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The Silver Witch

By:Paula Brackston

The Silver Witch, The - Paula Brackston


PROLOGUE

It is as if she has always known that one day it would come to this. One day she would have to face it. Her darkest fear has been there to test her from a distance all her life. Years of imagining, thinking, wondering what it would be like to be swallowed up by the waves, or swept away by a fast-flowing river, or held beneath the sunny surface of a sparkling swimming pool, all have led to this place, this moment.

Gingerly, she moves toward the edge of the boathouse jetty. Her fingers are already losing their color in the damp chill. She crouches then sits, lowering her feet into the water. The intense cold is a shock. Her breathing accelerates as she twists around and lowers herself over the edge and in. The ancient, neglected wood is slimy with algae and her fingers start to slip. She gasps, clawing at the wet wood, but cannot get a firm grip. With a feeble splash she slides into the water, bursting into tears of relief and terror as her feet find the silty lake bed. The water level is just above her waist. Raising her arms, elbows bent, she edges toward the entrance, inching her way along the uneven surface. The sloping uneven surface. By the time she reaches the gable end of the boathouse the water is up to her armpits. She knows she is in danger of hyperventilating. Of being sick. Of fainting.

No, no, no! Mustn’t trip, mustn’t stumble. Small steps. Come on, feet, pretend we’re running. Running in slow motion. Fleet feet. Strong steps. One foot in front of the other.

She pushes through the reeds, causing small waves to bounce back at her from the timber walls. She raises her chin as the water sloshes against her face. With every step she fights rising panic. Panic that threatens to send her falling into the water. Panic that might be the finish of her.

She reaches the low boards that block the exit. The moment has come. Now she must dive beneath the water, push through into the unknown, fight the tangle of weeds and swim to the outside. She knows if she thinks about it any longer she will not move, so in one desperate, sudden action she forces herself under the surface. The sensation of going beneath the water is more than she can stand. She loses her balance, falling through the twisted undergrowth, her feet sliding so that she disappears into the brackish blackness. She reacts as she has always feared she would, as she has always imagined so vividly in her nightmares. She inhales. The mouthful of water becomes a lungful in a soundless scream of terror. Tilda feels time stop. Her intellect tells her she must get up, must break the surface, must push up, grab something, find air. Her instinct tells her to fight and flail and clutch and claw. But the blackness is enticing, the silence seductive. And the cold, the bone-deep cold, has her in its tight embrace, numbing her will as well as her body.





1

SEREN

All is darkness. Blessed night. Freed from light and troubled vision, my thoughts are fed instead by the howling of the wind outside. The sound forms pictures in my mind, where I see the trees moving in the raging air. Willow and hazel pull at their roots as they dance. Birch and ash bow to the mighty force from the skies. But the oak will not bend the knee. He stands stubborn and steady. Would sooner break than yield. My mind is like the willow; it flexes and springs. My heart is a knot of oak. Let them try to wound me. Let them try.


TILDA

Feet find firm ground, thudding into dry mud. Nike on hard earth. Breathe in. Breathe out. In on second left footfall. Out on second right. Lengthen stride, a couple of inches, no more. Pace, rhythm, run, step, the poetry of movement, of exertion.

Tilda loves to run. Tilda needs to run. Her style is loose, fluid, easy, but with power and purpose. And with every step she lets her mind overlay the beat with plump, juicy images—images she will gather together for when she returns home, a crop harvested from the amber autumn landscape through which she now runs. All her best work has been created this way. Running charges her body and her mind. If she does not run, her thoughts become composted in her head, overheated and overcrowded, potentially fertile but unusable. Too much of a mass to be employed as separate artistic ideas. She turns off the woodland track and follows the slender path out of the trees and across the open fields.

Breathe, pace, breathe, pace. Heart strobing against ribs. Lungs efficient, trained, strong. Turf opening up, stretching out. The vista is uplifting. Lush, plush, velvet grass. Green is the color of life.

Her left foot hits a small stone and her mind is momentarily jolted out of its meditative state, her rhythm disrupted. Cold air stings the back of her throat. The day is cool but dry. The year is turning the corner away from summer, but the fertile rot of autumn has not yet taken hold of the landscape. The smell of fungi is just faintly detectable. The crunch of broken nutshells underfoot still only occasional. Another full moon will see shortening days and lengthening shadows.

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