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The Woman in Black

I woke in the wood with no idea how long I had been there. The thick trunks of the ancient oaks loomed over me as I squinted against the brightness of the afternoon sun. My legs shook. Warm blood oozed from a gash at my temple. Each pulse of pain from the wound dimmed my vision to a pinpoint, edges a warm black which exploded with colour as the pain eased. I shuffled in a slow circle to find myself facing a high bank of dark earth and rough tree roots, exposed when the hill had fallen away.

A streak of slick mud marked the spot where I had been thrown from the public path into the wood below.

I crawled up the hill using the exposed tree roots as handholds, hands scraped raw on the rough bark.

A cold shadow fell across me, obscuring my sight as I reached for the next root. Blinded, mouth dry I up toward the shadow to see a beautiful woman in a costume from some BBC period drama.

"Help," was all I could croak out.

There was less than a metre between where I clung to the side of the hill and the soles of her shoes. She turned to the right and walked away.

Tears ran down my face as I heaved myself onto the path to lay in the dirt coughing and crying, eyes closed to welcome back the blackness which did not come. I lifted my head to see those same shoes come to stop centimetres from my nose.

She was a vision in a black silk mourning costume and elegant hat, the veil thrown back. She sucked the light from the landscape around her, the center of a black hole in which she was the only star. Though the face and upper chest exposed by the square neckline of her bodice were easily twenty years younger than my own, her hands were gnarled hooks. She pressed a twisted index finger to her full lips and shook her head "no", then gestured for me to follow.
I wanted to leg it but had only managed to crawl to standing by using a tree trunk for support. I clung to the tree, throat too dry to shout for help. I followed; staggered from trunk to trunk, stumbling in the footsteps of the woman in black. My trackies covered in muck, shoes leaden on my feet, my white vest covered in dirt and blood. Every few metres she would stop and look back over her left shoulder, that destroyed index finger pressed to perfect lips. A shake of her head "no". Then she would walk on.

There was no rustle of the leaves, no sound of steps on the dirt path. She hustled around a blind curve and I lost sight of her through the trees but stumbled on to turn the same curve in the path.

A wave of frigid air punched me in the face. The whisper of traffic on Heath Street thunder after the silence of the wood. A uniformed copper ran toward me, his mates on his heels. Though he shouted, I could not understand what he said.

"Did you see her? The woman..." My voice cracked, legs sagged, fingers talons in the copper's uniform sleeves.

"Who?"

"The woman in black."

I woke was in the hospital. The woman in black stood at the foot of my bed, those ruined hands wrapped around the rails. With her sharp nails she beat out a "click, click, click" in perfect time against the metal as she stared me down. She smiled, her teeth a rotted henge, shook her head "no", then walked through wall into the next bay.

There times when the world fades away to silence. I see a flash of a black silk skirt, a glimpse of a midnight hat rounding a corner, hear the click of sharp heeled boots on the pavement behind me or the smooth rustle of shift of silk skirts in the breeze.

I know she is waiting for the moment when she can say, "yes".