Author: Steven French

I like to think these woods are the remnants of a great forest, where ancient kings hunted and outlaws sought refuge. But at best you could lose yourself, or someone else, among the trees for maybe five minutes. Still, that was all I needed one morning in early May.

What I called ‘The Loss and Despair Twins’ still lingered, so I went out for a walk, along the edge of the woods. As I passed a gaggle of teenagers one of them called out “Hey! How you doing? Hold up, we just wanna talk to you!” Picking up the pace, I turned off the path and pushed my way through some bushes. I could hear the kids behind me and as their shouts and laughter came closer, I rounded a thick grove of trees and came upon an old cottage, solidly built, with roses twined above the porch. I stood for a moment, not quite believing that it was really there, but then hearing the teenagers crashing through the undergrowth behind me I ran to the door and all but fell inside.

Sunlight spilled through one of the windows, illuminating a beautiful table and two chairs. Opposite them, across a clean stone floor, was a bed, already made up. Standing there, I could hear the voices outside and I waited for the teens to come bursting through the door. But after a fruitless to and fro, they left and for a while I remained inside the cottage, feeling more at peace than I had for months.

Almost as soon as I’d stepped outside, however, the Twins returned to gnaw at me, although maybe not as fiercely as before. So, a few days later, I found myself walking up through the trees again. Half expecting to find the place occupied, or used for a party, I pushed the door open to find, instead of empty bottles and cans, just a few leaves that had blown in across the floor. The table and chairs seemed older than I remembered but still, sitting down cautiously, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. Looking across at the bed, the blanket looked a bit worn and the pillows just a bit shabby. But if anything it seemed more lived in and homely. Slowly I relaxed and when I opened my eyes again, the sunlight through the window had definitely shifted and I rushed out, roughly pulling the door closed behind me.

The sense of well-being lasted a couple of weeks but when I next visited the cottage, it seemed even more run down. When I pushed on the door, the wood screeched across the step and there was a puddle in the middle of the floor and looking up, I could see a fair-sized hole in the roof. The bed was still comfy however, even though dust rose in a hazy cloud when I sat down.

I don’t know how long I dozed but when I woke, fat raindrops were hitting my face. Where there had been a bed, there were now just a few rotted pieces of wood and across the room the table and chairs were also broken. As I stepped out of the door, now hanging off its hinges, I felt Loss and Despair finally take their leave. Turning back, beyond the trees I could see only bracken and undergrowth. But squinting, I thought I could make out, in the play of sunlight and shadows, the faint outline of walls and windows. Slowly I raised my hand in thanks and turned for home.