A pale, full moon drifts through the skies behind the gnarled branches above you as you walk down the travel-worn dirt road. Your feet pad silently as you wrap your cloak about you.
The warmth of the smoky tavern you only recently left fades from your skin leaving you colder with every step, and you think of your cottage that awaits you at the end of this walk. A warm fire. A soft pillow. A good night’s sleep sheltered from the cold autumn night.
The crisp breeze rattles the frost-coated leaves of the apple orchard shading the quiet road. It brings with it the smell of ripened fruit, ready to be picked.
Up ahead a hedge marks the edge of cultivated land and the beginning of the deepening woods. Your path will follow along this barrier of bough and bramble, and you know better than to leave the path--and yet…
Ahead a silver gate glistens in the hedgerow. One you swear you have never seen before though you have walked this path on countless occasions, both day and night. It shines with a high polish, unearthly in the moonlight as if the gate itself emits a glow. You pause before it, gazing through it into the pooling shadows beneath the trees.
Something glides between two ancient, moss-covered standing stones. A shiver cuts down your spine. It may be just mist, just a wisp of fog carried on the breeze, yet it moves slower than the wind, floating gracefully instead of tossed upon the rowdy breeze.
You lean closer, and against your better judgment, your hand brushes the gate. A shock of strange power jolts through you as the gate swings open. The wind whips up and snatches your hat from your head.
You stumble forward, flailing for it, and in one misguided step, you are on the wrong side of the hedge. Your feet leave the hard-packed road, worn by centuries of travelers, and sink into the cold, damp moss of the forest floor.
Heart in your throat, you spin around, only to find the gate gone. The dark hedge stands before you, an impenetrable wall. Before you can panic, though, a sound like a distant harp strums in the quiet.
Your heart quickens its beat like a pounding drum as a woman in flowing white steps from the trees. Her hair rises and falls with the wind as do her flowing robes. You can see the towering trees through her being as she floats towards you, but her expression is curious and kind, not malicious.
In spite of her unearthly appearance, you do not feel fear, only anticipation, as she comes to stand before you beneath the boughs.
Your eyes meet, and you know what she wishes. To hear your memories of the night’s merriment, the warmths of fire and companionship she can no longer know, that she pines for. She reaches out, the cold light of yearning in her eyes.
Pity stirs within you, and you grasp her hand. It is icy and insubstantial, like holding a breath of wind. You close your own eyes and remember the merriment. You think of the fragrance of tobacco smoke rising from the pipe of the old farmer who spins yarns for the patrons of the inn.
You think of the laughter and the joy. You think forward to your warm fire and the comforts of home. It all rushes from you, and a smile crosses the specter’s face even as you begin to shiver from the cold...