Printed from WriteWords -


by  Cliff Hanger

Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2016
Word Count: 875
Summary: This is my first real attempt at flash fiction. It was a real challenge. Any pointers welcome.

‘How many sessions have you actually been to?’ Billy lowered his voice to camouflage the word ‘sessions’. She looked him straight in the eyes.The trouble with being a twin was everything was so familiar though not entirely the same.
‘Got to the front door,’ she laughed. ‘Decided to keep the cash, don’t need psychiatric help.’ The hubbub in the café drooped as customers tuned in over the strangled gurgle of the frothing machine. 
‘Its only Center Parks, Isla, not even a real wood. ‘
‘I can’t, Billy. Just can’t. You know why.’
Not a phobia at all. She had on her usual get up. Scuffed brown shoes, green trousers, a mossy shade of washed out jumper topped off with a tattered green overcoat. Her complexion reminded him of a ripe acorn. Her nails, blackened with compacted soil. She looked like a leaf holding itself back from uncurling until the perfect environmental conditions were met.
‘How come you can work in the gardens, then? Amongst the trees!’
‘I’ve told you. It’s not the same. He’s waiting for me. In the wild wood. I can hear him whispering in my dreams. I can hear him whispering when I’m awake.’
Not this again.
‘No-one is waiting for you in the woods. If you can work in the gardens you can go to Center Parks. It’s for mum and dad. Not many couples reach their golden wedding anniversary and it’ll be perfect for all of the kids. Think of someone other than yourself for once. ‘
Her expression said he’d just crushed a tender woodland flower with the force of his grip but her answer was calm. ‘I’ve told you. My name's Sycamore now’
‘You can call yourself whatever you like when you’re with your hippy dippy set, you’ll always be Isla to me.’ He laughed then touched her hand in a conciliatory gesture. ‘Look, how about a practice run? There’s that little wood in between the industrial estates. It won’t take long to walk through and I’ll be with you all the time. I’ve been reading up about hylophobia. You need to confront your fears, head on.’
‘You’ll be with me?’
‘Yes, every step.’
‘And Center Parks. You’ll be with me all the time there too.’
‘Okay. Let’s try it. For mum and dad’s sake.’
He could hardly believe it. Of course the problem was she’d never really grown up, always been indulged.
They finished their drinks and left.

He pulled the car into the piece of wasteland that passed as a parking area. She sat rigid, fingers gripping the safety belt.
‘Let’s do this thing.’ He bellowed like a gridiron quarterback in the split second before the snap.
‘Hold tight’, she whispered, ‘promise.’
He grabbed her hand as they made for the gate. The start of the wide path was enclosed by a natural archway of entwined rhododendron and willow. Petals from the luscious purple flowers were scattered on the ground like confetti. The heady scent of honeysuckle couldn’t quite mask the musty smell of leaf mould mixed with decomposing dog waste. He’d expected her to be shaking, have trouble breathing. That’s what the internet had told him but she was calm, rapturous even. He watched her gulping down the mushroomy air.  Crap, she’d been putting it on all this time. Attention seeking as per usual. She stopped to stroke a moss encrusted tree stump still gripping tight to him with her other hand.
‘He kissed me next to one like this. Her eyes sparkled like shards of mica. He said that when I came back I’d be his forever.’
‘You’re not remembering it right, Isla. When they found you entangled in that briar patch you’d just fallen down the slope and banged your head on a stump. Concussion. No little man, no crown of leaves, no kiss.'  She reached forward and ran her finger over his cheek. It was a habit she’d had since they were small. A sort of code between them to say don’t worry everything is fine. They walked on a little and he felt her stiffen at the sight of a withered oak tree.  It stood upright but was cracked open and had no bark. It’s leftover bare branches stuck out like partially amputated arms.
‘I have to go, Billy.’
‘But I promised. Every step.’ He tried to grip harder but her fingers were used to working away at small things.
‘Let go,’ she hissed.
‘Don’t leave me’ he whined as she detached herself and the thump of his heart filled up his ears. He wound around the oak. A queer maypole dance, stopping every now and then in disbelief.  He was sweaty though the air was cold. He took a deep breath. She was just fooling. Teaching him a lesson. If only the quality of the silence didn’t tell him she was gone for good. ‘What a stupid thought’ he said out loud. She’d be back in a minute. Laughing about her so called phobia. His mouth was dry, he felt dizzy. He tripped slightly on a sycamore sapling that was nestling in the roots of the oak. As he struggled to regain his balance a tender young leaf brushed across his cheek. It felt discomforting and familiar.