Sylvan by J. Nolan-Lee

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His mother does not know. She sees a cupboard filled with things she would rather forget. Silk shirts that didn’t fit her even when she was young and beautiful. A cracked china keepsake. Those paintbrushes she’ll use when she has more time. Pots of expensive paint, long dry. Dreams gathering dust.

And the box. It’s black, cheap leather skin cracked with age. A book box in design, large enough for hardbacks. His mother had used it to store her tattered copies of Lord of The Rings once upon a time. She likes the forests the most, the elves.

He likes the way the pages scratch his throat when he swallows them down. He’s on the second book now but tries not to indulge too often. Rushing towards the end would be such a waste. The cover of the first had crunched between his teeth.

Pictures have taken the place of books. The paper they have been printed on is cheap but the images remain immaculate. Straight corners, sharp edges, no creases. He tries not to touch them. He finds them, prints them, burns their details into his memory and then puts them away. He does not need to look at them again.

If enough pictorial suffering is collected in one place he can consecrate the cupboard as a shrine, he thinks. He thinks the other objects will just melt away. He thinks that he could live in the stale air and devour the frozen agony on the paper, drink the blood from long healed wounds. He tastes the words of Tolkien and dreams of coloured ink.

The box dreams of forests, of elves.

The school grounds are hemmed with forest. Dark trees drape brooding shadows across the concrete. When the children are locked inside their small airless hutches, wild rabbits use the playground. Hopscotch.

The boy watches them from this year’s allocated seat in his hutch and imagines he can hear the clack of rabbit claws on the concrete. Nature is his teacher. This woman at the front of the room means nothing to him. Her voice scratches at the silence, a hen clawing for earthworms in desolate ground. There are no earthworms in his mind. He has nothing to give her.

He’s not a stupid child. In fact, if he were to apply his knowledge to these caged rituals he would be far more intelligent than anyone else in the room. He already speaks both his own language and one that is far more useful. Numbers are easy for him to understand and practical subjects can be handled through instinct alone.

The others stare at the blackboard and breathe deeply as if they can inhale the information through the chalk dust in the air. He closes first one eye and then the other, trying not to breathe at all. Waits.

The hen squawks. The air is thick with feathers. The other children try not to breathe in case they choke on the almost solid air. He sees nothing. Hears nothing. Feels nothing. The hen returns to her fruitless scratching against his skull. Blood is thick on her talons she struts away.

He thinks. Imagines. Dreams.

And he waits for night to fall.

SylvanThere is a local legend. A witch in the woods. She has long teeth and longer nails. Her eyes are white and sightless and she speaks with a man’s voice, laughs with a wolf’s howl. The children are meant to stay out of the forest in case the witch finds them and snaps their bones.

His house is in the forest too. When he was little, his mother told him that living in the forest meant they would one day be able to meet the elves. The fair-folk. The sylvan children. There were other strange names but he forgot them all when the other children told him about the witch. Is she one of the fair-folk? Does his mother want her bones to be broken?

No. He was told that they were different things. This feels wrong. Only one sort of monster can possibly live in their small forest, he reasons. He has never seen any elves but some of the children have seen the witch.

He wants to meet her. She is his neighbour, if they all live in the woods together. He will meet her. But first he needs an offering. An old woman living alone, an elf in disguise, will be hungry. She never eats children or he would have heard about it.

Something else. Something smaller.

Rabbits flee across the concrete of the moonlit playground. Tiny claws click-clack. Panic-wide button-eyes search for the forest.

The hutches are empty. The children are gone. The playground belongs to the demon now.

A short burst of screaming shatters the night. Silence swarms in quickly to hide the jagged edges. Another scream. Another silence. One two, one two, one two three.

Hopscotch.

The game is over too soon. The demon leaves a trail of grey fur in his wake.

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J Nolan Lee

J. Nolan-Lee lurks in the South East of England and runs on coffee and biscuits. She is interested in urban fantasy, coming of age stories and LGBT fiction.

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