As darkness fell the lights across the valley came winking on, showing which houses had people home. There was one stubborn patch of darkness, however, where no-one lived. Or at least, where no-one had lived for a very long time.
The house in the middle was more moss and stumps of wooden beams than anything else, but it was noticeable that no birds nested in it. No rabbits nibbled at the grass growing between the broken walls. Dogs being walked along the paths tended to drag their owners around on other paths rather than pass it. Even the foxes seemed to avoid it, and there were no badger setts anywhere near.
The weather was unusually warm for late October – everyone was commenting on it and it had even made the national press. The long term forecast had been for the coldest winter in at least ten years, but if that was going to happen then it was taking its time starting – it felt almost as if something was making summer stay on beyond its welcome. The warmth was unsettling everyone, even the animals: migrations were delayed and hibernations postponed.
Everything was waiting.
The old bloke who lived up the lane had been heard to mutter that he hadn’t known a year like this in his life, but that he remembered his granfer telling him of one, must have been about 150 year ago now, them being a very long-lived family. He told everyone who would listen not to go out after dark on the 31st, but most people ignored his warnings as being the ravings of an elderly man who probably belonged in a home – despite the fact that he still dug over his allotment and cycled to the pub every Friday.
The forest wasn’t usually quiet – birds twittered as they settled for the night, owls hooted as they started swooping around, and the little creatures made the leaves rustle as they scurried about. Tonight there was no sound at all. Even the trees were silent in the windless evening.
The Aussie family who’d just moved in to the old farmhouse had no dogs, no pets of any kind, so maybe that’s why they didn’t notice anything strange. They didn’t like the wildlife much, so had set about evicting every living thing that wasn’t human from their home. They’d even shooed the bats out of the attics, despite them being a protected species. No-one quite knew how they’d got away with it, but no court case ever followed.
It wasn’t surprising that they’d chosen to have a barbeque that evening – it was as warm as July. What did surprise people was that they had loaded everything into their car and driven to the centre of the forest, to the old house, to get out their gas stove, unload the cans of Fosters and start cooking. Afterwards, no-one could understand why a family who hated the wilderness as much as they did had chosen to go there.
The silence deepened over the forest. Even the movements of the Aussie family seemed muffled, subdued.
Then there was a single flurry of movement that flew out of the centre of the old house
There was no movement, no sound, for the space of a heartbeat and then the forest sighed. The birds and animals went about their usual business, knowing that the balance was restored, the sacrifice made.
When their car was found by dog-walkers next morning there was no sign of the Aussie family. They had been evicted from the natural world more thoroughly than they had tried to evict the natural world from their farm.