Charlotte Comley is a writer and professional storyteller. She has an MA in creative writing and runs a writing group called The Writers at Lovedean. For more information, visit thewriterslovedean.co.uk
There was no snow in the centre of the ring.
Beau knew there wouldn’t be, a left-over from the magic, even after all these centuries.
‘Daughter, grandchild, we must make the holes big enough for us to curl up in before the sun sets this Yule,’ Beau said.
Chloe, 14, with hair the shade of a new copper penny, looked around her, decided on a spot, then dropped to her knees.
The day was cold, and it had snowed in the morning, she wondered how she would dig in the hard ground.
Surprised at how her fingers moved into the soil as if pushing them into soft brown sand, Chloe smiled.
She looked at her grandmother who gave her a nod of approval and started letting her own fingers scramble into the dirt.
Her mother hung back, ‘How are we going to dig these…’ she struggled for a word, ‘makeshift graves. You didn’t bring any spades.’
Beau moved a leg and needed to push on her knee to help herself stand, her granddaughter would have helped her to her feet, but she gave a discreet shake of the head, and the girl obediently carried on with her task.
Beau looked at her daughter.
She was in her late thirties, and she had dyed her red hair and painted her face; successfully embraced the world of cities and cars.
Could she, in her day-to-day living, have lost her connection to the earth, her mother?
‘It would not be right to use something man-made on this sacred spot, it would be something like rape to use tools.
‘Lily, this year we will be turning into a new century.
‘We must return to the ground this Yule and emerge at the summer solstice, and we will come back and be energized and ready for the next hundred years.’
‘But this isn’t the millennium, that was over a decade ago.’
‘I speak of the calendar of the circle.’
Lily glanced outside the stones at the snow.
Her mother rubbed the top of her daughters arm.
‘But how will we breathe?’ Lily said.
‘The earth will look after us, daughter. Trust.’
Lily gave a smile, which looked slightly like a grimace.
She dropped her bag, small and made of leather.
‘You will have to leave that outside the circle. You can’t bring metal into the ground.’
‘But my car keys, my purse and bank cards,’ Lily complained.
But her mother and daughter were busy digging.
‘Grandmother, tell me again about Blodeuwedd.’
Lily made a small sigh of irritation but remained silent; she began to dig.
She too could push her fingers into the soil, but she found stones and other pieces of debris in her way.
‘Our ancestor is Blodeuwedd; she was created by two wizards and woven out flowers to marry a man under a curse.
‘On a sturdy stone table, they gathered thin stems from lily stalks to make arms and legs, whittled down Sweet Williams for the feet, crafted eyes from poppies, red roses for her cheeks, dark tulips for her hair.
‘They weaved this wife for Lleu Llaw Gyffes, uttering incantations.
‘But although these men made a woman out of flowers, they couldn’t control her heart.
‘Marry she did, but her true love was Gronw Pebyr.
‘But that story, my dear child, must wait for the summer solstice.’
The older woman and young child made good progress on their holes, and soon dusk approached.
‘I’m tired, and the ground feels so warm and comforting,’ Chloe said.
She leaned forward and kissed her grandmother on the cheek, their eyes met, and they lingered for a moment.
Beau stroked the soft petal cheek of the child.
‘Sleep well my dear.’
Chloe hugged her mother and then curled up into the hole, while her grandmother covered her with earth.
‘But how will we breathe?’ her mother muttered.
Beau covered the girl and patted down the soil as if tucking the child into bed.
‘Let me help you,’ Beau said, digging a hole for her daughter.
‘We must be back at our mother’s breast before the sun goes down.’
Her daughter stood up and clutched her bag to her chest.
‘And where will I put my keys and my cards?’
She stepped back to the edge of the stones.
‘Daughter, do not leave the circle, the sun is almost down.’
Beau pleaded, but she was already climbing into the hole she prepared for herself, she patted at a space beside her.
‘Child, we can return to the ground together.’
Lily shook her head, ‘My car, and my house.’
Beau started to pull the soil over her legs, her face looked tired and drawn, the texture of dried leaves.
‘Please,’ she said before lying down and letting the earth fall over her face.
‘But how will we breathe?’
The dusk had brought a cold winter wind, and mist clung to the ground around the circle of stones.
Lily shook her head at the hole that she had prepared, she clung to her bag and ran.
The sun disappeared from the horizon as Lily began to dash down the hillside, she staggered and made a few more steps.
Her skin became as dry as paper, and the wind managed to pull some of the layers from her face.
She put her hand to her cheek, desperate to stop the skin blowing into the air.
Her finger became nothing more than dry twigs.
She turned and tried to get back to the circle, suddenly needing the dark, needing the soil around her, but it was too late.
A burst of wind and Lily was dispersed into a flurry of seeds, some with tiny, fluffy heads like dandelions; other taking the air like the helicopter seeds from maple trees.
Lily floated onto the wind into the darkness, each part of her seeking the safety of the earth.
The Ring at Dusk is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.
Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.