Part One of this story can be found Here.
As the void withdrew once more, Clara was still in a forest, yet it was a different forest entirely. The trees were much older, the ground was covered with browned leaves and the wind carried a chill that caused Clara’s eyes to water.
Looking down at her feet, Clara instantly knew she was back to her normal size by the increase distance between her head and the ground. Her hair had again become the auburn mane tied back in a bun against the nape of her neck and she was wearing one of her wool dresses he wore while tending to day to day life on the farm. She definitely wasn’t home though, because this dress bore no sign of the tear down the sleeve she had had to repair last week. The wind gusted and she drew her arms into herself subconsciously.
You’d think if I had to be here, I could’ve come with a cloak! She sent every ounce of energy she possessed into the thought and was rewarded by the comfortable weight of her favorite scarlet cloak around her shoulders.
Wrapping into its warmth, she looked around her surroundings for some sign of where she needed to go. Besides the occasional bird flitting overhead, the forest seemed quiet. In one direction the path was flat, winding to the right in the distance. In the opposite direction, the path went up a steady hill. After a moment of thought, Clara started up the hill, figuring she might at least get a better lay of the land at the top.
After hiking up the path for a while, Clara thought she heard human noises to her left. She paused and listened, opening all her senses as much as she could. She smelled the familiar odor of a cooking fire. The man tending it was beside himself in grief. There was a woman too, sitting a bit away, sobbing uncontrollably. Clara drifted to them, being sure to be loud enough in her approach to properly warn them of her presence.
“Ho, Goodman! Goodwife! My name is Clara Pennsbea. Why are you so somber?” Clara called out. The woman looked up for a second, the sank back down to the ground, her head buried in her hands. The man looked up and rose from the fire.
“Harold Keye,” he extended his hand to Clara, who accepted the a slight nod. “My wife, Martha. This is a dangerous wood for a woman to walk alone, Mistress Pennsbea.”
“I am here by God’s grace, Goodman Keye, to help in any way He sees fit. Tell me, why are you here, and in such despair?” Invoking God usually put people at ease. Clara then focused warmth and compassion at the couple, hopeful it would calm Martha, at least.
“We are searching for Matthew, our youngest son. Our five sons were all out here hunting, when a wolf pack descended and attacked without warning. Most were able to get away, but Matthew — we are sure he is dead, but he needs a proper burial.” Harold looked at Clara, fighting to keep tears from spilling out of his eyes. “Does God see fit for you to help us find him?”
“I truly hope so,” Clara murmured. She turned from him and closed her eyes, reaching out again to every corner of the forest with all of her senses, searching for the faintest traces of thought, emotion and presence. Flickers of the attack started coming in.
The wolves were hungry, winter had been harsh this year. It was the same reason the boys had been drawn this far into the forest to hunt. Much of the game had died in the cold already this year.
By the time the boys sensed the wolves, they were surrounded. Panic, fear and pain mingled with vicious hunger and the desire to survive. Matthew. Matthew. He had fallen trying to run and when he tried to get up, his leg wouldn’t support his weight. He was the weakest, the easiest, the least risk.
Clara shuddered as she felt the final attack. She hated this part. No matter how many times she did it, she felt like she was going to pass out, or throw up, or both. A couple of deep breaths and she had composed herself again. She turned back to Harold and took his hand.
Clara spoke softly. “Goodman Keye? If you go down the path a quarter mile, there is a large rock outcropping with a ravine underneath. Matthew’s remains are down there.” Harold started, but Clara held him back and indicated Martha.
“Goodman Keye, perhaps you should gather him yourself. I can keep your wife company while you go. The wolves attacked out of hunger…”
Harold nodded. “I understand. Did he, suffer?”
“The first blow rendered him unconscious. He didn’t feel anything.”
Clara glided over to Martha and gathered her in her arms as Harold walked down the path. “I’m sorry Matthew has died, but I hope this brings some comfort.”
A few hours later, Clara was walking back down the path when Trika appeared beside her. “Nice job, Clara.”
“Why do I keep having to do those? They are sad, and depressing, and nauseating, and just horrible!”
“It is,” Trika agreed. “And death is part of life. And experiencing bad helps us appreciate just how precious the good things are.”
“I get that! Really I do! But haven’t I learned this lesson by now? Can’t we move up to something more exciting? Let the newbies do this sort of thing?”
Trika chuckled and turned so her blue body was facing Clara square on. “You will learn, Clara.” Trika placed her palm over Clara’s forehead and looked deep in her eyes.
As the shadow void filled Clara’s vision, she heard Trika’s voice echoing in her head. You think you’ve flown before Clara, but baby, you haven’t left the ground.
Trika’s words were still bouncing around Clara’s head when the rooster’s crow pushed out all other thoughts. She groaned and flipped over to face Marcus.
“Is it really time to get up already?” Clara murmured.
“My love, you tossed and turned all night again. Did you sleep at all?”
“No matter.” Clara swung her legs to the side of the bed and sat up. “The cows won’t wait. Up and at ’em!”