Thursday, February 20, 2014

Paragraphs Of Power ... and the winner is!

Firstly I'd like to thank all the authors that entered Feb Paragraphs Of Power.
The standard of the entries was very high, reflected by just how close the vote was. The contestants were asked to write 1000 words or less using the photograph (below) supplied by me as their visual prompt

 This month the winner is  Babs Morton with her entry Black as the Raven
I have reprinted it below. Babs's work will be featured for the entire month of March. She will also be writing a guest post as part of her prize.

Congratulations, Babs.

#3 Black as the Raven by  Babs Morton

Black as the raven
Still as the night
Shrouded in plumage
Hidden from sight

There is a time between night and morn when otherworldly creatures prowl the earth and those that fear them seek the security of their homes. A time when enchanted mist envelops the giant oak and slender ash, and the hush of anticipation and dread can be felt as it brushes past. A time when only those with irrational purpose and uncommon need step from safety into the macabre theatre of the dark wood.
That time is now.
I am she. The one they shun. The one they fear. My purpose is resolute and my need is great.
All around, the ancient wood rouses from slumber and observes my progress with interest and amusement. Gnarled branches reach out and tease my hair. Roots ripple beneath the moss and fallen leaves, and I step with care to avoid them. I have been here many times. I understand the tricks they play.
Far above, amidst the skeletal canopy, the guardians gather close. Black wings flap soundlessly against a milky sky. One by one, they swoop silently in, from a place far beyond this realm, to line the upper branches, heads tipped in unison.

Vicious claws
Cruel beaks
Beady eyes

Soft cawing builds to a mocking cackle as I approach.
I quicken my pace as night chases and dawn beckons. He will not wait, cannot wait. I know this to my cost. I have one last chance and I fear that once again the sun will beat me to the prize.
Fear snaps at my heels, but I banish it with an anxious smile. The creaking limbs of the great oak and the cawing of the hooded mob cannot distract me. I won’t allow it. He is near. I feel his presence. Awareness prickles my skin and my heart beats a staccato rhythm to accompany my expectation. As my pulse quickens, I take a breath. The vapour envelops me and I inhale it greedily. Just a few more steps, just a few more seconds, I am almost there. I pray silently and I am rewarded.
The transformation has begun.
My dress, black as night, softens as I draw near. Feathers emerge where taffeta once hugged my frame and I smooth them gently. I raise my eyes and bask in the final caress of moonlight as the eastern sky hurries to break the spell with the shimmer of morning.
And now his tears fall, soft red petals of longing, and I reach out to catch them. Not a single tear must reach the forest floor or he will be lost, I will be lost, and the macabre voyeurs above will beat their wings and crow their derision. I gather each fragile essence with care, hands gently cupped, but desperation threatens to disarm me as the precious cargo seeks to trickle free between my fingers.
He must appear soon.
I count the seconds silently. The last petal flutters to meet me and I watch its progress with open mouth and held breath. Please I whisper silently, though in my head the plea is a desperate roar.
The baying mob above my head is suddenly silenced, and the giant sentinel oaks still their mischief, as the final petal dissolves in the pool of tears. I raise cupped hands to my lips and drink.
As the last drop of nectar passes my tongue, one raven among the many, spreads his great black wings and takes to the air. The others watch as he circles the canopy before silently spiralling down to land before me.
I smile. Relief floods my soul.
He is tall. His dark eyes mirror my pain. He has been long gone and long awaited.
“You have returned,” I sigh, as silken feathers transform and he stands once more a man.

Black hair
Black eyes
Black cloak

“Finally, my love,” he whispers hoarsely. It has been an age since he has spoken anything other than the language of the raven.
Reaching out he takes my hand, our fingers threading together seamlessly. My heart rejoices as my brain delivers the warning I choose to ignore.
All around, the colossal trees move closer, shouldering their peers aside as the macabre spectacle begins. Above, the mob resumes its fiendish cackle as they jostle for position in the canopy. The morning light is held at bay as the mist thickens around us. 

I know what is to come. I have always known it. To save my love, I must forfeit myself. My skin prickles with emerging feathers. My heart is filled with fear, regret and the unfairness of our bewitchment. Soon, I shall be the cursed one forced to join the flapping, cackling, crowd. Soon, I will lose him forever.  I lean into him. His freedom is worth far more to me than the horror and eternal torture that is my future.

He smiles, his breath warm against my ear. “Fear not, my love. We are not yet lost.”

My eyes fill with tears, as my feathered fingers grip him tightly, and he dips his head and presses his lips gently against my damp cheek.

I hear the collective gasp of our audience, as the sun breaks through and chases through the clearing. I count the seconds in my head. Once touched by sunlight the deed cannot be undone our fate is set and we are destined once again to spend our days in despair, our nights in misery, and that brief time between, in endless searching.

I cling to him. The sun spears the ground at our feet. His leather boots stand firm. My bare feet dance to avoid it, but miraculously as the sun advances, the tiny feathers begin their retreat, until my skin is pure once again, and my dress returned to taffeta.

“Believe,” he whispers. My tears glisten joyously on his lips. He smiles once more, and the sun anoints us both - in human form.

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