Featuring work by: Lynn Love
Offerings | Lynn Love
Mam hands me the milk pudding, a faded tea cloth draped over, heat seeping through the striped bowl into my palms. She nudges my shoulder and I lead the way out the back door. I hold the bowl high and steady – it’s bad luck to spill any – and pick my way along the garden path. The going’s unsteady, the flags sunk in places, risen in others and I have to be careful not to trip.
Night’s drawing in and colder than it was last week, colder even than yesterday. The apples are swollen and blushing on the tree and the first golds are creeping into the leaves. The hens bucker on their perches, the coop shut and bolted for the night.
From now until spring we’ll leave more offerings than usual – but perhaps it’s only the weeks of nipping cold that lie ahead make me feel that’s so.
I reach the back gate ahead of Mam and stop – I can’t manage the latch with my hands full and I don’t want to put the bowl down, because of the spilling. Soon she’s at my back, reaching past me, the gate hinges squealing a rusty protest.
The nettle patch is dying back now but I’m glad I wore my thickest tights as the jagged leaves snatch at my legs. The shrine is a short way up ahead – a drystone dome no higher than my hip with a square gap in the front for offerings. Just a few more tussocks to avoid and we’re there.
I’m panting – with the effort, with concentration – and wait for my breath to steady before looking around.
This is the Inbetween, a strip of scrubby grass too poor for fodder, too rich to be heathland. Our shrine is one of dozens, a line of them snaking away on either side like stone bee skeps.
Far behind me is our cottage, beyond that the other homes and the inn, the flinty chapel, the squat forge roaring heat and smoke all year, as if a dragon lays dreaming on the hearth rug.
Beyond the shrines and the Inbetween is the Outland – heath and barren shrubs, runnels of blackened, bitter water. The air is always chill and damp there, mist clings to the ground, reluctant to open to a man’s step, eager to close around him. Boys dare each other to walk into the Outland, elbows digging hard into each other’s bony ribs. Perhaps one lad a year does it, but he’ll soon come lumbering back to the Inbetween, face stripped of colour, eyes stripped of glitter. They never speak of it – what they see, what they feel there.
Mam sweeps early autumn leaves aside with the hand broom she’s brought, removes the old bowl from last times offering – licked clean. She lays a fist of yarrow and knapweed, rosebay willowherb and a stem of ripe blackberries on the altar, mutters her words, nudges me to put down my bowl.
They don’t have a name – at least none spoken aloud. In my head I call them the Glow, though if people call them anything, it’s The Folk and they only do that rarely – it’s unlucky to name a spirit.
Mam hurries for home and I follow on behind, pull my cardigan tight around me, try to shrug off the chill that has wormed beneath my skin.
Across the Outland a sigh echoes, a sound like dried bones tumbling. I don’t look back.
* * *
Lynn Love is a writer of Urban Fantasy and Historical Fiction. Her short stories have won competitions and been published online, in anthologies and magazines. She is currently writing an Urban Fantasy novel and her ultimate aim is to write full-time.
She blogs at: Word Shamble: https://lynnmlovewords.wordpress.com/
And Twitters at: https://twitter.com/Lynn800XLove