Fiction, The Billingham Challenge: The Gap between the Willow trees

Sudo One loves a contest, so he set a challenge. A writing challenge. He writes an opening paragraph of a story for me to complete and I write a paragraph to start him off. He named it the Billingham challenge in honour of Mark Billingham the crime writer, who did the same thing for a competition in which I came second. You can see that effort here.

So here is my Short Story with Sudo one’s opener in brown. I’ve called it ‘The Gap between the Willow trees.’ Enjoy…

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The Gap between the Willow Trees – A Short Story by Gary Shaw (AKA the Resident Weebler)

The Willow Trees (Monet)

She waited with baited breath.

With any luck the groundwork had paid off. Tonight was the night it was all going to come to fruition, the stars in the inky night sky were, she hoped, aligned. She deserved it, didn’t she?

It was time... her time, Annie’s time.

Annie had been told about the creatures by Freda Percival, a long time resident of Hillfrome, her place of work, over two years earlier. At first she disregarded the stories as flights of fantasy, even madness. But after what had happened to Freda, what she’d seen with her own eyes, they must be able to do to her what they did to Freda.

Waiting in the woods, which surrounded the Hillfrome Estate, she watched the space between the twisted misshaped willow trees.  It had been a year ago today that Freda had gone missing from the home and Annie had found her here. A year ago today that the creatures had come through the gap in the trees and she had seen those black creatures crawl over Freda.

In her fifties now, Annie had regretted how her life had turned out. She had no real family to speak of. An only child, her parents passed on, she had no children, and the man and life she had always dreamed of had never arrived. She had so much love to give, and now nearing the autumn of her own life, only had the residents of Hillfrome to pour it on.

It was Freda that Annie had warmed to the most. The two ladies would often sit on the wooden bench at the rear of Hillfrome house on warm evenings, looking down on the vast wood that lay at the foot of the hill.  They talked of older, better times and how they both wished they were younger. Annie was reminded of her mother’s kindness as they spoke. So when Freda started to speak of magical creatures in the woods that could make them young again, she felt a terrible heartache. She remembered how her mother had started saying nonsensical things before her mind decayed, and how Annie had to look on as the mother she knew slowly disappeared.

When Freda got on to that subject she would get all excitable and Annie would try and calm her down. Freda would talk of the way stars were aligned in certain ways when the magic creatures came. She would start singing a rhyme sometimes about the creatures coming every year and making dreams come true, but seemed to falter at the third line. She would tell Annie the time was soon and she could join her next year, they could start life again. She spoke of two ancient willow trees which lay deep in the forest which acted as a gateway for the creatures. She would sometimes point in the direction of them. So when Freda went missing on that fateful evening a year ago, Annie remembered her ramblings and went to look for her in the woods.

As soon as Annie had seen Freda, standing there in front of the willows in her dressing gown, she called out to her. Freda did not turn, only told her not to intervene, just to witness a miracle. There was a sound of wind rushing through hollow wood, and it was then they came. Through the gap between the willows she saw them appear, like shadows becoming solid. They moved like liquid, surrounding Freda and consuming all sight of her.

Annie’s fear overwhelmed her and she could not have intervened if she’d tried. She heard guttural noises coming from the centre of that mass of blackness that engulfed Freda. Annie was frozen to the spot, mesmerised by what was happening. Then as quickly as they came, they went and returned to the gap, all that remained was a child in an oversized dressing down. The child looked at her arms and body, and then turned. ‘Annie it’s me, Freda. They gave me my youth back. I can start again.’

Start again. Now it was her turn, her time, Annie’s time.  A year had gone by and Freda had lived with Annie assuming the role of her adopted daughter for all who asked. Freda had told her all she needed to do in preparation for this day.  No longer would she be the wallflower she had always known herself to be, she would make sure she savoured every moment of her new life to come and find her dream man. This time her life would work out.

There was the sound of a cracking twig behind her. Annie quickly turned, only to see Freda approaching. ‘Freda, you startled me. Why didn’t you stay at the house?’

‘I’m sorry’ Freda said.

A wind started to blow.  ‘It’s fine, don’t worry. I’m just so excited Freda. Tonight’s the night. I’m going to be young again, just like you, we can be friends forever.’

‘No’ said Freda. ‘We can’t. I really am sorry’. The wind became hollow sounding. The shadow creatures were coming again.

Annie looked at Freda with confusion. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I never told you the whole rhyme.’ Freda said.

‘They will come here every year,

Fulfil your dreams when they appear.

Return you must, a year on cue,

With one who wants the same as you.

They are the sacrifice that will appease,

At the gap between the willow trees.’

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Check out Sudo One’s effort here

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About residentweebler
Short Story Writer and Opinionated observer. Visit my blog for all this and more. https://theresidentweeble.wordpress.com/

3 Responses to Fiction, The Billingham Challenge: The Gap between the Willow trees

  1. SudoOne says:

    If I could like this more than once I would. Great stuff, great twist. Even moreso when you consider my opening passage was inspired by the Oscars. Someone waiting to find out if they won.

    I purposely gave you hardly anything. Great work my friend.

  2. Pingback: (28DW) Fiction,The Billingham Challenge: Second Chance | SudoOne

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