Who is hunting beneath the blue moon? Who is hungry for souls tonight? Have you seen the ghost knights abroad in the forest? Do you know why this stretch of yew trees has been called Suicide Heaven?
At the centre of the island, there are woods. There are also hills and hidden lakes, and creatures no one has seen for long enough to try and name. Mostly the people of Hopeless Maine do not go into the woods. Arguably, one of the things that qualifies you as a witch, is the willingness to go amongst the trees, where there are no paths, only ripples of light and shadow.
Even witches lose their way. Sometimes you have to be lost in order to find what you need. Annamarie had gone past the ruins she called ‘the castle’ even though it was probably no such thing. She’d walked under the light of the blue moon – although there wasn’t much light at first, under the trees and she’d needed the lantern. By the feel of it, something, or someone was hunting through the woods, but she could not tell what.
Little lights came one by one. She recognised them – fireflies, glowbugs, lightningbugs, lanternbums, starfaces. Tiny beings making their own light in the darkness. Most of them weren’t hazardous, so long as you didn’t eat them. Which was unfortunate, because Annamarie had been out for a while, and was getting hungry, and the inedible bugs were about the only thing visible. She hadn’t really planned on being out this long, or being quite this lost.
In the lantern light she noticed that the woodland floor had a lot of mushrooms and toadstools growing from it. Some she recognised, others less so. Mushrooms might of course be edible. Or poisonous. Or they might make you see things that weren’t really there. Worse still, they might make you see the things that were there and that normally you couldn’t see. Her stomach grumbled. How much longer could she keep going without food? The mushrooms looked increasingly tempting, as if they were trying to seduce her into eating them. Maybe they were. They seemed harder to resist all the time. There was definitely a path between them, they were leading her somewhere.
Mushrooms like decay. They like dead things. Annamarie proceeded cautiously. Around her, the fungi stood ever taller and more unlikely.
In the heart of the yew tree grove, she found the remains of an old chapel, squat and somehow desperate seeming. Mushrooms sprouted from it, like fur on the body of a beast. A mushroom jungle, offering itself up as tasty and nourishing. Had it not been for the howling in the trees, she might have succumbed, might have eaten her fill. Instead, she pushed open the door to this strange building. The wood felt rotten, but moved well enough even so.
Frogs. So many frogs.
They came as a bit of a shock. Of all the things she might have imagined finding here, frogs had not really been on the list. Some of them were huge. All of them were staring at her.
Outside, the howling grew intense, and it sounded as though many fists were banging on the mushroom covered walls of the building. As if they were hunting her, but could not get inside. The frogs moved, circling her, pulling her into their midst and Annamarie could only hope they were kinder then the howlers outside.
As the frogs moved, she could see that this chapel had been subject to a lot of violence. There were scorch marks everywhere. The altar had been smashed, the floor littered with broken, sacred things.
She sat down amongst the frogs – it might not be possible to do much about the hunger, but she could at least rest. One of the frogs hopped onto the toe of her boot. It only had three legs. She couldn’t tell if that was an injury, or if it had been born that way. She’d seen enough three legged chickens before.
“The ghost knights come out at the full moon,” the frog said, “It will be safe to leave when the moon sets.”
She offered the frog her open palm, to make the conversation a bit easier.
“Why are there knights here?” Annamarie asked.
“How should I know?” said the frog. ‘I’m just a frog. I just say it how it is. This is a sad and hungry sort of place and not very good for people who want to be alive.”
“I want to be alive,” Annamarie said. While she hadn’t encountered talking frogs before, she knew that anything on the island might turn out to have opinions, and a desire to express them.
“Old pond legends say this was a suicide place,” said the frog. “The island makes people sad. The mushrooms get hungry, you know how it is. Someone built the chapel here to give people hope.”
“Did it work?” Annamarie asked, looking around at the ruined shell of the building.
“Sometimes,” the frog said. “It worked very well for frogs at any rate.” It hopped down from her hand and into one of her pockets. “Nearly moon set,” said the frog. “I’ll show you the way back.”
One of the larger frogs swiped its tongue across her face. Annamarie wondered what they found to eat, and then decided she probably didn’t want to know.
(Art, Tom and Nimue, story, Dr Abbey and Nimue)