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The village of Much Wending stands in peaceful solitude at the foot of the Malvern Hills, where it has watched the world pass by for over a thousand years. Of the many footpaths, both old and new, that wind their way through the surrounding landscape, there is one that is used far less than any of the others. Leaving the village on the south side, it rolls and curves gently through half a dozen fields of varying size before it reaches a copse of ash and sycamore, in the middle of which lies a small pond, home to frogs and newts, and tiny fish that hide from visiting herons.
It is said that the woodland around the pond is the haunt of fairies and pixies, who have lived there as long as time itself and who resent their tranquil lives being disturbed by the appearance of flat-footed humans, on whom they cast spells of bad luck and sickness. As a result of this perceived danger, the footpath from the village remains rarely trampled from one year to another, never more than a thin slit cut through the grass and wild flowers by those bold enough or stupid enough to take their chances.
Maisy Day knew about the stories that went with the pond. She’d grown up with them; learned to respect them. And like practically everyone else in the village, she had left the pond to the small people who lived there. But as she reached the age of eighteen, her world began to change and so too did her attitude towards the woodland and the pond, as she found herself swept by waves of emotion that she seemed to have no control over.
It was her lover, John Saunders, who suggested they visit the banks of the pond, to be alone, away from the prying eyes that had blighted their burgeoning romance. There, he assured her, they could hold one another in their arms and kiss with a freedom they had rarely enjoyed before. She had hesitated, afraid they would give offence to the fairies, who, in return, would bring down illness and worse on to the two intruders. But he was insistent and she was desperate for his touch and the taste of his lips as they kissed long and deep, so she had acquiesced and, one warm, sun-filled Sunday afternoon, they had picked their way along the over-grown footpath until they reached the sky-filled pond. There they spread a large, woollen blanket over the grass and laid themselves down, entwined in each other’s arms.
As John Saunders set down his big, powerful frame next to Maisy Day, the sense of anticipation that surged through his body like an electric current would have been enough to power a thousand lights. From the very first time that he had kissed her full, firm lips he had been able to think of little else but Maisy; a growing, surging desire filling him completely. Somehow, somewhere he needed to take her fully in his arms, run his hands slowly over her slim, curvaceous body and hear her purr with desire at his touch.
In truth, John Saunders had been somewhat surprised when Maisy Day had succumbed to his advances. After all, not only was she one of the most beautiful women he had ever known and certainly equalled by no other in the village in which they lived, but he was himself a married man, as she had known from the very beginning. But he was not interested in asking her why, for all he wanted was to hold her close; to feel her warm, soft skin pressed against his own. And he needed more. He needed her all. And he could not rest until he’d done just that.
Their first few encounters had been awkward and hurried, the village providing so few opportunities for them to hide from prying eyes. There were those living in the village who missed little that went on, which left the two of them constantly worried than even something as seemingly innocent as making eye contact with one another might risk their being unmasked. John had heard all the stories about the pond and the woodland, but to him they were all utter rubbish; a last, lingering relic of an ignorant and superstitious past. To him it was nothing more than the perfect place for him and Maisy to spend time together. Despite his insistence that the stories were utterly ridiculous, it still took him several days to persuade his love to let him take her there. But once Maisy had agreed, John wasted no time, persuading his love to go there with him the very next weekend. And so they had arrived, side-by-side, filled with nerves and longing.
As John Saunders lay holding Maisy tightly in his arms, she looked to him as though she was a ripe fruit, perfect for the taking. She positively glowed as she looked into his eyes, her lips parted and her cheeks flushed. Everything he wanted in life was right there in his arms, waiting for him to show her just how deep his love for her truly was.
He kissed her again, gently at first, then with more passion. And he was very nearly right; Maisy was filled with need and desire, and she kissed him back, running the fingers of one hand through his short, thick hair. But the emotions that swept through her were complex and inconsistent. She wanted, but she feared. She felt ravenous with hunger but was afraid to gorge on the feast before her. The confusion and conflict she felt inside left Maisy muddled and uncertain. She kissed her lover with a passion one moment, only to say enough the next. She pressed herself against him, then insisted he keep a little distance between them. It wasn’t what she had expected and she began to wish she had never agreed to join him there.
John Saunders had no such lack of clarity and with each kiss, each caress, his sense of certainty and urgency grew, until he was way past the point of any possible return. And he expected an equal response from his lover. There wasn’t room for anything else. They had waited so long, so patiently for this opportunity to expose their true, boundless passion and to confirm their love for each other. As he slid the light, tense frame of Maisy under his own body and pressed a leg between her thighs, he lost all sense of time and place, of right and wrong. All that remained, that overwhelmed his every sense, was the woman he held in his arms and the desperately wanted moment he was hurtling towards.
John Saunders was so consumed by his desire that when Maisy murmured her first, barely audible, ‘no’, he kissed it softly away, as any lover would, so he thought. And when she spoke again, more clearly, more surely, he knew that what she needed was reassurance, so that was what he gave her. When at last she began to cry out and to struggle, he was already certain there was no going back, not then. It would be all over in no time at all and after that there would be no more hesitation, no more uncertainty; she would know exactly what she wanted and that would be him. And with that certainty in his obsessed mind, he forced himself upon her, as he felt any proper man would do.
But the assumption he had so assuredly made that the two of them would be totally alone was a false one, born of ignorance and desire. As he set about showing Maisy how desperately he loved her, deaf to her cries and blind to her tears, he was oblivious to the tiny, angry faces that watched from the shadows all around. They saw it all, did the fairies of the woodland, every last revolting second of it and they determined as a clan on revenge; a revenge that would be final and without mercy.
As darkness fell and the birds brought an end to their evening song, a breeze blew in from the south, warm and laden with the scent of far off pollen. From amongst the trees around the pond, a gentle murmur arose, barely audible to the human ear. It seemed to be a song, slow and low in tone. Then eyes, like pinpricks of light, looked out upon the water. The song began to grow in intensity, faster and more urgent, though still barely enough to rise above the sound of the breeze in the trees. As the assembled masses watched, the body of a woman, young and beautiful, rose up out of the pond, water dripping from her weed-marked body in a hundred rivulets that showed no sign of ending. And as she tilted up on to her feet, the woman’s eyes opened and the tiny voices gasped in unison.
John Saunders had hurried home, angry, scared and confused. Why, he asked himself, had Maisy resisted as she did? Why, when he loved her so, had she tried to push away his advances? It didn’t make sense. He had thought for sure that it was just nerves on her part and that all he needed to do was show her the way. And that was exactly what he had done. He had led her, pushed aside the self-doubts of her inexperienced youth and given her what he was certain she wanted. Even her tears he had ignored, utterly confident they would turn to tears of joy.
But when the deed was done and he lay there beside her, sated and freed from the desperate urge that had threatened to overwhelm him, Maisy did not offer him her love. Instead, she brought down on him a flood of threats and anger. He would pay for what he had done, that she made very clear, and he would pay dearly. As he listened in shock, the realisation of what he had done began to grow within him and the lust that had filled him when they arrived at the pond was replaced, in equal measure, with all-encompassing fear. And from that fear grew at once a desperate desire to hide what he had done. The thought of his life as he knew it being destroyed for ever was too much to contemplate. So he did what he believed was the only thing he could do to stop that from happening. He put an end to the life of Maisy Day and weighed her down to the bottom of the pond, so that their secret should remain just that.
As he sat alone on the end of his bed, glad that his wife was away with relatives, John Saunders wept just a little at what he had done. But he hoped that in time he would be able to move on and he swore to himself that he would never make the same mistake again, no matter what the temptation; though even then there was a little part of himself, buried deep within, that mocked him for his weakness and his naivety. Eventually, as the church clock struck ten, he fell into a deep if fitful sleep.
It was in the early hours of the morning that she came to him, silent and unseen. Maisy Day said not a word nor made any sound, aside from the gentle dripping of water upon the carpet. Her eyes were cold and lifeless, her skin as pale as a cloud-filled sky as she stood for a moment, looking down at the sleeping form of John Saunders, before reaching out with a single hand. She placed that hand over his mouth and, even as he continued to sleep undisturbed, water began to flow from her fingertips into his mouth and his nostrils. It was only at the very moment that death came to him that John Saunders’s eyes shot wide open and he saw, for a fleeting second, the figure of Maisy Day standing over him.
And so the story of the pond and the fairies soon had a new chapter, that of the man who drowned in his own bed and of the young, beautiful woman whose body was raised from the bottom of the pond. If ever there was anyone who had been minded to make a trip to the woodland and the sky-filled pond, from that day forward, they never took the chance.
* End *
Shorts in the Dark
Every month you will find a new short story here, always with a darker criminal theme. Below is March's story. Enjoy!