‘Oh pretty maids, come bite us with your pearly teeth–leave your lovely marks upon us!’ cry the leather-coated russets. ‘Hi, hi, hi– come hither and crush our ripe flesh under your dainty feet!’ squeal the fallen crab apples.
Lizzie and Laura weave their way into the heart of the vulgar market throng, jostled to and fro by scratchy wicker baskets held in sunburnt crooks of arms.
‘Breathe me in,’ persuades the perfectly ripe peach. Lizzie does as she is told and soon her head feels fuzzy. When she looks up, she finds she is alone. Laura’s hand has slipped from hers, as if her slender frame has been swallowed whole by the bustling crowd. Panic rises in her throat, as if a tiny scrap of apple had lodged there.
She fancies she can hear a flutey voice calling her from afar–Laura? She zig zags across the village green and up the chalky incline towards the wizened gate by the stagnant brook that leads to the straight and narrow of the Priest’s Way, a fearsome stony path overlooked by a congregation of thistles.
Oh dear, it is starting to rain pitter-patter on the ground and the bitter wind scythes at her skirts. Lizzie hitches them up, exposing slim ankles encased in scarlet button boots and scrambles up the wild-grassed hill where they used to play as young children, towards the green swagged canopy of the ancient forest.
She has strayed too far. Under the creaking boughs and from the mossy nooks between gnarled old roots, whisperings and sly skitterings can be heard. Soon other fruit merchants emerge from the shadows and start to swarm around Lizzie, drawn by her sweet scent.
The grizzled parrot, his slew of ripe cherries in claw, the fat trousered tabby cat, his basket of squishy damsons ready to dribble upon her virgin petticoats. A host of feral-faery creatures crowd and paw the stricken waif.
A naughty goblin wrinkled as a ginger root sidles up to Lizzie. Espying her burgeoning fruits innocently on display in fragile muslin wrap, he smacks his lips. ‘See those rare pears? Ha, I bag first pluck, before the Man comes around!’
He throws his acorn cap at her, a signal to his twisted grey minions to get down to business and dab-dab-dab Lizzie’s pale cheeks with powdered apricot, ripening her lips with Kentish strawberries crushed in hay, finishing with a spritz of precious pomegranate.
Impatient to reach his prize, the goblin elbows his minions aside and grasps Lizzie by the knees and starts to climb. She screams and shouts, aiming a sharp kick at his gooseberries and then wriggles free and karate-chops her way through the unpleasant crowd of impish felons, hurling back at them their own spoilt melons.
She makes good her escape by running as fleet as a frightened deer, down the hill, along the tow-path by the river, surprising a bunch of pirate stoats, causing their hoard of pilfered plums to roll around the bottom of their boats as they curse and rattle their cutlasses at her. Her breath all ragged, the hem of her skirts dusty with dirt, she is heading back to the village.
She walks past the duck pond and the church–not a soul is about, no leery-eyed youths even, loitering by the lych gate. She wanders up the high street and stops dead. Lying there, abandoned on the threshold of the corner shop, is a familiar pale ribbon.
She stoops to pick it up and steps inside. Alas for poor Lizzie, there is no sign of Laura. Both shopkeeper and delivery boy have fled–and in their place, lurking at the end of the darkened aisle, her fate awaits, the Man.
A greedy grin stretching from ear to ear on his broad unforgiving face, a grimy sackcloth apron around his waist. Holding a gleaming chopping knife aloft and in the other hand, a canteen-sized tin, gaping open. Ready to slice her up and pack her in, with lashings of heavy syrup.
Lise Colas lives on the south coast of England and writes poetry and short fiction. She used to work in the cartoon archive of Punch magazine, weaving gold from old rope. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Litro online, Black Poppy Review, Gone Lawn and Cease, Cows. She has a poetry blog at lisecolas.wordpress.com