which we meet the village and Emily.
village had stood unvisited and forgotten by all but the residents in
the shadow of the great cliff for over eight decades. The houses were
in an excellent state of repair, lovingly maintained by the families
living within, but the acres of farmland surrounding the village had
long since dwindled to just a few small fields. Beyond the fields was
the bramble- and bracken-covered land of the old farms, with a single
large farmhouse still standing, but long abandoned, on the far edge.
Bounding all of this was a wide, slow river; the village stood within
a bend of the river, so it was surrounded on one side by the cliff
and on the other three sides by the river. On the far bank of the
river was a thick forest, which had many years ago reclaimed the old
road that had once connected the village with the outside world.
Nobody could quite remember when the bridge collapsed, or maybe it
never had, but nobody really cared. Only the village children ever
went as far as the old farmhouse, and they were always scolded for
doing so upon their return. A few of the older children had never
returned. Some of the adult residents, forgetting their own childhood
excursions to the riverside, supposed that they had been drowned, or
had found a crossing and taken it. If anyone had ever escaped into
the outside world, none had ever returned with proof. The village was
a small square in the centre of the village stood a statue of a man
on a horse. He held a long sword, pointing away to the west, the
direction in which the river flowed, and presumably towards the sea.
There had once been a brass plate screwed to the plinth, but it had
been removed at some point, so nobody knew who the man was. At some
other point in the village's history, someone had tied a noose around
the man's neck, and the other end of the long rope was tied to the
very tip of the church steeple. Nobody used the church these days;
the ancient priest had died and passed his job onto his grandson, but
one night the grandson turned the iron key in the lock, and was
heading towards the inn when a rock fell mysteriously from the sky,
and killed him outright. Nobody bothered to replace him, and the
great wooden doors to the church had remained locked, just as he had
left them that night. The key was chained to a post marking the place
he had fallen. His body was the last one to be buried in the small
churchyard; his was the only funeral to be held in total silence, as
the only person who knew the words was the priest they were burying.
That was fifteen years ago; nobody had died since then, not even the
village elders, but the plan was to cremate the next corpse in the
cold spring morning, Emily sat on the bench that served as the
village's meeting place, eating a pear and watching a small
brown-feathered bird walking sideways along the rope, towards the
head of the statue. It seemed to be staring directly at her; Emily
imagined that she and the bird were involved in some duel of wits;
the first to look away would be the loser. Unfortunately, Emily
turned out to be the loser, as a loud sound from within the church
drew her attention. She didn't notice the bird flying away.