A Gift.
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I was given a gift the other day,
During a quest in the woods on a hot summer’s day.
The quest was for berry’s of Black and Red,
“Only the best will do!” my mother had said.
With pail in hand I set off with great haste,
For a pie was needed to be baked for a special supper she had planned and there was no time to waste!
While my sister made daisy chains and the other children frolicked in the sun,
I began my Quest with a skip and a run.

The Deadwater woods that lay to the East was were I would find the berries that tasted the best for delectable feast.
But then a doubt crept in turning me cold and filling my head with unrest,
For I had forgotten a stern warning I was once told that could hinder my quest.
For the woods in the east with their leaves so green and barks of earth Brown and fire Red,
Hold many a frightening secret, including the whispers of the dead.
Many tales have been told on many a soul-less black night,
Of the horrors contained in those woods that have given many a brave man a fright.
Tales of murder and mayhem and things that go bump in the night,
The warning was simple to follow, “Don’t venture there alone, especially at night!”
“Stuff and nonsense!” my father had once said,
“If you believe such folly then you must be soft in the head!”
But I did believe in such folly I muttered with jaw clenched so tight,
Now I just hoped that the horrors in those woods only came out at night!

The butterflies in my stomach began to flitter and flutter as beads of sweat weighed heavy on my brow,
The fear was now overwhelming but it was too late to turn back now.
For my quest was not yet over for the berries of Black and Red so succulent and sweet,
And I was a stubborn and proud young soul and refused to savour the bitter taste of defeat.
As I gripped my pail tight my fears began to wither,
“I will not let these woods of the east defeat me!” I bellowed to the heavens as my bottom lip began to quiver.
As I entered the woods my arrogance and gusto felt flat in my gut,
Like my father had told me once too often- I should have just kept my big mouth shut!
“Surely the dead would not harm a boy as innocent as me?” I said to myself with a whimsical chuckle,
As I passed by bushes of thorn, bramble, and rows of Golden honeysuckle.

As I ventured further into the woods it was not long before I reached the shores of the Deadwater river,
As my hands became clammy and my knees began to quiver.
Standing by the river as the sun above me burned hard and bright,
My body ached and begged for mercy, but I could not give up the fight.
So reluctantly I pressed on following the river as it twisted and turned staying close to the shore,
Until I came to a dead end where I could travel no more.
A small dirt path now to the left would now lead the way,
So I gave a thankful nod to the Deadwater river and said “good day”.

Now my quest for the berries would take a rather more sinister path,
Past the remains of the old Quebec house where they say on a cold dark November night you can hear the ghost of Annabel Burns’ haunting laugh.
Annabel was no more than eleven when she met her dreadful fate,
When a fire unexpectedly broke out on her families estate.
Only Annabel and her nurse-maid perished on that fateful night,
When they found their remains after the flames had died down it was a ghastly sight.

Through the years it has been told that when the moon is full on the anniversary of that cold dark November night,
That people have seen and heard Annabel laughing standing on the Red bricked steps of her home clutching her favourite doll oh so tight.
And if you should catch her smiling at you with her oh so innocent smile,
Then your fate has already been cast and soon you will die, executed without even a trial.

As I came close to the Red brick steps, I close one eye and hold my breath,
For there are many ways that the dead can get you, and the last thing I needed to hinder my quest was a slight case of death!
So I move quickly and steadily until I was far enough away,
“Maybe another time Annabel Burns” I say under my breath “but not today”.

After my near death encounter my heart was almost bursting out of my chest,
I decided to sit down and take a little rest.
Taking out my handkerchief I wiped my brow and my head,
“It’s not an easy life” I said to myself “trying to out smart the dead”.
As I looked to the sky I saw that the sun was beginning to fall,
The day had gotten away from me too fast, there was no more time to stall!
As I kicked up my heels and began to run,
I had to run like the wind and beat out the sun!
As my feet pounded into the earth I bounded onward like a wild gazelle,
Nothing could stop me now, I flew like the wind, like a bat out of hell!

Now I could see the hangman’s tree where many an unscrupulous soul had forfeited their life at the end of a rope,
Just beyond the tree was the berry bushes I that I seek, my body pain-ridden and tired was now filling with hope.
But just as I slowed down to catch my bated breath,
I sensed something was wrong? Suddenly I could smell the unforgettable stench of death. As I moved slowly down the path I felt a chill run up my spine,
Like someone was watching my every step, I was now anything but fine.

As I reached the hangman’s tree the stench was a strong unbearable smell,
It was like I had just entered the putrid bowels of hell.
I took out my hankerchief and tied it around my head to cover my mouth and nose,
As I began to gag and dry heave, I felt sick from my head all the way down to my toes.
As I began to search for the cause of the smell that was making me feel sick,
My morbid curiosity was now at it’s peak, “Could it be a bird, a beast, or worse?” I said to myself. My brain was now like a frantic clock, tick-tick-tick.
I had almost given up when something caught the corner of my eye,
Near a small wooden bridge crossing over another stretch of the Deadwater river where something did lie.
As I cautiously moved closer, my heart pounded like thunder,
With unspeakable fear, but still a morbid curious wonder.

Soon I was within a foot of a dead man’s body as the smell turned me green,
It was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen.
Then for whatever reason I still I cannot fathom why,
I picked up a stick and prodded the dead man in the back as dark clouds filled the sky.
“Why would you do that?” a voice said from behind me as I dropped my pail and screamed,
“Don’t you think it’s enough that I am dead?” said the voice as I closed my eyes pretending it was all a bad dream.
“Will you not turn and face me and give me the pleasure?”
“If you do young sir, I will give you a treasure.”
I opened my eyes slowly and removed the handkerchief from around my face,
My cheeks were now stained with tears and I longed to be held by my mother’s warm embrace.
“I mean you no harm I swear” said the dead man as I reluctantly turned around,
I put my hand to my mouth to hide my scream, trying not to make a sound.
As I set eyes upon him my fears faded away,
He looked normal, for a dead man, I guess you could say.
“What are you doing out here boy?” he said as I stood there still scared just a tad,
“These woods are no place for you, there are things amongst these trees that will drive you mad.”
“I am on a quest for berries of Black and Red, so succulent and sweet” I replied bravely as my voice filled with dread,
As the dead man just looked at me as a look of curiosity spread across his face of Blue and Green as worms and maggots slithered out of the holes in his head.
And then he smiled a smile so warm unlike I had never seen?
As he showed me his teeth all rotten and Green.

“I too used to come here for the berries so succulent and sweet, I used to eat them till my belly was bursting, my they were a treat!”
As the dead man reminisced I began to feel at ease, so I turned over my pail and used it as a seat.
We talked about everything and nothing until the sun began to set,
Once I had realised the time, I suddenly began to fret.

So I quickly got to my feet and grabbed my pail as I ran to the bushes and began snatching at the berries of Black and Red.
The thorns were slicing my hands, the pain was excruciating, but I didn’t let it go to my head.
Soon my pail was over flowing as I smiled and gave a sigh,
Now I could worry about my hands which were stinging so bad I felt like I could cry.
I tore my hankerchief in two and soaked the pieces in the river,
The I wrapped them around my hands as a slight wind made me shiver.
I was about to leave when the dead man spoke once more.
“I promised you a treasure if you turned around, but instead you gave me all of your time, so now I must reward you with so much more.”
“I am a man of my word and my word is my bond,”
“Sometimes it is all a man has especially if he is a vagabond.”

“Go to my body and there you will find your prize, there’s a necklace around my neck you can have, but the real treasure is my right eye.”
“Your right eye?” I replied now very confused and worried. “When you turn me over,” he said with a smile “you will soon see why.”
So I set down my pail humoured the dead man with his request,
Even though I felt like a fool and this was all one big jest.
As I reached the body the smell once again made my head feel light,
“Just turn me over” he said “and you’ll see that I’m right.”
So I hold my breath hard and turn him over just like he said,
Expecting nothing more than the remains of a man who is oh so very dead.
I first saw a pretty silver pendant on a necklace made of string,
It’s gleam twinkled in my eye, it was a very beautiful thing.

“It was a gift from my daughter,” he said as he bowed his head,
“She said as long as I wore it she’d always be with me. I’d like to see it go to someone
deserving, I can’t take it with me” he chuckled “now that I’m dead.”
I nodded accordingly and put the silver pendant on a string over my head,
The old saying is true, ‘you can’t take it with you when you are dead.’

Now all that was left to do was retrieve the dead man’s right eye,
A sense of dread and repulsion coursed through my body, I had to be brave, resisting the urge to cry.
As I looked closer at the eye, I almost did a double-take,
For the eye was not real, his right eye was fake!

“I lost my eye a long time ago, as the autumn leaves turned,” he said with a weary sigh,
“This eye is one of magic,” he said “take it and it will bring you wonder if you ask it right,” he said as I saw the full moon in the sky.
“I must go,” I said as I grabbed my pail,
As I set off towards the Deadwater trail.
“Be careful young sir,” the dead man had said.
“For there are unkind spirits in these woods that will play tricks on innocent people like yourself, so always be weary of the dead.”
I nodded my head as I run with great haste,
I was already late for supper, and there wasn’t anymore time to waste!
I gave a thankful nod and was on my way,
It was almost the end of an eventful day.

I ran like the wind and got home in no time flat,
Mother fretted and worried about my hands but I told her to let it be and that was that.
She queried and questioned as to why I was out so long?
But I refused to answer and instead I whistled an innocent song.

She washed the berries and soon the pie was made and baking,
While I stood there projecting a veil of confidence while quietly shaking.
I washed up for supper as father came home from work,
“Another long day at the lumber yard,” Father said sighing where he had worked for many years as a shipping clerk.

As we all sat round the table as dinner began,
Father apologised for being late, his meeting overran.
We ate a meal of root vegetables and father’s favourite, a whole rack of Lamb,
As father drank whiskey, numerous amounts by the dram.

As mother cleared the plates, we all excused ourselves as I went upstairs,
Father smoked his pipe and sister played with her teddy bears.
Quickly I entered my room, shutting the door and locked it tight,
As the full moon shone through my bedroom window all fat and bright.

I went to my window ledge and lifted the lid,
For under the ledge was where I kept my ‘special’ things that I wanted to stay hid.
I took out the eye and the pendant on string,
The pendant was enchanting, but the eye was a more curious and wonderful thing.

It was as light as a feather and left as smooth as glass,
The iris was an unusual shade of green, much paler and lighter than grass.
As I rolled it in my hand and whistled again that playful tune from before,
I felt something strange began to happen as I suddenly saw a shadow outside my room from the crack under the door.

Quickly I hid the pendant and the eye under a pillow as a knocking wrapped my bedroom door,
“Who is it?” I called out, but no-one answered, then the shadow was no more.
As I sat there confused, I felt that strange feeling again,
“There was surely someone there?” I said to myself. “For I am certainly not insane!”
Then I gazed out the window and something caught my eye,
There was someone standing on the lawn below looking up at me, as I gulped with fear and tried not to cry.

Then the figure stepped into the pale moonlight and revealed itself as I gave a relieved sigh,
For it was the dead man staring up at me smiling as I smiled back and as he waved goodbye.
There were unkind spirits in those woods who liked to play tricks on innocent people like me, the dead man had said, as I laughed out loud to myself and remembered his warning:

Always be weary of the dead.