Published in the 2014 Blue Fringe Arts Short Story and Poetry Anthology.
‘The truest pain from the scorn of man was never greater known than by a girl that I knew many years ago.’ She began her tale. I could only listen, and will the fear and danger to disappear from my mind.
‘This young girl sat beneath a willow tree, the one which kept her company in her childhood years. She often danced beneath its weeping leaves as they fell slowly, gracefully to the bed of the woods. On this fateful day, in happiness she twirled in her new dress then collapsed amongst the creepers and dreamed. Hours later she awoke, startled, to the screams of something unknown. It was the most horrible sound she had ever heard. The sound came closer, but the young girl couldn’t identify it. She was wary. The screams were then accompanied by the sounds of men, of laughter. The girl stood, her heart raced. So completely full of terror, she froze, not knowing whether to stay or run. The screams came even closer, but she knew they were nothing to fear when the men were laughing. From the fog against the slowly setting sun, came running a distressed lamb. It ran toward the girl.
‘The girl could not say for sure that the poor creature knew she was a safe haven, a sanctuary, but as she quickly took the lamb in her arms, there was no struggle. Although there was no sign of an injury, the lamb was covered in blood. The girl nestled the poor being close to her, and felt its heart slowing to a normal pace. As the girl took her first steps, to take the precious baby to her home, she heard again the laughter of men. Their forms broke through the fog and when she spotted them, carrying the dead body of what she could only imagine was the mother of the lamb, she stopped breathing. The baby was frightened, and began to struggle in the girl’s grasp. She remained motionless, hoping the men would not see her in the fog. It took all her strength to forbid her own tears from falling.
‘Their heads turned, searching. They hadn’t seen the girl. Carefully, she stepped behind the willow, praying that the lamb would not cry. One man yelled to another to get some rope, while the other two began scouting the area for the lost lamb. They were distracted, looking away from the tree. It was her chance. Closing her eyes, she drew a breath and released, trying to remain calm with what she was about to do. She took two steps away from the tree, looked around and saw that no one was watching. It was just one hundred metres to the rhododendrons that she and her sister used to play hide and seek in. The dissipating fog was her only veil, and the woodland floor of creepers and twigs would give her away instantly. Stay or go, either way she could get caught. At least if she made a run for it, she might save a life. The girl looked down at the poor creature, its breathing laboured. The mother’s blood had smeared onto the girl’s new dress.
‘Her time was running out, but she smiled as the darkness formed a blanket, like mother earth knew and brought the night to her. Taking a deep breath, the girl started running. As she predicted, her movements alerted the men. They began yelling for the third man to come back, to bring his rifle. The girl was certain that they hadn’t seen her though, so she kept running. So often she ran. She knew she could reach the boundary before they could get to her. She was within a few feet of the rhododendrons when she heard the rifle go off, making her look back in terror. The lamb began crying again and the girl knew that the men would be able to follow the creature’s sounds. After the lamb quieted down, the girl turned to continue on her path, knowing it was safe, for the lanterns the men carried faced everywhere but in her direction. The lamb cried out again however, and the lanterns simultaneously pointed at the boundary. The girl crept into the shrubs and followed a narrow path that she and her sister created for themselves. They had walked and ran the path so many times that it knew them and welcomed them. The girl pushed through the stray branches and muffled the lamb’s cries as best she could with her now tattered dress. She felt as though her heavy breathing alone would be enough to give her away. Sweat trickled down her back, making the dress stick to her, and created difficulty when manoeuvring.’
The Strigoaicǎ paused. The cadence of her breath and voice stammered for she clearly felt the pain of the poor young girl in her story. Powerless, I knew that I was unable to comfort the creature of the night. She turned away, seemingly ashamed of her tears. As she wiped them away, she inhaled a jagged breath and continued her story.
‘The next day, the girl returned to the field where the willow stood and searched the area with hope of finding more lambs. An abhorrent sight made her fall to the ground and weep uncontrollably. The mother had been strung up in the willow, on display, with a note attached. In numbness, the girl cried in her head, The devil was here, and it was man!
‘A piece of parchment had been tied with string to one of the legs of the mother. Roughly, the girl wiped the flood of tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand before carefully untying the string. She did not wish to harm the mother even if she was already dead. The parchment was rolled ever so beautifully and tied with a bow of fine ribbon, forming only a greater hole in the girl’s heart, by that dagger of senseless violence. It was only when she unfurled the parchment, spreading blood across it, that she noticed her hands, tainted with the coldness that she saw before her.
‘The flow of letters, the curls and loops were so elegantly written with ink and quill as if there was some importance and formality, yet the words themselves created a feeling of dread in her. She felt completely drained and, no longer able to hold herself up, fell, lost in a reverie of emptiness. The girl rested her head against the willow, her eyes stared into nothing. She couldn’t even blink. Her head slumped as though it were a heavy burden. In deep, piercing melancholy, her mouth flew agape. She felt death upon her. Dead inside, if not truly dead.’
That was the end of the Strigoaicǎ’s tale. All she said was that the next days and years of that girl’s life were too painful to speak of. She said it was something that only that girl could bear the burden of. The Strigoaicǎ refused to tell me the debasing final act of the girl’s days as a mortal being.
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