Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Snap (09/04/08)
TITLE: Breaking Through
By Yvette Roelofse
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Trying to get her bearings, she found she was surrounded by hedges that speared a good four feet above her head; the morning light nothing but a gray ghost within their confines. The smooth green was broken by welts and rashes of freshly burst blossoms; their scent a cloying cloud that enveloped her in a suffocating and discordant blend of perfume. Some sections of the hedge were draped in delicate white bells that chimed silently in the breezeless air, while a riot of red blossoms ran like blood across several other sections. Vines, bearing bright orange flowers, wound like rusty barb-wire through the leaves, while from other vines hung deep purple berries: sweetly plump and poisonous. Enchanted by the beauty, her mind wandered from escape, and she wandered deeper into the maze.
It was only when she lightly brushed a hand across the tender leaves that she discovered the thorns. They raked like razors across her skin, leaving a trail of blood and tears behind. Confused, she walked to a different section of hedge, but there too thorns pierced through the deceptively fragile foliage; imbedding in her flesh, slicing through her skin. What had appeared to be an artistic intertwining of various plants was in fact one impenetrable wall of two-inch long spires that bayoneted beneath the blooms. Helplessness twisted through her as the reality of the hedge took root: it was a botanical barrier on which she could do no more than impale herself. In a panic-fringed moment of clarity, she understood that she would never escape the labyrinthine prison into which she had so readily rushed.
“Dear God,” she whispered, raising her face to what seemed an unreachable sky, “Help me break through.”
Frozen in the heat of a summer night, waiting for the darkness to settle in and smother her, she heard a sound: a quiet crack of branches that echoed through the hollow hallways of the maze. For a long moment she stood still, hesitant to risk heading blindly into the ink-dark night. Even so, when the sharp snapping of twigs sounded again, she gathered her faith in her tattered hands and moved towards it. Step by painful step, she walked cautiously down the pathway, her skin quivering each time the hedge seemed too close. A sudden rush of wings to her left startled her, and in her panic her shoulder brushed against the hedge to her right. She flinched away from it, her eyes lifting to scan the sky above her for the bird. Lord, she wondered, whom am I following? Her only reply was the brittle breaking of branches.
She continued to follow the pattern of sound: the tearing of thorns and vines, the rush of wings, until she could see the entrance to the maze; until the walls disappeared and the night opened up around her. The inky darkness had spilled out here, casting shadows on the ground but leaving the air and sky to the moon. She could see here: could see the gentle slope of grass up to the house before her and, when she turned, the walls of the maze behind her. But something had changed.
The hedges looked weak and spindly: broken arms reaching up to an impassive sky, the exit ruthlessly and roughly ripped open. A splintering sound beneath her feet made her look down, and she saw that she stood amidst the carnage of the hedge. Broken branches and vines were strewn across the ground, and upon them, silvered in death by the moonlight, a monochromatic bird lay unmasked among crushed flowers, impaled upon one of its own thorns.
A familiar sound drew her eyes back to the sky, and she watched in wonder the flight of a solitary eagle through the night. As the shadow of his powerful wings fell across her, she whispered a quiet prayer of thanks, while behind her the maze withered back into the ground.
Author’s note: The bird in the story is a shrike -- a predatory songbird that impales its prey on thorns and bard-wire fences.
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