Stepping Stones

by Jennifer Walmsley

Lisa heard it before she came upon it, and as she walked through shoulder high bracken, the song of water drew her on.

Legend has it that if a traveller walked across the breadth of the river to Blessing Tower, they would find peace of mind.

When she emerged from the bracken, Lisa found herself standing on a narrow, pebbled shore. Shielding her eyes, she looked across the river to an ancient tower breaking through treetops that merged with a clear blue sky.

In front of her, stepping stones meandered across the river to the other side. Tentatively, she placed a foot onto the first stepping stone, finding assurance at it solidness.

Taking another step, she reached the second stone that slanted a little as if ready to tip her into deep water, but she continued until she reached the opposite side.

For a long time, Lisa stood upon another pebbled shore, and looked back to the spot where she had come from. Then she turned to face bracken as green and lush as the bracken she’d recently walked through.

As she scrambled up a shallow bank, a pheasant flew out from its cover, squawking its alarm at her intrusion. Lisa let out a nervous chuckle, and carried on until she emerged into the shadow of Blessing Tower.

It stood on an area of grass cropped short by roaming animals. ‘Danger,’ a sign read. ‘Do Not Enter.’ Her whole life, Lisa thought, had been directed by signs, peoples actions or demands but, this time, she would not obey.

Approaching a heavy wooden door, she noted that it was unlocked, and opening it, she peered upwards at well-trodden, stone steps that weaved their way to the top of the Norman tower.

Entering, she started to climb, and as she did so, her heart hammered, but when she reached the top, the view that spread out before her made her gasp in awe and delight.

To her left, the sea glittered through a gap in trees. On her right, the estuary meandered through flatland where sheep and cows grazed. In the distance hills, tinted pink by late afternoon sunlight, undulated into a silver horizon.

‘Paradise,’ she uttered to herself and her utterance echoed softly back to her.

A trail of light wind blew, and she imagined staying there, living in the tower, away from the world, her personal problems and anxieties. Then she heard a piercing screech and a kestrel soared up, almost at eye level, holding in its talons a terrified blackbird.

‘No!’ Lisa shouted as black feathers spun down to the ground like mourning confetti, but the kestrel carrying its struggling prey swooped away from her frantic plea.

Then a dark cloud passed over the sun and, from the sea, a grey mist tumbled in towards the land. Shivering at the sudden chill, Lisa made her way downwards, dreading the river crossing that lay before her.

Jennifer Walmsley was born and brought up in Wales, and has had short stories published in both women’s and Welsh literary magazines.

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