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Leave Nothing Behind

by Hannah Cochrane


Olive Enver hit the ground running, forced from her comfortable position in her favourite oak tree by a striking vision of impending doom. After years of foresight, Olive could trust what she’d seen — or rather, what she’d felt.

Olive had to tell her sister.

Wet auburn leaves slipped underfoot as Olive wove through the arching trees of the forest, staying to the left of the wide, unforgiving river at all times. After all, those who cross the river encounter Death’s shiver.

Her beaten satchel of woodland samples, destined for her apothecary, bounced against Olive’s hip as she paced down a hill section, then climbed again. She cursed the endlessly rolling hills, though she loved her home regardless. 

In this stretch of countryside, the hills rose steadily as if eased along by the salty sea breeze. The hills seemed to emulate waves, tumbling into valleys, before sharpening to mountains further north.

Olive’s home was nestled in the bosom of a valley, sheltered by a huddle of pines and freshened by the river. The river dutifully ran its course from mountains to seas, feeding the source from which the hills summoned their zephyrs. Ever ambivalent, the river gave as easily as it took. Its constant water supply was essential, providing life for the inhabitants of the countryside and cities alike.

As Olive entered Avondale, a delicate, unplanned collection of cottages and a few local shops, governed by a single road which wound through the moorland from seas to sierras, she slowed to a walk. It wouldn’t do to be spotted running.

Avonvale was one of those dreadfully intimate villages, in which everyone knows one another too well, and with any mishap, you’d quickly become subjected to the cruelties of village gossip.

Biting her tongue as she passed through the main section of the village, Olive followed the slim snicket leading to that one faulty fence panel in the Enver sisters’ back garden. She slipped through, unnoticed except by one inquisitive tabby cat.

Lily, Olive’s twin sister, would be home — it was a Sunday, the religious day of rest the older twin respected as though she were truly devout.

“At least one of us has to keep up appearances,” Lily told Olive several years ago when the latter questioned why she was so lazy on the last day of the weekend. “Though I can’t exactly cover for you.”

The twins, though alike in the hazel shade of their eyes, scarcely had much else in common. Lily’s honey-blonde hair made her a dead-ringer for their dead mother, while Olive’s golden-bronze locks were more reminiscent of their dead father. Not that they had many references to go by except grainy photographs and faint memories from their earliest days on Earth.

Their grandparents, having raised the two practically from birth, had filled the girls’ heads with fantastical images of their parents — painting them as living receptacles of joy. Though Olive felt that was one whole big lie the first time she visited their adjacent graves.

***

Olive burst through the backdoor, kicking off her hiking boots which were heavy with mud.

“Lily!” She shouted but was met by Gatsby, their russet mongrel. He wagged his tail, tongue lolling, knowing his presence would bring showers of adoration. “Not right now, Gatz.”

Olive hung her satchel on a coat hook, keeping her gathered goods away from the dog’s curious nose. She’d sort out her finds later — when the protective cloak of dusk drew around the village.

“Lil! Lily?”

“What’s wrong?” Lily wandered through to the hallway, totally unconcerned by her sister’s frantic tone of voice.

“I had a vision, while I was out in the woods.”

Lips pursed, Lily’s eyebrows climbed up her forehead. Doubt clouded her eyes, as it always did.

“It’s something to do with the river,” Olive hesitated.

She watched as Lily set the copper kettle on the Aga hob to boil.

“Go on.” She busied herself with mugs, filling one with coffee and the other with herbal tea.

Olive tried her best to ignore her sister’s scepticism and let her eyes drop shut, transporting her back to the woods.

The whispers of spirits in the trees had beckoned her attention as she’d tried to relax into the boughs of that oak tree. The mutterings of the trees’ weakening leaves had mimicked the river, brushing against one another to imitate the brook’s insistent babbling.

Olive turned her attention to the river.

She thought of the rain pelting the river every autumn, filling the river to the brink of overflowing. The water rushing against the banks — those constructed by man as a defence to the river’s power often useless against the overflows. She couldn’t find an answer.

“Did you check the river?” Lily asked, betraying her assumed position of doubt with a slight tone of curiosity.

Olive, eyes now open wide, shook her head. She swallowed. “I… I didn’t think to. It’s always there, after all. I just knew I needed to get home.”

“What for?”

“To warn you.”

“Warn me of what?” No matter how much the older sister wished Olive would stop this nonsense, she couldn’t deny her twin’s uncanny gift.

“All I know is that you’re in some sort of danger.” She rubbed her forehead.

Lily forced a laugh and turned to pour the water. “You’re the one with the dangerous job, Ol. You know how people talk.”

Olive opened her mouth to retort, only to be interrupted by a bird crashing into the kitchen windowpane, startling both sisters. With matching frowns, they rushed out, remembering to leave Gatsby locked inside.

Olive cradled her hands around the outspread wings of the ink-black crow who lay motionless on their patio.  Lily crouched beside her, and the two shared a look of fear. The crow wasn’t breathing and, pressing her fingers against its breast, she felt the still void.

Olive looked across to her sister and shook her head softly, unable to conceal her shock.

“Let’s bury him,” Lily suggested.

They carried him over to the flowerbed, where dead flowers left damp earth exposed. Olive held the bird while Lily parted the soil to create a grave, protecting him from preying cats.

An echoing of dull thuds demanded the sisters’ attention. They stood, matching frowns etched into their foreheads, to watch countless more birds plummeting to their graves. So many they wouldn’t have the garden space to bury them all.

A murder of crows. Olive almost could’ve laughed at the irony.

***

With quaking fingers, Olive unwrapped her previously gathered specimens, before decanting them into old jam jars. Anticipation hadn’t stopped brewing in her stomach since the demise of the birds earlier that evening.

Her apothecary, set up in the drafty garden shed at the bottom of the sisters’ garden, was the only man-made place where Olive felt grounded. Shelves lined the walls, home to jars and dried plants and pestles and mortars. The dark blue paint, illuminated by the bare bulb dangling from the ceiling, was cracked, though Olive hadn’t the time nor the energy to repaint the shed.

A workbench was set up against one of the walls and was constructed of the same worn oak as the two chairs Olive kept in there — one for herself when she didn’t fancy standing as she worked, and the other for any visitors.

Despite modern advancements in medicine, there were always those who preferred older forms of healing. While Lily’s official position as the village pharmacist was greatly revered, Olive still received a steady stream of customers clamouring for eases to their ailments. 

Even as children, the Enver sisters had differed in their interests — with Lily insisting she play nurse at home for her grandmother, and Olive joining her grandfather and their old red setter on hunts and scavenging trips deep into the forest.

The whispers about Olive had only begun once her grandfather had passed on, no longer there to shield the girl from her neighbours’ subtle accusations. Many villagers saw Olive as possessing a talent darker than healing, and though Olive had some form of insight, her actions were never malevolent.

People still went to her apothecary, nonetheless. Though did so in private, in dusky hours of near darkness to conceal the fact they visited the village healer. It was only in daylight that hearsay travelled the grapevines of Avonvale prattle.

Lies and dread weighed on Olive, though she was defenceless against them.

***

The next day, Avonvale was rife with uproar, teeming with people in the streets. Typically, most villagers kept to themselves, with only a few busybody gossipmongers. Yet when an unanticipated occurrence disrupted Avonvale’s way of life, chaos erupted like a fresh spring bursting from the earth.

Olive awoke at the break of dawn, with dread clenching and unclenching her heart with every beat. She’d felt an acute yet indecipherable sense of change in the air. Telling her sister over breakfast, Lily dismissed Olive’s suspicion as sleep deprivation. It was true Olive hadn’t been sleeping well for the last week, though she couldn’t ignore the anticipation numbing her limbs.

After Lily had gone to work, Olive positioned herself next to the home landline. If she went out to her apothecary, she’d miss the phone ringing, and she knew her sister too well to underestimate how desperate Lily would be to flaunt any new-garnered insight.

Olive picked up on the second shrill, impatience prickling her limbs. “Lily?”

She dialled down the radio, silencing Queen’s latest hit.

God knows I want to break free—

“Olive. You won’t believe how busy everybody in the village is. I’ve only just got a chance to call you.”

“What’s happening?” She chewed her lip, knowing she’d snapped at her sister.

“The harvest, from the surrounding farms and fields… Olive, it’s—”

“Failed,” the younger twin finished. She swallowed, hard. It did nothing to displace the lump in her throat.

“I’ll speak to you later…” Lily was distracted, already greeting another customer while hanging up.

Olive’s hands shook. She had to get out of the house.

Hoping to dispel her sickening fear, Olive laced up her walking boots, then located her father’s old hunting jacket and her satchel, before escaping through the back door. She slipped out through the ever-handy broken slat, squeezing past her apothecary, ignoring her promise to dedicate her day to healing.

Whispers followed her, so she veered out of the village and found another way into the woods, away from prying eyes. Following a path lesser known, though well-trodden by Olive, she felt the woods open to her. The trees appeared to curve around her, their crispening leaves letting fractions of sunlight fall upon her hair, warming her bones.

Her peace didn’t last long. She stopped in her tracks at the sight of the river. The river was drought-depleted, devoid of the usual seasonal torrent. The river had dwindled to a meagre trickle, more of a stream than a river. In the wide basin of the riverbed, the water was a child playing dress-up in her father’s, or perhaps her grandfather’s coat. Sun-baked silt and a dusting of leaves did nothing to forgive the dreadful sight of depletion.

Olive sucked a breath in her through her teeth. This was what she’d felt was wrong — the lack of rainfall had gone largely unnoticed by the others enjoying the unprecedented Indian summer, yet in nature, every action has an equal reaction.

There hadn’t been a day in Olive’s twenty-six-and-a-half years of life that the river had run dry — the thought itself was hardly plausible. As terrible as the dry river was, she couldn’t help but feel there was worse to come — further damage her village would have to suffer. 

***

A vicious wind chased Olive home, sending leaves scattering around the woods. As opposed to calming her, the woods had further worried Olive. 

For the first time in as long as she could remember, she’d been unsuccessful in gathering anything for her apothecary. Mushrooms were corrupted with black speckles, tree bark was ridden with woodlouse, and nettles had wilted to useless green crisps.

Some of that could be explained, or at least excused, by the drought. But even the plants resistant to changes in rainfall were damaged almost beyond recognition. 

Though the night was coming on quickly, Olive convinced Lily to walk Gatsby in the woods with her. It was Lily’s turn to walk him, and she was grateful for Olive’s company. 

Olive tugged at her turtleneck sweater, holding the ends as she slipped her coat on, though not fast enough to avoid Lily’s gaze.

“What did you do to your arm?” She reached for her sister, though Olive was already rushing out the back door, Gatsby clipped onto a lead.

“It’s fine, Lil. I only burnt it on the stove.” Olive omitted the fact the pain had torn through her, even though it was only a light scald. 

They left their garden through the broken fence pane, much to Lily’s annoyance. She kept meaning to get it fixed but didn’t want to risk upsetting Olive.

A dark figure at the end of the path between the backs of neighbouring cottages caught their attention. Lily smacked her flashlight to life and swung it towards the shape. Pearlescent twin moons shone back at them, the eerie eyes of the black wolf-like creature chilling the girls. Gatsby let out a half-hearted bark, though didn’t tug at his lead.

“Come on,” Olive spoke first, pushing down the rising nausea as she took her sister’s arm and pulled her away. “It’s probably just a stray dog.”

Neither believed her words.

They hurried towards the woods with wits sharpened. Above, the sky hung heavy, bruised with the threat of storms — hurrying the girls faster through the trees, hardly letting Gatsby stop to mark a tree trunk.

Lily led the way for a change, and Olive was pulled along absently. In a moment of forgetfulness, they missed the turn which would take them across a field and loop back home.

Uneasiness rocketed through Olive as she found herself face-to-face with the pumping station’s valve house. An ugly grey square wedged between carpeted green mounds of earth, it seemed to loom up in front of them.

“They’re playing god with that place.” Lily shook her head, voicing Olive’s thoughts. “It’s wrong having it so close to our village.”

Halfway through nodding in agreement, Olive froze solid, limbs rigid. A bright flash blinded her vision as if Zeus himself had hurled a thunderbolt in front of her — right onto the valve house.

Wordless, Olive took off. Then she was running through the woods and forgetting about her sister and dog. Lily shouted after her, though Olive’s ears were deaf to anything apart from the metallic roars ricocheting around her head. The trees blurred past as she stayed true to her course: straight to the village.

She rushed through, grabbing passers-by and insisting on words they didn’t want to hear.

“The pumping valve house is in danger,” she claimed as she shook a startled woman, before crossing the street and repeating her words to a wide-eyed young couple. 

“Disaster. Danger. Please listen.” No one listened, disturbed by her and brushing her off as they would a moth.

She finally made her way to Avonvale Church, skirting past the village hall’s sewing group. Surely the priest would listen. Olive entered, panting, frenzied from rushing around and from being dismissed. She tried to calm her shaky breath but to no avail.

“What is the matter, child?” Father Jude called out as he passed the empty pews to greet her in the centre of the aisle, distilling the stifling air of the high-ceilinged space.

Something is going to happen at the pumping station — at the valve house, Father.” She forced out the paternal name, though it felt foreign and heavy. “I was just out in the woods with my sister and… I feel like something terrible is going to happen there. I don’t know what exactly, and I don’t know when, but you must listen to me.”

The priest nodded as if listening, though his words indicated otherwise. “I understand your fear, child, but the pumping station is good for this community, and for every other community in this area. Before the station, failed harvests like this year were common. For the most part, the station and the weir have supplied Avonvale and our surrounding farms with more than enough water.”

“Father, I don’t have a problem with the station, or any of that.” Olive shook her head insistently. “It’s not about me, or about the station — it’s about what will happen there. Something horrible.”

Disregarding her, he continued, “There’s a visit happening at the valve house tomorrow, the water company are demonstrating the workings to some locals. There’s nothing to fear, Olive.” He took on the tone as if speaking to a petulant child. “The people in control of the station know what they’re doing. They’re very capable and very qualified. You mustn’t worry — or get anyone else worried, for that matter.”

“No, you must listen to me,” she implored even as the priest put an arm around her shoulder and led her towards the church’s doors. “I’ve seen it. I know something will happen… You don’t want people to get hurt, do you?”

“Olive Enver, you would do well to respect this institution and not talk of such dark forces.” His tone was now stern and disciplinary.

Mouth open, ready to retort, Olive turned to him only to have the heavy oak doors closed in her face.

***

Having found the time of arrival for the visit to the pump house, Olive walked out through the woods the following morning. She had no intention of being near the valve house, though she followed the river down in that direction.

She’d ignored Lily’s interrogations and left Gatsby at home, where they’d be safe. There was no point in trying to explain things to her; no one else had listened to Olive, so why would her sister?

A sudden tremor quaked through the earth, forcing Olive to the ground. Her fingers dug into the pine needles and leaf litter, bracing herself as she looked across the river. The valve house was obscured by trees, though Olive knew the earth well — that was where the tremor had originated from.

Another shockwave shuddered the ground beneath her, and the roar of an explosion reached her ears — accompanied by screeched cries as if helpless creatures were trapped under a fallen tree.

Nature cried too; birds alighting from their nests and leaves raining from the sturdiest of branches.

Olive closed her eyes and felt the hurt of the people, of the woods.


 

Hannah Cochrane is a 20-year-old English Literature & Creative Writing student, based in the north of England. She mostly writes prose, though occasionally dabbles in poetry too. Her favourite genre to write is YA, with supernatural twists - though she loves exploring a whole range of genres. While she’s mostly focusing on her degree, she dreams of one day publishing her longer works and pursuing a career in journalism. She has had work published in Swim Press, Midsummer Mag and Seasonal Fruits Mag.

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