Moon Feasting

8/07/2019

Photo by Casper Nichols on Unsplash

Food had become scarce as winter drew in. Muted skies and a mid level sun meant a regular frost covered the land. The ground was hard to the touch of her chilblained feet and much like the winters before, she’d resorted to stealing eggs from the local farmer’s chickens and suckling his cows under the watch of the moon.

Each night, she would squeeze her spine covered body under the wire of the chicken coop and, once inside, transform back into her human self. With a steady, well practiced hand, she unlatched the coop and reached in to pluck out the freshly laid eggs. She cracked each one straight into her mouth and discarded the shells where she sat.

The suspicions of local farmers had been raised for some time. Their chickens were seemingly barren, or they would find discarded, broken shells near their coops. The milk from their cows was stolen in the dead of night, and often, only the tiny tracks of a hedgehog could be found at the scene.

The king had placed a bounty on the head of a hedgehog: four pennies. It was ever more risky to sneak into the farmyard at night. The bounty was worth more than a farmhand could earn in a day and it was becoming somewhat of a sport to see how many ‘vermin’ a person could kill in a week. The farmer’s dog was now tied within watching distance of the coop and although - as a hedgehog - she could go unnoticed; her delicate snout and stubby legs meant she couldn’t break the eggs in her animal form.

So she stuck to the forest; foraging for any remaining mushrooms and taking a risk on whether they were poisonous or not. The occasional horde of acorns, either abandoned or misplaced by their owner, proved a tasking snack. Bitter and incredibly tough to chew, she could only manage a couple before she conceded that they weren’t worth the effort. As time went on she became increasingly weak. No part of her body would warm up and her bones started to ache with the cold.

One night, after a day of failed gathering and plundering, she slumped against the trunk of an ancient oak. Nestling into the nook of its moss covered roots, she gathered the fallen leaves up around her. She laid her head on its pillowed roots and listened as the drumming of her heart slowed to a flutter. The shivering spasms of her body came to a stop and the icy clouds of her breath came less and less frequently. She wondered if she would ever wake up if she let herself fall asleep; part of her hoped she wouldn’t. Her heavy eyes, brimming with tears, drifted closed and she slid into her pile of leaves.

***

Through frosted roots, the white bells of a snowdrop appear. Their gentle chime carries on the breeze, and slowly, the woodland is awoken from its winter slumber. The swathes of white bells are dotted with the vibrant purple of wild violets and the heavy heads of burgundy helebores. Trumpets of daffodils stretch towards the sky and the singing of the dawn chorus starts to build. There’s a twitch of leaves at the root of an ancient oak and as the morning mist starts to lift, the gentle, snuffling snout of a hedgehog emerges from the undergrowth.

A red squirrel looks down from its hollow in the tree, watching the small hedgehog scuttle along the forest path towards the open fields ahead. The squirrel’s resources have depleted, but with the warmer weather it is time to head out and start his collection all over again. He looks to the fields to see where the little hedgehog is heading. The hedgehog is nowhere to be seen, but in the distance, running along the field margin, is a woman. Her brown hair flows behind her naked body and as she disappears into the fields beyond, the squirrel wonders if she was the one who stole his winter supply of acorns.


First published in issue 7 of Creative Countryside.

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