by Bruce Meyer

The day, at exactly midsummer, was set aside for those old enough to experience a night of frolic in the forest near the crossroads. The festival was an ancient tradition. In the miasma or pre-dawn fog or in the heavy rains that fell some years, those old enough to do so would experience encounters of which they were not permitted to speak of afterward. The birthrate in the town always climbed in April.

The elders justified the event by saying they had been participants in the woods when they were young. Other towns, not just theirs, had similar rituals on the same warm night. Weary from being chased and then escaping only to be caught again and again, the young men and women found the one they desired. Some years the events in the woods had been illumined by moonlight, though the morning Anne returned home, weeping, exhausted and lonely because she had not been found, the night sky had been starless and overcast and the moon hid its pale pained face until it had the strength to return. She called out if she heard her compatriots rustling in leaves or giggling behind muffling hands.

Anne’s mother tried to console her. There’d be a next year. Night air was bad for the young. It broke their hearts. Anne never returned to the woods. Loneliness, she realized, was not about air but darkness, what the heart learns when one reaches out and no one’s there to return the soft caress.

From the author: "The story is based upon local legends from small towns in England including Cerne Abbas, and deals with annual mating rituals going back to pagan time."

Bruce Meyer is author of 68 books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and non-fiction. He lives in Barrie, Ontario.

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