Issue 8 [Lammas (Aug) 1997]
by Simon Williams
Ivy was her name, and apparently
it suited her; everyone said she was poisonous. Bitch, they
sneered at her. Whore, they called out, long before she
had any idea what a whore was.
She was, in truth, nothing other than the daughter of a
shopkeeper in the village. There was nothing about Ivy to
mark her as different; she was pretty enough, with hazel
eyes and golden-brown hair, but she was also unremarkable.
Despite this, she was the victim of uninhibited spite.
She knew better than to ask her father for help; economics
drove him; money motivated him. Her mother was a silent
wreck who had not spoken for many years. Ivy thought she
could remember her mother speaking to her once, reaching
out a hand, smiling gently, as early autumn sunshine spilled
gently through the window, fractured by the leaves of the
tree in the garden. She thought she could remember a brief
touch. But it was a faded, mottled memory; there were holes
in it, and she couldn't even be sure it had occurred, or
if wishful thinking had made the recollection for her.
'You poisoned your mother', Ivy's father had told her once,
when she was ten. This was apparently what the villagers
thought as well. For almost four years now, the chants of
'Poison Ivy, Poison Ivy' had rung out in the school-yard,
and the adults spat out their own insults elsewhere. Ivy
had never understood what her father had meant, and he had
never chosen to explain. Neither had anyone else. Perhaps
her mother would have explained; but the silent, unresponsive
woman in the stale bedroom high up in the house had no words
A week before her fourteenth birthday, Ivy's parents disappeared.
She was returning from a walk in the nearby woodland, the
only place where she felt happy. Few people ventured there,
which at least meant she could wander in peace. She opened
the door to find the house silent and some things missing.
Ivy had never been loved, and in turn she had found herself
unable to love, so although their vanishing mystified her
and left her feeling a little colder and more empty than
before, it failed to distress her. She decided they had
simply had enough of her, and left for the city; there were
distant relatives there. Ivy sat for a while, refusing to
cry, then shrugged; she had often imagined herself as having
a small, black little heart of iron; now it simply hardened,
tightened and blackened a little further.
'I don't need you!' she shouted at the empty living-room.
She searched the house, and found even her mother's room
unoccupied. She knew deep down that they would never return.
When she sat in the garden for a while, a local man wandered
past and grinned at her. 'Your father's shop is being taken
over', was all he said. Ivy said nothing. As the sun plummeted,
the air became colder; shivering, she went upstairs to bed,
and for a week afterwards, wandered around in the woods,
avoiding school, avoiding humanity.
Ivy was returning to her house- she supposed it was hers
now- a week later, on the fourteenth anniversary of the
day she had been pushed out into the world- when she was
dragged into the Seventh Star Tavern, a beautiful thatched
place, by Harad of the Village Militia and his friends.
Harad raped her. If anyone had any misgivings about watching
in excitement and urging Harad to thrust himself through
virgin territory, they hid their conscience under a bushel,
and allowed the gleeful heat of the moment to carry them.
The young men laughed loud and long that night, after Ivy,
fighting back tears and trembling violently, made her way
out of the tavern and back to her silent house.
That night she lay on her bed, crying softly for hours.
She'd known for years about the things that men did; she
remembered, at the age of ten, watching through the keyhole,
mesmerised and strangely terrified, without knowing why,
as her father did much the same thing to her blank-eyed
and unresponsive mother.
Life rolled placidly on in the village. Ivy avoided everyone
as best she could; after only a few months, she became sure
she was pregnant. Ivy was used to feeling dull realisation
where others might have felt despair. Not wishing to let
anyone - least of all Harad - know of her condition, she
collected together her few belongings and left the village
one hot summer evening.
She wandered into the woodland, knowing of nowhere else
to go; the archways and tunnels formed by overhead branches
and twisting trunks of ancient trees lay, as ever, empty
of travellers. As she made her way down path after path,
the leaves whispered to each other in the breeze; the routes
she followed headed downwards, in a curving, spiralling
fashion, to the very heart of the forest, most of which
lay in a cool hollow.
Down in this secluded place, all the light seemed green,
filtered from far above and brought softly to earth. The
centre of the woodland was always cool, but never chill;
respite from baking summer heat and harsh winter frost could
both be found here, whatever the season.
Ivy pushed back a few overhanging branches and made her
way into a clearing where the combination of grass and sunlight
appeared like a green fire, and from there, down a narrow
path she had walked before; it led down to a lake, whose
waters, as she reached them and rested at the shore, lay
calm and silvery in the late evening sunlight.
She could hear birdsong, and the scufflings of small creatures
in the undergrowth; they were peaceful sounds, and as ever,
she enjoyed listening to them. But underneath it all was
the silence with which she had become familiar; the absolute
and watchful silence of the forest.
Then she noticed, slithering towards her along the shore,
a black, snakelike figure, long and lithe; longer than a
snake could be.
A serpent, Ivy thought, paralysed by disbelief more than
fear. It can't be. It can't be a serpent. They don't exist.
For something that couldn't be, it proved remarkably real;
fear surged into her, about to lend movement, when the serpent
slithered onto a nearby rock and then rose up as if about
to bite; beady dark eyes stared unblinkingly at her.
And then it spoke. Ah, it said, without opening that crack
of a mouth. A child of misfortune.
Ivy had heard stories of beings that spoke to travellers
in the woodland, frightening tales of creatures uttering
curses and chasing after unwary wanderers. One story spoke
of a mouldering, yellow-eyed beast that never died, whose
strength waxed and waned with the cycle of the seasons.
But she had never been sure whether or not to believe any
of these tales.
Eventually she spoke, and her own words - flippant, bitter
words that they were, without a trace of confusion - surprised
her as much as the serpent had. 'Which of us do you mean?
Me or the baby?'
She could have sworn it shrugged in response, shoulders
or no shoulders. Either. Both.
Ivy stared across the calm waters, feeling tears rise and
then roll down her cheeks. 'Why does everyone hate me? Why
do good things never happen to me?' she sobbed.
I have no answers, the serpent confessed. Then it added,
Do you want to give birth?
'No!' Panic rose. 'I hate it! I hate this thing inside me!'
The serpent slithered a little way up her arm; the touch
was warm and slimy- totally unlike how she had thought it
would be; she knew snakes weren't supposed to feel like
that- but not entirely unpleasant. I can kill the child
for you, it told her. It was whispering now, as if afraid
of someone overhearing, though there were only birds and
scurrying creatures anywhere near. It wouldn't hurt. Did
you ever want the child?
'No... no, I didn't'.
Were you raped?
Ivy had never heard the word before. 'I was.... taken',
she said eventually.
The serpent rested its head on her shoulder and stared intently
at her. There would have to be a repetition of that. It
wouldn't hurt though. I never hurt.
Ivy stared out across the silvery expanse of the lake and
marvelled at her own calmness. Yes, she was weeping, for
all the hurt that had ever been hers. Yes, she was engaged
in a bizarre conversation with a talking serpent. But nothing
'Everyone always said I was I was evil', she murmured. 'If
I had the baby killed.... it would just prove them right'.
So what? What difference would it make?
'None', she admitted. 'None at all'.
Then you'll allow me to help you?
'I suppose so'. Soft evening sunlight fell in patches at
the shore of the lake, and Ivy marvelled at the beauty of
everything around her- serpent included- as she removed
her clothes and stared at her reflection in the calm surface
of the water. Everything glittered in the light; coins of
mellow light danced on the back of her strange companion.
Then she lay down on the shore, and the serpent slithered
around until it was between her legs. At the first touch
of its head against her sex, Ivy gave an almost frightened
start, and as it began, slowly, to push itself into her,
a desperate voice cried out from inside her: What are you
She paid it no heed, and it became spiteful. This is why
you're evil, it sneered. You let snakes do this to you.
Ivy didn't care. 'I just want to be myself again', she whispered,
without knowing exactly what she meant. By now she could
hardly feel the serpent at all, knowing only that it had
gone deeper still. The voice at the back of her mind continued
to sob at her that it was all wrong, that she had no right
to do this, but she refused to listen.
She hardly felt the serpent slip out of her a while later,
its job done. There were no farewells. She was dimly aware
of it slithering away into the foliage, but nothing more.
Naked and smiling - she had no idea why she was smiling
- she gazed rapturously up at the emerging stars.
Moonlight painted the lake when at last she rose and gazed
across the waters, her feet just touching the edge. Ivy
then began to realise what she had done, or had allowed
to have done. In her confusion she began to weep; crying
out, demanding the past to erase itself. Nothing but silence
Then, she was no longer alone. The serpent had returned.
'You killed my baby!' she screamed at it. The serpent's
reply was quiet and reasonable. It's what you wanted.
'I wasn't thinking properly!' she sobbed. 'Please....'
The serpent stared at her with expressionless eyes. You
know, I thought you might reconsider.
'So why did you.... why did you kill it anyway? Why....'
I didn't. I could have. I coiled myself around the babe
as it lay prone in your darkness. But I knew you'd regret
Ivy sobbed tears of relief. 'Oh, thank you! Thank you....'
Sudden fear crossed her face. 'You could be lying....'
I could be. But I'm not. You'll see.
With those words it left her again. Ivy got up, dressed,
collected some fruit and nuts to eat, and sat by the lake,
occasionally stroking her stomach. The serpent's words proved
to be correct. Months passed by, during which Ivy became
more and more certain that her baby was alive. When it finally
moved inside her, she cried with joy.
On occasion the serpent would return to spend time with
her: Ivy was glad of the company. As she grew heavier and
heavier with her child, she became happier. The forest protects
its own, the serpent told her one day. Both you and your
child will be safe here.
Marrowby, a thin, hard stick
of a man who preached like a man possessed, gazed up from
his half-prepared sermon as Harad knocked and then entered
the church anteroom. 'I was hoping you'd call', he murmured.
'Oh, yes?' Harad sauntered over. 'What's this, another one
of your speeches?'
Marrowby waved the question aside. 'I've had a word with
'Letitia?' For a moment Harad seemed confused.
'You should remember', the preacher said coldly. 'You were
the one who pointed her out. The one with long blonde hair.
Big blue eyes'.
Harad nodded. 'I remember. What's the news?'
'They said she could receive extra religious tuition - here
at the church. I said that you might help out as well'.
Harad's lips curled upwards, almost in a smile. 'After school?'
The preacher never smiled. 'After school. All evening'.
The two men gazed knowingly at each other, and Marrowby
was once again unsettled - though he never showed it - by
Harad's stare. Alien, mesmeric.
Reptilian, he thought, shuddering, as Harad turned and left
© 1997 Simon Williams