Refuge

Whoa. Week 52. A whole year’s worth of prompts. I think I missed two or three, but I’m still pretty impressed with myself. This is one of the weeks I missed sending in a prompt. But, I used one of the spares and came up with the bit below. I really don’t know where this came from since I haven’t fully explored some of the more interesting corners of my brain. I’m not sure I should, but then, it seems there is a goldmine of stories tucked away. Who knew? Not me. At least not me before this year. Many thanks to Cedar for creating this prompting page. It’s been a source of stability and fun in a strange year.

The spare prompt I chose was: The old man’s beard was soft and curly Spanish moss.

*****

Emma wandered through the woods behind the house, her mind whirling. How had she missed the signs? How did she not notice what was going on? What the hell was she going to do now?

She tripped over a tree root and focused on her surroundings. She’d wandered into a clearing that she didn’t remember from previous walks. The grass was a soft green and dotted with small flowers. Butterflies flitted about and small songbirds swooped across the clearing and around the trees that ringed it.

Sighing, Emma sat down with her back against a tree trunk, legs stretched out in front of her. The sound of the birds and the warmth of the sun brought a sense of calm to her frantic brain. She stared unseeing at the grass under her knees.

Kevin had left her. Just walked out. Didn’t tell her what she did wrong, didn’t say why at all. Just “I can’t do this any more” and then out the front door. What was she supposed to do now? Oh, she had a job. In fact a very good job that paid good money. That wasn’t the problem. The big problem was that this wasn’t supposed to happen.

She had done everything she was supposed to do. Everything her mother had said she should do to have a happy life. Well, her mother wasn’t so thrilled with the job part, but Emma knew that her mother had stayed quiet because she figured Emma would quit working once she had children. That was the second thing Emma hadn’t done quite right. Three miscarriages had not been in her mother’s plans. And now Kevin was gone so the possibilities for children were even lower. Mother wasn’t going to be happy about that at all. In fact, she would probably blame Emma.

Emma leaned her head back against the tree and closed her eyes. The clearing was so peaceful and calm. She could almost feel all her problems drifting away.

Her calm was shattered when somebody cleared their throat. She was standing up, gripping the tree for support before she fully realized she’d moved.

“Please don’t be afraid. I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the deep voice came from her left.

Emma peered into the dim light beneath the trees at the edge of the clearing. An old man with a long beard moved slowly into the sunlight. He was dressed like someone out of a fantasy novel, with a long-sleeved shirt under a leather vest, and pants tucked into leather boots. He held a tall, intricately carved walking stick in one hand. As he came into the clearing the birds swooped and circled his head and the butterflies hovered about his shoulders.

“Um. I’m okay. I guess,” Emma stared, entranced, at the birds and the butterflies hovering around the man.

“I am very sorry. You must be in some distress to have found my clearing,” the man smiled warmly, sky-blue eyes crinkling.

“Distress? Um. Yeah. I guess so. My husband just left me. Walked out and I don’t know why. I don’t know how to fix it.” Tears filled her eyes. Emma didn’t know why she was telling all this to a perfect stranger, but it seemed completely natural.

“Oh, my dear. It is not yours to fix. It is his. And it may end up as a gift to you,” he said sorrowfully.

Emma stared at him. “A gift? To leave me? How can you say that?”

“Perhaps this marriage was not meant to be. There may be a greater love for you. You are strong and you will weather this setback and emerge even stronger and more sure of yourself,” he smiled and held out his arms.

Emma found herself immersed in a bear hug. Her tears flowed freely, soaking into his shirt. His beard was soft against her cheek. She pulled back slightly and ran her hand down his beard. It was soft and curly Spanish moss. Startled, Emma pulled away, her hands rising to her mouth.

“Don’t be afraid. I will not harm you. I am the guardian of this wood,” he smiled again. “I think you should go home now and feed the cats. They will be worried about you.” He turned and walked back under the trees, fading into the dim light.

Emma stared at the spot where he had stepped back into the woods. The birds and the butterflies had returned to their hovering and swooping. Two butterflies flew over to her and fluttered about her head before returning to their flowers.

She wondered how long she had been out here. It didn’t seem like the sun had moved. The old man was right though, the cats would be hungry. She turned back the way she’d come.

****

Here’s to a year’s worth of prompts and another year upcoming. Thanks for reading! And head on over to More Odds Than Ends to see what everybody else has done!

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