A short story by Kilokean
“Please, my God, please.”
Darkness. Running through a forest of ancient trees underneath glaring stars. The smell of loam and rain shimmers on the air. She had been running forever. One foot plodding, dropping, the other dragging behind. Her ankle is gnarled and bleeding leaving a trail for the dogs to follow. They bay in the distance. Her brown dress is bunched between white knuckles pulled up freeing her for motion and absorbing sweat. She staggers onward.
In her mind she can feel his golden glow, though it does nothing to allow her to pick a clear path in the pitch of night. The nameless God. The one she’d been worshipping in secret. He fills her with strength she is lacking.
“Hold on,” he whispers on a breeze. “Sanctuary is a bit further.”
Gasping, lungs screaming and searching for air she runs. Crying out she forces her ankle to bear weight. The reaching fingers of trees hang low tangling her hair and scraping her face.
Falling. Terrifying. There is no light here. As the last of the ground crumbles beneath her feet she drops, plunges, hangs precariously in the air. She doesn’t scream. Death will be better than life at the hands of a monster. The golden glow envelopes her with comfort and the fear wanes.
Icy water. She bursts beneath it back into life. Soon she is swimming. The invigoration of living fills her limbs with purpose. Her dress, sodden, pulls her down attempting to make her oppressive thoughts of demise from before a reality. A momentary struggle and the fabric is lifted up and off. Her undergarments follow, as they are still dragging her down. Cold water soothes layers of bruises from almost a year of tyranny. Frigid water cleanses scratches and scrapes from the forest. Slowing her cutting strokes sluices through the water since she can’t see she rolls to her back and floats, shivers, and trusts. The enervating golden light warms her insides as her flesh turns to goose pimples and her fingers and toes numb. The warmth she clings to is visible in the eye of her mind only, for she still has no idea where her journey will end.
In time, as happens when enough of it passes, the sun rises. Bold illumination, sharp and sudden, penetrates the underground shocking the cave from a hole above. A new battle ensues. Her eyes wanting to close as she hungers for the assurance the sunshine brings. A bucket plunges down from above splitting the dazzling rays. Finding the ability to move she pulls her body toward it. Clean, pine wood and finely woven rope greet her. The bucket is only big enough for her to plant her feet on both sides as she grasps the smooth rope with both hands.
If someone threw it down they must pull it up again.
She waits. And waits. Finally, the bucket starts a slow ascent to the surface. Water and a naked woman creeping toward the fire of day. A warm breeze wraps the scent of apple blossoms around her thawing flesh and a smile she thought she had lost skitters across her pleasant face.
The rounded walls of the well, when they come into view, are sturdy gray stones cut and stacked together with skill. The rope is being turned by a handle onto sturdy, hewn, log set in a large structure with a roof to shelter all who come from the weather. Frightened and shaking she waits for the journey to end. A kindly, old face comes into view with a halo of white hair tossed behind shoulders.
“I knew you were coming-today or tomorrow or maybe four days. Come along.” The ancient woman has a joyful look and stretches her thin skinned hand out to steady the young woman. Surprised, she looks down in modesty at her newly unblemished body. Golden hair plays in the breeze as she shakily hops to the packed soft dirt beside the well. Her savior is dressed in a soft light gray dress and thick darker gray cloak. She dries the girl quickly with a red cloth moving numbed, shaking limbs this way and that. Gently she ties back the girl’s hair before slipping a dress, one of her own, over the girl’s head.
“Our sister died just yesterday, but there must always be three, you understand. Always. And the ruler of the present must come from sturdy stock, my dear. It is hard constantly being aware. Always being real.”
“I do not understand. Where am I? My…husband will try to find me.” She shifts her body on her feet now capable of carrying her far and fast.
The elderly lady chuckles, putting a slim, wizened arm around her waist.
“No. Not here he won’t. You will live a good long while in our pleasant company. You will use your hands to carve the stories of today. Of now. I will whisper in your ear the twists and turns of the narrative and our other sister, whom you shall shortly meet, will read your work and continue it on.”
The golden haired girl laughs heartily, “Grandmother,” she says merrily,” I cannot carve words.”
“You will learn. Your first words will scar the wood in horrifying ways. They will be terrible to behold. Therefore, we will practice with your ex-husband’s tale. Our sister left his days for you when she passed. And you will live long here, outside of the hand of time, so you shall have his whole tale to tell.”
Grim news and good news. There is no disbelieving the sincere wrinkled face. Tears stream from youthful, blue eyes. Vengeance had never gleamed in her heart, but justice thrummed there.
“Thank you, Grandmother.”
“Don’t thank me. It is what is.”
As they walk arm in arm the girl’s eyes spy him. Fair hair to match her own and a fair smile to buoy her day, his entire presence an unmistakable balm. And she knew she would never feel the scratch of misery and loneliness again.