The sounds of thudding footsteps echo through the woods, bouncing around seeming to come from everywhere at once. Mary lifted the hem of her dress and ran faster. She had to outrun the beast, or all was lost. She passed through brush that ripped at her legs, and through branches that whipped her arms and legs, some drawing blood.
Still, the footsteps closed in, becoming louder. Tears touched the edges of her eyes as she panted. The corset she wore kept her from breathing properly, and she panted heavily. There was black floating at the edge of her vision, but she kept on anyway.
She could hear the panting of his breath, even, untiring. Not like her as she panted heavily, cursing her parents for making her wear the awful, confining garment. Most days she could get away without one, but tonight was a party. She was expected to wear a tight corset, coat her face with ivory paint and tie her beautiful long locks into tight bands around her head. Her mother hoped to marry her off, she was 15 and getting to be a spinster.
Now the perfect hair was being torn apart, thick paste washing away with tears and the beautiful dress torn and covered in mud. The party was over now. It was a party of the dead. For some reason the thought made her giggle, picturing pasty corpses sipping tea and eating tarts. She shook her head, trying to push away the thoughts and run faster.
The woods suddenly gave way to a moonlit glade. Motes of dust hung still in the air, shining like stars trapped on Earth, unable to escape. In the center of the glade was a mighty willow, ancient and huge. She ran and hugged the tree, then pressed her back to it. She would run no further.
Seconds later the beast emerged. It was pitch black with a wolf’s head and huge fangs. The body was feline but upright. The lower body was equine with exaggerated hooves. Spittle dribbled from its mouth. It huffed a series if short grunts and approached her.
She just smiled and stepped back into the tree. This was the heart of the forest and from within she felt the Earth Mother all around her. She winced as the creature’s talons ripped the tree, its pain becoming her own.
With a thought, the tree began to move, and a large branch cracked its head, stunning it. The mossy ground grew up in thick masses over the creature until only its bloodshot eyes showed. A nub appeared on the tree which grew out, impaling it through the head. It made a small whine and became still.
Stepping out of the tree, she walked over and pulled the branch out of the creature’s head with a sucking sound. It gave way with a snap and she beheld it, a stick about 8 inches long and thick as her thumb. The blood soaked into the stick, leaving a series of runes behind. This would make an excellent replacement for the one her mother broke this morning. Now, she supposed, she would have to marry to keep her inheritance. Walking more slowly she passed through the woods as if she were a part of it, which she was.