She rolled to her feet and waited in a crouch. Only stillness surrounded her. Her breath rushed in and out of her chest. She closed her eyes and willed herself to calm.
She peered through the trees, compelled to go forward. She moved from shadow to shadow, careful to avoid breaking twigs under her feet. Straining eyes and ears, she studied the forest around her. No breeze sighed through the trees. No night creatures chattered. She shivered. The hairs on her arms lifted. Goose-flesh dotted her arms and legs.
The glimmer of moonlight on water shimmered ahead. Crouching behind the closest tree, she peaked from between the foliage. A still pond covered, almost entirely, a small clearing. A mirror amidst a tangle of vines. A jewel nestled within a leafy nest.
The pond beckoned. She slid from the protection of the trees into the clearing on hands and knees. Her gaze darted from side to side knowing this would be the perfect place to ambush someone. She paused. How did she know this?
The water, so still, pulled her gaze back to its glassy surface. She eased closer. The tiniest of shivers disturbed the water. She froze. The water stilled once again. She leaned toward the pond's edge. The water rippled. A woman floated under the water's surface, pale and wrapped in vines, her long white hair floating around her as if alive. The woman opened her eyes and focused her ancient gaze on Risa.
She jerked away from the pond, her hand covering her mouth. She closed her eyes and forced her racing heart to calm. Leaning forward again, she met the still woman's black eyes. She leaned closer, reaching her hand toward the woman. The woman smiled and lifted her vine wrapped hand. Their fingers touched and stuck. Risa pulled back, but her finger remained attached to the woman's. The woman pressed her palm to Risa's. She yanked against her hand, her gaze jumping up to meet the woman's.
Do not fight the exchange. My time is over. You are chosen.
The woman's lips moved under the water, but the voice echoed inside Risa's own head. She bit her lip and tugged on her hand again. Her fingers began to tingle, then burn. Her veins turned from blue to red beginning at her fingertips and crawling up her arm. She tugged harder. Her breath, a loud rush in the quiet stillness of the clearing, moved rapidly in and out of her lungs. Her skin lightened from sun kissed to palest white as the bite of a million tiny ants prickled on her skin. Her eyes locked with the woman' s as a scream tore from her throat to echo around the suddenly boiling waters of the pond. Information poured into her mind. The vines from the woman's arm creeped over her fingers, twisting around Risa's arm, up her shoulder. She clawed at it with her free hand. The woman pulled her hand away from Risa and let it float back into the water.
Surging to her feet, she looked down to see the red in her veins flowing up from her feet. She looked inward, at the visions filling her mind as the vines covered her body. Her life force connected with those of the forest's green inhabitants. She stretched her arms and the tree's limbs reached toward the pond. She shook her hip length hair and the vines surrounding the pond rippled. She breathed and the forest sighed.
The woman's body broke the surface of the water and hovered over the pond, her eyes closing as the vines left her skin completely to wrap around Risa. The woman rose to a standing position over the water and stepped onto the bank.
You are the heart now. Until your time comes to pass into the next world and the next chosen takes your place, you will burn within the ivy's embrace. Your only relief will come within the pond's soothing waters. Gift or curse, it is for you to decide.
The woman walked away, never once looking back, until she vanished in the moonlight.
The fire burned beneath her skin, the power longing to flow from her fingers, to suck the life force from the living. She searched her haven, this small pond, the clearing, and the dark wood that surrounded it. At the edge, she became aware of a steady thumping. A young boar hog, having wondered too close, nosed for grub worms under a fallen log. It did not see the vines creeping over the ground toward it.
She smiled. The hog froze, its beady little eyes searching for the source of its unease. Seeing nothing, the hog lowered its nose toward the log. The vines shivered as the nose moved closer. Quick as lightning, the vines wrapped the hog, pulling its life force from it. She tilted back her head as the burning in her skin eased, her nipples tightened, her skin flushed pink.
As the pink faded from her skin, the burning returned. She reached for the trees outside her haven, commanding them to find her another life. They moaned their sorrow, and the connection faded. Until summoned, her connection with the flora and fauna outside this wood would fail. She screamed as her skin burned hotter and dove into the pond. She would wait in the pool until she was called and then someone would pay. No one kept Poison Ivy contained. She was the heart of the world's wood.
For the past 10 days, I've been tortured by a run in with the very real poison ivy of our world. It's itch consumes my mind, until writing has become almost impossible. Since I have found it difficult to concentrate on the novella I'm working on, I decided to try a writing exercise. The picture above was my prompt. I hadn't intended to write about my poison ivy. It seems my subconscious had other plans. I had to share this one. Please critique away. Can you feel the mood I was going for? Where do you see I need to expand? Cut back? Any feedback is welcome as these exercises are to help me get better at my craft. And I pray you never have a run in with poison ivy and never experience its cursed rash!