I take one step, another. The air’s thick with decay. The taste of leafmould coats my tongue, makes it slippery against my teeth. I’d forgotten how it tastes, but now it’s as if there’s never been anything else.
How long has it been since I was here?
Stupid. I know exactly how long – to the day, to the hour. A lifetime ago and only yesterday.
I run the back of my hand against each tree trunk, savour the scrape against knuckles, the spring of moss.
The trees shut down the sun. Slow as mist, branches drift left and right until the way is clearer, with only a step to take over tangled roots. A groan, the snap of wooden sinew – a crack, loud as a gunshot. I look behind. The boughs have weaved together, a tight net of twigs, sewn with ivy, embroidered with holly berries. I could lean against it, let the tendrils lace us together, a wedding of flesh and greenwood.
But they’re waiting for me. I walk on.
Finally, I reach the clearing and there I find it – a ring of blood red caps. They are as I remember them – mottled grey bodies, some straight, some twisted as if reaching outwards, their feet sunk beneath the soil, ankles swallowed by a fall of gold and copper leaves.
One step forward. Another. My shoulder brushes a red cap and I’m showered in dust the colour of saffron and I never want to leave again.
Their warmth washes over me, filaments spread, creeping up my shins, gripping my skin, crawling under my nails, in through my ears and nose, filling me.
Here’s one from the archives, rejigged from about this time last year.