Friday 25 February 2022

Glass Trees - Short Story by Christina Martin


Glass Trees by Christina Martin


At night the forest shimmers with soft tree breath and snow. 

The crumbling castle in front of the trees is surrounded by ruined gardens.  In the village below, there is talk.  Some say that the castle is cursed, others that it was the people inside who were cursed and could not go outside.  There is no one there now, of course.  The old women say as they wag grimly over their washing that there was once a queen there, but probably a witch.   No one ever saw her, even then.   She was highly suspected of the power of invisibility. 

No villager will ever go near the forest, where the trees gather and sway towards anyone attempting to enter, whisper strange chiming songs that pierce the ear so no one has ever witnessed the strange births beneath its branches. 

That blustery night the wind shrieks round the walls and is answered from within by a long mournful wail. No one in the village hears it except the young man waiting to meet his sweetheart.  They are going to meet by the wall under the high moon, choosing to ignore the warnings that any who enter the castle will never return.  A raven on the tower pays him great attention. 

But his lover is late, and the moon plucks light from the flowers swaying by the wall near to a great door, just opening.  The wailing is insistent, a seducing cry of ancient loves, long-lost, hungry, with a heart- gripping claw that draws the man in towards its strange-barred melody.  Stretching his neck inside the archway, he sees only billowing purple darkness. 

Then - up ahead, a flickering light that follows the sound, and as the young man stands in the gloom of the doorway, where the door has opened just wide enough to admit one soul, the raven swoops down with a whispering wing-beat and a rough caw, taps his back with its heavy beak. 

The door closes. 

Taking a step inside and immediately knowing it is madness, he feels the stone beneath his feet undulated and smooth from centuries of other benighted feet that have walked here.  The air is cool, too cool, and there is an old smell of worms and roots, a smell of burials, as if he has arrived underground.  The light moves to the right, to the left, with the shimmering hint of green, but always melts into the darkness as soon as he approaches. 

Looking back, he finds he has lost the door.  There is no streak of moonlight to pour a pale milky spill of light from any of the windows.  Any window slits that were there before are now gone, filled with centuries of stone dust and crusted earth.  Here is just one foot upon another along the cold flags, slippery with wear.  There is no sign of his sweetheart.  She is the long moon of another world.  He can hardly remember her face.  She is not part of this existence. 

The thin pale ribbon of light snakes ever inward towards the belly of the castle.  The moaning song is a like a mania stronger now and there is an added sound of bells which does not seem incongruous here.  Finally, he stands in a high chamber with a wide bed and someone like a woman on it.  She cries out, calling to him.  This must be the witch.  He is sure now to be cursed but doesn't care.  In a daze he approaches, to find that her arms are branches and her hair is made of silver leaves.  Grasping his hand with a twining chord of green, she pulls him down and stares at him with flaming amber eyes.  Where has he seen these eyes before? 

The transformation begins with his fingers, hands and arms, turning to sapling willow threads and branches.  Within the cloud of music of wind and rain and storms he folds, then stands, his bark tender and pale.  He has leaves that are small and immature, yet perfectly formed and ridged. 

The door from the room is on another side, and he must leave.  He takes one last look as the tree-woman shines as she utters a light sound, maybe laughter on his way out.   Through a heavy archway behind the castle there is a distant thud of another portal, and his yester-life is gone. 

It is a heavy thing to drag roots towards the others, but that is where he belongs.  They bend and whisper, urging him forward. 

At last, he stands among them, the trees of light.  For they are made of glass, which is why they sing so. 

Slowly, he watches as his filaments glisten and his leaves turn to silver, shakes off the memory of the tree queen, content to be a melody prince.~ 

In the village, another is reported missing.  The old hags in their shawls, mutter.  They do not notice the raven with one glass leg standing on the church spire, picking out the next one.

Christina Martin lives in West Wales and takes her inspiration from the sea and the natural world, finding the magical and strange in much of life.  Her poetry has been published in various journals including Nature Writing Magazine, Light, Presence, Wales Haiku Journal, Failed Haiku and Lothlorien Poetry Journal.  She has published two adventure novels in the magical realism genre, as well as three collections of poetry, a novella and a collection of short stories.

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