushed over her.
Primal instincts made her want to race away, but commonsense had always prevailed for Savannah. She stopped, allowed herself a calming breath, and then proceeded to change her breathing patterns.
Short. Long. Short. Short. Short. Long.
The air moved with her in tiny puffs and long drawn out sighs. She held her breath again, as long as she could stand it, hands in the air, feeling for any movement of air. When her lungs could take it no longer, she exhaled loudly.
And the air skidded over her powerfully, rushing between her outstretched fingers with equal exertion.
Eyes watering, mind filled with childish terror, she turned away from the thicket and rushed to the kitchen. Slamming the door, she flicked the indoor lights on. No longer able to see the mass of the thicket any longer, she couldn’t discern if it were breathing along with her.
She let out a slow breath and tried to calm down her heartbeat. The combination of the strange erotic dreams, the feeling of being watched, the green blinking lights in the thicket, and now this strange occurrence, were making her panicky. She wanted to tell someone, but then she didn’t. Wouldn’t that just feed their stories of the legend and the curse? She didn’t want to incite people. Perhaps now she understood why the locals were frightened of the woods. They did have strange winds that never stopped. Hadn’t Becca mentioned unusual storms that swept through the woods called “Witch’s Cauldrons” and a thick impenetrable fog that lasted the month of November? Perhaps it was like that. Something perfectly natural, just new to her.
Perhaps I was breathing unconsciously in rhythm with the wind?
Running a hand through her hair, Savannah sighed. She wasn’t entirely certain of her logical explanation, but she was determined to distract herself long enough to get some distance from the event and perhaps some perspective. It wouldn’t do for her to give into the local hysteria. Someone had to keep their head as the calendar ticked down to October and people awaited her fate to the thicket.