I've shared this story before, a long time ago and I have new followers now, plus I'm working on the story to edit it. If you've read the story and have no interest in reading it again - with or without the improvements and commentary - please feel free to move on and ignore it.
If you've not read the story or you feel you'd like to re-read it and are perhaps curious about the comments and adjustments I'm making, please, grab a cuppa or a glass of wine, sit down, and enjoy the journey.
The cover image for Deadlier Beginnings as seen on Amazon.com Link
Hazel told of the terror of the previous night, how she had been chased through the wood as she searched for Mika. Everything came out in such a jumbled confusion that Ruth would have been forgiven if she had dismissed most of what Hazel was telling her as hysteria. The fact that she didn’t dismiss it didn’t occur to Hazel.
Hazel's body was so wracked with shock that she did not notice William's return. When Hazel had exhausted herself with sobbing, she fell asleep in the chair where Ruth had put her.
William and Ruth talked in low voices as Hazel caught up on her sleep.
"Those chickens were torn apart," William said, talking quietly as he checked that Hazel was not listening. "They weren't taken by any fox. That was bigger than a fox and more savage"
"What was it then?" Ruth asked, worried.
"It could've been a wolf, or a late bear. It could even have been Mika." William dropped his voice for the last sentence.
"Oh, not Mika!" Ruth was dismayed.
"I don't think it was Mika, I just said could have been Mika. It was something the same size or bigger."
Ruth was horrified. “Not that again? Surely not!”
"Calm yourself woman!" William snapped. "Don't wake Hazel. She needs sleep... and company, I dare say she’s not had a decent night since her father passed. Set up a bed in the corner, I'll go and fetch her bedding and some things."
It was dusk and the sky was the colour of a fresh bruise when Hazel woke. Her eyes were puffy and swollen from crying and she was far from refreshed. She was disoriented and froze for a second or two until she realised where she was. Ruth came in through the door and Hazel almost leapt from the chair, making Ruth jump and drop the logs she was carrying.
"Oh lass, I'd forgotten you were even there." Ruth groaned as she bent down to pick up the logs.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise where I was either." Hazel took the logs from Ruth.
As Hazel stacked the logs at the side of the fire, she noticed her own bedding folded in a corner.
"Ruth, why is my bedding here? I can't stay here. I have Mika, where will he sleep? I won't let him sleep outside."
"I know lass, William is feeding Mika now. He's been clearing up the chickens and fetching your things from your cottage, Mika and you are both sleeping here."
Ruth had made a stew for supper and Hazel’s appetite had recovered. As they all sat around the fire, very cramped with three adults and one large and boisterous dog in one room, Hazel remarked on supper.
"The stew is tasty, Ruth. I thought we would be eating chicken for the rest of the week." she smiled as she spoke. "I think we should eat at least some of the chickens tomorrow, I will bring them across in the morning once I have plucked them."
She didn’t see the stricken expression that Ruth shared with William.
William spoke. "You'll not be eating any of those chickens, lass, they've been burnt. That's what I was doing all afternoon round at yours."
"What a waste!" Hazel said, she was angry that nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage of her hen house, not even for dog food.
"Lass, if what killed those chickens is what I think it is, then no one in this hamlet would have eaten any of them and they wouldn't have thanked you to give any of them to their animals either." William grumbled.
Hazel was puzzled.
"You can't leave chickens lying around when they've been killed like that," William said to divert the conversation, but Hazel was having none of that.
"I don't understand what would be wrong in Mika eating a chicken that a fox had killed. Surely it could be cleaned up and the chewed bits cut off?" Hazel persisted.
"This is different this time. It's just... different." William glared into his mug.
Hazel was prevented from saying more by Ruth 'shh'ing her and holding her arm.
"William?" Ruth said. "Do you think you should tell her?"
"It was a long time ago," William looked at Ruth, waiting for her nod before he continued. "I doubt you'd remember it Hazel, you couldn't have been more than a few months old when it happened; a young man was killed in yon woods."
"I remember the stories and I was never allowed to play in the wood, but that's all, I don't recall details, mother didn't tell me much," Hazel replied. “I thought it was because of the soldiers returning from the wars, the displaced men with no home and no family to return to.”
William shook his head to tell her she was wrong. With a grave look on his face he continued. He repeated a story that had been told to him by the boy’s father, more than a decade and a half before.
The boy was in the woods, farther in than he was allowed. The children knew not to venture far; there were unspoken dangers deep in the trees.
Though the landowner, the lord at the big house allowed foraging rights for small game and fuel for the fires, the woods were not utilised. There was a distinct limit, just a few yards in, which the villagers refused to breach. That meant the woods were not maintained to the standard of the lord’s other woodlands; deadfall littered the ground and was never cleared, and the paths faded because they weren’t used. He had tried bribery by allowing them to keep small game they caught but it was not enough, the people living close to the woods refused to go there.
Whether the boy was being devilish or curious was never found out. The children swore they didn’t see him going into the woods, they just heard him screaming when the attack started.
The village rang with the screams of terror from the children as they ran back home. It took a while to calm them enough to gather the story and by that time it was too late to do anything for the boy. The men that were working close to home ran to the treeline and listened before going in to find the boy. They took no chances on stumbling in on something that would kill or injure them too. His mother was hysterical, she tried to run past the men but someone held her back though she fought hard to be set free to save her son.
Read part 5 Here
Image 1 From Google
I've learned a lot over the past two decades and most of that has been 'show, don't tell'.
Hazel told of the terror of the previous night, how she had been chased through the wood as she searched for Mika. This is classic telling and I have to eradicate this from my work.
Image 2 From Google
I envisaged William and Ruth as Hazel's adoptive parents after the loss of her own.
Thinking on it all now, I believe this is too complicated - unnecessarily so. Hazel wouldn't have been allowed to remain in a cottage by herself at her age - if she was old enough to be living alone, she was old enough to be married and therefore, why wasn't she married?
Image 3 From Google
I had the idea of weaving a legend that would terrify the youngster, Hazel. It had to be within living memory for authentication (my opinion) and this story-within-a-story worked. Having said that, it could be improved upon - and it will be.