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November 1, 2012

The strange whispers in the trees moved all around Patrick as he traveled home in the dark. He was returning from the city where he had spent the evening looking for his father. It was in the seediest tavern in the weediest part of town that he learned from the proprietor that his father had been diving deep into seas of ale. The man told Patrick that he had last seen his father traveling toward the docks with two sailors that had arrived only the night before. Patrick had the unpleasant task of returning to his bedridden mother with the news that her husband would probably not return for several days. It was not the first time he had gone on a drunk and disappeared and Patrick was certain it was not likely to be the last.

It was, however, the first time Patrick had heard the whispers in the trees, the strange hissing through unseen lips. He picked up his feet, hurrying along the black stretch of road, anxious to return home to his mother. In the darkness ahead of him, he spied a strange silhouette, a shadowy lump on the side of the path. He told himself it was only a stump, a fallen tree, a clump of shrubbery. Even so, he walked along the other side of the road keeping his eyes firmly locked to the strange shape.

“You there,” called out a crackling voice.

Patrick let loose a small cry involuntarily.

“You there, boy.”

“Who’s there?” the boy asked with terror at the reply.

“It is only an old woman,” said the voice.

The lump moved closer to Patrick and he could see that it was indeed an old woman, hunched with the heaviness of many years. The terror loosened in his breast but did not flee.

“I wonder if you might help an old woman. I’m not quite as spry as I was at one time”

“What is it?”

“I need to get to the farm that is across this field.” She pointed into the darkness with a shriveled finger. “I cannot find a way around this fence.”

“That’s Clancy’s farm. What do you need with him?”

“Will you not help me? Am I to spend the whole night shivering in the cold?”

“My mother is waiting for me.”

“Very well, boy. I shall fight off the night on my own. Scurry off.”

“No, no. Let me help.”

Patrick stepped closer to the woman. She smelled strange to the boy, like earth and spice. He rubbed his finger across his nose.

“Help me over this fence,” she said.

Patrick looked at the fence and at the lump of old flesh beside him. He was not sure that she could make it over. Before he could say so she had clambered halfway up the side.

“Help me!” she shrieked.

He charged toward her and buried his hands into the rags that wrapped her against the night. He pushed her up and up and with a great suddenness she tumbled over the top and fell down the other side. She stood up and brushed off the grass and dirt. She turned to face the boy and he saw her face fully in the moonlight. His heart pumped coldness through his body.

“You shall be rewarded,” she said. She coughed, hacking in the darkness.

“Not necessary,” said Patrick. “I have to be going.”

“Collect your reward, boy. One good deed fosters another one in turn. Your mother will not mind waiting another minute.”

“Okay,” Patrick said dumbly.

“You may have a wish. Not any wish. You must choose.”


“You must choose. Your father is gone, is he not? And your mother lies sick and alone?”

Patrick nodded.

“You are to choose between your mother and your father. You may either have your father back and things will be as they always have been. Or you may have your mother restored, free from disease but without a husband, without happiness. Choose, boy. Life is all choices.”

“I don’t want my mother to be sick anymore.”

“Careful, son. Think before you choose. While your mother suffers from physical fatigue today, without a husband she will suffer from fatigue of the soul tomorrow. There is no cure for a sickness of the heart.”

Patrick bit his lip and stared into her milky eyes.

When he got home, he sat somberly beside the bed where his mother slept. He dreaded the arrival of the morning when he would have to tell her that her husband had disappeared again.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2012 2:38 am

    Good story! It has the quality of a fairy tale, Halloween fairy tale.
    “There is no cure for a sickness of the heart.” — I like this line; it is so true, unfortunately!
    Keep up the fine writing and thank you for sharing it. ~ Lily

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