BIWC Writing Challenge 2021

THE GREAT ESCAPE



Chapter 2

David Green

'Where are you taking me?' Eleanor cried, slapping her palms against the steering wheel. 'Why am I talking to a car? Who’s doing this to me? Stop it right now!’


The car didn’t listen. Instead, it moved deeper into the too-dark forest, inching forward on an unseen path as it twisted and turned through the trees. Eleanor fell quiet and listened. Aside from the low rumble of the engine and the gravel crunching beneath the tyres, the forest seemed silent.


But something watched her. Lots of somethings.

Goosebumps broke out across her skin, and cold sweat beaded on her forehead. She scanned her surroundings through the windscreen and door windows, expecting to see eyes shining back through the gloom.


She saw nothing.

'Rowan,' she muttered, sinking into the driver’s seat, placing her feet above the accelerator and clutch out of habit. 'This is his doing. I don’t know how I know it, but I do. It’s him.’

She remembered peering into his startling, beautiful yet frosty eyes. The way he always seemed to see through her, to know how much control he held over Eleanor and Lizzie. Her jaw ached as she realised how much she ground her teeth. In his presence, she could never say no; she had no control of her own mind. Then he’d leave, and she’d question everything. All the things Lizzie accused her of — misplacing her possessions, losing the run of her thoughts. Had it all been him?


Eleanor peered into the gloom, twisting her fingers in her lap. 'Even when he’s not here, Rowan’s controlling me. Why?’


Thinking about her daughter's wretched husband had one benefit; it took her mind off her destination, from wherever the infernal, self-driving car she sat in took her. Eleanor reminded herself of her age, how she knew better than to believe in ghosts, ghouls, spirits and, despite what she used to tell her children, fairies. But cars didn’t drive themselves, did they? Well, some did in the fancy big cities like New York, LA, or Tokyo, but not here in the sleepiest part of Yorkshire anyone could imagine.


'I’m rambling,' she muttered. As she glanced around, it seemed like the trees in the forest thinned as though they moved into a clearing. 'I’m dreaming. That’s it.’


She pulled the sleeve of her coat back and gave her exposed skin a sharp twist.


‘Argh!'


Eleanor had to conclude that she wasn’t dreaming.


With a jerk and an unceremonious rattle, the car came to a full stop. The headlights, on half-beam, proved ineffectual, the surrounding gloom swallowing any illumination they emitted. Eleanor waited, her breathing and heartbeat loud in her ears, peering through the windscreen. Seconds that felt like years trudged by.


'You want me to get out, don’t you?' she asked the car. 'Well, I’m not going to. I’m staying here, and you can’t make me leave.'

The vehicle’s door sprang open, and the driver’s seat lurched on its side, tipping Eleanor out of the car. Thick grass cushioned her fall, ensuring her pride became the only casualty.


'You’ll pay for that.' She shook her fist at the car. It replied by slamming its door shut, revving its engine in what sounded like mechanical laughter, then reversing at a steady pace. Eleanor’s jaw dropped. She didn’t want to be left alone. 'Where do you think you’re going?’

The darkness smothered the headlights, leaving her alone in the shadows. They swirled and shifted at her feet. She watched them for a while, her head cocked to the side, as she tried to get her nerves and breathing under control.


'It’s like a carpet of mist,' she breathed, watching the darker shade of black ooze around her knees. 'Must have gotten myself lost. I don’t think Hal lived anywhere near a forest.’


'He doesn’t.' A voice echoed through the gloom, light yet solid and commanding. It had a lilt to it, almost a musical quality, but underneath ran iron. 'But you are not lost, child. You are where you need to be. Come to me.’


Rowan’s cold-eyed smile flashed in Eleanor’s mind. 'Come to me, come to me.


Rowan putting thoughts in my mind at home, a bloody voice calling through the dark, commanding me here. Lizzie trying to move me somewhere I don’t want to go. Well, I’m fed up with it all. Someone’s going to get the sharp end of my tongue.’


She glanced around, her eyes adjusting to the gloom. She stood in a clearing with towering trees around the circumference. A full moon moved from behind the clouds above, and Eleanor felt a firm V form between her eyes as she frowned. She remembered glancing at the moon when she left home earlier. It had been a crescent one then.


As sick and tired as she felt, Eleanor wanted answers, and she had no idea where she stood. Without the car, she had no chance of returning to the road in one piece. 'I’m no spring chicken,' she grumbled, pulling her coat closer. A chill added its bite to the night’s air.


Eleanor nodded to herself. She had one option. Forward. Towards the voice.

Her feet stumbled at first, but each step grew more steady as she strode with her head held high, her jaw set. She’d meet whoever called her with strength, with ferocity if needed. She wouldn’t roll over and show her belly as she’d done with Rowan so many times. Yorkshire lasses had steel, and she’d show it. God help her she would.

***

Silence accompanied her as she moved deeper into the clearing and more darkness. Despite her resolve, a part of her wanted to give up, to just somehow make her way back home and slink off to Lake House Retirement Home and become another smiling face on a marketing brochure — a happy image to tell the young ones that, yes, this is the place to send those who’ve had their time. She ground her teeth again; Rowan’s lingering influence, no doubt.


No. Eleanor wouldn’t give up. She never had, not once in her life. Not until bloody Rowan turned up.

White light glimmered through the darkness. Swallowing, she quickened her pace. 'Let’s get this over with. It’s a good job I didn’t ring Hal. He’d be worried sick, wondering where I’d gotten to.’

'Do not worry, child.' Louder now came the voice from the shimmering light. 'Time is not the same here. You are safe, for a little while, at least. I can keep the darkness and the things that exist within at bay for a time.’


The voice felt familiar to Eleanor. A memory scratched at her, but it slipped away when she tried to grasp it, like smoke drifting between her fingers. She kept moving, gazing into the light. Around it, a mighty tree formed from the darkness — an oak, she thought — and the light seemed to come from its centre.


Coming to a halt a few feet from the trunk, she gasped as the light formed into a figure; a woman, pale-skinned and dark of hair and eye, smiled at her as she leaned against the bark. No, not leaned. She and the tree were one and the same.


Eleanor’s hands flew up to her mouth, tears shining in her eyes as she drank in the figure's beauty. Tales that she told Lizzie and Sam swam back to her; the tree creatures of yesteryear . . . the dryads. This couldn’t be one, could it? They only existed in the stories. But Eleanor always believed in one thing through her life: what her eyes told her. And right now, they told her she’d stumbled upon a tree-woman in the centre of a forest clearing, on a night with a full-moon standing bright against the night’s sky, that had been a crescent only a couple of hours ago. Not to mention a car that drove itself had brought her there.


Questions flew through Eleanor’s mind, but she always thought when in doubt, the simple option often worked out best. 'Why have you brought me here?’


The dryad smiled, her eyes twinkling. Looking down, Eleanor noticed the creature stood naked, bare-breasted in the moonlight. She gave a loud harrumph, which only made the dryad's smile deepen.

'You are in danger, child. I needed to warn you.’


'Call me child again, miss, and I’ll give you a hiding. I’m old enough to be your grandmother.’

The dryad laughed, her mirth tinkling like crystal. Eleanor found herself smiling, wanting to join in, but forced it down. She wouldn’t let others decide for her again, even one as small as laughing when she didn’t really feel like it.


'Eleanor, I am as old as time and will live for many more years to come, so long as my tree stands. You are all children to me. Especially you.’

Eleanor scowled. The dryad spoke to her as a parent would. She couldn’t remember her own mother and father, but she recognised the tone from when she used it with Lizzie and Sam. 'I don’t believe you. In fact, I don’t believe in you. I’m dreaming. Or I crashed my car on the way to Hal’s and banged my head. Or Lizzie and Rowan are right, and I — ‘

'Do not speak his name!' the dryad hissed, her dark eyes flashing. 'You ring a bell when you do, even when you so much as think of him. Have you truly forgotten our ways?’

'Wait,' Eleanor gasped, blinking as she tried to process the creature’s words. 'Row — sorry, my daughter’s husband — is dangerous? Your ways? What are you talking about?’


The dryad’s eyes widened as she glanced beyond Eleanor, and the muscles in her jaw bunched. 'We have less time than I would have liked. He knows you are here. He tried to divert your path, but we have been watching you too, ever since the one you called Bill, your husband, passed.’

'Bill?' Eleanor laughed. She swallowed the sadness that always built whenever she thought of her deceased husband. They’d spent a happy lifetime together, but she felt he’d gone too early. She guessed every widow or widower thought the same, but her Bill seemed so full of life, right until the day he died. He left one day to walk the dogs and never came back. She and Sam, on a rare visit from London, had found him in a field, pale and stiff. The autopsy proved inconclusive; nothing had been the same since. He had been the first to die. After Bill passed, all their friends followed one by one, dead or in a retirement home. All except her and Hal. 'My poor Bill? What’s he got to do with it? The man could run a butcher’s better than any, even if it made him sad, loved animals he did, but I think you’re thinking of the wrong person.’


A tear trickled from the dryads eye. 'You really have forgotten.’


Howls stole the creatures’ attention. A bloodthirsty cry echoed from outside of the clearing. It turned Eleanor’s legs to jelly, sapped the resolve from her gut. She thought of Rowan again, of the retirement home, of giving up. As the howling faded, her will returned.


'Your Bill kept you hidden all those years, but his protection vanished when his time came. You do not know how special you are, Eileanori.’


A gong sounded in her head. That name. A face appeared in her mind; a woman, green-eyed, red-haired, smiling down at her as she lay in the snow, staring up at a full moon—whispering that name. Eileanori.

A gong sounded in her head. That name. A face appeared in her mind; a woman, green-eyed, red-haired, smiling down at her as she lay in the snow, staring up at a full moon—whispering that name. Eileanori.

'What do you want with me?' she whispered, falling to her knees. The dryad gazed back, tears flowing down her pale cheeks.

'I wish I had time to tell you more. Go beyond me. The . . . car? . . . that brought you here awaits you and will bring you to Hal. He can tell you more. Eileanori, he comes for you; his minions have your scent. A battle has raged for aeons, and you stand at the centre of it. You must not fall.'

Howls tore into the night again, turning Eleanor’s blood to ice. She wanted to drop into a ball, to curl up and wait for the inevitable. But she wouldn’t give up. Not her.

'I know you, don’t I?' she asked, climbing to her feet. Her legs shook as more howls answered the first.

'You know us all, child. Now go. I cannot keep you safe any longer. Get to Hal and rediscover yourself. I am blessed to meet you again, Eileanori. Now go!’

Howls and barks exploded from the darkness, shaking her vision and rocking her like an earthquake. Eleanor stumbled forwards as the light inside the dryad expanded outwards. Pain and fury filled the snarls and growls as she put one foot in front of the other, hoping she moved towards the car. She heard panting, wails, whimpers. Darkness surrounded her. Panic swelled in her chest and threatened to overcome her.


Then, her foot caught in a tree root, and Eleanor crashed to the forest floor, the howls growing louder and closer.


The Great Escape, Chapter 3/9 will be published on Sunday August 8th

Next week's Author Is R.D Andrews


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