Darkness falls on the ancient forest, seeping into every nook, every corner, every knot on every tree with its blackness. Sounds of the night echo ominously throughout the undergrowth and canopy, filling it with a symphony of hoots, squeaks, scratchings, barks, snaps, rustles and scrapes. Suddenly, the sound of footfalls joins the music of the night, and a girl bursts into the clearing, the sound of crunching leaves the only sound she hears besides the frantic beating of her heart. She stands motionless, glancing around warily, as though anticipating something.

A twig snaps behind her. The wind whistles as she whirls around to face the offending fox, frozen in place at the sight of a human. She hisses, and the fox yelps and darts away, the dry, dead leaves cracking under its paws. An owl hoots and the girl turns, annoyed, to look to her right, her eyes a glittering green colour.

The moon emerges from behind a dark, sinister cloud, the likeness between its pale glow and her pale face even more prominent. Her dark hair, falling past her shoulders in a long thick plait, forms a coil on the forest floor. Her dress appears old and ragged, with multiple patches on the sleeves. She wears no shoes.

Another twig snaps behind her. Before she has time to turn, she feels a blow to the back of her head, and darkness envelops her.

The girl's head throbs as she comes to. She can hear nothing, the music of the forest too far away to be heard. Trembling, she opens her eyes and groans. She is back in her prison. Painfully, she pushes herself up into a sitting position. She glances around the room quickly, barely taking in the all too familiar surroundings, the old posters and out-dated furniture, looking for any sign of her witch-like captor. Nothing. Shakily, she stands and crosses the room to the window. A wave of vertigo overcomes her as she peers into the darkness that swallows the bottom of the tower, making it seem endless. She moves back quickly, pressing her back against the cold, stone wall, trying to control her breathing.

She hears something, the sound of someone emerging from the twisted, grinning trees, walking into the clearing. She knows she must act fast.

Taking a pair of scissors, she takes hold of the rope-like plait of her hair and measures. Controlling her shaking hands, she places the scissor blades on her hair, breathes in, and brings the blades together. The plait falls away just below her shoulders, a sense of weightlessness and purpose replacing it. She knows what she must do and, grimly tying off the end of the plait, she waits.

"Let down your hair!" The voice was harsh and ice cold, and distinctly male. Tying the end of the plait to the towel rail, and throwing the other end out of the window, the girl waits for her captor to climb the side of the tower. A tall, dark-haired man heaves himself through the aperture, gasping. "That never gets any easier," he wheezes. The girl pulls the plait back into the room and unties it discreetly while the man catches his breath. Too soon, though, the man straightens up and turns to face her. He looks at her expectantly.

"Well, don't I get a hug?" He holds his arms out and holds her gaze with his ice blue eyes. She walks towards him and stands there emotionless as he wraps his arms around her. Suddenly, he tenses, and she is nervous. He's noticed.

"What did you do to your hair?" he demands. He stares at her; his eyes boring into her face, searching for an answer. She stays silent.

"What did you cut it with; scissors? Where are they?" The questions hang in the air. Slowly, the girl points to the bed. As the man turns, she strikes.

Grabbing the rope of hair from the floor, she slips a loop around his neck. He gasps and tries to turn, but she is strong. Too strong. He struggles to breathe, a strangled gargling shriek escaping his throat. His hands scrabble at the rope, the scratching noise frantic and desperate, trying to lessen the pressure on his windpipe. All the while, she holds the plait, too terrified or too determined to let go.

After what seems like an eternity, his body slumps and falls to the floor. The girl backs away, weapon still in her hands, her breathing ragged, her heart pounding with fear and adrenaline. She knows she can't stay here. She must escape. She reties the plait to the towel rail, throws the other end out of the window, takes one last look around her tower prison, and begins her descent.

She reaches the edge of the clearing, the beginning of the ancient forest, before she looks back. Dawn is breaking on the horizon, and a light breeze sweeps the clearing, as if cleaning it, ready for another day. The plait floats forlornly in nature's breath, trapped, tied to the tower forever.

The girl, however, is finally free. Free of her shackles and the weight of her past. With a sudden determination, she turns her back on her prison and heads into the forest, leaving her past behind in that god forsaken tower.


Sorcha Lester