Mother Jana lives in the center of the village. She used to live near the edge. Then I came along. The first time she caught me hovering at the edge of the tree line, watching a doe in the foliage, she nearly had an apoplexy. Her words are still as clear to me today as they were that afternoon.
“Get away from there! Heathen though you may be, you live here now, and dark things come from the woods.”
What I’ve come to understand is that I am a dark thing from the woods.
I’ve lived the last ten years of my life in the village. Even now, at seventeen, I can’t remember how I got here. Mother Jana loves to tell the tale of how she found me, stumbling from the woods with naught but a shift on my back and dirt on my face.
I think she enjoys feeling important and kind. The villagers here watch me, as if they’re waiting for something. They didn’t always watch so close. For a long time, they let me run with the other children, squealing and giggling like rambunctious piglets in the tiny village green. Now, though, I am separate. Even Ben, with his raven hair and dark eyes has stayed away.
That hurts most.
“Don’t think about it.” I wipe away tears and whisper the words to myself in the silence.
I have always known I am different. Mother Jana, with me as her whole orphanage, has never let the subtle reminders fade. Constantly she tells of the charity I live on. For a long time I endeavored to take up as little space, resources, and time as possible. I didn’t want to be a burden.
Ben is the one who made me feel as if I wasn’t. He caught frogs on the edge of the stream with me, told me jokes in the school hall when I cried over number problems, and brought me flowers for my birthday.
He’s the one who touched my heart. I wanted to give it to him, but then last night happened.
Last night. The shattering of an existence I didn’t quite know was a lie.
A sigh echoes across the room, and I stand to stare out the window. The leaves outside rustle in a summer breeze. As if they know I’m here.
This place was abandoned. Mother Jana’s old house. Used for storage. Now it stores me. They pulled me from my bed last night, and then locked me in this tiny room. They told me it was nearly time for a transformation.
I asked them whose. They said it was mine.
I rub my eyes, still sore from crying until daylight fell across the dusty cot in the corner. My fist curls on the window sill, wishing I could get it open and run away.
“Too tall and nailed shut.” The sound helps to break up the monotony of being here.
Anger has taken over my sadness. It’s easier to be angry than hurt. So I’m waiting. Watching the woods and the small, beaten dirt track that deer use in the summer for movement. A sign. Something to tell me it’s time. To tell me what it is I’m supposed to become.
A knock sounds at my door, and I jump. I heard no one enter, and no villager has been here for hours.
“What do you want? Who are you? I’m still here. Just me.” I yell.
The knob turns. The movement is in slow motion, and my whole body tenses. When the door opens, Ben is there with a grim look on his face, and his eyes are fierce. Something is different about him.
I don’t care.
“Let’s go,” he says. His voice is deep. “We’ll make our own way in the woods, you and I.”
I can’t stop a brilliant smile from spreading across my face. I throw myself into his arms and breathe in the scent of him. “Yes. You didn’t leave me.”
He holds me close. “Of course not. You’re mine, Sage. We are each other’s. And we are leaving this place.”
Outside my prison, the wind blows through the trees and I hear it whispering to me. I can almost tell what they’re saying now. At our back, the village is silent. Still. It worries me, but I can feel their eyes watching. I shake my hair free of the coil on my head and laugh.
Ben smiles and tugs me toward the woods. Once we step into the green shadows, I sigh.
I don’t even mind the blood on his hands.