Tale #74: The Woman In The Woods

There was a woman who lived in the woods, in a tower as white as bone and as bright as teeth. The people of the town considered her a witch, and set the forest on fire in the hope of driving her away. But although the trees burnt to ash, her tower did not burn at all, for it was built of stone, and she survived unscathed.

In fear of her retribution the townsfolk fled.

Eventually the woods grew back around her tower, and in time, too, over the town. And the town passed into myth and beyond memory and was soon forgotten by all.

The woman who lived in the woods went on with her life, and was thankful to be forgot.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. A man came to her house and said, “You are a witch,” and to this she did not reply. For she thought it was not to for her to defend herself from baseless accusations of witchery, for was not witchery itself a projection upon her from another, and therefore a manifestation from without rather than within, and not within her capabilities to control.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. The people of the town considered her a witch, and warned their children never to go near her.

One day, when she was washing her clothes in the river, a group of concerned men captured her and brought her back to face the judgement and justice of the good folk of the town.

“Why do you torture me? the woman asked. “Could you not let me speak for myself?”

“The utterances of a witch cannot be trusted,” replied the inquisitors, and went on with their work.

It was only upon her death that any definite conclusion could be reached as to her nature, but alas by then it was too late for justice.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was known by all to be a witch, and was therefore shunned, pilloried, despised.

She liked weaving, stargazing, and the reading of poetry (although she had no time for the writing of it). She claimed the friendship of wolves in lieu of human contact. She spoke the language of crows.

She prospered.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. No one had ever seen her, or if they had, they had not spoken to her. But it was true that their fathers had seen her, or at least so their fathers said.

She was exactly as evil and beautiful and as wise and treacherous as she was, and there was nothing that could be done about her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was the woman who lived in the woods.

***

There was a woman in the woods. She sat beneath a tree and watched the rain fall all around. When it stopped, she stood up and continued on her way.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods, far away from any other people. This was exactly how she liked it, and she lived quite happily to a ripe old age.

***

There was a woman who was sent to live in the woods. For the first few years of her exile she was sustained purely by the strength of her anger and the constancy of her defiance, and so she did not perish.

But anger can never be eternal, no matter how righteous the rage, and eventually she fell into a wellspring of despair, which, fed by her heartbreak and her betrayal, and shaped by means of its flow within and around her heart, built up a complex structure of misplaced guilt which shifted the blame for her situation from those that deserved it onto herself, who did not.

Just as anger can not last forever, even despair has its time, and eventually she drifted through many years in a haze of deadness and nothingness, and slowly she forgot there had ever been more than this, that there ever could be, ever would be.

Whatever help she needed was denied her, and where she went from there who can say.

***

There was a woman in the woods. They left her there to rot. But she would not rot. She would live her life. Hers and hers alone.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
and spent her days painting pictures
of sheep
and cows
and other things
that she never saw in the woods
anymore

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
She wrote herself a poem
on the bark of a tree
that said
we make stories of ourselves
we make stories of others
we make stories of our children
and they of their mothers

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
She sat beneath the trees
and stared at the leaves
and dreamed
they were clouds

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
She went out every morning
and sat by the stream
and recorded every word it said
onto cd

***

There was a woman in the woods
walking around
christ knows where

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. They said she could follow you around for a mile or more, and you’d never know she was there.

But she was there

the woman

who lived in the woods

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told no-one her story, and after she died, no-one told it for her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told others her story, but everyone ignored her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told no-one her story, and after she died, others told it for her, as if it were there own.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She grew up, married a man, had a child, and then another. Eventually her children grew up, and went on their way.

One morning, at breakfast, she looked across the table at her husband and thought, “It has been so long since we were alone together. An emptiness has opened up between us and there is nothing now to fill it.”

She had know idea what to do, what to say, where to go. She would slip out during the night and scream her frustrations into the hollows of trees, whisper her desires to the crows in the branches, weep to no-one but herself in the shadows, and finally steady herself beneath the moon before going back inside for another day, and another, and another.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. When she got in from work she was always too tired to cook. She would make herself some sandwiches and eat them where she stood.

She dreamed some nights of a world wider than she could see.

She dreamed some nights of something unseen above, its shadow wider than the world, and widening evermore.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. One day a travelling merchant came to her house and showed her many things. She bought as much from him as she could afford, for she was lonely and hoped to keep him there as long as possible.

Eventually he left with her money, and she never received the goods that he promised.

***

There was a woman in the woods. The bass pulsed through her body, louder and louder, heavier and heavier. She closed her eyes, let it consume her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She drank too much and she ate too much and she wasted what money she had on frivolities and indulgences and she dressed badly she never brushed her hair she was coarse and vile and rude and often unpleasant she was awful she was a disgrace she was shameful a wastrel did she have no respect did she have no self-respect did she have no idea of responsibility she should get a job she should learn how to behave she should learn how to dress she should get herself a man she should settle down and do as she was told she should do as she’s told she should have herself a baby and do as she’s told

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. The woods were the world, the world the woods. She tried to escape but there was nowhere else to go.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She dreamed of the city, she dreamed of the sea. She dreamed of the plains and she dreamed she was free.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods.

She wandered into town once. Went to the library. Looked at all the books. Counted them. Imagined reading one a day, for the rest of her life. Never even getting through a quarter of them.

She imagined all the other libraries. All the books, in all the languages. All the films. All the plays. All the episodes of all the tv shows.

She imagined the seven billion people alive. Imagined meeting every one. One person a second, 31 million a year. No sleep, no stopping. 200 years to meet them all, assuming death was abolished. Death, and also birth.

Outside she looked up, saw for once the whole of the sky. She saw the stars. Saw the milky way. Imagined everything from which it was made. A 100 stars for every person.

She dreamt of all the galaxies. A 100 galaxies for every star in our own. A thousand maybe. A million. A trillion.

An infinitillion.

She began to weep. A single tear for every one. Every galaxy. Every star. Every person. Every word. Every thing she would never see, every thing she could never know, every thought she would never have.

That was why there was a woman in the woods.

***

There were four billion women who lived in four million woods and every one of them was different and every one was the same and every one of them deserved more than they had and more than they got and more than they were given and more than they could give.

And every one of them lived and every one of them died, and every one of them was remembered and every one of them was forgotten and the forgetting lasted longer than the remembering and that was the way of the world and that was all there was and all there every would be.

A moment of not-being. A moment then of being. A moment more as echo. And after, silence.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was born. She lived. She died. Now there was no woman who lived in the woods.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in August 2014
2. Except for a few bits
3. Written here and there
4. Between then and now

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Tale #73: (fragment)

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She gathered up the dead things that lay on the forest floor and brought them to her home. She gave names to these nameless creatures, whispered words of love and kindness as she placed them in freshly dug graves. And at night they would come out and walk with her, beneath the stars, beneath the moon, the shadows wrapped around them like robes.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in June 2018

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Tale #72: Our paths trace out behind us

There was a woman who lived in the woods. Every day after breakfast she went for a walk, carrying a tin of paint. She made a hole in the bottom with a nail and let the paint drip out where she walked. When the paint ran out she would stop, eat her lunch, and then follow the trail back home.

Every day with her paint she traced a new path. And every day her paint ran out before she found a way out of the woods. She wondered somedays whether she just needed a bigger tin, needed to take a longer route.

And other days she wondered if there was any way out at all. That even if she kept walking forever the woods would never end, she would never be free.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in August 2014
2. And re-written in Jaunary 2016
3. For use in a maze
4. Which was called “A Maze”
5. And existed briefly in Stroud

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Tale #71: The Crow Tree

It is often tempting for outside observers to judge a society or community solely by its traditions, rituals and festivals, to bestow a significance and seriousness onto events beyond that which they hold for their participants, to see superstition and fear in theatre and frivolity. Equally, of course, the reverse can be true for those involved, leading to a refusal to recognise the serious intent that underpins their festivities.

The event which takes place at the crow tree is one of the community’s least talked about rituals, and consequently can be assumed to be among its most serious. Indeed, there appears to be no written record of the ritual at all, although there are verified accounts of the tree used in the ritual itself dating back to the 15th Century. While the community’s own folklore suggests the ceremony has always taken place, nothing certain about its origins are recorded, and no speculations about its meaning would be offered to me.

The ritual takes place on February the 29th, during the second leap year after the birth of a father’s eldest daughter. The distinction of it being the father’s eldest daughter is an important one, as it means no man can participate in the ritual more than once, whereas a woman might well be required to participate both as a daughter and later as a mother.

(The strict criteria can lead to several convoluted possibilities where the mothers of daughters are concerned. For example, a mother’s first daughter might not be the father’s first daughter, and in this case the ritual would not be required. However, this same mother’s second daughter might then be fathered by a different man, one who has not fathered a daughter before, and so it would be this child that would necessitate the ritual. And of course this hypothetical mother could have more daughters by more new fathers, and so on. Indeed, it is possible for a mother to have to participate in the ritual with each of her daughters, while another woman may never have to, regardless of the number of daughters she has.)

Due to the fixed date of the event combined with the unfixed timing of a child’s birth, the daughter can be anywhere between the age of 4 and exactly 8 when she participates in the ritual. A child born on February the 29th would be the eldest possible participant, and a child born on February the 28th during a leap year would be the youngest.

If the child, the father or the mother have died before the ritual has taken place then a lament is sung by the surviving members of the family at the edge of the field where the ceremonial tree, or crow tree, resides. In these circumstances it is not permitted for the survivors to approach the tree itself during the course of the day.

In recent years, due to the decline in births within the community, it has been rare for there to be more than one family needing to perform the ritual in any given leap year, and indeed in some recent leap years the event has not taken place at all.

In times of a more populous community, however, when multiple rituals were to be carried out during the same day, the participating families were ordered by the age of the child involved, with the eldest girl first and youngest last – a reflection, perhaps, of the length of time they had been waiting to perform. On busy days it was said that, despite there being no apparent communication between the families, each group would arrive in the correct order, equally spaced apart, and that all the rituals would be finished in good time, well before the sun had set.

The ritual itself is one of the most sombre in the community’s complex calendar. No work is conducted on the day itself, and it is traditional for everyone who is not directly involved to stay inside their own houses, although this is not compulsory. No costumes are worn, and the tools used are not ceremonial objects, instead being everyday household objects or workplace items.

The ceremony starts with the father leaving his house at dawn. He makes his way to the edge of the field and waits by the gate. The mother and daughter do not hurry, although usually they will arrive before noon, and always before dusk. The mother carries with her a pail filled with breadcrumbs, offal, fish guts, bones, butter. The daughter carries a length of rope and a knife. When they arrive at the gate to the field, the father wordlessly leads the way in and they walk together to the crow tree at the centre of the field.

The crow tree is a long dead oak, its trunk and branches bleached white as bone by the sun. Other dead oak trees dot the field, but the crow tree is the only one that remains completely bare of ivy or lichen. It is believed that the trees in the field were killed by the sea hundreds of years ago, although the field is many miles inland. The trees themselves are so cold and solid it is tempting to believe they are actually made of stone.

The father stands with his back to the tree. The rope is tied around his left wrist, looped round the tree, and then secured around his right wrist. The daughter pushes her knife into her father’s belly as deeply as she can.

“Speak,” she says, and her father speaks.

They listen. His words go unrecorded.

“Sleep,” says the mother, and, removing the knife from his belly, she slits his throat.

His body is cut down from the tree and dragged a short way from the trunk. The food from the bucket is spread in a circle around him. The knife is placed in the pail, and the women, hand in hand, leave.

Overnight the crows come down from the tree and feed, either upon the flesh of beasts or the flesh of man. In the morning, as the crows return to their roosts, the father is reborn.

Thus judged, some fathers make their way back to town, bucket and knife in hand, and return to their former lives. Others leave, and are not known to be missed.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in April, 2010
2. This appeared in the “Rituals” issue of Here Comes Everyone magazine, in January 2019

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Tale #70: The Crow

The crow looked at the corpse beneath its feet and thought about the inevitability of death, and the futility of life.

Still, the crow ate on.

___________

Notes:

1. Written on September 19th, 2016
2. The last line is a repetition of the last line of Tale #34: The Lonely Heart

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