There are no prizes (don’t you know there’s a recession on?), but an honourable mention in the Flash competition goes to… Anna Hogarty! Nicely done, Anna. Respect.
All Elsie saw that day was a flash, and don’t ask her any more about it, because she doesn’t know. Flashes are blinding, and they knock you from the ground if they’re anywhere near as big as the flash that Elsie saw. So really, you’d probably know more than Elsie about anything else that happened that day, because Elsie was blinded on the floor.
Elsie was in the woods to begin with because she liked to go walking. Her parents, in those hours of desperation when they reported her missing to the police, pleaded help on the grounds that Elsie never went out by herself. Elsie was nine. She was playing in the garden the last time they saw her, disappeared in the blink of an eye. In a flash, as it happens, were the very words they used. But they soon retracted everything after Elsie came back. Elsie went walking by herself all the time. They were overreacting, all in a panic, especially what with that man lurking about. They couldn’t see the woods for the trees.
Elsie was knocked against a tree. That was how she got the bruising down her face. And that was why it took her so long to get home. The flash, of course, was over in an instant. But she was dizzy, so she sat there for a while, recovering, putting quite who Elsie was back together in her mind. Those marks on her wrists, well those were her parents’ doing. So relieved were they when she returned that they clung to her, refused to let go. Elsie was their favourite child, a little pixie of a thing, dark haired and cherry-cheeked. You’d have loved her just as passionately too.
Don’t mention anything at all about the man that walkers found a few months later in the woods. Their dog found him really, sniffed him out, covered over in a ditch with twigs and leaves. Identified by police as the Swynford Wanderer: a homeless man who’d arrived in the village half a year or so before, made a nuisance of himself hanging around the local school. It was decided not to make a big deal out of it. He was hidden there, yes, but who could know the ways of such a man? Probably he thought it would make a nice bed, and that was that, and though people felt bad for him, of course they did, they slept ever so slightly better at night with him gone.
Elsie’s very sensitive about that man. But you couldn’t blame her now, could you, just a child at the time, and something so terrible happening in her beloved woods. Also, because all the children knew him by sight. He used to lean over the wall during break time or lunch, grinning and chattering at them till spotted by a teacher and shooed away. Always worse in these situations when you know someone, however fleetingly. It was a wonder any of them could sleep.
Sleep was always difficult for Elsie from the day of the flash, but no point asking her about that. Nothing worse than hearing someone moaning on about the dark, lonely hours of the night. As it was, she suffered terrible night frights, creatures swimming wildly through the air towards her, hurtling her from her bed towards the light. Any form of light. But a flash would do that to you, wouldn’t it, knock you just a bit. Especially one as big and blinding as the one that Elsie saw.
Some would say that Elsie never left the woods that day. It’s true that she never married, never travelled, never made it far from the earthy grasp of Swynford’s trees. She lives there today, in one of those cabins in the forest’s heart. Drop by if you’re ever passing through. Ask her about her cats, or her collection of china animals, she likes to talk about that. By all means ask her about the weather, she could talk about the weather for days. Just don’t ask her about that flash, which came and then went, impossible to describe really, and then what would be the point? And that has always been that, and always will be too, as far as Elsie is concerned.