Sarah was on a country walk, hoping to rectify her boredom and claustrophobia. She was never good at reading maps. She managed to follow the path across an open plain, but by now the wind was blowing so strongly that she was buffeted, and  it was an uncomfortable experience. She decided to take a path to the left, into the forest.

 

At least it was quieter there. The forest was dense, and the arching boughs above made it seem like a cathedral. It must, at some time, have been the site of a great estate, as there were  cultivated trees and bushes that were not native to this country. Here was a tiny palm, made dwarfish by the lack of light: there was a fuchsia bush, blooming and swaying in a melancholy way. She suddenly realised what was wrong: that the path she was following was not earth, but pavement. Cobbles had been painstakingly hammered into shape and laid in a curve. Not without some misgivings, she decided to follow it.

 

In the heart of the forest, and almost covered with lichen, she came upon an extraordinary brick building with small windows. It was domed - almost like the top of an egg. She walked round it and found some steps going down to a door. She pushed hard against the door, and it gave with a crack. She stepped in. It was a massive space, enough room for five elephants at least. The thick windowpanes filtered  a little light through, and she saw that there was at least as much space below the ground as above. It was spherical. It was a giant egg.  There were niches set in the walls. It was an ice-house.

 

Sarah had heard of these. Some eighteenth-century estates had had them. The ice had been painstakingly lugged up from the rivers frozen in winter,  and it preserved the meat throughout the boiling summers. Great ladies could eat sherbert to cool their blood. Nothing could go rancid, because nothing could be warm.

 

She sat quietly there for awhile. It must be a trick of the imagination or of the light, but she began to see faces in the niches on the wall. They looked like people she had known. All of them, although they were technically warm - the blood did run through them when they were alive - were cool by temperament. They had all been cold -hearted. They had measured out their love in coffee-spoons. Here they sat now, and the biting chill did seem to suit them. A blink, a slight grimace, showed that they were still alive, just a little bit.

 

Sarah ran back up the steps and into the open. The forest felt warm by comparison. She walked quickly to the edge of the plantation and into the burning air. She had learned something she would not easily forget: that it is better to be hot and to decay, than to be cold and immobile: that is is better to sweat and to melt, than to remain untouched and guarded: that it is better to die than to live forever underground. Thus fortified, she stepped out into the sun. Melting was not so bad, after all.

SOMETHING EGG-SHAPED IN THE FOREST

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |