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Showing posts with label Trauma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trauma. Show all posts

Saturday 31 December 2022

Uruz, Verða

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

     A lethargic silence blanketed the world.
    Winter's graceful grip had frozen even sound, and cast the mute forest into a stark lullaby of blue and gold. Trees, tall and tightly packed, were silvered with the year's age, their branches glittering in the low midday sun, tousled by a whispered breeze.
    Amongst those giants, a run-down shack stood almost indistinguishable from the fallen trees, so old and forgotten that the forest had reclaimed the rotten, hollow wood, and young trees grew, winter-kissed, through the broken roof in their hunt for light.
    Burrows closed off by a tangle of frozen spiderwebs were filled with hibernating life beneath trees and walls, but even those active went almost unseen, small birds sitting fluffed on the broken fence, absorbing the weak warmth while they closed their little eyes lazily against the blinding light.
    The world was asleep, at peace beneath the alluring claws of winter. Blind and deaf to the thump-thump-thump of hooves approaching rapidly from behind.


    Birds fled in a flurry of ice and startled peeps as the aurochs crashed through the hollow wall. But she barely noticed them. She ran in a different world, a blissful silver blur and deafening thunder of heart and hoof. She stormed on through the rain of splinters as if the shack hadn't been there at all.
    The fence flattened just as easily beneath her hooves.
    While the wilds alighted again upon the settling wood behind her, her pace grew only faster. Debris fell from her broad and polished horns, misshapen with a hint of elk tine; defined muscles tensed and shifted beneath her painted, vibrant skin as she ran, fast and powerful, and clouds huffed steadily through a fierce grin.
    The forest itself yielded. Bowing back, branches tinkled in her wake, loosening frost to her lustrous golden brown mane and glittering among the first hints of grey. And through that chiming, the drum of her pace and the melodic chirp of distant birds, her heart sang.
    Frozen air prickled her skin and rosed her cheeks. Frost gathered on her eyelashes. Her fists were numb. Her lungs and muscles burned.
    Yet she laughed.
    It had taken years for her heart to become so light - not through passive time, but conscious practice, and defeat after defeat after defeat. And now, her demons had been both tamed and destroyed.
    Worries were gone, lost to the moment. Inferiority forgotten; she was incomparable. Time was no longer bottled and stagnant in the present. Armour no longer weighted her bones every moment. Her heart was open, thoughts were spoken, grudges released; hate became pity, and pity became forgotten.
   She could barely feel the ache around her wrists any more from years spent in shackles.
    Her grin only broadened.

    A silver branch reached across the aurochs' path, and she seized it without a thought, swinging herself up into the boughs, loosening clouds of frost beneath her hooves. The slippery and impossible steps were executed with equal grace and lunacy.
    Up here, the world was a disorganised tangle, yet she navigated it just as easily. Forward remained ahead of her, Backwards remained behind; Up was still above, Down was still below. The sun still hung in the sky, and it still set every night and rose every morning. These were all the directions she needed. The rest came from within.
    Her hooves slipped again and again on the frost, and weak branches gave way beneath her, but she didn't stop running. Birds fled in startled panics, weasels leapt playfully along behind her, a snow fox ran through the frost below. Wind whistled past her ears, and an imagined scent of hot berries played around her numb nose. Imagined or not, it was pleasant, and she accepted it as part of the moment.
    She dropped down into a clearing when the branches became too distant, and stampeded on, storming through frozen puddles. Her grinning reflection multiplied in the shards, and the life in her hazel eyes challenged the hold of Winter itself.
    The landscape had grown steeper now, and the trees thinner. Frost turned to pockets of snow, pockets became sweeps, until the ground turned fully from silver to a blinding white, flooded by the sun.
    Then, the forest stopped.
    The aurochs skidded to a stop at the edge of the cliff and stared, panting, over the snow-blanketed valleys and frozen rivers beyond. The view was immense. Frightening. And freeing.
    Clouds huffed from her numb, chapped lips, and as she caught it, she breathed deeper of the crisp air, again, and again, and again.
    Her skin, too, burned in the snow, but she stood firm, naked and self-reclaimed. The scrolling runes painted on her skin flashed the only colour in the landscape. Her scars shone in the sun. Lumps from the healing of splintered shins were all that marred her with a hideous shadow. But that shadow was hers. Her strength had been lost for a decade, but now it was wrapped tighter around her bones than ever before.
    Another hungry breath. And another. Wild ran restless inside her. Her heart raced, adrenaline pulsed, muscles twitched and tensed. Her head tilted from one side to the other, feeling the weight and power of her horns, cut now with new carvings for a new life.
    Her grin was primal.
    Power burst from her throat, a lump of energy uncontainable, and she roared, a huge mist that hid the landscape from her eyes like the smoke of a dragon.
    And the world roared back. Bear, swan, warhorn, wolf, fox, elk. The wind, the earth, the mountains themselves.
    She stamped her hoof, a savage thump as the reverberation filled her, and bellowed again.
    Her shadow stomped beside her. Her echo roared around her.
    Territory. Sanctuary. Freedom.
    There were more like her out there. The Free. She could hear them, she could smell them; wanderers with no destination in mind. Going and doing as they pleased.
    And she, at last, was one of them.
    Her grin widened. Then, she charged on.


    A thick, glittering cloud erupted from the edge of the cliff as hooves carved their way down through earth and ice. Sun shone on, turning the cloud to gold. Birds fluttered across it. A weasel leapt to catch it. And another bellow of freedom shook the sky from the forest below.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Saturday 17 December 2022


Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

'You have no control. You need no control. Surrender it. Find out who you are.'

    The aurochs fought again to relax the tension in her face. It just moved deeper into her shoulders instead.
    The high, mossy platform should have been a point of calm, a place to breathe, rest and recollect herself, a small, private island above the forest overlooking the shelter she'd claimed beneath it. But a familiar thread of doubt ran through her spine, as always, and one she was sure had become entwined with her nervous system.
    Feeling that itch down her back, she straightened herself in determination rather than comfort, and sat a little taller beneath the single, gnarled rowan tree. It seemed just as uncomfortable and out of place here as she was, growing out from a rocky cleft on the side of the cramped platform, and had too lost its identity in the faded runes in its bark. The dulled carvings of her own horns rolled through her mind, but she didn't raise her hand to them. She didn't need to check again how shallow they were. She knew. She knew.
    Once more, she failed to relax her muscles.
    The dying light of dusk leaked in between the encircling standing stones. Amethyst bled into the sky. The cold air didn't move. Crickets chirped below, an owl hooted. Twilight was descending.
    A deep and forced breath lightened her body, thick with juniper smoke and the scent of recent rain. But in spite of it, the thread of conflict burrowed deeper into her system.
    The need to run was overwhelming. Adrenaline surged, pure power, enough to flee this place and its purpose and return to hiding down below where everything was safe, and the strange, new world was shut away.
    But her rational mind was still there; escape had brought it back to the surface, and as it slowly broke through, it reminded her that her familiar little shelter held nothing for her but stagnation and exhaustion. She didn't want this towering isolation, but she needed it. This was how she would truly reclaim herself, how she would shed her perpetual defence and become One again. Another deep breath. The smoke began at last to soften her mind, and finally, her shoulders loosened.
    'Give up control.' She'd been surviving for so long, an endless state of fight or flight. But now, finally, she could ease. Finally, she could drop her armour. No more wasted energy. No more stifled breath.
    Again, she forced the tension in her face away.
    Smoke swam in her head. She fought the panic of lost control and concentrated. 'Look inwards without turning.' Don't move. Don't slip. Just look.
    She closed her eyes. Her fingers dug into the moss, grounding herself to her surroundings. 'Stay in the Now.' Reflect, don't revert.
    The soft grunt of the sleeping bear down below acted as a gentle anchor, and the flap of swan wings on the reedy lake. Allies the both of them, and the knights passing in the distance, but none of them could help her now. This, she had to do alone. And each of them knew that; not one tried to intrude.
    Smoke filled her.
    And darkness rose to her surface.
    Terror snaked around her throat, but she continued taking breath after careful breath, separating herself from it and letting those wretched shadows rise. Higher and higher they came, and with them the growing suffocation, moving deeper from throat to chest.
    The aurochs steeled herself. She remained grounded, eyes closed. The darkness had to come out. She couldn't rid herself of it until she faced it, and merge with what genuine light remained.

"Horn of Uruz,
Hold of Algiz,
Infuse me, force and flame,
As darkness seethes
And devils rise,
Weave blood and bone with steel.
Bring heart and soul to heel."

    Her voice trailed off. She finished the third iteration before the suffocation became crushing, and barely controlled her panic as her eyes tore open.
    Darkness spilled before her.
    Her already thundering heart almost burst.
    Oily black smoke hung between the standing stones. Long, grey, gnarled fingers clawed out towards her from the clouds, turning the moss black where they touched like the creeping stroke of death. Once-effeminate silhouettes hunched and lurched where the darkness thinned, bodies too long and heavy for their limbs, and huge, white, glowing eyes stared back when the moonlight caught them, like ghastly pools of nightmare.
Countless mara crept into the circle beneath their cloak of shadow, their blind sights fixed on her. She could hear them wheezing, smell the nightshade, taste their malice. She fought to keep calm and let them approach, in spite of every fibre of her being screaming to get up and run.
    But she'd survived so much. What was one more struggle?
    Getting air into her lungs had become a challenge of its own, but still she sat, tall and determined, watching each demon's slow advance. She didn't flinch even as one of them screamed a guttural hiss and leapt onto her chest, nor let alarm get the better of her as the cold, heavy paralysis set in. But she was not unarmed. The stones, the smoke, the rowan tree, all worked against the mara, and the mara themselves were desperate. The night hadn't yet set in; they were not at full power. This time, the aurochs would face them on her own terms.
    In a single, smooth movement, she reached out and seized its bony wrist, and with that tight clutch, another scream, air-rending and ear-piercing, ripped from the mara's throat. The demon immediately disintegrated into a pile of twigs.
    Then the next came, as if blind to witness, and suffered the same fate.
    The third was quick to learn and changed its attack, climbing upon her shoulders instead, and another followed on the other side. Neither made it. One she speared calmly with her splintered horns, and the other she grasped just as smoothly by the throat.
    Her solid touch eradicated every mara as they came, and her mind stayed as steady as she could make it despite the constant battle for breath until the smoke and suffocation finally dissipated, and the foetid mara were no more.
    It took a long moment before her hands ceased to shake and the race of her heart began to slow. But that battle, brief as it was, was only the beginning. The worst was still to come, and that knowledge hitched a snarl in her lip.
    Again the aurochs steadied herself, even as she gasped for breath - not even the dust of her demons would get the satisfaction - and her eyes sank to the shadowy twigs scattered around her.
    Hesitation pinned her hands to her knees for only a moment before she reached out and gathered them. Some, she threw into the juniper fire; others, she clutched in her hands. She hesitated again as the noxious smell of darkness, a strange odour now not of nightshade but of too much aniseed, twisted her face.
    She closed her eyes as sour tears filled them, sat straight again, and sang.

"Bone, shadow,
And echo shorn.
Discard the dead to Ing,
Reforge the ashes,
Rise through flame.
Through sacrifice I soar.
Through seed I restore."

    She raised the two handfuls of twigs to her mouth, clamped them between her teeth with resignation, and bit down, hard. The pieces scattered. Much stayed on her tongue. She didn't spit them out. Instead, she reached out for the flask set on a stone before her, unstoppered it, held her breath, and drank. It took all of her strength not to heave it all back up. The flask suffered instead.
    Shards of glass dropped from her hand as her muscles loosened, and she gave herself over to the magic.
'Let it go. Surrender to it.' Everything she'd held onto so tightly, every black and white thing she'd held for so long, was released in that single draught.
    Pain set in quickly. Her throat burned, her stomach, her fingertips, her eyes. She hadn't expected it to be this strong.
    Then panic flashed in, or something more potent, wiping her mind clear while alarm ripped her eyes open. All she could think of was escape. But it was too late. She knew it was too late. It was too late the moment she'd sat down beneath the rowan's shadow. By coming here at all, she had committed.
    She stifled a cough in an attempt to regain control, but it tore its way out anyway. Flecks of blood spattered her lips and the heat in her chest redoubled.
'You have no control.'
The words swam in her mind, and she fought back another cough and the maddening spin of her head. She had committed. Committed, knowing there were only two ways this could go.
'You need no control.'
She slipped off of her knees and fell to her palms, bloody saliva streaming from her lips, stomach churning with the threat of purge. She barely felt the small hand resting on her shoulder, or registered through burning, teary eyes the shadow of elk antlers on the ground before her.
'Surrender it.'
But it was enough. She seized the wrist for comfort just as her stifled, desperate cough became a choke.
'Find out who you are.'
Thick blood splattered over the moss. She lost the hand, lost her balance, tipped head-first to the ground. Her broad horns speared the moss, sparing her a face full of dirt as she suffocated in shallow, bubbling breaths.
     Her skull hurt. Something was trying to break out of it.
     Her skin tingled. Something was trying to rip free.
    Her head rose from the ground, pushed higher as her horns began to grow. And in that moment, between broken breath and a screaming agony she couldn't express, she felt relief.
    It was happening.
    Haze set in.
    The roar of the bear, the honk of the swan, the horns of the knights, all of it played distantly against her eardrums.
    And she convulsed.
She let the change happen.
    It was the only way she could be One again.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Wednesday 30 November 2022


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine. - William Shakespeare

    Hazel eyes wandered out over the water. Stars glittered and danced across the boundless surface, like diamonds unobtainable. It was a night preserved, a night in glass; a timelost thing of silence.
     Alone beneath that smothering magnitude, there was nothing at all to ground her.
     Unbidden, her heavy gaze returned to her reflection. And again it stared back, not haloed or graced by the mirror of stars, but threatened instead by crystalline shards of ice hanging suspended at its back. And though she recognised herself, the face was unfamiliar. There was something in it she hadn't seen before: lines, a wild darkness in the eyes, a rounding of the shoulders that still somehow stood as tight as her own.
     Rogue wind lashed hair across her face. The reflection, too, was whipped by its own. But it didn't blink. It stared back at her. It saw. It watched.
     It was unreasonable. Irrational. Impossible. But the twist of something in her mind under that debilitating glare closed her throat, and the smell of saltless water became almost toxic.
     As the freezing touch of panic skittered up her spine, she tried desperately to turn and run back to solid, opaque ground. But all she could manage to do was avert her gaze. And when it inevitably pulled back just a heartbeat later, the naive hope that the face that Should Be would be there instead was crushed. And her heartbeat went with it.
     The broken, haunted, silent girl stared on.
     No reflection belonged to the water. Only to those who viewed it. What she saw was no trick of the night, and that fact throbbed painfully beneath shuddering ribs. And now, she couldn't even turn her eyes away.
     The reflection rose, growing closer, coming for her, the water itself rising behind it.
     Still, she couldn't move. Only her eyelids obeyed, and even that came too late.
     They shut tight as the water crashed over her shoulders, enveloping her in a deathly cold, shocking her mind empty until the roaring surge plunged suddenly into a dull, thrumming silence pounding numb against her eardrums. And when she dared at last to open them again, heart thundering in her throat, hair drifting around her head like kelp, she found the stars still hanging beneath her feet upon the water surface. But now, she discovered in horror, she stood on the other side. The world had inverted.
     Her head snapped back up, but rather than stare on through the water, she found herself just inches from the face of her reflection. It flickered with darkness, as if the whole being was suddenly enrobed in shadow, and this time, she stood in front of her, the same way up, feet fixed to the underside of the water just as her own were.
     The two stood alone in the same dark, suffocating realm.
     Panic's claws gripped her throat, but the overwhelming need to run, to close her eyes, to refuse what stood in front of her was denied. Something inside her made her stare on.
     No. No, not inside her. The reflection itself. The shadow. Those tormented eyes had seized her with the grip of the grave.
     Paralysed, she stared back and fell victim to silent declarations, deafened already by the muffled gurgle of water in her ears, simultaneously aware and unaware of everything spoken inside the lock of those eyes. Destruction. Accusation. Fury. Those hurting eyes screamed the desire to rip her to shreds.
     But this time, she didn't look away. She didn't even think to. Watching the figure, she suddenly felt her own pain, her own alarm, the darkness that came to her in the night, in moments of isolation, in certainties that the world itself had betrayed her... And all of this, she could see on the reflection's shoulders too. It carried those same burdens, cast the same shadow - it wore that shadow. It felt the same, identical, all but for one crucial, crushing difference: it had also been betrayed by her.
     She had been betrayed by her.

     No reflection belonged to the water. Only to those who viewed it.
     But while a reflection could be avoided, the shadow would always follow.

     A deep, cold, shuddering breath filled her lungs. Water moved alive around her. Her eyes closed calmly.
     She felt the motion before it reached her. But even as the shadow threw itself violently against her, she opened her arms and embraced it.
     Those stiff, rounded shoulders immediately began to shudder. And she hushed it. She stroked her shadow's hair as it sobbed, rubbed its back as it trembled, and felt her own darkness rise to the surface. And there, that immense and neglected darkness settled.
     But it didn't overwhelm her. Not this time. It didn't try to crush her. It didn't try to rip her apart. It just sat quietly beside everything else, intertwining, existing as a fact rather than a burden.

     Time passed, seconds or minutes. Her eyes opened. Her arms were empty. The shadow was gone.
     Then a gasp leapt from her throat.
     The stars hung all around her, glittering throughout the water; diamonds, ice, all mingling together, as dangerous and as beautiful as each other.
     She breathed, barely aware that she hadn't yet drowned, but though that breath still came ragged, the weight on her chest was less. And she looked around, marvelling at the drowned realm. Her realm. Her gaze didn't drop to discover what surface she stood upon, nor did she try to walk; she didn't fret falling, or drowning, or sinking, even as her mind slowly began to work again. Instead, it all drifted away, and she sat herself silently down on the underside of the water, staring up and around at the stars.
     Her shadow was beside her, somewhere. Where it had always been; unnoticed, but ever there. And though she knew it would continue to weave its trials and present her with hurdles by its very nature, she also knew it was better to have a co-operative weight than a resistant one. And the co-operation would come.
     Lying back, she would leave this place when she was ready. And she would cross the next hurdle as close to whole as she could be.

In myths, the hero is the one who conquers the dragon, not the one who is devoured by it. And yet both must deal with the same dragon. And he is no hero who never met the dragon, or who, if once he saw it, declared afterwards that he saw nothing.
- Carl Jung

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Thursday 10 November 2022


 Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

     Grim hazel eyes roved the sky. The iron bars cast black lines over the dark, bleak landscape, but the storm's shadow at least concealed the worst of the barren scrubland. The valley's grass was completely dead. The river dry as bone. The mountains themselves stood like the teeth of a huge dead beast, its final, cold breath raging out through the crevice, shifting the rain itself.
     But whatever beast she could imagine it had once been, it held nothing at all to him.
     Her bitter gaze drifted through the other side of the cage. He was out there, her 'master', staring into the sky, oblivious to the rain hammering into his face and the gale snatching his breath away. He was too busy absorbing a sun of his own creation. How very like him to ignore what was really there.
     The aurochs' lip curled scathingly, and she turned her stare back to the distance. She could no longer stomach more than a few seconds of his face before her rage got the better of her. And her heart was already racing.
     Calm. Clarity. That was what she needed.
     She closed her eyes and breathed deeply to steady herself, and the fresh smell of the long-awaited storm provided it. Even the faint smell of burning redirected her enthusiasm - though still, she couldn't help smiling. Minutely. Undetectably.
     Her eyes calmly opened. She rose to her haunches.
     The time, at last, had come.
     Lightning split the ominous clouds. The deafening crash of thunder came a moment later.
     The instant it erupted, she threw herself against the cage.
     The wind stole the clattering sound away even beneath the cover of thunder. But, as expected, it hadn't been enough.
     The aurochs pulled herself back, shaking off the pain that shuddered through her ragged bones, and watched the sky again.
     Flash. Wait. Crack.
     She threw herself again.
     For months, she'd been grinding down the lock and hinges whenever 'Master' had been away. Her horns were no longer just blunted, but cracked and scratched from the effort, and the carvings that had once been so proudly etched into them had been worn away.
     But they could be re-etched. Her identity could be reclaimed.
     Flash. Crack. Thump.
     Her heart was in her throat now, and creeping higher with every strike.
     Flash. Crack. Thump.
     She'd bided her time for months, and finally the opportunity had come. And she was as ready as she would ever be.
     Her heart hit the back of her teeth. She threw herself again.
     The storm was no ally. She knew this. It would destroy her as readily as it helped her - and if she didn't get out of that cage soon, she would feel its punishment directly for daring to take advantage of it.
     Again, she threw herself against the weakening bars, timing it as best she could before the storm could reveal her, and barely bit back the yelp of fright as lightning struck the ground just paces from the cage.
     'Master' barely reacted. 'Master' didn't notice.
     She grit her teeth and returned focus to the sky while the fire erupted, growing from a candle to a pyre in moments despite the thrashing wind and rain. When the storm deigned to strike again, she gathered herself and threw both her strength and panic at the bars. And finally, it gave way.
     The aurochs stumbled out of the cage while a flash of disbelief numbed her senses, wrenching herself free of her rotten shackles in the same instant. But she didn't dare to waste a moment in shock. Rain soaked her bare skin, wind chilled her already frozen bones, and she could barely find her legs from years spent kneeling. But she couldn't afford to wait.
     Because this, she discovered with a glance through the flames, he had noticed. And his eyes were wild.
     She staggered backwards immediately, vanishing in between streaks of spreading fire while his poisoned bark competed with the howl, crack and roar of Nature. In the noxious smoke, she fought for control over herself, and though she was oblivious in that moment to her lack of fear, adrenaline still tried to overwhelm her.
     His toxic voice swirled through the flames, teased like the fire by the wind. Ahead of her. Behind her. To her left, then behind again. The smoke, too, whipped around her, diffusing the chaos into a single sheet of raging light. She could barely even make out his silhouette.
     And there was no time to look. Her lungs were already burning.
     Covering her mouth and nose with her arm, the aurochs stifled her chokes and fought the confusion of noise, picking a direction to move without the taunt of his disembodied demands to confuse her. But as she steeled, turned and started away, he appeared. Of course he appeared.
     Her stomach sank as he stormed through the fire, his clothes and skin both soaked and smoking, rusted knife in hand, deranged look in his eye. It took every mote of energy she had to stand her ground. But it dawned in that moment, as she watched him move wildly, just how much stronger than him she was.
     She grounded herself. She lowered her horns. And though she could feel her weakness, the waver of her legs, the dizziness of lost sleep, she charged.
     It was survive chained, or thrive free.
     There was only one choice. She would gain her freedom, by force or by death.

     Hornsong rose beyond the fire.
     Hooves shuddered across the earth.
     The sky flashed and bellowed.
     Something knocked her aside before her horn could rip its way beneath his sternum. Instead, she pierced him between the ribs and shattered several more on her way out.
     She cursed and turned to charge again while he spun on the spot, watching something beyond the fire with eyes wide and haunted. She didn't glance to find out what. She stole the opportunity instead.
     Until four enormous, glinting shapes clattered and rumbled across her path.
     She barely missed spearing one, and again she was pushed back from her target. But this time, as lightning split the sky, shock seized her tightly.
     Knights. Four of them. Huge beings in powerful armour stained orange by the flames, steering four equally powerful horses. And though her heart leapt and mind blazed with questions, she knew she wasn't their quarry.
     The path between her and 'Master' had been cut off by these circling figures, and the foetid wretch was pushed backwards into the flames. Neither horse nor rider seemed troubled by the heat, nor the thick smoke, ripping wind or smell of burning skin. And she, too, barely gave it another moment's thought before leaping onto this newest opportunity.
     She turned from the chaos, fighting for breath, and began snatching up food, blankets and anything else that could be useful, every piece soaked, seared and spoiled, but crucial.
     She barely avoided being trampled several times as the horses steered around, bringing 'Master' back in check the few moments he managed to steal an opening. But the riders were adept. She would never have been trampled. And while they passed, they, too, began slinging things over the backs of their horses. Including the pieces she'd gathered.
     Smoke was filling her lungs. She had slowed down. She stumbled, she dropped things. And when her head began to spin, the ground fell away from her feet and the world began to jolt.
     "I have you," a voice said from in front of her while she struggled to find her balance. She looked hard through the haze behind her eyes. A knight. She looked down: a horse. And ahead: the end of the valley.
     Her heart leapt, sending another crashing wave of adrenaline through her blood, and held onto him just long enough to reclaim her senses before she heard the others gallop up behind.
     But she didn't look back. She had no desire to. No compulsion. No need.
     Fire and smoke hid their path, and the howl of Nature drowned out the wretch's begging in the distance. And a laugh, musical and unchained, rose from her own shredded throat.
     A cheer erupted around her as she grinned, and bellowing hornsong followed it. Adrenaline coursed through her. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Hope.
     She leaned up as close as she could get to the giant knight's helmet. "Thank you," she said, and he bowed his head without turning.
     Then she leapt from the back of the horse, her eyes blinded by tears, cheeks aching from grinning, shoulders round with relief, and she ran. She stampeded ahead, yielded the lead by the knights who reined in just enough to follow behind her. And though she had only a vague idea of where she was going, there was so much clear, star-studded sky ahead. And she knew, come morning, she would be facing into the sun.
     Enthusiasm. Hope.
     She roared ferociously into her freedom.
     This was the beginning of everything.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Thursday 15 September 2022


Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

     A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. - Unknown

    The forest was haunted. Ghostly wisps of smoke rose from the husks of trees, themselves reaching out like the fingers of the dead, while the stinging miasma of charred wood and sap soured the air. Smouldering cracks still burned in the trees like doorways into Hell itself. The woods were dead, the forest was lost, and the sun above had forgotten it.
    But the spirit that haunted that clouded wasteland had not been born of it. Small, pale, smudged with soot, the bedraggled girl was displaced, just as lost and abandoned as her surroundings.
    She remained there alone for some time, wishing, crying and muttering, until, hours, weeks or years later, a twig finally broke beneath another's foot.


     The bear ambled along between the trees, snuffling and pawing through the ash in hunt of new growth. He found nothing, but wasn't discouraged; the hunt was as good as the victory. So on he trundled, on he sniffed, nudging the ash aside at any worthwhile scent to help the eventual regrowth along - until a small, wheezing sound caught his attention ahead.
    His huge, shaggy body stopped mid-stride, and sharp, sunburst eyes scanned the distance. His nose needn't have twitched; he found her quickly enough: the young woman kneeling among the roots of a charred ancient, so covered in soot and ash herself that her scent was almost completely lost in the surroundings.
    But she had spotted him just as quickly, and stared back now in anger. In pain. But she made no move at all to run.
    The bear grunted and watched her a little longer, searching for her injury. Perhaps it was her leg, and that was why she didn't flee. But her legs appeared to be fine. Perhaps her head, then. But she didn't seem dizzy. Maybe her chest. But her sobbing was regular.
    The bear grunted and stood on its hind legs, sniffing the air and looking closer, working out the pieces of this puzzle, unsure to some degree if she was even truly there. But she was. She had to be. Her injuries were too bold. Not on the outside, perhaps, but they were certainly there.
    With a grunt, the bear dropped back to his paws and began to approach. And now, the girl panicked. Shuffling backwards deeper into the roots, she grasped at the earth and threw everything she could find towards him.
    The bear yelped and flinched back, but the charred sticks disintegrated before they could reach him. And even had they, neither they nor the rocks could have truly harmed his hide. And so, warily, he pressed on through the short-lived assault until he reached her. And still, she fled nowhere.
    Curiously, he sniffed the hand that clutched her knee to her chest as she curled up tighter into a ball, then along her arm, her shoulder, to her head. She smelled just like the woods. All the way through.
    The bear snorted. That was strange. Animals that spent their whole lives in the woods always smelled like more than just 'forest'. They had identity of their own. But somehow, this one didn't.
    But she really was there.
    Puzzled, he sniffed further, but she didn't react. She stayed as still as stone despite his warm breath gusting over her, even when his nose touched her skin. It was only when he licked her cheek that he was sure he wasn't dreaming.
    Slowly, her head turned until one amazed eye peered over her arm towards him. Then, as he sniffed that eye, her clutch on herself loosened, her arm rose, and her shaking hand rested both daring and gentle upon his head.
    For a long moment, the forest's silence intensified as the pair looked deep into one another's faces, each sure they were reading the other's soul.
    The bear was the first to turn away.
    The smallest noise of desperation peeped from the girl's throat despite her fear, but while the bear had turned, he hadn't left. His great weight flopped down onto the ground beside her, and his breathing began immediately to deepen.
    And the girl, after a moment of surprise, crawled around and lay down against him.

    The world had darkened when she woke to a tugging on her blackened dress, and despite her fright, one quiet look from the bear as he dropped the hem from his mouth calmed her spirit.
    She watched him turn and walk a few leisurely steps away, then throw an expectant look back toward her. She understood quickly enough.
    The girl followed him on through the endless forest, navigating one tree at a time. She watched his footing over the tangled roots, repeated his steps around the widest trunks, and waited while he stopped to dig with his immense paws. She was sure he wouldn't find anything in the ash, but he repeatedly proved her wrong. Berries, roots and even mushrooms were uncovered and shared, and when night fell and a chill invaded the skeletal forest, the bear curled up around her to keep her warm.


     After a week, they were inseparable. The girl had grown calm in Bear's comfort, and felt safest when he was around. Whenever she felt lost, or the world felt like it was closing in on her, Bear would grunt and nuzzle her, and whenever he seemed to be the same, she would grunt and nuzzle him.
    The forest, too, had changed with their wandering; the ash lay behind them, and ahead only the darkness of leafy crowns. The trees here lived and thrived, fruit was plenty, and other creatures could be heard going about their lives all around them. Breeze moved warm, water trickled cool, the sun shone golden and the moon, when it took over, glittered the purest silver.
    Bear had shown her so much beauty and comfort, and she could feel her soul shining. And side by side, they continued to take the forest one tree at a time.

    One morning she sat at the lake's edge, playing with the stones in the glittering water while Bear fished in the river beside her, when a soft splash sounded up ahead.
    She looked up from the tumblestones, and dropped one with a plop as she watched the pure-white swan settle on the surface. But Bear had reacted faster. She realised she'd felt his caution even before she'd heard the noise.
    Her guard rose in response, a wary discomfort threading through her bones that felt familiar in ways she chose not to look at. But even as he reached her side and rose up onto his hind legs to get a better look, the swan was undeterred. Instead, her speckled face turned the girl's way, and her black eyes pierced her own. As graceful as she seemed, floating serene upon the water, there was a blatant power within her. Speed, strength, challenge.
    But, as the pair stared at one another, the girl began to recognise something else within that already familiar presence. Something safe.
    And so, it seemed, did Bear. With a grunt of approval, he dropped back to his paws and sat at her side, making no form of threat to the swan. His closeness seemed to be more to reassure her than to defend her.
    Even so, the girl inched away as the swan drew near, and further again when she straightened her slender, snow-white body and flapped her great wings. But she came no nearer as she settled. There remained a distance, and where Bear had sniffed and licked and nuzzled her, the swan merely bowed her head.
    A smile stretched across the girl's face, and she reached out to touch its brilliant feathers. But the swan pulled away sharply, raising its wings in warning, and while the girl saddened, the swan collected herself and bowed her head again.
    A thought then flickered through the girl's mind. Returning her hand to her knee, she sat taller and bowed her head herself.
    Bear grunted with satisfaction, then rose and returned to his fishing.
    The girl sat at the edge of the water with the swan just out of arm's reach for some time, watching one another and bowing their heads, until the swan finally turned on the water and took off. It was some time before the girl realised the swan hadn't fed or preened or anything else while she'd been there on that lake.


     Weeks became months, and Bear didn't lead anymore, though he was always near at hand. The pair of them merely walked, following one another willingly, wandering together, navigating the forest one tree at a time.
    The swan returned occasionally, honking to her from the water and flapping her wings, while she honked and flapped her arms in response. Sometimes Swan would even lead the girl through mires while Bear navigated his own trees, and when she left, Bear moved them on back through the forest, grunting and sniffing, and she would grunt and sniff along with him.
    And the forest, she discovered, had changed again. It was a place of both light and dark, shadow and sun, knot and hole, and could be a treacherous place if navigated too fast. There were so many trees, some so much bigger than the last, with roots so tangled and wild that she could get no help in moving over them, so she and Bear had no choice but to go their separate ways for a while. But they always rejoined later on, once they'd navigated their own paths through.
    But one day, the world went much darker than usual, and she found a tree she could not pass alone.

    In the middle of the night, a restless dream carried her off, dragging her from Bear's side and luring her out into the black, knotted wilds. Her feet stumbled through stream and root, hands cut on rock and branch, eyes blind to the world. And when they finally opened and her senses trickled back to her, terror sank its claws in.
    All around her shadows shrieked, noises flickered, wind grasped and branches whistled. Spinning where she stood, her heart shuddering in her throat, she searched desperately through the dark, but found herself staring at the same black surface with every turn. The same, impassable wall.
    The same, impassable tree.
    Everywhere she turned, the colossal trunk faced her; no matter how fast she moved, it beat her. It cornered her, trapped her, stood always in front of her.
    So she resolved in a fit to run backwards. As long as the tree was in front of her, it couldn't also be behind her. Then she could escape it.
    But everything was overgrown here. She tripped immediately, then again, and again; everything grasped at her. And what if she'd chosen the wrong backwards? She might escape it, but end up somewhere worse. Every glance looked right, every glance looked wrong - and every glance, always, was filled again by that tree.
    And, she realised with crashing despair, now she was entirely alone.
    Paralytic fear tremored its way through her bones, even as a tiny voice rose up inside her and cried out promise. But she heard it, as small as it was. She could do this. Bear and Swan had done and taught enough. She wouldn't lean on them again. She didn't need to. She was too strong for that.
    Determination swelled, and she seized it before that wretched fear could crash in on another wave. She chose a direction, and ran.
    Then chose another.
    Then another.
    Then the fear caught up with her, leaping upon her like an excited beast, stealing upon her hasty indecision.
    'What if I'd been close already, and just ran further away?'
    Its words rang like bells.
    'What if I'm on the right path now, but doubt has turned me around?'
    'What if I am already miles away, with no hope at all?'
    'What if I've travelled three days in one night?!'
    She shook her head and steadied herself, ignoring the fact that her hand rested even now against that inescapable tree.
    "No," she told herself, "of course not." She knew that was absurd. And she knew she could find her way back, without help. She could do this. "Just stop. Breathe, and it will come more easily. Move slowly, like Bear. Be focused, like Swan. Slow. Focus. Slow. Focus. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe."
    But even while she chanted this, her mind was already paralysed.
    A flap of wings nearby threw her heart into her throat. She spun, but it was not Swan. The caw was too malicious a chuckle.
    Then leaves rustled behind her and she spun again, but it wasn't Bear's footsteps. Just another crow, wrenching things from the undergrowth.
    Tears filled her eyes, resentment filled her heart, and her self-disgust tasted sour on her tongue.
    "I don't need them!" She bellowed into the dark. "I can do this on my own! It's one tree! One tree! I won't be a burden again!"
    And so she ran on, backwards, sideways, forwards, hit the tree and ran backwards again. She tripped, she fell, she climbed back to her feet. On and on she ran; over and over she fell.
    Then the tree itself came after her.
    Roots rose and seized her ankle, dragging her to the ground at the foot of the tree. She thrashed and cried and tore at the wood, sure she was being pulled under, but she couldn't rip herself free. Panic had twisted her foot in the knot.
    Then, the tree went up in flames.
    "No, no, no, no!" Her fingernails tore at the root, at her skin, she pulled at her leg and moved her foot in the knot. But she couldn't do it. She should have been able to, just turn her foot and crawl free. But her body wouldn't let her. The simple process couldn't break through her panic.
    More flapping came from behind her, and the malicious caws grew louder, as if the crows had shape-shifted into giant, vicious beasts.
    She screamed as they drew nearer, and felt her body tightening into a helpless little ball. She closed her eyes and dragged her hands through the dirt, throwing everything she could find. But small twigs and leaves didn't deter them for a moment. She could hear them advance. The flaps, the rustles, the--
    She shrieked again as one of the crow-beasts tugged at her dress, and managed with her free leg to kick out. Her foot struck something, hard and strong. It barely gave beneath her effort.
    The terror she felt consuming her in that moment was familiar, and dragged with it pains and injuries she'd tried hard these past months to forget. Now, they swelled tenfold, and all grasp on her senses collapsed.
    The crow-beast grunted, growled and tugged again, this time at her collar, and through the noise of her mind, she found a shape lacing through. A comforting shape, freckled with the colour of the sun...
    Her eyes tore open to find Bear standing over her, tugging her collar and pulling her out of the roots, and Swan staring off beyond the tree, gaze pinned to something in the distance, honking intermittently.
    "The way back..."
    Adrenaline flooded her. She relaxed her ankle and turned her foot just as Bear gave one final tug, and scrambled back to her feet as he pushed her towards Swan. Together, they stormed past the tree, Swan at the lead and Bear pushing her forwards, until the ancient was left blazing behind them. It didn't take long before other trees caught the flame. There was nothing that could stop it.
    The girl couldn't help looking back. Even once the glow had faded, she stared towards that bleak, dark spot until Bear made a firm swipe at her ankle. She barely missed the root.
    The forest ahead soon began to brighten, and as the breath left her exhausted lungs, the ground beneath her felt stable and familiar once again. The sun broke through the trees ahead, the trunks around them were manageable, and fruit hung from the boughs. Here, Swan brought them to a stop at last, and Bear panted in exhaustion as the girl dropped to her knees. But as they both looked down at her, searching her for injury, she met their eyes with tears and apologised from the very bottom of her heart.
    But for all her bleeding words, Bear merely grunted, and Swan merely honked. And she knew, from the steadiness of their eyes and the warmth of their souls, the extent of the disappointment in their hearts.
    She smiled despite the tears streaming down her cheeks, and rose back to her feet. "I'm sorry. I know. If there's anything you've taught me, it's that strength isn't struggling alone."
    With a grunt, Bear bowed his head, and Swan touched her beak to her skin. And she embraced the both of them with a tearful smile. "One tree at a time..."

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Monday 8 August 2022


Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

     It was an entity of its own; a colossal, infernal force screaming its way up from the centre of her soul, roaring louder with every rattle of the shackles and brush of the cold bars. It breathed. It lived. It destroyed. Its very pulse was like thunder, its aura like decay. The iron ceiling collapsed, though it didn't fall. The ground split open, though it didn't crack. The sky blackened, though the sun shone on.
    And inside, she was aflame.

    The aurochs' fingers wrapped tighter around the bars. For the moment, there were no eyes to see her tremble, nor to watch her thrash inside her lifelong cage, screaming and raging while desperation sank its claws deeper into her heart. The bars were rusting; her hands and horns were already stained red. But for all her wild force, they didn't give way. The iron was still too strong - or she was growing weak.
    She grit her teeth tighter; her jaw already ached.
    Her mind unhinged that little bit more.
    Wide-eyed and tear-streaked, she shook the bars even harder and slammed her horns against them, as though she honestly believed that this time they might finally break. But they didn't. Of course they didn't. And she felt the pressure build even higher in that blinding disappointment.
    She was going to explode. She could feel it, as yet more of the world crumbled away around her. Something was going to rip itself free, and she had no control over it at all. It was already eroding her, and its strength was overwhelming. As stifling as fire wind. The urgency it forged was almost tangible, grasping her firmly by the throat and squeezing until she could barely gasp through the tears.
    'Out. Out. Out...'
    It was all her mind could offer. She had to get out. She had to escape. She couldn't stay here, not with this hunting her. She wanted. She needed. But the doom that straddled her shoulders, poking her eyes and tugging at her lips like wretched little gremlins, was paralysing. Her thoughts didn't move, they just looped back and tangled within themselves while she fought and wore herself down. Over and over and over they knotted, for days, maybe weeks, offering nothing and subduing only when her master returned from his work - but in that numbness, everything else of her died along with it.
    It never stopped. And she doubted she had the strength to last it out. Her freedom was still too far out of reach; the entity would win before then. She was sure it would win. And she'd begun to wonder if it might not be easier to just...let it. Give in. Stop fighting and rest, at last...
    She was so tired...
    In that faltering moment, the relentless pounding in her skull finally took over, and her tears stopped as she released the bars and slumped against the cold metal, glad for the relief. A cool breeze swept through her shadowed cage, tugging her long, knotted mane over her eyes. She breathed deep of it, smelling phantoms; the trees and the grass she could barely remember and wanted, despite her growing defeat, to know again.
    Hysterics, peace, hysterics. This was how it went. It was a cycle of minutes. But as frantic and helpless as the hysterics were, it was the peaceful moments she feared the most. Because it was then that the entity began to whisper through the roar.
    And so she sat there, heavy and defeated, listening to those whispers, too tired to do anything else. And just like every time before, whatever corner of her mind still worked took this moment of calm to snatch at ideas, to grasp and rationalise any and every option to give her as many routes as possible, laying obscene beside ordinary until they all took on the same shape and cast the same shadow. Until every idea belonged. Until every idea was reasonable.
    Hysteria had warped everything into a world of black and white. Wants and Needs became blurred, and no option was good or bad; they were either conceived, or not. And with that freedom of open thought came a silence that deafened and split an abyss open beneath her. It was only ever then that the entity showed itself, writhing in the thick, black depths.
    She stared into that abyss increasingly often. She'd become familiar with it; she listened to it and agreed with it. Took comfort from it.
    But it hadn't pulled her in. And neither had she pushed herself away.
    The release it offered, the rest...she knew it wasn't the right path, but it had been conceived, it had been rationalised, and now it remained. One path, of many. One option, of many.
    She inched that little bit closer to it now, curious as it whispered its white noise through the breeze, like a discordant lullaby. Her hand reached through the bars towards it, fingers swirling through the empty space while she wondered if that suddenly gentle entity might just reach back.
    Then, with another crack of thunder, the world jolted.
    A deafening roar shook her bones and ripped a scream from her throat. Her hand snatched back to cover her ears, but it was futile. The roar came from within her, and its fury was devastating.
    And...familiar...immensely... A sound, she realised, she'd been hearing all along...
    Her guard dropped and the power immediately swelled again - but from everywhere but that abyss. And the roar followed, from everywhere but that abyss.
    Then, dazed, in that chilling, peaceful place in the centre of her mind, understanding tolled.
    The grip around her throat. The urgency. The desperation...
    That strength, and that abyss...they were not One. They were battling within her. And her life was the prize.
    The overwhelming power was her own. It yearned to carry her to freedom, and the Wild itself called to her upon its untameable roar.
    But the whispers, the darkness, the strangling aura of decay...they yearned to rule her, and to end her. They were not her own. Not in any lasting way. They could never have been. They were something else. A poison. An infection. One more thing she had to fight.
    Yet the two argued in harmony. Without focus, they appeared as one. How easy it would be to misunderstand them, to hear the inescapable lure of the whispers boomed in the roaring voice, to see the urgency of her power's desire to envelop her and flee from it instead, to feel the very strength of her blazing soul and attribute it to the abyss itself...
    It would be her biggest mistake.
    The aurochs' furious tears hadn't returned. The clarity was there, and this time, her eyes were open.
    She pulled herself away from the bars and sat, centred within her cage, breathing deep.
    Hold on. Wait. Find patience. Don't look into the black, and contain that screaming, blazing power. She'd kept it under control for this long, and she was so nearly there.
    Everything felt out of her hands - but her survival was not.
    She had a choice.
    And that choice hinged fully on the difference between Want and Need.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Wednesday 6 July 2022


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

    Lightning ripped the void-black sky. Hail thundered. Fate's frozen spears pierced the sea, deafening, shredding the dark, roiling waters while the crashing waves fought amongst themselves like wolves, stirred up by the Serpent.
    The sun already hung dead in the sky.
    On the trembling cliff between endless winter and total ruin, she stood, drenched and paralysed, staring out over the seething ocean and the patiently gathering storm. Her heart was consumed by what she knew was coming. Consumed by the Inevitable. Consumed by the Inescapable. All else, however vital, was lost.
    Thunder pummelled her, the war drum of giants. Her muscles were too frozen to flinch. An eagle screamed in the distance.
    She'd seen the storm coming; it had been forming since the Beginning. She'd hoped it would dissipate, that it might never reach her...but that had been a fool's hope. A blind hope. She understood that now, as she watched it gather its final crackling threads of strength beneath its shackles in the distance. She understood it sorely. And in that understanding's wake, paralysis set only deeper. An immense sense of destruction rooted her raw, bare feet to the shuddering ground, a sense of complete and utter extinction. It was the certainty that everything she knew, and every plan she'd laid, was going to burst into a raging inferno from which she could never rebuild.
    Wind whipped and lashed her skin. Panic closed her throat and seized her lungs. The ice within her muscles and heart grew thicker. An incoherent screaming filled her mind while her tongue lay still and numb.
    And hail continued to fall. Stinging, freezing, cutting hail.
    The screaming moved into her bones before she could make any sense of it, so loud that they trembled inside her skin, shaking themselves to dust. And then, while she stared, inert, useless, desperate despite her leaden feet for any kind of escape, the storm finally broke free.
    Everything within and around her flashed white as a godly crash filled the air; lightning rushed across the sky, waves launched themselves against the cliff, and gales thrashed ice harder and sharper into her face.
    The earth itself sank into the sea.
    And she watched it all happen, mute and motionless, while the voice screamed on in her bones.
    'Stop it, somehow! Push it back!'
    Dread squeezed a whimper from her throat as the water lashed around her ankles.
    'Sabotage it! Somehow! Trick it!'
    The water rushed around her knees.
    'Kill it! End it!'
    It crashed around her waist.
    But it had already stolen the ground.
    Her wide stare twitched up towards the jet-black heavens as the water flooded through her lips, and she watched the stars vanish from the sky.
    ' I do...?'
    The world turned, the water twisted, swirling and raging around her. It took a long, disconnected moment before she discovered her body fighting.
     Futile or not, instinct moved her like a puppet; choking and struggling against the waves, her body battled both to return her head above water and plant her feet back on the ground, in spite of the exhaustion already crushing her. But she fought on anyway, alarm dragging her mind back to herself, thrashing against the indifferent storm, the force of nature, the force of Fate, a thing with neither malice nor intent yet that would steal absolutely everything away from her anyway.
    And it was already beginning.
    The violent churning of the water shredded her dress from her body. The hail and breakers cut her face whenever she surfaced. The thunder ripped her muscles from her bones, disarming and dissolving her struggle. The current drank away her lifeblood. The lightning smothered her breath.
    Her raging mind was clouded and disconnected when adrenaline fully took over, empowering her body and mind, hazy but allied against the threat to her world, screaming back in the face of it with absolute conviction. But it could only last so long, and Fate's movement was stronger. While she wore down, the waves, the wind, the thunder and hail grew only more violent.
    Steam rose from the furious waters around her.
    Questions half-formed in her mind as the water boiled, blinding her with their power, and though their answers didn't exist, the wind howled them anyway. And through the chaos, fragments of images and sensations began flashing by - familiarity; distraction. But though some part of her relished them and another searched them in desperation, there was nothing at all in those pictures of the Past. No solution; no solace. There was no order, no plan, no understanding, not while everything crumbled. And now, she realised, her mind was barely her own. Fragments of Self were being torn away. Everything that had made sense, or seemed sure, was breaking apart inside her.
    The water closed over her head again and again, more often now, higher, and invaded her lungs with increasingly mistimed gasps. Then she didn't surface at all.
    Air was out of reach. Ground was out of reach. And the black sky far above, the heavens now suddenly aflame, covered a world she would never see again.
    And, as she sank into the sudden stillness, silence set in.
    ...There was no more screaming...
    Clarity, or insanity. One or the other. Or both, or neither.
    But everything was falling into some kind of place.
    She watched the surface drift away with wide, stunned eyes.
    What if...she let go? What if she stopped fighting and let the water take over? Would she sink? Or would she float?
    Would she be carried into what she dreaded, into the Inevitable, into the Inescapable, with some kind of composure? Some kind of control? Would a clearer head even yield opportunity? Perhaps even advantage?
    What if she gave up stubbornness and gave into the uncontrollable?
    What lay on the other side?

    Her veins ignited.

    Air seared her lungs as she broke the surface, gasping, gulping, hacking and choking, numb to the cold, to the heat, to the pain as she flailed for equilibrium; to anything but the single need to breathe. And then, while her heart lurched and mind spun, she forced her legs to stop kicking, forced her eyes to close, and forced herself to relax. In the brutal grip of the waves, she abandoned her fight, abandoned instinct, and allowed the motion to carry her away.
    It felt wrong to let the waves crash over her head, to avoid flinching against the lightning, to listen to the thunder rather than shrink from it and let the hail pummel her face. But it was her only choice. To give in and let the worst happen would yield a stronger future. A stronger self.
    A storm was beyond control. It couldn't be stopped. It couldn't be harnessed. It could only be survived.
    It could only be survived.

With breath, hail numbs;
With belief, hail dies.
Strength of aurochs, suffuse me.
With guidance of bear,
With guise of doe,
I am born of the bones of ruin.
I am born of the bones of Fate.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Sunday 5 June 2022


Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

     Thick, high walls protected the little house within from the biting, hilltop wind. The minuscule windows were shuttered and draped against the horrors of the world beyond, and the sturdy door locked tight against danger.
    It was a small bubble of safety in a terrifying world, impenetrable and unshakable by the darkest forces beyond. And the girl inside - beautiful, happy, with only the youngest growth of antlers sprouting through her thick, dark hair - was never bored despite the isolation. She cooked and baked, sewed and repaired, cleaned and painted, and when her chores were done and her master satisfied, she spent her free time left in peace, reading and creating, brightening her safe little world in a way she could control. She slept well; warm, safe and dry, and when she rose the next morning, all began again. Her world was predictable, her life steady. Always familiar, always stable. Forever unchanging.
    For a decade, the world aged gracefully around her, and she, preserved and protected, didn't age a day.
    But then, despite the walls, the curtains, the door, something did change.
    The old clay digger that lived nearby could no longer continue his trade, and with rising living costs, the girl was tasked by her reluctant master to dig the clay herself and deliver it to the potter in town.
    The idea of leaving the walls and stepping out into the wider world filled her with terror, but it excited her too. And so, with much worry, much preparation, and many warnings of safety from her master, she took a deep breath, left the walls, descended the hill, and gathered what she could before rigidly following the road towards town. Her eyes were wide along the way, and every twist and turn made her hesitate, sure she'd managed to get herself lost, would take too long and get home to a telling off for lingering in the dangerous world.
    But she hadn't gotten lost, and arrived in town while the sun was still high. There, she delivered the clay, turned around, and immediately followed the road back home, doing precisely as she'd been instructed. And she was glad to; the sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming, and she all but ran back to the high-walled hill, scared and exhausted. And yet, when she finally managed to get to sleep after her master's worried questions, her dreams were alight with new skies, walls and faces.
    Then, the next day, after hurrying through her chores, she dug and delivered clay again. And this time, the experience rejuvenated her.
    She grew efficient over time, both digging and travelling, and came to look forward to the fresh air and cheerful townspeople. She even began to take detours, leaving the road on the way back and daring to walk instead through the forest, following whim or butterfly. She didn't go far at first, but with every passing day she grew braver, and explored deeper and deeper between the trees. She discovered owl holes in tree trunks, stumps covered in orange toadstools, old carved stones half-eaten by roots, a clearing carpeted in spongy, comfy-looking moss, and a small, clear stream that giggled and gurgled as it cascaded over smooth pebbles. The world, she was learning, was beautiful.
    On one fair weather day, warm and clear, she warily followed a bear cub through the trees and onwards to the stream, where she watched it play on its own further down-water, swiping at the little fish that swam in a panic around it.
    Its grumbling joy was quickly infectious.
    Peering around again for its mother and finding still no sign, the girl nudged aside the elk-sedge that grew along the banks, stepped into the water herself and began playing among the tiny fish, sending them darting around in alarm as if she was a bear herself. When she stilled to better catch one, however, a gasp blustered from her lungs. As the surface settled, she found the rippling image of a huge-horned woman staring back at her from beneath the water, a sad, painful look twisting her face.
    The girl froze, blinked, then slowly bent down closer. An aurochs?
    The sorrowful woman moved as she watched her, and raised her hand towards the surface. And the girl found her own hand moving slowly to meet it.
    The contact was solid, but she didn't notice it. In that instant she was overwhelmed instead by information; images, words and emotions bombarded her mind like a hailstorm - images, words and emotions all playing as if from her own perspective. Even the brief but intense flash of hatred and disgust aimed entirely at her felt as though it had originated from her own heart.
    'It did. All of'
    She recoiled, deaf to her own shriek, and threw herself backwards, kicking the water, bank and elk-sedge away from her as she scrambled to find sense. But none came.
    So she ran home instead, heedless of the bear cub that stood up and watched her from the water, grunting and whining in concern. She had already descended into a dense fog of wretched, debilitating confusion.

     Thick, high walls hid the little house within from the bright, shining sun. The minuscule windows were shuttered and draped against the fascinations of the world beyond, and the sturdy door locked tight against freedom.
    It was a prison in a colourful world, impenetrable and unshakable by the brightest forces beyond. And the girl inside - scared, weak, with only the youngest growth of antlers sprouting through her knotted, dark hair - was broken. She barely slept, so cold, terrified and confused, and when she rose the next morning to tend to her chores, the cycle began again. Her world was predictable, her life steady. Always familiar, always stable. Forever unchanging.
    But now she saw the truth in it: the bars around her home, the careful watch she was subjected to, the permissions she had to ask and obscene questions she had to answer. She no longer read, no longer created. The world had become a numb haze while she sat obediently, eyes wide and haunted. Her voice silent.
    She saw now. She saw everything. And that shock, that fear, trampled her like a furious herd of horses. How many times had it paralysed her? How many times had she resolved to give up, lock herself in and stay within that simple, predictable world? It would be easier. It took less work, and the hurt that would come from it was familiar. Safer, in a way. And she certainly didn't have the strength to fight it.
    And yet, every day that she trudged, numb-hearted, to deliver the clay to the potter, she couldn't help but be drawn back to the forest. She fled to it now, though she was too scared to look back into the water, and tried to breathe away the shakes with lungfuls of fresh, woodland air. And when the sun betrayed her and twilight moved in, the silent, trembling girl reluctantly returned home.
    The shakes plagued her for weeks. She barely ate, barely slept, and became hyper-aware in her exhaustion, noting every word and movement her master made, flinching at every interaction. She heard and saw all of it for what it truly was: absolute control. Absolute control, over her.
    But even though, in some strange way, she feared the forest almost as much as home - that she might learn something more that would become the final strike her fragile world could take before its rubble was ground to sand - she fled back there again the next day. And the next. And the next. Until one day, sitting absently beside her stream, listening to its comforting gurgles, her gaze wandered and landed upon the prophetic water for the first time in a month.
    Her body moved on its own.
    Pushing aside the elk-sedge, she crawled over and peered down through the glittering surface, coming face-to-face with the aurochs woman again. She was already staring back, as if she'd been waiting for her, and carried no less sad a twist in her brow than she had the first time. But there was something else there this time, the girl realised. Something softer.
    The aurochs reached towards her again, and the girl's fingertips hesitantly met hers through the water.
    There was no information this time. Instead, the reflection shifted, and the girl looked down now at her own face. Only then did she realise the resemblance between herself and the woman. And as she marvelled at that, she watched the stumpy antlers on her head grow into the broad, plated antlers of an elk.
    Then the image of the aurochs was back, standing beside her, resting her hand upon the girl's shoulder. And she felt it.
    The smallest gasp leapt from her throat as she spun to her left and found the woman suddenly standing beside her, as solid and real and dry as herself, her huge horns as light as a feather upon her head. And now, she was smiling.
    "Keep going," the aurochs said, her voice as strong as her horns were threatening. "I'm here. I'll save us both. Just buy me time."
    "B-buy you time?" The girl stuttered, her own voice small and unused. But she knew, somehow, exactly what the woman wanted.
    Her eyes must have betrayed her growing horror, because the aurochs moved and knelt down in front of her, squeezing her shoulder while the girl's shakes grew worse beneath her hand. Her smile was sadder now, but unwavering. "I am so sorry, little elk. But you can do this." Then she wrapped her arms around her and faded away, melting into the girl.
    Or the girl melted into her.
    "And," her voice echoed, "I love you, dearly. And I will thank you for all this one day."
    Then the little elk girl was left alone, blinking into the trees, heart racing beneath her ribs, thundering in her ears. And her blood surged with such strength that tears of fury sprang into her eyes.
    For the first time in her life, she felt whole. The fear was still there - greater now, fighting to overwhelm her all over again - but she could do this. She had to do it. The aurochs was taking care of something, and she would protect the horned woman while she did. And, though the fear was incomprehensible, she knew that only in facing it, walking into the storm as it tore her skin apart, could it be finally conquered. And she wasn't alone. She never had been.
    When her hard, stony eyes eventually sank back to the water, the only image she saw was her own true reflection, crowned now with full, powerful antlers.
    She raised a hand, damp with wild water, and fingered the velvet tines as she turned and wandered thoughtfully back home, where she was duly and quietly expected.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Uruz, Þola

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

     A bleak, grey spectre glared over the scrubland valley.
     Cold mountain wind howled low through the crevice, sending the dull, mournful rustle of the frozen brush murmuring through the shadow-gripped recesses, and the pummelling storm of rain and hail rumbling beneath it all like a wardrum. Neither light nor hope reached this spot, trapped in the darkness of the glacier-shorn cliffs, and the old, rusting iron cage stood in its thickest depths. And the woman inside it sat slumped, knees hugged close to her chest, clouds of breath steaming from her nose as the hail struck and bruised her bare skin.
     The aurochs' pale body trembled in the cold. Thick, dark hair tumbled in knots down her back. Huge horns projected out from either side of her head, dull, faded, their points filed down. And dim hazel eyes stared from over the top of her arms, fixed to her captor through the bars, the tall, thin man with even emptier eyes, staring at his inconsequential work only a few paces away. There was no passion in him, either, though he chose to be here. No life, no love. Nothing at all. Until he looked her way.
     Just as he did at that moment.
     She watched the light flicker into life inside his eyes. But it wasn't warmth. It was power. Possession. Supremacy. She knew the look well. She read more in it than he could conceive.
     But the aurochs didn't flinch back from it. She was dead to it by now. She'd seen it too much; experienced what came of it too often. And so she met his stare with her own empty gaze, and held it until he looked away again, distracted once more by his work, his prize forgotten.
     Only then did she breathe the faintest sigh into her knees.
     As the vapour gathered on her eyelashes, her stare wandered away, tracking out through the shade of her trophy prison and on towards the frosted grasslands beyond.
     Out there, the sun shone. Out there, far from her reach, golden light battled the scrubby landscape, even while the frozen rain continued to thunder through her bars in the dark. There was hope out there. Life, and freedom. And others of her kind; she could hear them bellowing beyond the man's range, could smell them on the wind. And the ache in her heart swelled almost to the point of bursting. Because she could not join them. She couldn't walk among them. The whole world was so far out of her reach, she didn't deign even to lift a futile hand towards it.
     But neither did she succumb to the melancholy.
     Instead, she moved. Releasing her knees, she sat straight, exposing herself to the elements, and breathed deep of the cold, clear air. She rode that breath inside of herself, followed it into her lungs, and as it invigorated her blood, she retreated into memory.
     The world around her shifted; the straw floor of her cage became rough ground beneath her hooves, and the shadow scattered and revealed harsh scrub and grazing. A hard life, unforgiving, cold and solitary - but there was no heavy, pinning weight of loneliness woven within it.
     It was freedom.
     As she eased herself into her breath, stamped her hooves against the earth and teased her fingers through the biting breeze, she felt what now seemed like ancient traces of strength and power moving through her muscles.
     It set a fire in her heart, a song into her soul, and she spun and laughed. Then, without thought of destination, she ran.
     She stayed in that eternal place for some time before she found the strength to return to herself, yet still it felt her eyes had flickered open too soon, and her view was obscured again by the old, iron bars and the haze of frozen rain.
     Once again, the whole world remained out of her reach.
     And yet, she smiled.
     'For now.'
     Scars had formed on her body, lumps left in bone - but she had always healed. And her spirit hadn't been broken. Not yet. Not quite. The smallest flame still sputtered in her chest, she'd discovered, and every day that her captor reached through those bars to strike again at her defences, it only stoked it hotter. Even in the cold, dark shadows and the skin-piercing rain. Now she'd found it, it would not, could not, be extinguished.
     She would not be broken. Her kind was sturdy. It had taken her a decade to remember it, but now that she had, she held that fact, that assurance, closer than her own skin.
     And, as her eyes tracked back to her once-trusted captor, that faint smile flickered further across her lips.
     She was biding her time. Collecting her strength. Recalling freedom and all that had once breathed life into her soul. She was remembering her worth.
     Her hazel eyes closed, but the smile remained as she listened to her master mutter curses to himself as he worked, and she tilted her head from one side to the other, feeling the weight and power of her horns. They didn't need to be sharp to be devastating. If the fool had wanted to disarm her, he should have cut them off.
     He would be gored in the end.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock