In The Clearing

March 28, 2017
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The fire crackled and burned. The smell of smoke filled the air, burning his nostrils. Tom watched in horror as his home was engulfed in flames, incinerating his every belonging, and his family. As Tom wept on the ground, his life smoldering and crumbling before him, he cried out for help, but he knew no one would come.

Now, 20 years later, he still thinks of it, he even weeps about it sometimes. But life is better now. Though the earl of the town had given him no compensation for his losses, Tom had made a life from the little he had. When they had met, his wife too had little more than a satchel of belonging to her name, yet they were happy together.
Today, recalling the tragic event, Tom felt sorrowful, but not in the same way he had other days. Today Tom felt calm, and at peace. As he strolled through the forest, Tom heard the swallows chirping and the wind rustle the trees’ leaves. The scent of lavender was on the air and the way the early morning light shone down through the trees was worthy of a painting. It gleamed off the dew on the tall grass Tom now strolled through, leaving wet, shimmering trails on his trousers. Tom had no goal in the forest, he simply enjoyed walking here, where all was peaceful. To his side was a large pond, where lilies covered much of the surface. Frogs croaked from unseen places and small waves lapped upon the muddy banks. Mayflies and dragonflies flew over the pond and landed on the water, where the were swallowed up by small carp.
As Tom continued past the pond, he felt something was out of the ordinary, something was not as it usually was. He analyzed his surroundings, considering every detail. The pond, the grasses, and the trees were as they had always been. The air still tasted fresh and clean, and he could still smell the flowers and the damp plants. The birds were still chirping, and there was still a buzz and the rustle of leaves. Then Tom had it. A buzz? He had never heard such a noise in this part of the forest. It was very quiet, as if it were distant. Though it was barely audible, Tom could pinpoint it now. It sounded like a low, almost rhythmic hum, and it came from somewhere away to his right. Tom decided to follow it.
The noise grew slowly but steadily louder as Tom moved toward it. While following the sound, he began to consider what it could be. It was perhaps the sound of some river or waterfall, then again, Tom had heard many a sound of this sort, and this was unlike any of them. Then perhaps it was some kind of bug nest or colony, maybe a species Tom had never encountered.
Up a head Tom could see a clearing, the noise was quite loud now, but Tom could still not confirm what it was. Though now it seemed more like a hum than a buzz. As Tom stepped into the clearing, the noise intensified even more. The clearing was bathed in midday light, and lavender, honeysuckle and bluebells grew all around in the tall grass. On the far side of the clearing, birch trees extended into the forest as far as Tom could see. But a most bizarre sight was the three wooden chairs in the middle of the clearing, forming a semicircle. Each was made of dark wood, had a flat cushion. Tom did not understand why three perfectly good chairs would be here in the middle of the woods. It occurred to him that perhaps there was a house nearby. Tom walked across to the other side of the clearing and peered into the woods. There was no house in sight, no sign of human intervention. Tom walked out into the trees a short distance but could still see no sign of a settlement, so he returned to the clearing.
He sat in the clearing for a while, staring at the chairs. All the while the mysterious hum filled his ears. Tom was considering what to do about the chairs. He knew that they may belong to someone, but then again, they did not look like they had been used in a long time. He knew very well that he could take them. He and his wife could use some new furniture. Or perhaps they could sell them, both Tom’s red plaid shirt and baggy beige pants could use some tailoring, and his boots had seen better days. But what if they belonged to someone? Then Tom would be stealing, and such was not his intent. Yet there was no sign of usage or anyone to use them. So Tom made up his mind, he would take the chairs.
Maybe I’ll only take one. That wouldn’t matter, would it?
Tom walked over to the nicest looking chair. It was made of what was perhaps some dark oak and had a green cushion, Tom’s favorite color. He grasped in by the back with one hand and attempted to pick it up. But the chair remained as if nothing happened. Tom was quite confused, since he was a big man and a chair of this size should not be of any difficulty for him to lift. Again he tried, this time with two hands. And again, the chair remained unmoving. When Tom attempted to release the chair and reassess the situation, he found that he could not move the his hands. They seemed stuck there by some invisible substance or force. Tom strained his arms attempting to remove them from the chair, but the chair and now his hands did not move, as if apart from the rest of the world around him. Then Tom’s arms began to stiffen and become harder to move. A strange numb feeling grew over them and they felt like they were being pricked by small needles. Next his legs had the same sensation, his knees becoming almost useless. It was as if he was rooted to the ground by his legs and to the chair through his arms. Tom attempted to operate his limbs, but they were bound by that invisible force. He searched his mind for any explanation to anything that was happening, but there was none. Now Tom began to fidget, his breaths came out is short bursts, he broke into a cold sweat as a shiver ran down his back and a feeling of helplessness washed over him. The numbing sensation continued to spread, up his shoulders, around his waist. All the while, the ominus hum rang in his ears.
Catherine had woken late today, and when she had entered the main living area, Tom had not there. But this had been of no worry to her. Though Tom started his walks early, he was always in the forest for a while. But now she was worried. He had been gone for much longer than usual. His old chair still empty and the remains of his breakfast; salted fish and tea, as he had most days, long cleaned up. She already missed his small, calm smile.  She was now on her way to the Earl’s mansion, she needed to know if he knew where Tom was. When Catherine arrived at the doors to the mansion and an armed guard inquired her purpose.
“I desire to have an audience with the Earl,” she said in a shaky voice.
“Wait hear,” he said, then turned and went through the large doors.
Catherine stood there rocking back and forth on her heels, her eyes darting around, from the high roofs of the Earl mansion to the streets around it. The doors creaked open as the guard reappeared.
“He is waiting for you,” said the guard.
She followed him through the Earl’s luxurious abode, staring at all the wonderful things she wished she and Tom had. The guard showed her into a room. She found the Earl sitting on a large wooden chair with a big plush cushion and a large red cloak draped over it. He himself was clothed in luxurious silks and skins and draped in a cloak. This made Cathrine a little self-conscious about her tattered old gown and her pea green shal.
“Who are you and what do you want?” said the Earl.
“My name is Catherine my lord,” she said. “My husband, Tom, has gone missing. He left in the morning and I have seen no sign of him since. Do you know where he is?”
“Tom!? The one who’s house burned down many years ago?”
“Yes my lord that’s the o?”
“Of course I don’t know where he is! Why would I know!”
“Well, would it be possible for you to send out a search party?”
“A search party?” The Earl exclaimed, “Why would I wasted such time on a mere peasant? One lost peasant does not matter to me.”
“But sir, surely you can?”
“No! Leave, I want no more of your bable!” Shouted the Earl sitting up in his chair.
As the guard showed Catherine out of the mansion, she could not stop worrying. Tom’s absence obstructed her concentration and deeply unnerved her. She knew he must have gone out walking in the forest, so she decided she would go looking for him there.
The the sun was making it’s way toward the horizon as Catherine entered the forest. She walked to fast too notice the beauty around her. She passed a large pond as she hurried through the tall grass. All the while she called out Tom’s name. Catherine stopped for a breath and heard the birds in the trees, and a strange buzz. This intrigued her, she had never heard this kind of noise before. She started towards it, after all, Tom may have heard it and followed it aswell. As she moved in sound’s direction, it grew louder and louder, becoming less of a buzz and more of a hum.
Suddenly she came upon a clearing, where the light of the setting sun covered the grass and trees in a golden glow. The glow also fell upon a ring of four chairs. Each was made of a dark wood and had a small cushion. She approached the chairs, the hum now filling her head. She looked down and the nearest one, unlike the others it seemed like it had arrived here recently. She ran her hand along the chair’s smooth wooden back. But where her hand should have trailed of the chair’s back, it did not. Catherine attempted to remove her fingers, but found they were fixed to the chair. She gripped the chair with her other hand and tried to pull away her fingers, but to no avail. She only found now that her other hand was stuck to the chair. It was then that the feeling spread up her arms, and up her shoulders. Along her legs and around her waist. A feeling that made her limbs numb and useless, and she felt like she was being pricked by thousands of small needles. Catherine tried desperately to move something, anything, but she could not. Only her head swiveled on her neck. Her eyes searching the clearing for any object of use, anything that could save her, but she saw nothing. The strange sensation had now engulfed her body, still she spun her head around. With a desperate look on her face and through rasping breaths she cried out. But for her the forest had no aid. Her whole body was now numb, and it began to stiffen and harden, like wood. As her entire being was ripped away from her, an incomprehensible thing took place. Catherine watched as her very being reshaped itself and all the logic and sense of a realistic world deteriorated. Now, the only thing that she had left; her mind, was torn away from her as the clearing stilled. And there, in that clearing, sat the five chairs, basking in the fading evening light.

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