Darkness Disintegrating: A Psychological Story about Changing Seasons, set in the Lake District, Cumbria, by Nisha P Postlethwaite.
Chapter One - Darkness
I woke up punching the air in an unfamiliar room; my skin damp with cold sweat. Relief washed over me when I remembered I was truly alone.
The long, eerie shadows that had flickered in the moonlight and terrified me until exhaustion took over were gone; instead jewels of sunlight danced across the cracked grey walls and white light tinged with spring’s gold, streamed through a window with several broken panes.
I knew the fractured light would heal my broken spirit, and although the day was cool, it was hopeful.
I pushed off a pile of scratchy blankets and shook winter’s pain from my aching bones. I could hear birdsong from the treetops and although I couldn’t see much, I was certain winter’s silence – that had mercilessly screamed through me for so long - was finally broken.
I realised I wouldn't be pulled under the surface of life by darkness and I could breathe again.
There was the promise of a new beginning.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed myself up from the creaking red sofa where I’d slept a lifetime, and placed my feet onto the cold slate floor. I forced myself up onto my legs but I was unsteady, so I kept a hand on the wall until I could balance.
I carefully walked towards the window to find the panes of glass covered in grime. I cleaned an unbroken pane with the edge of my sleeve and revealed fine spider silk on the outside of the glass that glittered with dew drops. I pressed my face to the glass and gasped through the gossamer; the budding verdant spring had finally burst through the hard winter. There were fresh new leaves on the branches and the dewy grass gently shook with life. The first flowers of spring blinked open in the sunlight; snowdrops punctuated the grass and a violet riot of crocuses peppered the land beyond.
I blinked back tears and harshly reminded myself there would be no more crying. In the corner of the garden I saw two mature trees with gnarly branches like those of fruit trees - probably apple or pear - and the thought of blossom followed by fruit made me smile.
Smiling hurt my face, not least because it had been a long time since I’d smiled at anything. To the left of the garden, butterflies and bumblebees danced across a hedgerow of field maple hawthorn and blackthorn. There was woodland in view, carpeted with blue and white flowers and lush green foliage. The dry stone wall around the cottage stood like a black defence against ‘the unimaginable’ in the darkness, but it was actually powdered with green moss and tiny yellow buds on stalks.
I recalled a long track at the back of the cottage that wound its way more than two miles down the slope, but then it was nearly a mile to the next village. There was not a human around, but all around the cottage there was new life, as I got used to mine - death of the old ways. I had left the darkness behind but to get my new life in order, I needed to properly cleanse away the old one.
I walked into an adjacent room - a kitchen that had a heavy wooden table against a wall and a single chair with a brown cushion. The rectangular, ceramic sink only had a cold water tap, so I pulled a large pan from the shelf, filled it with water and placed it on the gas stove. I found a shoe box containing burn ointment, crepe bandages, aspirin, various plasters, a bottle of cough syrup and safety pins. I filled the sink with the heated water and stripped off, marginally warmed by the sunlight streaming through the window.
I soaked two large rags in the warm water and washed as best I could, dabbing at the blackening bruises and tending to the bloody wounds on my legs and arms. I bandaged the largest gashes on my knees and elbows, and put plasters over the deep cuts on my face. As I soaked and wrung out the rags, the water in the sink changed through several shades of pink until it turned a murky red.
It will be the last time I’ll see this, I told myself, the very last time.
I emptied the bloody water from the sink and dressed. I had arrived with literally nothing and had to comb my hair with my battered fingers. The left side of my scalp was lacerated and swollen, and my jaw creaked, but my discomfort was dulled by my flourishing hope.
I searched the kitchen cupboards and found a large box of tea, coffee beans, brown sugar, damson jam, rice, barley and lentils. There were packets of dried fruit, oatcakes and chocolate biscuits, as well as bags of flour and several tins of vegetables and fish. I made a mug of black coffee, sat at the table and carefully ate some oatcakes with the damson jam. My mind drifted back to the stranger in the rain; I must have looked terrified although I felt strangely calm. The stranger asked me few questions but handed me a lifeline - I could stay at their unused cottage in the fells that belonged to their recently deceased Uncle.
As we drove, I could hardly speak, instead I stared at my swelling reflection in the window and the tears tracking lines through my blood-stained face. The stranger said I could stay in the cottage as long as I needed and to get my life back on track.
After I ate, I explored my new home. Downstairs towards the back of the cottage was a small room with a single armchair, fireplace, basket of kindle and a good stock of seasoned logs. There was a radio on a shelf by a half-empty bottle of sherry and pile of books. The room had a large window with a cushioned window seat and I could see myself sitting there for hours.
There was more in the house than I needed and out there was spring. There would be wild garlic in the woods, along with chickweed, borage and burdock. As the seasons changed, I was sure to find nuts, berries and wild mushrooms. I could survive.
I slowly made my way upstairs and found two rooms and a small bathroom. The smaller room was filled with boxes and junk, and the larger room had a bed in the middle piled with clothes, jackets and socks. The stranger had said I could use what I wanted, so I carefully pulled off my blood-stained sweater and chose a thick grey jumper and some long wool socks.
I put on a jacket and then quickly put took it off again. Soon, but not yet, I would venture outside. Soon, when I had mentally processed, accepted and filed away recent events into a locked place that no-one - not even I - could find. The bruises and cuts would heal quickly, but the damage within would take more time, then I could enjoy the spring and immerse myself in the days as they grew and edged into summer.
No-one would find me, I was sure of that. No one would ever know what I'd left behind. I just had to forget everything that happened. I would change my name, make up a different past and learn every single detail in case I needed to go back out there again. I’d alter my personality, even change my favourite films, taste in music and food. Yes, no-one would find me, certainly not Mo. I could relax.
My thoughts flickered back dangerously to when Mo had violently grabbed me and punched me over and over again, like I was a sack of sand. I thought - like many times before - that it was the end, but as my face slammed into the jagged stone wall, I realised it was the last time I’d be on the receiving end of such unfounded rage.
I felt my knees buckle, and as consciousness almost slipped from my grasp, I became of a strength - a strength so deeply rooted within the past that I'd forgotten it existed because I'd buried it for so long. Although the strength was just a glimmer, it was enough, and I pulled and pulled on it until I unraveled the light from my core. The light grew bigger and brighter until I felt like I could explode. I saw Mo’s eyes grow wide and flash with fear as the seemingly impossible happened: Mo shot off me and hovered several feet in the air as if held by a huge, invisible hand. My insides were so hot that I wrenched away my eyes, but as I did, Mo dropped down - down into the cold murky water of the tarn.
I watched in silence as Mo splashed and thrashed around, cried out and choked. It seemed like minutes but could have only been seconds before the menacing water dragged Mo deep into it's tangled dark liquid.
As the light left me, I found my voice. ‘You should have learnt to swim you bastard,’ I whispered before I left.