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Open Features: Winter Walk

...“Ahhhh. Yes, definitely the air smells of wolves today.”...

Anne Steward's tale is filled with love, and the imaginative wonder of childhood.

The sky faded from ice blue to silver with fine brush strokes of grey vapour echoed by the body-warmed billows of breath from the sturdy ex bus driver, Steve and his eight year old granddaughter, Emma.

They were rustling through the crisp carpet of leaves under giant beech trees on their familiar Sunday walk in between a mighty lunch and a teatime spread.

“Can we take some of those holly leaves home, Grandad?” asked Emma,. "We made some like these dipping them in glitter at school.”

Steve laughed. The glossy leaves were edged by frost, “Those’d not be frosted for long in Grandma’s house,” he said.

“Shall we take some magic cobwebs, too? They would be lovely on the Christmas tree.” said Emma, pointing at the great filigree cobwebs stretching among the bushes. She knew really, but they did like to pretend together.

“And bottle some dragon’s breath?” she said, breathing out a massive cloud into the so still air.

“There’s no dragons here,” Steve said, “but it is one of those days... The air smells of wolves.”

“Wolves, Grandad?” asked Emma. She couldn’t help peering into the misty edges of their path to the fragile outlines of the silver birch standing knee deep in crisped bracken. She thought she saw a swift shape threading its way into nothingness. She pointed but Grandad was lost in memories.

“Oh yes, Laurie Lee wrote that. Cider With Rosie. You’ll read it one day. That was about 100 years ago when people still had memories of wolves. Just this sort of day, I think. We don’t get them often these days, but ...yes, sniff hard.” He made a deep inbreathing and then a noisy outletting ... “Ahhhh. Yes, definitely the air smells of wolves today.”

Emma played the game. Her breath drew in and noisily out, her eyes shut. Her eyes opened to huge, “It does, it does. I can smell... something... grey... and a bit hairy.”

“Yes, that’s it! You got it first time,” he said, “I got a trace of deep cave. That’s where they live, of course.”

There was a high keening that drifted into the woods. There was no way that anyone could tell how far the sound had travelled in that thin air day.

Steve looked at his granddaughter’s startled face and reached for her red-mittened hand. "The dogs in the boarding kennels are a bit noisy tonight,” he said, a little too forcefully.

“I thought I saw... a something ...back there,” Emma said, pointing the way they had come.

“Someone walking their dog, I expect,” said Steve, but they started to stride out a little bit faster.

There was a rustle and deep throaty coughing call that made them stop in their tracks. An elegant bracken coloured deer picked its way through the trees ahead, followed by another and then another, their ears turning and flicking, their nostrils wide, tasting the air.

They were gone in an instant. Steve and Emma just looked at each other, beyond speech.

*

"Guess what was in the woods, Grandma?” said Emma as she unwound her fluffy scarf in the toasty warm kitchen.

“Don’t tell me,” she said staring an accusation at her husband, “that wolf story again. He gave your mum bad dreams with that one.”

“No...well...yes,” said Emma, “but we saw deer in the woods. Really!”

“Well, I bet the wolves had chased them there. A winter treat for you, Emma,” said Steve.

Grandma threw a dishcloth at him.


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