The trees were moving.
It wasn’t real, Skie told herself. It was her mind playing tricks, thinking of the silly stories children told to frighten each other.
The Broken Forest was the quickest route home, and home was where Skie wanted to be. Right now.
She took long strides and resisted the desire she had to run. Her right hand played over the dagger at her waist. Skie used it mainly for killing and gutting small animals; but there was that time when she’d thrust it into Jacques’ throat. Normally the thought of what she’d done made her sick, his screams for help that came out as little gurgles, the way blood had pumped out of his neck, making the whole world sticky and red. Today it made her brave, knowing that when it was necessary she was capable of defending herself.
A twig cracked underneath her feet. She stopped and stared down at the ground, there was nothing but dry earth. When she looked up again the trees had faded into the background and she was standing in a clearing.
She took a deep breath, the air tasted of burning flesh and ash. The old legends of the Magick Wars flowed through her mind, the mages who sought refuge within the sanctuary of the ancient forest, their enemies who broke the laws of nature and burnt them out. Except no bodies were ever found and nothing ever grew on the site again.
Had she been foolish taking this shortcut to trim a few miles off her journey, or was she now being stupid, her mind full of stories that made her heart beat fast?
She pinched her skin, closed her eyes, counted slowly to five, and opened them again.
She was still standing in the clearing, but now there were three chairs. The seats were made from human bones; legs and arms with the flesh boiled off them, a skull ornamenting the back of each chair.
Drawn forwards, Skie noticed differences between them; the first was made from bones so white they shone; the second was the colour of week old cream; the third was yellow with visible cracks.
Figures formed. They started as wisps, bright balls of light, then transformed into the true-black of shades, finally they settled into familiar human shapes. Too familiar.
“What are you that take my face?” Skie felt for her dagger. It wasn’t there.
“It is you who carries our image.” None of their lips moved, it wasn’t a voice, it was a screech inside her mind.
Skie blinked back terrified tears. “What do you want?”
“We want nothing. It is you that is in want.”
They matched the chairs they rested on. The one at the end was aged; a few wisps of hair left on her head, thick whiskers on her chin, a face lost in wrinkles, a body bent and crooked, yet Skie knew instinctively that it was her.
The middle one had a thickened waist, pasty skin, visible veins through patched stockings, more grey than colour in her hair.
The last one was the one Skie found it hardest to look at; she was a mirror of how Skie was now, hair tied back in a loose pony tail, a shy smile, a deceptively slender frame.
Gazing at them, Skie understood, it was as if the women were explaining the game to her. She had to make a choice. She needed to choose one of them. She was allowed three questions and she’d already used two of them.
Skie bit down on her lip until the taste of iron filled her mouth. “My final question is this. You are all versions of me, so your life, the way things turned out, was it how I imagined it as a child?”
“Yes,” croaked the eldest one.
“Yes,” said the middle one, her voice dry and tired.
“No.” The youngest one laughed, a merry sound in this dead place.
Skie took small steps towards the chairs. The figures disappeared, melted into the chairs, or maybe they’d never been there. Carefully she lowered herself into the seat of white bones.
She opened her mouth to scream, but before her pain reached the air her body had already melded into the bone chair.
Clarissa is currently very happy as earlier this month she got her first flash fiction acceptance of the year, (normally she writes the type of thing that she can only send out to the wider world under a pseudonym because it’s too kinky, or too personal, or both). Usually she walks around the English countryside in a state of quiet melancholy contemplating everything that is wrong with the world.