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Awakening Willow

I could say I resent having to spend Saturday without John, but it wouldn’t be true. Over the years, he has persistently tried teaching me to hit a small white dimpled ball with a nine iron. Much to his frustration, my extensive homemaking skills are non-transferable to the golf course. When he finally suggested that maybe golf wasn’t my thing, I looked suitably crestfallen, but inside I was turning cartwheels. I have always hated golf.

Lifting the kitchen net curtains, I wave enthusiastically, until John has driven off in the inky pre-dawn light. Turning round, I hug myself and grin. I can’t believe I am going to do this. After picking up my mug and quickly finishing my tea, I go upstairs to get ready.

By half seven, as the pale gold sun plays peekaboo with billows of rain-laden cloud, I am driving along the M25, half-listening to Bruno Mars singing something about love and grenades. 

By nine thirty, I am shivering in a mist-shrouded clearing in Epping Forest.

A herald in a green tunic, blue tights, and brown cuffed boots, leaps onto a wooden crate. After blowing a horn he shouts, ‘Gather round forest folk, gather round.’ There follows a rustling of leaves and snapping of twigs as our small crowd shuffles closer to the crate. ‘Dark forces threaten our realm. Our King summons the brave of heart to fight in his name. What say you?’

A white-robed wizard raises a hand. ‘I, Eralon, offer my magic in service to the King.’

We all cheer.

‘Shalmack’s axe shall wield in the King's name,’ booms a bellied and bearded warrior in furs.

More cheering as one by one, pledges are made to the King.

Plucking up my courage, I thrust my sword toward the sky. ‘In the King’s name, I, Willow, will hunt and strike down our enemies without mercy, cut out every evil heart.’

Silence, as heads turn and alarmed eyes look in my direction.

Too much, far too much, I think lowering my sword sheepishly.

The herald smiles sufferance, then continues in a now lowered and slightly gravelly voice. ‘Beware the minions of the Fire Dragon, for they lurk in these dark woods.’ He reaches out a pointed finger and sweeps it along the treeline. ‘They will do all they can to thwart you in your noble quest. Seek out the dragon’s lair, slay the beast, save our land, honour the King. Your destiny calls.’

Thunderous hearty cheers and guttural grunts fill the air. Swords are clanged against shields, leather-clad chests are puffed out and punched with pride. Splitting into our predesignated groups, we begin moving through the forest in search of our foe. As we do so, birds startle from treetops and rabbits dart for cover.

The sun is approaching its apex when our group steps into a small grassy clearing, liberally scattered with fanned pinecones.

Eralon stops, then signals silence. ‘Evil watches us,’ he says, eyes narrowing and peering into the shadows between surrounding trees.

Shalmack strides forward, both hands raising his battle-worn axe. As he does so, his fur top lifts and his trousers slip slightly, to reveal ‘Batman’ on the frayed waistband of his underpants. ‘Reveal thyself,’ he cries.

A giggle escaped my lips, but not, unfortunately, my companion’s ears.

‘First quest, Willow?’ Eralon enquires while stroking a silver-ringed hand down his gossamer grey beard.

‘Um…yes…’ I say, twisting my plum hair with a finger.

‘These are dark days, Willow, much is at stake, it is no time for mirth,’ Eralon warns.

Shalmack lowers his axe. ‘After first blood, you will understand.’

I eye the axe. ‘Blood? On a fun-filled day of fantasy adventure?’

High fantasy adventure, Willow, there is a difference.’

‘Run,’ Eralon shouts.

‘Run?’ Being dressed in a somewhat weighty peasant dress, breastplate and knee-high boots, the concept troubles me.

‘Run!’ chorus my companions.

From gnarled trees emerge several minions in black tunics. Brandishing swords with gusto, their silver-winged helmets start bobbing as they run howling toward us. All thoughts of dignity abandoned, I run. Twigs crack underfoot, fingernailed branches snatch at my dress. Ahead a fallen tree, its dead trunk hollowed. For once, my four-foot-ten height is an advantage as I force my body inside. Inquisitive insects crawl over my skin, the stench of woody decay is overwhelming, but my will to survive keeps me still and silent. Sounds of leaden feet, rattling metal and shouting grow louder, lessen, then are gone.

Creeping out of my hiding place, I run back to the clearing, then into the trees from where the minions had come. My senses are sharpened, my sword ever before me.

Finally, crouching among spore-laden fronds, I see the beast’s lair, a vast artificial cave with a neon green ‘enter’ sign. So, no one is inside, and the dragon flag is still hoisted. Others may have already tried and failed, or I might be the first. I stand and sheathe my sword. Whatever the truth of it, opportunity favours the brave.

It takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, then I see a glow of blue neon above a silver sword. Metal sings as I draw the weapon from its wall scabbard. Within seconds a thunderous roar. Then it comes. A pewter-plated dragon, cavernous nostrils dripping snot, eyes burning molten hate. I start shooting my laser sword, hiding behind black polystyrene rocks, running again, more shooting, more hiding. And all the while the dragon’s tail whips frenziedly as it slithers across the cave’s walls, ceiling, and floor. Time and again its wings retract as its head thrusts forward, mouth screaming fire. My arm is beginning to ache from the weight of the weapon, and I am getting breathless with all the running about. I take another shot shouting, ‘Die you bastard.’ Suddenly, the dragon starts writhing and screeching before disappearing in a mighty ball of smoke.

Silence. Darkness. Then blue neon text starts appearing on a wall. ‘One hundred and twenty shots fired. One hundred and ten shots on target. Fire Dragon slain. Quest complete.’ I did it. I bloody well did it. It would seem enough adrenalin makes warriors of us all, even a fifty-eight-year-old homemaker from Odiham.

Wiping the back of my hand across my mouth, I savour the triumphal sweat-salty taste, that only the bloodied warrior can truly understand. For one glorious moment, I was invincible. As I push aside black curtained doors, sunlight briefly blinds me, but I can hear my fellow forest folk chanting my name.

‘Great play, Willow, great play,’ laughs Shalmack. ‘Pub in ten, ok?’


I close the wardrobe door on my other life. As stars blink through the bedroom window, I start soaking a cottonwool pad in cleanser, then stop as I hear a key wrestling the front door lock.

‘Anna? I’m home. What’s for dinner?’

Dragon stew, lowly knave, thinks Willow. 

‘Shepherd’s pie, love,’ I shout out. ‘I’ll be down in a few minutes to dish up.’

‘Good, I’m starving. Should have seen the shots I played today, all that time up the driving range is really paying…’

John’s voice fades as I look in the mirror. Touching a finger to my lips, I whisper to my reflection, ‘Our secret.’ As I clean Willow’s makeup from my face, the dream-fire in my eyes cools to blue.  

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