Trials of lives
I don’t know how it started or where I was, but I found myself staring down a barrel of a gun aimed at about four to five fit men in sporty metrosexual clothes (it was difficult to get details with such poor vision). The corridor walls and ceiling were soft blues and off-whites, contrasting the thick, black night that we viewed through the one glass wall of the corridor. Under harsh lights, the men looked to be melting as sweat dripped down their oily skin. I felt myself in much the same state, leaking from my skin: salty or metallic, clear or red fluids. I could feel where my face was bruised and puffy. My left eye was surely a purple mess, and I’m positive that the red marks on the floor where I was standing were from my body. There were people behind me. From what I could gather, there were two women just as badly beaten as I was, one adolescent girl in tears and two younger children (a girl and a boy) wailing.
I kept my eyes on the men while telling the woman that was not huddled over the children to grab the other gun at my feet. The men were saying something while holding up their hands to show me their palms. The tones were gentle and slow, and I didn’t want any of it. The eldest man with slicked-back hair and dressed in a leather jacket too warm for the heat of summer began to move a little in our direction. I clicked the safety off as I spit blood out of the side of my mouth. He froze. “Move back,” the woman to my right (let’s call her Vea) shouted with impressive, unwavering confidence. Though he was obedient, I felt my stomach drop. I shot immediately at the man with his hands out of view, behind the others. The others reached for their weapons or turned to run. We were able to obliterate all of them within seconds. I wish the children hadn’t seen that, was my first thought after firing. I removed the clip and ditched the gun. Vea was already telling the other woman to leave with the children. She helped them up and carried the young girl outside as the other woman carried the boy.
I was alone outside, peering into the mouth of a hungry forest. No moonlight graced the path in, but a song on the wind pointed the direction I should take. It was if I had no choice but to enter the woods. The music cracked in the air, some strange mixture of soul and the ambient sounds behind the voice of a teller of horror stories. There were no trails to walk; I had to listen closely for the next turn. After some time, I noticed that the music lead along a path of dead or broken trees. I was constantly jumping logs and balancing myself as I walked across trees that had recently fell. The gradient of the land kept a steady, gradual incline. When the ground leveled-off, I began to actually feel the radiowaves being emitted from one source. I got flashes in my mind of old horror movies I had seen that were set in the woods. My skin began to crawl as the voice and the crackling in the air became stronger. I saw the cabin in my mind before I saw it with my eyes: grey, wooden boards too thin on which to hang a picture, dusty furniture and rotted books, dark nooks and vermin-infested cabinets, a chilly draft through the living room and certain doom inside. Then I saw it with my eyes, between the trees, about 50 paces from where I was. Seeing was believing, and I didn’t need to go any farther. My instincts told me not to pass the cabin, but rather to turn and run back the way I came. So I did.
I could have sworn Vea was somewhere in the woods as well…
Vea and I had escaped. We looked malnourished and filthy. Prisoners of war, we didn’t care where we were headed so long as we were free. We had been gone days now, living off what we could kill or steal. Bandanas covered our nearly-bald heads, and pieces of the enemy’s uniform hung about our bodies. Our skin color was now indiscernible due to the layers of grime and soil that covered us. We had sought refuge from the enemy and their hate in the fields far outside of the towns and villages. The people never ventured into the tall grass and swamps; a fear of the wild ran deep within them. Perhaps this was due to the various venomous snakes and ravenous predators that could not be seen amongst the vegetation or thick waters. Unlike many of the villagers, our chances were better here than with the humans. Like the animals, we were hidden well.
We traveled far together, walking night or day until our body gave into fatigue. In these strange, shamanic journeys, we became convinced that we had crossed worlds as the landscapes changed. Fortune blessed us with necessary food and few accidents or confrontations. Time became untraceable to us, and once we stepped out of it, we stepped into a reality that gave us shelter. An intriguing cottage made of pale woods and clay, simple in elegance and façade and complicated in architectural design of weird additions came into view like the rising sun over the horizon. We beamed and approached it as one might approach a temple. The front door was unlocked. Inside were simple furnishings made of organic materials. Everything smelled fresh and reassuring. Grains and fruits that sat on the kitchen table invited us to partake, which we did voraciously before growing tired from our fullness. We climbed the small and perfect wooden ladder to the second floor, where we flopped on down pillows for a nap.
I awoke to a door closing shut. Vea was still asleep on the other side of the loft area. I heard three voices which I identified to be mother, father and daughter. The shuffling sounded like they were moving bags and items around. Guilt washed over me as I thought of our shortsightedness and rashness in devouring the available food and using all their belongings without questioning our actions. They would find us eventually so I didn’t prolong the inevitable. I descended the ladder while they were in the kitchen and hid behind the corner like a child encountering unfamiliar animals. I realized my actions may be strange for an adult woman. But was I an adult woman? Or was I an adolescent? Thinking about Vea, I realized that, although we had been through much and thought of ourselves as adults, she did look quite young, just like I likely did as well. Our age eluded us. It did not elude the mother who had spotted me behind the corner. She knew we ate the food and used the house. I was expecting a punishment, but instead I was greeted with tearing eyes and exclamations of pity and sorrow. How malnourished were we? How feral did we appear?
She asked me questions, and my mind answered though few to no words escaped my mouth. I didn’t startle at her light touch as she rested her hands on my shoulders. Mother and Father took us in. They let us bathe and gave us clean clothes. Luckily, the daughter they had was not jealous or vindictive. She was happy to have sisters even if we were still quiet, reserved and somewhat strange.
One of my first days as their daughter was spent exploring the land near their cottage. Mother told me of a wonderful lake just past the tree-line. Vea and I could see the lake sparkle in the summer sun. As we approached the water’s edge, a giant tower of water rose to greet us. The form of a human-like entity took shape before our eyes, followed by other forms and noises. Feelings of apprehension, awe and beauty welled up within me simultaneously. I found myself playing with a bone pendant I wore around my neck (I wasn’t aware of it until now). The water entity nodded in recognition of our presence. As it gradually dropped by into the lake, the edges reformed in a different pattern. Where-ever we walked, water started filling the land right up to our ankles. A hand of the water came down on the string holding my pendant. The bone snapped off my neck and was beginning to quickly be buried under the earth as the water moved it. I knelt down with the intention of retrieving the pendant, but a voice came to me and told me to let it go. I sat and watched until the last of the bone was hidden from sight.
We returned to the cottage and assimilated to their lives. They told us stories and kept us warm, fed us healthy food and entertained our minds. Eventually, we were given wigs made of horse hair that we wore out. As soon as we were ready to join in classes that their daughter took in a nearby school, we were enrolled with new names.
The time Vea and I spent as prisoners seemed like a previous life, and the memories were washing away more each day. We walked through the fields to a schoolhouse that stood solitary at the edge of some woods. Many of our peers treated us as if we had always been living there and going to class with them. It was a nice feeling.
Just before waking, the class and I were walking in the fields together when we saw skinny men, women and children in tattered clothes stumbling through the grasses and swamps. Their words were a language I did not know, but I understood their pain quite clearly. I was reminded of the victims of war.