Burial Day Books is honored to feature Australian writer Deva Shore this month!
In Holding Her Within, Deva Shore brings us into a fairy tale setting with two lovers in the wood for a magical day of joy. Yet, like in many fairy tales sometimes something, or someone, is lost, and sometimes, just sometimes strange events take an even stranger turn when a lonely cabin and its inhabitant are not what they seem.
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Holding Her Within
By: Deva Shore
Mary fiddles with her wedding ring, admiring it as a ray of sunshine strikes the stone, causing a multitude of colours to sparkle within. She twists it, pleased to be enjoying this simple pleasure. She and her husband, Kevin, are in their four wheel drive, leisurely driving through the forest. Tree ferns, interspersed amongst the gums, soften the view, giving it a lush, exotic appeal, as water trickles from a rock wall. The window is open. Mary’s hand stretches forward, enjoying the warmth from the wind as it rushes through her fingers.
She breathes deeply the fragrance of the eucalypts as she hums along to her favourite CD. The day is glorious, the scenery picturesque, their lunch in the hamper appetising and the champagne cooling as they drive to the area where they had their very first picnic.
The white lines on the bitumen are mesmerising and she’s pleased it’s not her who’s driving. Her mind is filled with happiness at their good fortune in securing their dream home. Her hand squeezes Kevin’s thigh as they near and he glances at her profile. For a moment their eyes lock in a conspiratorial exchange before he focuses back.
Mary spies an old man hobbling along, stooping to pick up some rubbish off the side of the road. She brings her hand back in, as though in same way she’ll be contaminated by leaving it in the open. A mangy dog rushes into the forest but she doesn’t really see it, it’s just a flash.
“Look at that man. Fancy having to scrounge around like that? Sad, isn’t it?” she says.
“Hmm, sure is honey,” Kevin says, squeezing her hand which is still resting on his thigh
“How on earth do they get themselves into such a state?” she says, crinkling up her nose in distaste as they drive by.
He lifts his head and she turns back, sees he is watching after them.
“Hey, don’t worry about him. We’re here to celebrate, remember?”
“I know … it’s just … just so sad,” she says, her happiness spoiled for the moment. “Here, there’s the turn.”
Kevin pulls in sharply. There’s a four wheel drive track leading into the forest. It looks unused, as though it’s been a while since anyone’s ventured that way.
“You sure you want to go here? Looks a bit isolated,” Kevin says, with the motor still running, the indicator ticking loudly as he ponders the wisdom of going inland when there is a perfectly good picnic spot, near a rippling river just a few kilometres up the road. “That’s how I want it,” she says, tousling his hair. “I want you all to myself. I packed some champagne and there’s even a blanket in the back.”
“So you’ve thought of everything,” he smiles as he negotiates the car through some rough terrain, coming out into a clearing.
“You bet. I want this to be a day we’ll always remember.”
“Every day is a memorable one with you, honey.”
“And right now I have you exactly where I want you,” she giggles, her hand inching up his thigh, her intention obvious.
Alighting from the car, Kevin unpacks the boot while Mary spreads the blanket over the fallen autumn leaves. The sun, dappled now as it tries to find its way through the canopy of overhead branches gives the atmosphere a whitish hue, as though they’ve entered the pages of a surreal fairytale where everything is good and peaceful.
Unpacking the picnic basket, Mary places the food on plates while Kevin pops the cork to the champagne. They clink glasses, toasting each other and begin to devour the delicacies she has purchased.
“When we get the deed to the house you can have me in any room you want,” Mary says undoing the buttons of his shirt.
“You can count on it,” Kevin whispers as he nuzzles into her cleavage, one hand sliding up her skirt. “We’ll christen every room.”
“What was that?” Mary says alarmed.
“Nothing,” Kevin nuzzles into her neck, tickling her earlobe with his tongue.
“I thought I heard something,” she says distracted, trying to push him away.
“Do you recall our first picnic? How you tried to fight me off, pretty ineffectual if I remember right.”
“You devil,” she laughs, wrapping her thighs tightly around his waist. “Some things never change.”
The twittering of birds has Mary stirring. Carefully removing her leg which was draped over Kevin she rises up on one elbow, stares down into his sleeping face. Gently stroking his cheek she kisses him lightly. He smiles lazily, his eyes still closed as she covers him gently with a corner of the blanket.
Not wanting to disturb him, Mary dresses and heads off for a short walk. She is enjoying the fragrance of the forest floor as her feet crush the leaves and twigs. She stoops to pick up an unusual rock, turning it over in her hand, marvelling at the colours.
The mangy dog she’d seen earlier crosses her path, then stops. It has no tail and one leg is missing. He sits to stare at her. She squats, cupping her palm to it, hoping to pat it. It comes closer; sniffing, its nose wet as it licks her finger.
“Hello, boy,” She gently strokes its head and gives it a scratch behind the ears. “You poor thing. What are you doing here all on your own?”
It stays there enjoying the attention and suddenly its ears prick up. Alerted by something it scampers off, then turns and waits, barks at her as though wanting her to pursue; so she does.
She follows the dog a short distance, then notices the wind picking up, swirling the dried leaves around her feet. Dark clouds hide the sun. The beauty of the forest now turns sinister with dry branches scratching at her, dust stinging her eyes as the cry of a crow screeches and echoes through a valley.
“Kevin,” Mary calls. “Kevin.”
She’s frightened, disorientated. She heads off in one direction, then another but at each turn nothing seems familiar.
“Kevin, where are you?” birds squawk defensively as the wind whistles though the trees. Fat splats of rain begin to fall so she seeks shelter under a tall tree frond. The dog, unbeknown to her, is lying on its stomach under nearby bushes, eyeing her.
“Shit! Kevin! What do I do now?” she cries, cupping her hands to blow warmth in them.
In the damp early morning hours, stiff and sore, Mary grabs at branches, struggling to hold herself upright. Small puffs of breath swirl and dissipate as she stands on shaking legs. Fear is etched on her face. She is weak and frightened, peering left and right wondering which way to go.
“Kevin! Kevin! Where are you?” she sobs. “Somebody, please, please, help me,” she shouts.
Her voice disperses just as her breath does into the stillness of the forest. Moving forward she stumbles over a tree root. Her hands shoot out on instinct; the diamond rings shed no sparkle as she falls heavily to the ground. She lays in agony whimpering. A tear escapes, slips silently from her eye to stain her grubby cheek as she lies against the pungent muddy earth.
Turning her head further she sees a rabbit, its guts ripped open, its head lying askew, dead eyes staring back at her. She screams, scrambles backwards away, her eyes darting about wildly. Holding herself, she wills nothing untoward to advance, relieved when after ten minutes or so all is still, the rabbit quiet too, only blow flies buzzing punctuate the stillness.
A fine mist of drizzle covers her, droplets falling, causing the mud on her face to run. Gingerly, she stands but her shoe slides into rotting wood and she’s thrown forward, her knee slamming into a rock, tearing open her flesh. She rolls over, screaming in agony. A kookaburra screeches loudly, protesting in the quiet of the forest as minor birds twitter nervously.
“Oh, dear God,” she whimpers. “What’s to become of me?”
Her fingers slip and squelch in the mud as she hoists herself up. For a moment she fears she’s lost her rings, but no, they are there, having slipped a fraction. She dries them on her grubby skirt with tears falling as she slumps against a tree stump. Her body is shaking from fatigue and hunger, her teeth chatter. The dog, as though her protector, is quietly watching her from a distance.
After an exhausting cold day Mary is sitting huddled under a tree fern. She’s filthy, frightened and her clothes are more ripped and dishevelled. Barely any light filters through the canopy of trees as the sun begins to set. It’s becoming darker and eerie; she notices that no birds are twittering. She’s startled by a noise
“Is … is someone … someone there?”
She hears nothing but her own breathing, loud in her ears, and then, out of the
corner of her eye she sees movement, not one meter from where she’s sitting. Holding her breath, she watches terrified as the fronds of a bracken bush rustle and then slowly part.
Paralysed with fear, she peers, unable to tear her eyes away, relieved to see a small wet nose, twitching with curiosity, and then a fluffy head of fur pokes through as two large eyes stare. It’s a rabbit. She’s so happy. She wants to coax it to her, to hold and stroke. She needs to feel the warmth of another body in this cold and scary forest.
“You lost too,” she asks. “Come here … come closer. Come on. We can keep each other company.”
The rabbit inches forward, shyly, cautiously.
“That’s it, yes, come on …”
Just then, hunger growls deep in her stomach, breaking the stillness. The rabbit, frightened, scampers off, as though in danger.
“No! Come back. Please …,” she cries. “Come back. I won’t hurt …”
She hears a low growling. Something snarls, then the high yelp of the rabbit.
Edging back into the bushes, she holds her breath, daring not to breath. Her chin is trembling, her teeth threaten to chatter. Biting down on her fingers to stifle her own hysteria she whispers, “Oh, God…. Please … Kevin… Where are you?”
She’s wavering on hysteria. Her eyes dart about as she scans the bushes. At any moment she anticipates something sinister, evil, to break through. The weaker she becomes the more vulnerable and paranoid she feels. She reaches over, pulls a branch to her, and holds it as though for protection.
Seconds tick by, then minutes.
As darkness descends, she pulls herself into a foetal position; rocking back and forth until eventually she dozes off.
The next morning she drags herself up, rubbing sleep from her eyes and peers about. Her nostrils flare as a faint whiff of smoke tantalises them. Hope soars through her. She hauls her stiff aching body up and with her mind racing she practically runs in the direction it’s coming from.
Stumbling with fatigue, she breaks through the forest wall and there in a clearing she sees a hut! She begins to shake uncontrollably; her knees go weak as relief surges through her.
‘Oh, thank God. Thank God, thank you!”
She staggers forward as a fine drizzle begins to fall. Her hair’s plastered to her face, tears fall while she limps along. Shivering, she tries to pull herself together as she makes her way to this sanctuary. The dog, inching along on its belly, sneaks a look at her as it keeps itself hidden in the underbrush.
Finally reaching the hut, she knocks on the door. She hears footsteps, slowly the door creaks open. An old man shuffles partly out. He is a short, ugly looking man, with a bulbous red nose, covered in large blackheads which spread out onto his gaunt cheeks. His unkempt hair intertwines into his disgusting beard, which is covered with small particles of food and yellowish green snot.
“Oh, thank God. Please … I’m lost,” Mary is barely able to speak coherently. “I’ve … I’ve lost my husband. I’ve been … been lost for days.”
The old man eyes her suspiciously. His voice is thick, accent unusual and he is brusque. “You stupid people are always getting lost. Always coming to me for help. Why should I help?”
Mary is taken aback by his rudeness.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get lost. Do you have a phone? I could call …I could … call my husband, or the police.”
“No … no phone. No police.”
“No phone? I need to get out of here.”
She wonders how she can persuade him.
“Can you show me which way to go then? I have to find my husband. I have to get home.”
“But which way?”
He points in a general direction, clearly uninterested in her dilemma.
“Please could I have some food or water?” Mary thinks she may be able to appeal to some level of compassion in him, perhaps then he’d let her use his phone.
“Always something. You people all the same. Always want something from me.”
He turns, leaves the door partly open. She peers inside. A chair is knocked over, dishes lying on the floor, the place looks like a pigsty. Disgusted, she glances away, searching the edge of the forest walls, wondering which way she’ll go, what she’ll find out there.
“Here … take,” he thrusts her a glass of water, his fingers running over her wedding ring as she holds it.
“Thank you,” she says, attempting to pull away but his hand lingers on hers. She reels back as her senses are assaulted from his body odour, snatches the glass firmly and guzzles down the water. Uncomfortable with his lecherous leering she attempts one last plea.
“Thank you. Look, I’m really sorry. I’m … I’m sorry, but I’m lost. I didn’t get lost on purpose. Please, I need to find my husband. I have to get back to the road. Can … can you show me the way please.”
“I help you like I help the others.”
“Thank you. Yes, thank you.”
He indicates a bowl he’s holding in his other hand, nodding at her to take it. She looks at him, then the bowl of food, with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion. He smiles, exposing stained broken teeth. She takes the bowl. Peering at her through hooded eyes, she sees a twinkle of mischief before he slowly shuts the door.
“Wait … Do … do you have a spoon?” she asks as a loud boom of thunder threatens rain.
Dumbfounded, she stares at the closed door, confused, then stares at the bowl. The food looks revolting. She cringes, licks her dry lips and swallows hard. She turns to find somewhere to sit.
Hearing a faint murmur on the other side of the door she hesitates.
“Thank you for the food. I’ll eat it and then be on my way,” she says still hoping for some morsel of kindness.
The bowl is shaking in her hands. She lowers herself carefully onto the step under the veranda, resting the bowl on her knee. The dog is under the step. He inches forward on his belly. She dips in a finger, licks at it. Her nostrils flare in disgust. She peers back at the door, then the food. Dipping in her fingers she scoops some into her mouth. It dribbles down her chin. She gags, and then swallows.
“It’s disgusting,” she whispers. “Oh, God, I’ll have to eat it. I need my strength to find my way out of this godforsaken place.”
Managing to keep down a few more mouthfuls, Mary wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, trying not to imagine what she’s actually eating. Something catches her attention. She draws her eye back to the bowl. She sees what looks like a bone, probably used as a base for this gruel. There is some flesh still attached. She lifts it intending to gnaw the bone clean, to get as much nourishment as she can.
For some reason she is cautious, she picks it up and pulls it slowly out. The remnants are that of what looks like a few knuckles, half of the flesh gone. Attached are parts of what seems to be fingers from the first joint down. One finger has a ring still on it. For a moment nothing registers. Her mind flashes to Kevin’s hand, to the giving of rings on their wedding day, then back to the finger.
Kevin’s ring was distinctive as was hers.
She hears her own voice screaming as though in the distance.
“No … no … nooooooooooooooo, not Kevin. Not Kevin.”
Jumping from the step the bowl tumbles to the ground, the contents spilling amongst dirt and leaves. The dog comes forward hungrily devouring the food, including the bones which he wolfs down quickly, barely chewing.
“Bastard! You fucking bastard!”
She’s screaming as bile rises in her throat. Vomit spews from her mouth onto the ground as her legs threaten to buckle. The dog wolfs up the remains then lunges, snapping at her face as she begins to dry retch. She tries desperately to push him away as his teeth pierce then slice through the flesh of her arm. She kicks at him, then runs off, slipping on rotted leaves, with him snarling, nipping at the back of her calves. Too frightened to peer over her shoulder, afraid that the old man may follow her, she heads into the forest.
“Help, help… somebody help…”
The old man has been waiting for her and she runs directly into him, with the dog still at her heels. She struggles ineffectively against him surprised at his strength. The dog jumps up onto her back, his teeth grazing the flesh of her neck, then biting down on her shoulder forcing her into his disgusting embrace. Stumbling sideways, she trips, hitting her head on a rock, knocking herself unconsciousness. The dog continues to snarl, standing over her, his yellow canine teeth tearing at the air.
“Get back,” he says, kicking at the dog. “Get back! Back I said.”
Mary is lying sideways; almost face down, her left arm away from her body. He has a machete with him which he swings high in the air before coming down onto her left hand, severing it just above the wrist. He kicks at it, boots the hand towards the dog who pounces on it, her wedding and engagement rings sparkle for a moment before the dog snatches up her bloodied hand to run off into the bushes.
“Everybody wants something. And now I want something too,” he bends down, pulls her over her back over by the shoulder, his eyes lingering over her torso before resting on her breast.
“We’ll enjoy christening every room in my house. Won’t we?” he laughs manically.
Tugging at her legs, he hauls her back to his hut, a trail of blood, the only evidence of her presence which will soon be washed away by rain as though she never existed.
His evil laughter precedes her broken body as leaves and dirt attach to her hair and clothing, collecting to hold her within.