“Mama,” the little girl said. “Why do you always knock on the door frame when you come in?”
Her mother set the little bundle of firewood on the floor, and turned to pull the door to the little cabin shut after her, shutting out the lashings of rain outside.
“Just a moment, Tyriani,” her mother said, wiping her face. “Come and help me dry this wood off.”
The little girl took a rag from the hook in the kitchen and knelt next to her mother, and the two woman, mother and daughter, dabbed at the bark and the branches side by side. Pieces of bark and dirt fell on the floor beneath the rubbing of the cloth. When they were dry, Tyriani placed them in the fire grate and put the fire guard in place. Her mother took a match from the kitchen table.
“No, no, my child, you must stack the wood like this,” she said, rearranging the logs within the fire grate. “This way, it will burn for longer. Have a try.” She took the wood from the grate and laid it on the floor, and smiled at the girl. “Go on.”
The girl started to copy the arrangement her mother had made.
“Mama,” she said as she laid the logs. “The door frame. Why do you always knock on it when you come in? Even just now, with your hands full of wood for the fire, you went back out into the rain again just to knock?”
Her mother watched the arrangement her daughter has made, and nodded approvingly.
“Good,” she said. “That will burn well. And the knocking. It’s for luck, and to ward off the Gurmak-Vorla. Here, strike this match and get the fire going.”
“What’s the Gurmak-Vorla,” the girl said, wide eyed, as she lit the match. She loved her mother’s tales and stories.
“Place it in the fire, that’s it. Just there. Perfect. The Gurmak-Vorla is a creature that stalks these woods, Tyriani. When the moon is low, and night has covered the trees in a thick darkness, it stirs from its lair deep within the forest, and sets out to hunt.”
The flame jumped from the match to the firewood
“What does it hunt?” asked Tyriani.
“All sorts of things,” her mother said. “It takes cattle from the fields, birds from the trees, deer from the meadows, and carries them off back to it’s lair to devour them. But they say that what it really hungers for, is human flesh.”
The fire popped. Heat was coming off it now in great pulses, and her mother shivered with pleasure and rubbed her wet hair. They could hear the rain outside, pelting down, and the wind howled.
“Oh that’s better,” she said. “That’s a good fire.”
“It eats people,” Tyriani whispered.
“Oh yes,” her mother said. “It used to terrorise the people of these parts long ago. My nan used to tell tales of children who vanished from their beds, men and woman who disappeared in the fields after sunset. It lurks in the dark part of the woods, until it can hunt.”
Tyriani grinned. She loved the tales her mother would spin, and told her so.
But to her surprise, her mother shook her head.
“No, my child,” she said. “This is not one of my fanciful stories about fairies or river monsters. This one I take more seriously. That is why I knock on the door frame before I come in.”
“And why is that?” Tyriani asked. She was beginning to feel a bit nervous now. Her mother had a distant look in her eye. There was a loud noise, like a rap on wood. Tyriani glanced at the door, but her mother did not.
“Something my gran used to say,” she said, gazing into the flames. “The Gurmak-Vorla must knock before it enters. Always, three loud knocks on the door. But it cannot pass though a door that has already been knocked on that door. If it finds one, it must move on, and seek another doorway to continue it’s hunt.”
“And does that work?” Tyriani asked. She was frightened now.
There was another bang from outside, like the sound of firewood popping in the flames.
Her mother was silent. The rain cascaded down outside, and the wind rushed over the little cabin.
“Mother!” Tyriani cried. “Does that work?”
“I don’t know,” her mother said softly. She was watching the flames, her eyes glazed over.
Behind them, there was another loud noise, this time unmistakeable as the sound of a heavy fist on wood, and they watched the flames dance, woman and daughter, and listened as the rain poured outside and the door creaked behind them.
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