The Falling Year
The autumn afternoon was cool as Maggie walked the path from the woods to the gardens behind her home. The air was always sharp and clean in the falling of the year. Soon, everything would drift into winter sleep and await the stirrings of spring. She had forgotten to pull her hair into a ponytail that day, and her long red curls tumbled in the wind like the auburn leaves of fall.
The path had not been traveled since early summer when Mama held her hand on their nature walks. Several days before her seventh birthday in late July, Mama left her side to walk with the angels. By autumn, the brush had begun to reclaim the unused pathway. The tangled weeds pulled at Maggie's ankles to remind her that she was not where she was supposed to be.
“Now Mags, you stay away from those woods and keep close to the house…you hear me now,” Papa said in a stern voice earlier that morning. He hadn't cried when her mother died, nor since. She often thought that he sent his better self and love with Mama so she wouldn’t feel alone after leaving them behind.
Maggie had tried to remember the names of her trees in the woods. Although tossed and shaken, she knew they would never leave. She saw the surety of it in their strong roots that dug deep into the earth. A few green leaves still clung to summer amidst their nodding siblings dressed in vibrant, red-orange hues. They did not know they were supposed to find their way to the bed below, and Maggie was happy the sun still smiled rather than scold them for not knowing their place.
Near the pathway, two crows swooshed upward from the thicket. Their black ragged wings and craw-claw songs sent a shiver through Maggie as she zipped her jacket closed. She quickened her pace when she heard the distant sound of car tires crunching on the gravel drive in front of her house. The air buzzed with the hum of muffled voices from the grown-up world that had pushed her life forward since early summer.
A sudden rustling in the brush caused her to glance to her right just off the path ahead. A thick swath of black was moving close to the ground. It shook the thick reeds to let Maggie know it was alive but wrong for this place, and she was not to walk any closer to where it was hidden from view. She froze as the black thing’s movements stilled. They waited in an endless quiet. Terrified, Maggie's silent cries that called within could not reach beyond her mind.
The muffled voices grew louder and she looked up to see Papa running toward her with strange men dressed in a jumbled blur of odd white. They all came thrashing loudly through the pathway and brush with her father’s fearful yell…
It had risen from the ground, tall and bowed in black tatter-rags of a long dress and shawl that covered sallow lines in skin of ashen flour. Thick grey hair as wild as the woods billowed about her ravaged face and shoulders. She stood dead still, glaring into the ground with small eyes of black glass. Maggie trembled to see them slowly rise to pierce the intruder who had awakened them from their sleep.
When the woman’s gaze reached the little girl, she caught her breath in surprise. Her black eyes flooded blue with luminous, tender care. Maggie could see in them the skies of heaven smiling downward...their radiance softly lulling and drawing her in. But their warmth faded swiftly for they could hear the strangers were almost upon them. The woman shrieked and flung herself into the ground, where her hollow cries echoed like those of a lost child.
Papa reached them first and lifted his daughter up with strong arms that folded her close to his chest. He ran back to the house as the strangers in white knelt down in the dense brush.
When they reached the safer ground of their backyard, Papa fell to his knees in tears and gently lifted her face to his, searching for any harm. His breath sighed in grateful release. He drew Maggie close as his tears continued to flow from the depth of his heart. Curling her arms tightly around his neck, she felt his love return and flood through her with the warmth of the summer they had both lost.
Maggie was later told about the mysterious trespasser who lived a few miles from their home at a place that kept the lost souls of dark and troubled minds. She had slipped away from her gatekeepers days ago to wander the woods near where she once lived as a child. Maggie nodded at this whenever grownups warned her with grave faces about the mad woman and the strangers in white. But during her secret nighttime prayers, she peeked through her bedroom window at the path beyond and forever thanked the fallen angel for bringing Papa home.
I am rewriting and polishing a few short stories I wrote a couple of years ago. HP has given them a 'half moon' symbol, so I am trotting them out of the moth balls, so to speak.
The Maggie & Papa Series
This is the first short story from the Maggie and Papa series. There is one story for each season in this year of Maggie's life, which is the year she lost her mother. Each season seems like a year for little Maggie, as seasons are much longer in the passage of time for young children. Autumn is the first in this series; The Falling Year.
© Copyright 2010 by Genna East. All rights reserved.
More by this Author
It’s no secret that much of the US has struggled against the winter of 2015. This true short story reminds us that even in winter, flowers bloom.
An alternate ending to Frank Atanacio’s compelling Jenny Camacho thriller; Frank's writing challenge.