Forest of Secrets

I’m back for #flashfictionfriday! This piece feels like the beginning of something longer, so I may revisit this again. But I wanted to share since I missed last Friday. Enjoy!

The large bushes weren’t really enough cover, but Holly ducked behind them anyway. She didn’t have much choice. The scrub brush in this part of the meadow made tailing someone nearly impossible. Which probably explained why the medicine woman had taken this route.

Holly bit her lip to keep from sneezing as the soft puff of dandelion seeds filled her nose. She didn’t think the medicine woman knew she was being followed, and it wouldn’t do to blow her cover now.

A soft breeze played with the woman’s dark skirt, making it easy to spot her nearing the tree line at the edge of the meadow. Without it, she probably would have faded into the very landscape, with clothing that seemed to subtly shift to match the surroundings.

Holly gave herself a shake. That was the rumors from the village talking. All Holly had seen was a practically dressed woman wearing clothing that happened to be in browns and greens. Her own clothing was not altogether unlike that of the medicine woman, chosen to help her disappear into bushes and trees as she completed her mission.

She waited an agonizing count of ten from when the flap of skirt disappeared into the tree line before breaking cover. Balmy air burned her lungs as she sprinted across the distance. Occasional scrub brushes obstructed her path, causing her to weave across the meadow. At least the ground here was silent under her feet.

Tracking in the forest itself was both easier and harder than it had been before. Hiding places were plentiful, but the thick layer of pine needles underfoot crunched with every step. Holly saw few animals; no squirrels or chipmunks to account for any noise she made.

It would have been nearly enough to send her home if her mission wasn’t so important. The medicine woman would disappear for long stretches of time on what she would call gathering expeditions. Except she never came back with any plants or herbs. Townspeople worried she had somehow involved herself in something sinister, as rumors flew whenever she left town. They worried that she wouldn’t come back from one of these trips, and they would be left without her skills to treat their everyday maladies.

Holly stopped to pick a stem from a bush she had just seen the medicine woman take several branches from. It had a soothing smell, and she recognized it from the headache treatment the medicine woman had given her some months back. She tucked it into her pocket. Step one of her mission had been accomplished. She pulled a roughly drawn sketch of the area out of her pocket and scribbled herself a note about the what she had found and where she had found it. If she was truly lucky today, she’d be able to find most of the plants the medicine woman used in her remedies.

Emboldened by her success, she crashed forward through some saplings vying for a small patch of sunlight. She stopped short when she found the medicine woman standing there inspecting a bush covered in red berries.

“I’m so glad you’ve finally caught up, Holly. Welcome to your first day as my apprentice.”

Holly swallowed her surprise. Maybe there were easier ways to find out all her secrets.

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