“Must I always be posting transactions and extracting trial balances?”
I said to myself, Landon Croaker, an accountant, adjusting the padded compartments of my backpack as I rambled up a ragged winding woodland path.
A granite strewn gulag odyssey that’s  second nature to me now.
There was the usual green stew of ornate plants with enthralling names that fascinate the tourist.
Ancient Fir Clubmoss which grows into a chalice like shape 
as beads of moisture drip sluggishly from its toothless emerald  surface.
St Patrick’s cabbage, a dessert
spoon’s  mirror image with thick leather leaves and zig zag veins.
Hapless Fraochan and whort shrubs whose symmetrical fruit pendants are just  waiting to be plucked.
To say nothing of that most prickly bane,
those nasty nettles that have one scratching endlessly. 
Oxalic acid scald that triggers spasms rippling over bare skin. 
I brought my notebook with me.
It was spiral bound with a shifting, shimmery, hologram motif emblazoned on the front.
Observations were logged for future reference.
Closet novelist or bard perhaps?
Maybe one day.
The natural word is driven by a multitude of forces. 
It seemed as if we are all marionettes in a chain, both manipulator and manipulated, Svengali and slave.
Rainbow trouts extracting energy from water vortices by means of slalom action.
Hornet’s pigments as they harvest solar waves for flight or excavation.
Fern clad Sessile oak trees with hard shelled acorn progeny suggesting motion  of a different kind.
Birds pirating said acorns to a vernal grass plot for seamless cycles.
Canopies of lattice branches that springboard every creature under the sun.
Those boughs with the  brittle snap at taut intervals that plant a sting in one’s ear.
Shrieks from a stunned squirrel leaping in the arc of a trapeze with blue jay alarm signal in tow.
The non-stop rustle from rabbits under slender stalks, and overarching foliage across burrowed hidey-holes.
Puffball clouds and brown dust spores sprung by microscopic raindrops.
Echo chamber habitat in open foetal sesame hostile to human intruders.
A wastrel I was within the wilds and the elements were miffed by this tactless troll through their terrain.  

I was getting close to that place where my friends, a husband and wife team lived and ran a fringe publishing company.
These partners had a similar office in town.
They carried their high octane business drive into this secluded spot.
Urban and rural life was their forte initially.
Their penchant for capturing niche markets and spotting trends was legion.
The couple resided in a cherry wood log  cabin with tongue and groove cladding and a pine timbered roof lantern peering pensively into the maze-like river down below.
This dwelling was perched at the side of a mountain.
The mountain itself had a surreal sweep about it as it apexed towards the sky piercing spectra colored cloud balloons.
Like a watchtower it sat silently in sinister observance.
Sunlight gestated in the sky as I trekked forward.
A primeval heave juddered beneath the rumpled insoles in my footwear as they oozed  sweaty squelching noises.
Insights like fumaroles coursed through my veins in blood red bursts.
Within this raw canvas a universal pulse, a oneness exists.
A fallow deer suddenly appeared. 
It was of the chestnut coat and white mottles type.
The deer looked furtively at me with startled eyes deep in its skull as if it knew something I didn’t.
They have their own badinage and intuition that goes with it.
Within minutes it vanished.
A swarm of flies choose my face as target practice.
A virtual non stop kamikaze buzz.
Flies, the spooky whistleblowers on the solitary hiker with grazed cheeks as collateral damage.
The sweat brought on by my laboured trudge didn’t help.
Despite this onslaught I stopped  to tie my braided lace bespoke boots.
Anticipation drove me on irrespective of the sweltering heat.
It was if I had survived some endurance test.
The clothes on my body were wringing wet but still I had broken the back of the journey.
Though I sometimes felt it had nearly broken the back of me.
Heading onwards the
urban spirit still had me somewhat in its spell.
Sleep busting motorway drones going beep beep, cone shaped traffic markers as hard plastic cordon, the rapid rail transit system with it’s clickety-clack cadences, sonorous horn signals from departing cruise ships.
There is the other side of the equation in these surroundings.
Chambered cairns, those passage tunnels from the past that act as stone markers for the venturer.
Platform mounds whose ribboned cracks and gouges play host to strongly rooted Chasmophytes.

The leaves softly hinted at a lurking silhouette as the log cabin became dimly visible.
“Hello, there.  Fancy seeing you here.
Welcome back.”
Chelsea, in a quaint croaking baby twang that mocked distance.
“Oh …You frightened me.”  Landon said.
For a moment I nearly toppled over but miraculously kept my balance.
Chelsea dashed  towards me with a note of concern that soon turned to mirth.
“A bit worried there Landon but never fear.
It’s great  to see you.
What a surprise!
But then we like surprising people too as you’ve learned by now.”
I paused and replied.
“How could I ever forget?  It's the unexpected that adds spice to this life business and others too!”
Landon sardonically.
While catching up we spied a crestfallen black crow struggling to take flight.
It eventually did.
“Like people at work or in other situations.
They can find it hard going.”
Chelsea observes.
“I always find this a haunting spot.”
Landon briefly.
“Indeed.  You sound tired.”
Chelsea replies.
“We’ll change all that.  We’ll change everything about your life now you’re here.”
The ramifications of that comment would soon unfold.
Was there a shadowy presence stalking us or am I hallucinating? 
“The last time I was here we talked about the possibility of children.
Any decision yet?  Indeed we have been having this  conversation for some time.
You could always adopt.”
I continued.
“Don’t have to do that. 
Got my husband and he’s got me.”  She said.
“We’re  both kids at heart.” 
Her voice trails off with a sad tinge.
“This location seems ideal but there’s school and….. other factors.”
Chelsea hesitantly.
“Nothing that couldn’t be resolved with a bit of thought.”  Landon in reply.
At this point Croaker sensed Chelsea’s unease and didn’t press the point.
“Hey, what’s this?”   Croaker cried as two apples landed at his feet.
“Yahoo.  You two.”
Chesney, Chelsea’s  husband shouted before climbing down a tree with infant zeal.
“It’s been so long.
Doesn't  time fly?
Going back to our childhood the days have been an endless sprint.”
Chesney again.
“These sudden appearances are very well coordinated. 
Is there a hidden hand or something deeper?”
Landon mused as we all continued apace.
While walking it dawned on me how dewy-eyed this couple were.
They also cut thin, bony almost adolescent figures despite their thirty something vintage.
One could say they were reflections of each other in every sense

Entering the cabin shortly afterwards it seemed like something from a children’s storybook.
Cartoon mosaics hanging precariously from their fool’s gold borders, zip purses with smashed purple bead inserts, and shredded comic strips in tiny bundles.
Plush stuffed toys with sewn outer fabrics as well but for whom?
“Ever since my first visit I’ve sensed a saga shrouded in the deepest mystery.
This cover up.
An untold tale.”
Croaker on reflection.
“Hey Snap.  What are you thinking?
What’s accountancy like these days?
A game of noughts and crosses.”
Chesney’s barb evokes laughter.
“Nothing ever really changes.
The usual stuff, low risk profiles, investment hazards.
It’s a world I drifted into but is there a way out I wonder?
How about you? 
Still building this publishing company in paradise.”
Croaker once more.
“Publishing is odd at times. It’s almost as if you are becoming the stories submitted.”
Chesney observed.
“Children's stories and fantasies are beginning to do well for us.
Themes linked to birth and regrowth which we’ve always had a thing about are also gaining interest.
All those manuscripts but am I boring you?”
He asked.
“Not at all. 
It gets me away from the staid accountancy world.” 
Landon tactfully.

A salad of roasted lemon, fennel fronds and pomegranate was served with zesty citric juices to accompany our discourse.
Guacamole dip based on chunky avocados, signature relish blobs and tortilla chips rounded off this fare.
Slants on various topics passed blithely from our lips.
Our enthusiastic voices filled the cabin adding  an extra dimension to this haven from that Trojan horse we call the daily plod.
After our meal we placed the Royal Stafford dishware in the washing machine.
Chelsea’s phantom figure scurries outside with Olympic speed for whatever reason.
A flambeau wouldn’t have been out of place.
It was so redolent of the suddenness about.
A cocoon descends around Chesney and Landon as they become  rapt in each other’s company.
Unfortunately Chesney had this habit of being swept up by his own conversations.
Against caw and pipe rook vocals in the background I quizzed Chesney about the urban country rift.
It seemed that even tranquil timberlands so-called have their own stressors.
“See those creatures slumped awkwardly on fragile twigs?
They can sense pending discomfort such as weather changes.
But can they  really cope?”
Chesney pondered.
“Don’t know if you can really escape the man-made pressures of city life.” 
A querulous tone from Chesney this time.
“Maybe these divisions  are rubbing off on one another.”
Landon archly.
“Thud…… an incredible sound.
What was that?”
Chesney shook as he commented.
Chelsea walked in the door.
“Oh dear   .. let’s say a homing pigeon.
Always up to that kind of nonsense.
They’re a  strange breed.” 
She said smugly.
“Very strange indeed.” 
Chesney out loud.
A strained silence ensues as Chesney and Chelsea exchange glances but one could guess from their scrunched up expressions what they were thinking.
“Was that really a homing pigeon?” 
Landon wondered and maybe Chesney too.

A circus of the wilds continued to intensify outside as species vies with species in a fanfare of egos.
Chirpy  robin red breasts at the window,
wing scraping crickets in high chorus on a Vulcan steam curtain.
Horseshoe Bats that weave around rainbow shafts with aplomb.
Such delights as Daddy long legs with their cancan dances on sodden green patches.
“Excuse me …..ring a bell.” 
Chesney diverting Landon’s attention from the goings on outside with a broken fragment.
Landon bought this autumn crocus crystal vase for them both on a previous sojourn.
It slipped from his hands in a butter fingers incident and predictably shattered.
From memory Croaker uttered the words “my  lasting gift” as it fell.
Cackles all around but frustration for Landon.
“It’s an hilarious keepsake after a fashion.”
Chelsea opined.
“Oh, thank you I think.”
Said Landon.
The hours passed with this and other anecdotes.
We both decided to retire.
Landon saw Chesney furtively remove what looks like a letter from a ring pull  drawer.
“Just an old bill. 
Must shred it.”  He said.
“Why would Chesney even explain that?
His face is red.
How curious.”
Croaker thought.
Shuffling to his allocated bedroom Landon did notice kids gadgets dangling over cube modular storage units.
Pink salmon quilted eiderdowns, pillows with children sleeping under moonlit skies, and Milky Way throw blankets completing this idyllic scene.
The night passed uneventfully.
There were some noises in the kitchen as early morning approached but I  was too tired to notice.
Having woken sluggishly Croaker walked into the dinning area.
A sense of foreboding, an ominous ghostly silence filled the room.
The strangest happenings seemed imminent.
Landon grappled awkwardly with the  claustrophobia around him.
It was rudely disrupted by the shrill chatter of the chestnut-sided warbler - Induna of the morning cacophony.
An oak hook tip moth added charm to the proceedings with its zoom and flutter acrobatics.
“I’ve the creepiest feelings about this morning.
Doubt if I’ll jot  these presentiments down.
Not very promising for one who toys with the idea of being a writer.”
Croaker reasoned while casting a suspicious eye on everything.
“Buzzz ……Buzzz ....Boing.
It’s my old phone’s  text tone.
My boss. 
Wonder what he wants?”
Landon to himself.
“Dear Landon,
When you return I would like to speak to you about your future with this company.
At the moment I can’t go into further details.
As it involves a lot of interested parties a wide ranging discussion would be in order,
Regards,
Tom Wright
Managing Director.”
Landon’s worst fears now confirmed.
“What  am I to make of that?
Just how serious is this or is there another …. what is this in front of me?”
A letter from Chesney and Chelsea.
“Hi Landon,
We had to leave quickly.
Just one of those things.
Help yourself to whatever largesse there is.
Don’t know how long we’ll be.
You can hang around of course or leave if you like.
Don’t break anything !!
Ha ha,
Ches and Chels.”
Incredible!  
Between the text and the letter who wouldn’t be alarmed?
Landon limped outside to an ear splitting din and a mist laden detritus that merged into pockets of streams steeplechasing each other.
A slimy frog vaults and casts a damp viscous oil spray in Croaker’s direction into the bargain.
Something ….a  shadow.
Was there someone following me?
“This has been the most peculiar visit I’ve ever had.
Intrigue seems  encoded in it’s every aspect.” 
Croaker’s anxiety growing.
A tap on the shoulder followed by a crystal shard landing near his feet.
“The vase remember ?
Don’t take yourself so seriously ……..there’s something we’d like to discuss with you.”
Chesney said pointedly.
“An Agatha Christie mystery novel has nothing on the twists and turns of this trip.”
Landon frets.
“We’ve been mulling over this, Chelsea and I.
Your presence is an extraordinary coincidence.
Do you have this sixth sense  about some higher force at work?”
Chesney quizzically.
“We’d like to offer you a job as an accountant as there is a vacancy here.”
Chelsea this time.
Landon now shivering with the incongruity of it all.
“Don’t you know by now we love to jumpstart even our closest friends?
This post is
tailor-made for you and you’d be foolish not to snap it up.”
Chelsea once more.
“I’m sure your current boss will understand as our paths have crossed over the years!” 
Chesney stated.
Croaker’s head was now in a spin.
What a bizarre comment but he said nothing.
“You like writing don’t you Landon?
Well, you did the last time we spoke.
There are plenty of stories around here.
Who knows, there might even be a role for you as judge and editor.”
Chelsea opining.
“Maybe  those diary entries weren’t a waste after all.”
Landon hoped.
“Didn’t you go to an awful lot of trouble just to offer me a job?”
Croaker queried.
“Neither Chelsea nor I do things the conventional way.
We’ve been building up to this for quite some time.”
Chelsea with Chesney nodding.
A carousel of thoughts flashes through Landon’s mind at this juncture.
He walked in a trance struggling with everything that happened.
“What was in Chelsea’s large sports bag I wonder?” 
Croaker thought.
“Let’s go for a swim, Landon.
I’ve got swim trunks for all of us.
Last down to the river is a nerd.” 
An unsurprising dare from Chelsea.
We glide over spiked brambles, severed logs, twisted stumps and every jagged tooth rock shape imaginable.
Herculean feats were performed.
Because Landon was in a state of shock he got the wooden spoon.
Chelsea tossed a nylon mesh swim trunks at Landon as everyone duly changed.
Something slipped out of Chesney's pocket without him or any of us knowing.
It was that letter Chesney removed previously and read as follows.
“Dear Chesney and Chelsea,
As your doctor I regret you won’t be able to have children.  It’s with a heavy heart I share this with you.
There are many reasons for this...”
The rest of the letter was creased and illegible.
It was subsequently swept to the river’s edge underneath a Crested Iris by a slight breeze.
Meanwhile, we were all breast stroking with abandon with  the occasional breather as well.
“You can make up your mind,  Landon at the end of this swim whenever that is and wherever it is taking us.”
Chelsea chuckled.
“Things really aren’t all that different around here bar the setting.
Even the speed.”
Once again Chelsea spoke as she circulates in the eddying stream.
“Let yourself go, Landon.
Be that rush amid the rapids.
Maybe it’s a different cage but still.”
Chesney, a toddler’s echo to this mind boggling denouement.
We all started off again as we  follow each other downstream.
“Awh, the child within!” Cries Chelsea before heading off.
“An opportunity of sorts, an escape of sorts.  I’ll probably accept this bizarre offer.” 
Landon to himself as he swam.
At that moment the mountain looked down imperiously upon us all  as the stray deer suddenly reappeared from nowhere.
Maybe that deer did know something after all.
Quite a few things perhaps!

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Regina's picture

M,
You're a master storyteller. I always warm up to your
characters right away. I really appreciate your love
of nature. Your love for writing is evident, it's what
you were born to do. I hope you have a lovely
weekend, good friend. My very best wishes for
the contest. Your writings are always winners.

Regina

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