The woodshed was like a cocoon. I felt secure breathing in the earthy smells and being blanketed by its surprising warmth – it was as if the stacks of logs were living creatures, all cosily sleeping the winter away with me. It made me feel protected from Morkwood. From William. Maybe even from myself. In there I could almost forget what I did.
I remained there late into the afternoon, and I could have stayed even longer. But I was lured out by the smell of burning.
I slowly opened the door to see thick, black smoke moving across the darkening sky. When I checked my watch, I wasn’t surprised to see it was four o’clock.
The fire was coming from the Advent House, and I knew exactly what door had been opened.
It was time to give myself over to them. I had thought about it all night, and although leaving Morkwood had been a possibility once – whether to get outside help to get rid of William, or simply to leave and never turn back – it wasn’t something I was able to do now. I had allowed myself to get swept up in the madness for too long. I hadn’t fought hard enough, not really.
Thinking back, I had had many opportunities to make things right. I could have stepped in to help during the various times villagers were banished from Morkwood. Mr and Mrs Lawson, Nicholas, Deidre, Helena, the Frederickson family, and even Sally just a few months ago this summer. All were forced to leave with nothing, their livelihoods taken away, their savings drained, their belongings destroyed.
And then there were the traditions I could have refused to participate in. Yes, Christmas was by far the worst, but what about the season changes? The dances? And my god, the First Blood?
I remember my own First Blood at thirteen, and how humiliated it had made me feel. Yet I hadn’t tried to stop it. I even relished seeing other girls going through it, because it meant my pain hadn’t been meaningless.
I don’t deserve to be free.
I will allow Morkwood to pass judgement on me in the way they see fit, but first I had to try and reason with them. I wanted to try and set them free.
I followed the smoke to the huge bonfire they had lit a short distance from the Advent House. I imagined the painting that had instigated it – thick orange and yellow flames that took up most of the canvas, and to the left a man wearing old-fashioned farming clothes holding a live piglet by one of its trotters. Lady Greville had even thought to paint blackened, singed hairs on the pig’s back where it had been held too close to the fire.
They were already standing around the bonfire as I approached. Every villager over the age of fifteen held a sacrifice, either in their arms or attached to them by rope. There were many farm animals, but for those who didn’t own any or couldn’t afford to buy them, there were smaller animals – cats, dogs and domesticated rodents. Roderick even held a small fishbowl, and his young son, Albert, was crying loudly by his feet.
I thought of the rabbit I had planned to pick up this morning from a pet shop a few miles away. I imagined it sleeping in its hutch, completely unaware that it had narrowly escaped the festivities of Morkwood.
As I watched the villagers stare into the blazing fire, I felt like I was truly seeing Morkwood for the first time. Although I had always felt like an outsider, I had never felt quite like this before. It was almost as though I was looking at my past self. Panic surged through me.
“Look at what you’re all doing!”
The words had fallen from my mouth before I even knew I was speaking.
Blank faces turned to look at me. And in the corner of my eye I saw William nudge a few men in my direction, one of whom was Arthur. I didn’t have long.
“Look at what you’re all doing,” I repeated, “standing in front of a fire like barbarians, and for what? Why do we do this, year after year after year?”
I spotted Donald trying to calm his dog, who was pulling away from the heat of the flames.
“Are you really going to do this to Samson, Donald? And Roderick, your son is crying, look at him. All of you, look at yourselves. We do this because we know no different, but it doesn’t have to be like this. We can stop all of this.”
William took another few steps towards me, four or five men in tow. I began to back up slowly.
“He killed my Aunt Iris, and you all know she wasn’t the first. She won’t be the last if you don’t listen to me and help me stop him.”
With a nod from William, Arthur threw back his fist and punched me hard above my left eye. I saw stars and fell to the ground. Arthur then threw himself on top of me to hold me in place.
“You see this?” William yelled, his voice cracking with false emotion. “This is the shtriga who murdered Daniel Hewitt. Do you deny it, shtriga?”
Before I had the chance to speak, Joan and Harold Hewitt came to stand beside William. Joan was sobbing. Harold’s hands were balled into fists, his face purpling with anger.
“Take her away, Arthur,” William said.
Arthur got up, grabbed my foot and pulled me away through the mud. I closed my eyes to the cacophony of yelps as, one by one, the animals were tossed into the fire.
Read the last episode of The Festivities of Morkwood.