At sixteen, when forest ramblings at the cottage had been derailed by a family move, my explorer’s ambitions being crushed, I had to make do with spending a week at my uncle’s in Dawnor’s Rapids. Notwithstanding warnings about the kid who had drowned there “just last year,” I spent the week discovering the creek’s every meander and pool. The Saturday before I left promised a big bonfire.
On a sandbank a huge teepee of driftwood and old planks stood to one side and an equally impressive mound of beer cases and eats on the other. Down the creek the sun sank red and golden, but I was rather more engrossed in identifying the alder species across the creek, than greeting Josie, the date my cousin had arranged for me. Informing my date of the alders’ unique ability to fix nitrogen proved a poor opening, but she nodded politely; however, when I asked her what subjects she liked in school, she laughed loudly, adding “School? who wants to talk about school?” Turning to a friend, she continued, “d’ya see The Partridge Family last night? Isn’t Keith just dreamy?” Enticing as what her laced blouse promised, I knew there was no hope.
The smells of weed and beer soon overcame those of the open water and encroaching woods; the raucous conversation drowned out the crickets. I wandered over to the rocky pool where the beer was kept cold, but when I returned, Josie had left, and I wasn’t that keen to find her. Restless and bored I waded across the creek and tramped through the pungent muck: they were green alders. Hardly thinking, I wandered upstream, quickly leaving the bonfire behind. Treading the soft carpet beneath the pines that overhung the rapids, I resolved to continue to the bridge, then follow the road back to the bonfire. The pines sighing, the swift waters gurgling and splashing, glittering in the moonlight, the aromas of forest and stream enfolded me, isolating me in cocoon of my own senses.
I came upon her suddenly. She was sitting silently at the base of a great beech tree, the twilight obscuring the distinction between her outline and the expanse of pale gray bark. When my sight resolved that she was indeed there, I was drawn out of my reverie.
“Wandered this far from the party?”
Seemingly not much older than me, she rose but remained silent. In the semi-obscurity, the colored weave of her blue gingham dress melded with the grey of the moonlit beech. Her hair, oddly wet, given her dry dress, was partly up in a bun. As she turned bashfully towards the tree, a tortoise shell hair comb was revealed in the dappled moonlight. An odd sort of woven necklace reposed on her high white collar. She didn’t strike me as the flower-child kind — while feminine, she somehow looked altogether too industrious and practical a girl. She was really pretty, maybe a bit old-fashioned, or at least ‘modest’ — but I liked that.
“Studying to be a tree nymph?” I asked.
Her voice, in such harmony with the woodland and riparian sounds as one might expect from such a creature, nonetheless gave me the odd impression of coming from afar.
“Nay, I wandered far afield and mistook me the crossing — to my own ruin — ‘Aileen, dinna cross...’ mum warned me, an — an now I canna go back to her,” she continued, sobbing, “I canna go back to my kin, aye, they’ll have gone afore me.”
“Hey, c’mon Aileen, cheer up,” I replied, hesitating whether to hug her, “I’ll take you home, we can cross up at the bridge and catch up with your folks — they have a cottage up here?”
“Lad, there be no bridge for the likes o’ me, nor surely a cottage for to find — ach, only were ye to bear me across could I rejoin my kin.”
“Well, Aileen — Scottish are you? — it’s a wee bit tricky crossing here, in the daytime alone, but at night like this, it’s just courting disaster.”
“Aye, ye need na tell me, but I’ll have naught of a boy that canna be brave when called upon.”
“Fine, suit yourself, I’ve done it in the daytime...relax, I’ll figure something out,” Looking up and down the creek for the safest crossing, I added, laughing awkwardly: “So, Aileen, how you figure I should carry you...like a bride across the threshold, or like a sack of potatoes.”
“I ken ‘twon’t be the first, for I’ll be bride to none, ‘twould be better suited to jumpin’, I reckon, were I 'cross your shoulder.”
We walked up the creek together, to where I’d managed to get across easily enough a couple of days before. I approached her, boldly giving her a peck on the cheek — she was oddly cold and wet, and the aroma of her hair hinted of the alder bog — but out in the woods all night, having wandered along the creek before resting by the beech tree, that didn’t seem altogether strange. She smiled wistfully, yet with an underlying sense of sadness.
“Ay, go on lad, I won’t hold the peck against ye, and now across.”
She seemed light for her frame, as I slung her over my shoulder. Concentrated on crossing, I managed it without a hitch. On the opposite bank, I slipped her off my shoulder, onto her feet .
She looked happy, yet anxious, and even paler in the full moonlight. She rearranged her dress, seemingly looking for something. Softly but firmly she added “I must go on and find my kin alone, but, lad — I offer you what blessings I may.”
She ran up the bank. The odd necklace she had worn, which had fallen on my shoe, delayed me in following her. There was no sign of her when I crested the bank.
Weeks later, when I visited a museum back home, I was assured the intricately woven hair necklace was of no later than the 19th century.
Copyright: © 2010 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.