Jack ran home through the mist. It was only afternoon, but twilight already covered the land and storm-torn clouds raced across the sky. He had visited the neighbouring farm to see Millie as he’d promised. They’d stolen secret kisses and time had flown by. Now he wished he’d gone back sooner. The dark shadows of the land had a sinister feel to them tonight and the lights that shone out of the little cottages along the road seemed far away.
Finally, he turned the bend by the little brook and saw his own home rise, pale among the heather and fir trees. He felt an instant relief as he crossed the threshold. His mamó was in the living room. She sat in her favourite chair by the fire and weaved a wreath out of greenery. The herbs and flowers she had dried carefully over the long summer adorned the walls, hung from the window sills and above the fireplace. She smiled at him, her brown face crinkling.
“Good, you’re back. It’s almost time.”
He went into the small chamber that was his while he was here. It was cool here and he hurried as he changed into his good clothes. He washed his face with the icy water in the little basin on his dresser, combed his hair and with a last look at the darkened and cracked mirror, went back into the living room. Mamó was standing in front of the fireplace on tiptoe, trying to attach the wreath to the wall above the hearth. He stepped up behind her, his hands touching hers as he took the wreath. She flinched, hands briefly tightening on the green. Then she sighed and let go.
“Go on, then. Hang it up.”
Dinner was simple, except for the apple wine, that was saved for this occasion. Afterwards, the two of them got comfortable in front of the fireplace. Earlier in the day, Jack had brought in kindling and peat and stocked it neatly by the hearth. They were going to keep the flames going all through the night. Many times before had he sat here with Mamó, watching the shortest day of the year come to an end, watching the longest night unfold. When he’d been little she had told him stories, of keeping watch to guard the light throughout this time of darkness. He’d always loved sitting by her side through the silent holiday. More often than not falling asleep within a few hours. This night he would stay with her.
The apple wine rolled pleasantly down his tongue, the little sparkles tasting fresh. The fire crackled and hissed, the sound of the plaintive wind in the background. The little chamber was silent but for their breaths, each lost in their own thoughts. Midnight had come and gone and yet it would be a long time still before morning would grace them with light.
A high pitched ringing started in his ears. The glass slid out of his hand and crashed on the floor, as a blinding light struck pain into his head. It was all-encompassing and he couldn’t breathe. His hand reached out, clenching on air, trying to grip his mamó’s arm. She sat still, eyes closed, not moving a muscle. He fell to the ground, the light growing so bright he thought his head would explode, the noise in his ears rising.
Sudden darkness and silence. When he opened his eyes again he stood outside, in the moor. He blinked, turned around, not believing his senses. There was nothing to see but heather and mist. The icy wind that blew through his good clothes felt more real than anything he’d ever felt. His heart pumped in his breast. What happened?
“Hello?” He shouted. His voice was swallowed by the thick fog that lay on the black earth like a blanket. He was answered by silence. Racing clouds covered the sky and try as he might, everywhere he looked, everything looked the same. He felt his throat closing in fear and started moving, just to be doing something. The earth squelched beneath his shoes, wisps of mist seemed to reach for him. His heart beat loudly in his ears and he had started to sweat despite the cold.
A muffled sound vibrated through the earth and Jack stopped, shivers going down his spine. There, again. Behind him. He turned and there … swimming in the endless white of the fog was something red, two small pinpricks of light. For a heartbeat he thought of walking towards it, hoping to find help. Then the fog tore. The bull was huge and black and its eyes were burning like coals. Steam was rising from its gleaming coat. It lowered its head, pointing its deadly black horns at him, its eyes burning into Jack’s soul.
Jack whirled around and ran. The earth dragged at his every step, the very air seemed to be holding him back, tendrils of mist wrapping around him, slowing him down. His lungs were burning. He felt the earth vibrate beneath the mighty hooves of the beast. Coming closer, ever closer, its hot breath on his neck and in the last moment he turned, wanting to face his ruin.
The horns glided into his flesh so easily there wasn’t even any pain. Blood dripped from his mouth onto the black fur. Then the animal tossed its head and flung him through the air, tearing him wide open. He landed on the black earth with a thump that pressed all air out of his lungs. He tried to draw in a fresh breath and found that he couldn’t. More blood spilled down his lips. His limbs started to shiver and all of a sudden all the pain rushed through him in a big wave. He felt a scream building in his throat, but he could only gather enough air for a wheeze. The faint light that had painted the fog white was dimming as he fought for each small breath, agony ripping through him. His hands clenched in the wet earth.
Suddenly her face was there. Maisie, beautiful and kind, holding his hand, stroking the hair from his forehead. Everywhere she touched his burning skin cooled and a calm spread through him. She looked so heartbroken that all he wanted to do was console her, but he could not speak a word. She bent down and kissed him. Her lips touched his gently, drawing all the pain from him leaving only a dizzy vertigo.
Something in him ripped and he saw himself from above. Saw her bending over him. Saw the tears that spilled from her eyes, spilled onto his torn body. His body crumpled and vanished into the earth. Where it had been, where her tears and his blood had mingled, something moved, something grew and within the blink of an eye, heather and rose, thyme and poppy, a myriad of wildflowers sprouted and blossomed.
Jack woke and gasped. He blinked his eyes wide. He was sitting in his cosy chair, in front of the hearth. The flames were dancing merrily. He still held the glass in his hand. There was black earth under his fingernails. His body started to shiver and he looked over at Mamó. Her eyes didn’t leave the fire, but she smiled. The first rays of the new sun broke into the room.
Leyla Telli is from Germany originally. Since making Ireland her home, and encouraged by the vibrant creative spirit of Dublin, she has started to explore her long standing desire to write fiction. Leyla has been a member of Cupán Fae for two and a half years and has contributed to the Cupán Fae Anthologies: Fierce Mighty, Fierce & Proud, and Fiercepunk.