She fell from the sky like a star, burning a hole in the forest, which plumed silver towers of smoke like great feelers among the clouds. It was these slow-writhing arms of smoke which drew the trogs to where she slumbered. They were short and thick like the ginger roots they dug up and ate, pale and grey like the worming things in their underground caverns, and hard as the flint they fashioned into tools and weapons. So when they found her, soft and light, encased in a casket of glass and crystal, her hair feathery as something from the sky should be, they were immediately enchanted. They martialled offerings of daffodils like golden blunderbusses, and garlanded her cairn. They raised her on a bier of birchwood and brought offerings from the forest: wild roses, crab apples, fresh meat, honey.
In time the animals were enchanted too. They came to her bier and stared into the windows of her chamber, wondering what manner of creature she was. Her trogs began to sing to her, in their own glutinous tongue of gutteral sounds and grunts, which only made the birds sing louder and the rain pour harder. But gradually this forest serenade had another, more languorous effect. Tubers of twisting black hair began weaving through the birchwood bier and snaked through the ground itself. Later, these reaching roots anchored themselves into trees and shrubs, spreading like a web through the forest. Soon they were tunnelling through flesh, binding animals into a weird web of life. The trogs, disturbed by this, managed to step over the hair-fronds as they spread, but soon came to recognise their goddess as the source of the affliction.
Indeed, the woman’s hair had grown wild, tangling through the length of her crystal chamber, which rainbowed like a prism where the sun struck through the torn canopy. The trogs took up their flint weapons and their crab apples and began pelting the chamber, hoping to free the mess of hair and the young woman from whom it spewed. Though their weapons were flimsy in the face of the crystal and glass, they eventually shattered the chamber and watched as the hair sprung loose in great vines.
The trogs’ destruction of the sarcophagus only served to speed up the twisting progress of the woman’s hair, as it invaded soil and flesh and plant alike. Soon the forest was threaded with her hair, made into a web of it, that connected every being to every other being, and to her. The trogs had either fled or become trapped, wed to her scalp forever in the spaces where they were suspended between trees, tethered by her locks.
A knight came by the forest one summer evening, dressed from head to toe in armour. Spying what he thought was a strange type of moss or creeper, he disembarked from his horse and came to the edge of the forest, where the trees were caught up in the hair. He examined the hair and found it silky smooth to the touch, but noticed too that it coiled forward towards him as he stood there. He instantly stepped back, but when the hair met the glinting steel of his armour, it flailed, then recoiled, seeping back into the forest. It seemed the hair, which sought to connect to the life around it, was unable to meld with the inorganic suit of armour.
Deciding it was best to leave his fleshly horse behind, he strode into the forest, cutting through the thickets and vast networks of webbing locks, and saw how they repaired themself after cutting. Determined to discover what lay at the heart of the forest—what cause was the root of this hair—he continued, till he reached the bier with its shattered coffin and its deathly, slumbering inhabitant. When he drew near, he realised she was indeed a corpse, albeit perfectly preserved. She didn’t breathe or move or answer to his touch or his call. But she did pulse with some forbidden life. It was as though the hair itself siphoned life from the surrounding forest, making of it a circulatory system for her cadaver.
As the knight stood over her, he marvelled at how truly beautiful she was. Her face was poised in silence, but seemed now possessed of a distant satisfaction, a creeping smile that hinted at rising contentment at the point of her death. Her body was perfect, too, with its gentle curves and smooth, porcelain skin. Just then the knight knew he couldn’t resist her, this goddess of the forest. He pressed his body against her, wishing he wore no armour, and leaned in for a kiss. His lips met hers and instantly something charged between them. He didn’t realise, but the lips seemed to pull him in, locking him in embrace with her, as the coils of her silken hair slithered up his suit of armour, making for the exposed pink of his face. Within moments the hair had latched to him, fixing him, and the kiss seemed to become a sucking, as if of the very air from inside him. Then he slumped lifeless, his face grey and pale, and tumbled to the forest floor. The cadaver, now blushed with colour, lifted from her repose, stretching pristine limbs, and opened a mouth full of butterflies. The trees around her quivered, the vines coiled and snaked and pulsed, and the earth itself seemed to breathe.
As she looked about her, noticed the new texture her thorny hair had taken and felt the clay damp of her skin, the goddess of the sky realised she was reborn, and growled the laugh of wolves.
Adam Lowe is an award-winning ‘all-round madman of letters’ (according to Tom Bradley). He is a publisher, author and journalist. Originally from Leeds, he now lives in Manchester. He has held a number of residencies, including at I Love West Leeds Festival and Zion Arts Centre, and has had attachments with West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange Theatre. He has had commissions from the Cultural Olympiad (part of the London 2012 programme), BBC Radio 4 and BBC Writersroom, Freedom Studios, Contact Theatre, Theatre-in-the-Mill, Stage @ Leeds, Night Light and Conor McKee Productions.
His limited edition novella, Troglodyte Rose, was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards in 2009, and was a finalist in the Transgender category. Meanwhile, Adam’s latest poetry collection, Precocious (Fruit Bruise Press), has been selected for a GCSE coursework module at the Grammar School at Leeds. Transgressive in nature, it deals with such issues as cybersex, female genital mutilation and wanking off in the frozen food aisle in ASDA.
This story appears in Terror Scribes (edited by Adam Lowe and Chris Kelso).