Ringing in the New Year - word count 415 (prompt - wood)

A heavy fog crept over the woods in late July, pressing the sky down against the earth. In the valley the sun stayed hidden all summer. Over the months that followed, crops failed, people grew thin, and the wild animals lay down in the forest and died.

No one believed the corporations would go that far. First they stole the crystal-clear water that used to flow through the village, keeping the pastures green and lush. Next they levied a user-fee on the clean air that the forest breathed over the land. Villagers refused to pay it and heavily-armed corporate soldiers, once paid to protect the citizens, blocked the roads out of the valley. When the fog machines rolled into place the, town started to suffocate.

As winter solstice approaches, the faint light that breaks the tedium of the villagers’ lives grows shorter and fainter. Elza and her band of blooded friends are the last line of defence. They scrounge through their grandparents’ trunks for bright clothing. Neighbours bring the last scraps of food for the ceremony.

Hand bells are set in a ring on the table. A fire is stacked, ready for a match. One large candle, made from the scraps of many hoarded candles is positioned in the centre of the rings.

“It’s time,” Elza says, looking at her watch. Blackness surrounds them but they know the exact minute that starts the longest night of the year.

The red-haired girl to Elza’s right says, “Let us take a minute to honour the Sun and all She brings us. May she return to our skies soon.”

In the silence, hope rises. Elsa picks up the first bell and a small boy steps forward and lights the candle. His twin brother puts a match to the fire.

Each young woman opens her heart and speaks of celestial blessing, asking the Mother Sun to return to their valley. She ends with three sweet notes from her bell. When all have spoken, the young women ring the bells in unison to celebrate their connection with Nature and all life everywhere. The gathered villagers bring out their bells and ring them with new hope and optimism.

The sound reaches the passes in the hills. The music is the last thing the soldiers hear before the explosives detonate. As the solstice ceremony concludes, the fog machines shatter and the roads to the outside world open again. The next morning, the sun filters through the wood and winterberries start to grow.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Seattle Sugarplum Elves by Joe Mabel