I grew up in the countryside, on the edge of a fairly small town. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with it now that I am grown but, when I was young there was nowhere else I would rather be. I explored every street, footpath and secret shortcut through the woods. I would wander alone through the trees trying to get lost, enjoying the sounds of nature all around me, unspoiled by the mindless rush of humanity.
One day I happened upon a clearing in the woods, a meadow that I swear had never been there before. In my youthful innocence I did not question where I was, I just accepted this meadow’s sudden appearance as perfectly normal. The grass rustled with the gentle breeze as butterflies and bees fluttered and buzzed between the flowers in the autumn sunshine. Right in the centre of the meadow was a big black horse, munching happily on the grass around him. He was tethered to the strangest caravan I had ever seen. My parents had a caravan, it was a huge plastic rectangular looking thing that attached to the car. This caravan was round topped, wooden and horse-drawn. I tiptoed slowly around the edge of the trees, taking in the sight before me. As I got within sight of the open door at the back of the caravan I froze. I could see a silhouette in the doorway and my mother’s words repeated many times drifted to me from my memory.
Keep away from strangers darling, mummy and daddy love you very much and we don’t want anyone to take you from us. You much stay safe.
As I stood, making up my mind whether to stay or flee, the person inside moved through the door. A girl my own age made her way carefully down the steps in a pink frilly dress. I glanced down at my jeans and t-shirt, feeling strangely self-conscious but the girl made no comment, she merely beckoned me over. I approached with caution, watching the doorway to the caravan for more people.
‘Nobody else is in there, it is just me.’ I look back at the girl, noticing her dark brown eyes and skin the colour of milky coffee.
‘Where are your parents? Will they be back soon?’ I was curious about the girl and her funny caravan but I was afraid of being caught by her parents and getting into trouble.
‘They are walking in the woods looking for firewood. We are camping here for the night. They will not be back for a little while. You do not need to be afraid.’
‘I’m not afraid’ I lied ‘It’s just… my parents do not like me to talk to strangers.’
‘Don’t worry, your parents won’t find out unless you tell them. My name is Nuri. What is yours?’
‘I am Dara.’
‘Hi Dara’ She giggled conspiratorially ‘Now we’re friends so you can’t get in trouble.’
I giggled too and relaxed, reaching out to touch her dress.
‘Your dress is so pretty. I don’t have any pretty dresses like that.’ My fingers brushed against the sleeve and onto her arm. As my skin touched hers she stiffened and gasped, her eyed rolling back into her head, causing me to jump back hastily, my eyes widening in alarm.
‘We are not Nuri, we are Roma.’ The chorus of voices poured forth from Nuri’s mouth, a thousand voices, old and wavering, speaking in unison through the girl stood before me. I stared, rooted to the spot in terror. My heart was racing, hairs stood to attention along my arms and neck.
‘You touched us. Now we see your future stretched before you. We see your life string cut short. We see a flight to a distant land, mountains topped with snow and a wooden cabin burned to the ground. You must not go to the mountains. If you go, you will die.’
As the last eching word faded away, I stumbled backwards, turned and fled. I crashed through the woods, falling over roots and grazing my hands and knees in my haste. It felt like an eternity before I found the familiar road back into town. I ran towards home, tears streaming down my face my legs aching as I pushed to get as far away from the terrifying girl and her thousand voices. I slowed to a walk as I reached my street, hastily rubbing the tear tracks from my face as I reached my back gate. My mother called to me as I closed the gate behind me.
‘Dara? Is that you? I have something to show you.’ I met her in the garden half way between the gate and the house.
‘Hi mum’ I waved casually, trying to ignore the sick feeling of fear that was still settled in the pit of my stomach.
‘Your father and I have a surprise for you. This Christmas we thought it would be fun to teach you to ski. So, we have booked a holiday. We’re going to Switzerland!’ My mum held out a holiday brochure which showed a picture of a wooden cabin high up in the mountains, surrounded by wilderness. The smile on her face faded to concern as I swayed, and then crumpled to the ground in a faint whispering a single word.