A Dream of Drowned Hollow
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by Lee Barwood
Category: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Description: There are spirits afoot deep in the Ozark hills of Blackburn County, Arkansas. Things happen. Ghosts walk. Elemental creatures dance to the wild music of the rhythms of Nature. And those who've lived in the hills for generations can see them. But now there's activity of another kind ravaging the hills; bulldozers, chainsaws, and hunters of man and beast. As old-growth trees fall to developers, rivers are dammed, hollows are flooded, and residents are driven from land settled by their many-times-great-grandparents, April Rue Stoner hopes against hope that her gift can help her stop the destruction before everything she's ever known is gone.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2006 DDP
eBookwise Release Date: February 2006
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [513 KB]
Reading time: 368-515 min.
TWISTS AND TURNS
April Rue sighed and shut the book. She was tired of studying. She'd been at it for hours, and although she loved the subject-usually reveled in the luxury of learning folklore in a classroom, and on a scholarship to boot, when after Mama died so strangely, she'd had to sneak around at home to hear the old tales-she'd had enough for now.
She blinked as she put the book aside and looked up; she'd been so deeply immersed in kobolds and knockers and haunted mine shafts, it came as something of a shock to see the familiar surroundings of the dorm room. The late afternoon sun flooded in, making bright squares on the otherwise dingy brown carpet, and the plain white walls (well, plain except for the three matted prints that hung there) reflected it in almost painful cheerfulness. It had been a warm day, high in the eighties even if it was November, and she'd opened the window wide; the bland beige dorm curtains moved slightly in the breeze. She suddenly realized the air smelled deliciously of blooming mums and ripe apples, rich, moist earth, fallen leaves, and bonfires somewhere in the distance, and she sniffed deeply of the autumn fragrance. The leaves that remained on the trees outside her window rustled softly, and that was all the invitation she needed.
Grabbing a sweatshirt from the chair beside the bed, she left her room, letting the door slam behind her. She ran down the hallway and took the staircase two steps at a time, whistling. One thing Grantley Pemberton College had was spectacular woods, and she was going for a walk in them.
Grantley Pemberton was an old school. It had stood where it was for a hundred years, and even then, the builders had been careful to go around and between trees when they'd erected the structures that now housed the library and offices, classrooms, labs, and dorms. The trustees had been equally careful over the years to keep the grounds from becoming desecrated as modern improvements were added. So Grantley had a magnificent campus, much like a small but perfect gem in an ornate, spectacular setting.
The trees scattered around the campus were huge and old. They towered over the comparatively small brick and stone buildings as if over a dollhouse village, and their shade in the heat of summer was almost better than air conditioning for the students who came here all year-at least, for most of the rooms.
But the woods, thought April Rue as she crossed the quadrangle, were best of all. Massive looming trees rose dramatically above the thickets of hazelnut and filbert that clustered around; small, slender trees like sassafras and dogwood and redbud ran rampant; wild plums filled the air with their sweet fragrance in early spring; oak, cedar, and hickory were everywhere; and persimmons and wild grapevines vied for space with thickets of blackberry and wild rose. There was even a lake with weeping willows and swans on the far side of the campus, and she'd spent a lot of time there this summer, reading and watching the clouds.
She'd learned more about the country, she reflected as she admired one particularly magnificent hickory tree, since coming to college than she had all her life living only a couple miles from open farmland. She stood at the edge of the green and looked almost hungrily at the woods rising before her; she'd never been much interested in the country, thanks to Daddy. Since coming to Grantley, it had been a whole different story and she wasn't quite sure why.
The woods stirred something deep inside her; gave her-well, feelings she wasn't really able to understand, and she'd wished more than once Mama had been there to talk to about those feelings. Woods, lake, swans flying at twilight, the cries of owls outside her room, even the night sky-out here at Grantley, even though the campus was lit, she could walk just a little ways at night and be far enough away from the lights to see things in the sky she'd never seen in town, with its streetlights and houselights-they all made her feel…odd, somehow. As if she were part of them, or they were part of her, or something. Not anything she could explain. People would think I was crazy, she thought, not for the first time, shivering at the magnificence of the day with its intense blues and whites, browns and reds, golds and greens. Sky, earth, trees…it was all around her and she loved it almost more than she could stand. With a sigh of pleasure, she passed the first of the trees, and felt once more as if she'd come home-to a home she'd known a long, long time ago.
The trees arrayed around her fascinated her, as always. She had a distinct recollection of herself as a small child watching a massive old hollow tree that had seemed to beckon her to it at twilight. She'd been roundly spanked for relating that one to Daddy, and it seemed it was the last time she'd looked closely at trees till she got to college. Odd idea, that-that a tree should move of its own accord. She remembered the idea, just as she did the spanking, very clearly.
Then, too, she remembered watching, until Daddy cut them all down, the trees around the old house in Little Springs. They'd toss madly in the wild, seasonal storms, and she remembered thinking they were gesturing all sorts of things to one another, dancing with the wind, yearning to be free to follow the course of the gales that blew them back and forth…. At least she'd thought that until Daddy had done away with the idea by doing away with the trees.
That house hadn't been theirs; it was only a rental, and the landlord hadn't been happy. He'd been downright furious about it, in fact, and they'd had to move; Daddy had packed her up early one morning just after that and taken her over to Brother Ames' wife to mind, and not come to get her till late at night. She remembered that very distinctly, as well as the ugly mobile he'd brought her to-their new home, which had taken the place of the charming little house she'd started her life in-a cramped, sterile, too-well-remembered old mobile home nobody else would have because it stood isolated on a hot, barren lot with no shade at all in summer. No trees. She remembered that very well indeed.
Daddy had been so pleased to get it….
And still, the image of those trees stayed with her. Well, she'd always had odd notions. It was one of the things that had worried Daddy so.
Mama had never thought they were odd…but Mama was dead, and Daddy never would talk about how she died. All April Rue knew was it had been strange and mysterious, and terribly, terribly sudden. Daddy had never been the same, and the mystery had always haunted her.
She'd lived with that for most of her young life, and the answers to her questions had died unspoken with Daddy. So she put it out of her mind, as she had so often before.
She walked slower and slower as she got deeper into the woods. The trees rose around her almost protectively, she thought, noting with loving detail the way their bark was colored, lined, covered with lichens and mosses. Almost as if they were welcoming me, she thought as she looked at the twisted, gnarled tree limbs and branches, the twigs moving gently in the breezes. Why didn't I ever feel this way before I came here? She walked on for a few more minutes, then stopped beneath a large black walnut tree and arranged her sweatshirt on the ground. Sitting down, she studied the trees around her with a yearning she couldn't define.
If only I could draw, I could capture them; if I could paint, I could make such pictures- She'd wished since coming to Grantley that she could draw, maybe even become an artist. But although she'd taken art classes, she was the despair of the teachers; she had the vision, but not the ability to translate it onto paper or canvas so anyone else could see it. She'd worked at it, harder than most of the others, but to no avail. And finally, she'd acknowledged that was not where her talents lay.
But where do they lie? she asked herself again, breathing deep of the woodsy air and looking up through the turning leaves to the deep blue of the sky above. I've found what I love to study, but what am I going to do with it?Where is my skill? Everybody's got to have something, and I don't seem to have any. I'm just good with books. This wasn't strictly true; April Rue was also very good with her hands-she'd inherited her father's talent for fixing things, as well as, apparently, her mother's instinct for knowing what was wrong with something. She could fix almost anything made, even if she wasn't familiar with its principles of operation.
Life as a fix-it woman, though, wasn't exactly what she'd envisioned for herself-she'd seen enough of the uncertain income such a life brought at home. Daddy had been a fix-it man, doing well enough at putting food on the table and paying the rent on the trailer house, but that was about as far as it had gone. They wore secondhand clothes most of the time and scraped by with only an occasional spare dollar for such things as records, used books, or a once-in-a-while trip to Sassafras Springs to the movies. Daddy had found ways to get April Rue lots of things she wanted, but hours of hard work and barter had gone into the providing. He'd never said anything, but she'd felt very keenly everything he'd given her.
Copyright © 2006 Lee Barwood