The Wooden Labyrinth.
Already half of October had come and gone. Rial had woken around five thirty. Tessie and Aloe stirred. An early walk on the cards? Why not?
She filled the kettle, put a teabag in her cup so that all was ready when she got back. Lifting the leashes from the back door, trying not to be tripped up by both dogs, she signaled them to sit. Tails wagging fiercely, they complied.
The dark sky still showed a myriad of stars. It would not be long before the dawn light appeared on the eastern horizon.
It was a short walk to reach the woods, but by the time she passed the first few trees, a sudden fog had dropped down into the valley. It would not be the first time she had navigated these woods in mist.
Normally Rial would let Tessie and Aloe run by themselves, but if she could not see them she did not trust them loose. Fog dampened sound, a double reason to keep them on the leash.
The swirling mist began to chill her bones. It had felt too warm by the back door to out in a winter jacket, so just a thick cardigan. She now regretted that decision.
The path was just about discernable. Even so, Rial went slower than her normal walking speed. Tessie, always one to pull, had to be checked. Aloe was the dog that more often than not, dragged behind a little, until she got the scent that is!
Leaf litter was thicker and drier the deeper she penetrated the trail. Dampness in the air and the noise her shoes made crunching through the leaves, made her shiver. Even the dogs made little sound, and they were often quite vociferous.
But she did pick up on other noises. She knew foxes roamed these woods, rodents, squirrels and birds too. Like any other wood. But there was a much louder, clumping sound. It seemed distant but she felt it was along the same trajectory as the path she and the dogs were walking on.
Should she have turned back? Thinking about it, Rial had decided to follow their normal route and come out the other side where a wooden gate led onto a well- used road. After all, this was one of her regular routes. She knew it off by heart. Nothing to worry about here. All the same….!
Or should she? Heavy rain had fallen a few days ago. There was the odd muddy puddle. Avoiding them so far, Rial thought she felt secure.
Starting to feel insecure, her head turning left to right as she walked, her foot caught a low blackberry stringer. Down she went.
One of the leashes slipped out of her left hand. It was Tessie’s. She was off in a split second. Aloe was trampling around her, tail wagging.
“Tessie!” Rial called, rubbing her ankle and trying to rise.
Loud barking that faded, was all Rial could hear.
The barking got louder again. There was scuffling and a kind of grunting much closer.
Then a yelp!
“Out of the way, Aloe,” it was hard trying to get up with a dog around your legs.
Rial decided Tessie would head for their normal exit, the gate to the road. Keeping track of the sounds, she made her way as fast as she could, dragging Aloe along. Her ankle was hurting quite badly, but she had to make it to the road. She might be able to flag down a car for help.
Puffing heavily, Rial and Aloe reached the wooden gate, only to find Tessie sitting quietly beside the son of one of her neighbours, Eddie.
“Lose something Rial,” he grinned.
“Where did you find Tessie?” She asked.
“She found me. Looks as if you took a tumble as well.” He moved one foot and his other leg gave way. Straightening up, he grimaced at the pain.
“But you are so sure footed,” she said.
“Thing is, dad got some wild boar. Let them run loose here. Didn’t he tell you?” Rial shook her head. “Well, he did. Sent me out to check on them. In this fog, a couple ran me down. Sent me flying. Don’t think it was a good idea.”
“What, you going out in the fog?”
“That and keeping wild boar loose in there.” Eddie handed over Tessie’s leash, reached for his mobile and together they both waited for the farm van to pick them all up.
“I was a bit worried when Tess ran,” explained Rial. “No wonder she went.”
Evelyn J. Steward.
Copyright Evelyn J. Steward. 24th October, 2018.