Contrasts in Sepia
by John Clewarth
Such days are rare. All is at peace with the world as I sit, looking out over the sweeping fields. The crops are tall and healthy in the early summer sun. Butterflies of vibrant colours drift from petal to yellow petal, as the flamboyant flowers of the oilseed reveal only hints of the verdant stalks, beneath the thick carpet of blossoms. Birdsong permeates the warm air; chaotic, yet somehow melodic. An easy breeze caresses the long hair of the young woman in the field. She stands, in an ocean of wavering yellow; her perfume is the heady, pungent scent of pollen.
Who is she? Her expression is a vague mixture of slight curiosity and mild alarm; like a rabbit made suddenly aware – the look before the animal bolts for freedom. As I return the gaze and our eyes contact, I wonder whether my own visage reflects a similar expression.
Eyes of a striking green, hair of cornfield blonde, skin, the finest, lightest tan; she cautiously watches. The look of gentle surprise fades like a dream upon waking, as the flimsy clouds hang gauze-like around a sun that observes all with fascination. The beauty of the moment seems complete; a snapshot in time – yet too perfect for any camera to capture, any artist to recreate.
And then she smiles. A brilliance seems to light the day, to outshine the very sun in the heavens. I yearn to return the smile. Its warmth, its generosity, its love effuses within me, like a rich red wine of the finest vintage. Her eyes are deep, liquescent, true. They hold no secrets. They tell no lies. A window to the soul, not a veil. Her vibrancy, her youth – she can have been no more than twenty – her life seems to draw me, as surely as the moon pulls the tides. But why is she there? In my favourite view? A precious addition to that very same?
She raises a hand, executing a tentative wave; her smile remains radiant. It seems impossible but I feel that I can see the pulsing life within her; smell the lifeblood coursing through her veins.
White clouds scud away like mice evading a farmyard cat, to be replaced by dark, foreboding thunderheads. The previously vivid field dulls to a starkly contrasting sepia, as the life-giving sun dies and winks out. Sky blackens. Birdsong ceases. All is still. Ominous.
Her smile evaporates, her eyes darkle; she stands statuesque now, hand still raised but no longer in motion. All is now monochrome, save for the veins of her youthful form. They glow, they pulsate, as blood of the lividest red surges through them. I can smell the sanguineous brew. The craving I feel is tortuous. Just a little of that sweet, sweet blood. That’s all I need to relieve the intolerable aching.
She is suddenly active once more – nothing more than a blur as she darts away in surreal silence; yet she looks to be fearfully shouting, rushing through the darkened field, off and away from my arena of vision.
The soul-destroying desire for her lifeblood remains, like a branding-iron searing my heart. But I do not move. The silence and stillness attracted her once. It will surely lure her again, once the skies clear?
And she does return – but she is not alone. Two men and an old woman accompany her. This is not how it is supposed to be! The skies remain heavy and absent of light. No sound can be heard, save for the harsh breathing of the men. The young woman, shoulders encircled by the crone’s right arm, raises a finger and points.
She points at me!
I feel fear, gathering unease, as the hag turns around and walks the younger woman away; she reminds me so much of myself, in my younger years. The men begin moving toward me. I should run. I should flee now while I have the chance. They can mean me no good! Terror holds me fixed; movement is impossible.
They climb the fence at the foot of my garden and leap down, crushing plants as they land. Now I can hear their rasping breathing more acutely as they traverse the lawn, mere feet from me now. Christ! I can still smell the girl’s blood! Still thirst for her…
They stand over me now, expressions unreadable. The larger of the two reaches out a huge hand towards my neck. Hand on my throat! Fingers pressing. His accomplice peers at me, jaws slack and open, eyes glistening. With tears.
The big one takes his hand away and shakes his head. “Poor woman. She’s dead,” he says, in a cracked, stumbling voice.
My daughter runs out of the house and on to the patio, screaming, beseeching, pleading with the men; who hold her tight, pat her back, shush her down.
“Ssh. She’s gone, my love. She’s gone. Don’t look.”
She howls, as they shepherd her away, “What do you mean? She can’t be dead. You’re wrong!” Her words fade as the figures usher her off. I hear the distinctive sound of a number being punched into a mobile phone, and the whispered word: ‘Ambulance’.
From beneath my chair, the tiny, shadowy shape takes the opportunity to crawl back into the open again. Onto my bare knee, below the hem of my summer dress. And it bites once more. It was no more than a tickle last time. This time I don’t even feel it. The little puncture holes that appear on my knee are a perfect match for the ones on my neck.
Sweet little creature. So delicate. So small. So black. Just as before, I don’t have the heart to brush it away. But this time, the capacity to move has deserted me also.
Until the night descends.
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