Issue 36 · November 2022
Dirt was etched into her fingernails. Her knees were on the ground before the old oak, herself hidden in the shadows of branches drawn by the pale sun hanging among the treetops. On the ground before her was the face of a girl, a foot deep in the ground, half visible, half sheathed by dirt, lips still tinted red. On the ground next to the face was a neatly folded white dress and a stretch of rope coiled on top of the dress. She laid down a bundle of small red flowers on the girl’s face and stood up.
The flowers still breathed life.
The girl did not.
“Eve.” She said.
The woods wrote down her name.
She reached for Eve’s hands. Eve wore a white plaid dress. Cotton. The type everyone wore. The type she wore. This one was snagged by a rock jutting out between blades of grass and a thread came loose, trailing their path as she dragged her across the field. She dragged her by her hands, the sense of touch almost tingling. Cold. She heard a thump and almost slipped and let go. Then she realized it was just another rock. She laid her down and checked for cuts. There was one, faintly red, the skin peeling apart along its edges. She frowned at the cut, but it was much smaller than the red marks lining Eve’s neck. She had to be okay with that. So she was okay with this. She fixed the dress and held Eve’s hands and started dragging again.
This time she clutched them tighter.
Rain hit her head. Hair stuck to her face. Her dress was frozen onto her body. Her legs were sore. Her feet ached. She lifted her head and opened her mouth at the sky and felt a wet rush down her throat. She wiped her face and continued. The woods before her screamed of nothingness. And the woods behind her. To her left. To her right. Below her. Above her. Go back, they whispered; go back, they cried. She glanced back, briefly, a fleeting glance -- but there was nothing. Then she dove again into the rain.
She did not call her name.
But she prayed to find her.
She woke up facing emptiness.
The sheets were empty. She could roughly make out a human dent. They were cold when she reached out.
Half a biscuit was left on top of the sheets.
The fire was barely crackling. A small red flame jumped among the pile of blackened wood.
One, two, four, seven. Eve thumped down on the ground. That’s all we have left. Seven biscuits. And we’ve been walking in this forest forever! She punched a tree and sagged on the moment of impact. Her arm was skin and bone. Her cheeks were sunken, the only sign of vitality being the slight flush from the flame. Are you sure you’re leading us the right way?
She did not have a map but she said yes. Then she reached for Eve’s hand. The branches had roughed her fingers and the skin was peeling off. There wasn’t blood, though it was red, and she breathed a sigh of relief. She fished the last bandage out of her pocket and stuck it on the cut.
It’s going to be okay, Eve. It’s going to be okay.
Eve stared into the woods.
Do you ever wonder what’s out there?
She followed Eve’s gaze.
…That’s why we’re here.
Yes, but, do you wonder? What’s going to be out there? More people? More food? Bigger roads, bigger houses? Or just another one of us? Eve turned suddenly, eyes on her, green. She could make out an entire forest in there, bright leaves soaked with sunlight, grass greener than they’d ever seen. She turned her face away and handed Eve a biscuit. Eat, she said. Eat, and we’ll get out of these woods. We’ll see what the wonder is.
Eve stared at it. It was yellow, and it crumbled into her hands. They smelled of wheat. Wheat grown on the farm back home, picked and grinded and baked. She wrapped the remaining six biscuits up and packed them back into her bag and watched Eve take a bite. She could almost taste the salty bitterness.
She thought she heard a whisper before she shut her eyes that night. I want you to see the wonder, she thought Eve said.
Sister. She called to the girl walking in front of her. Yes? she turned around but didn’t stop walking. Do you want a name?
The girl stopped.
Do you want a name? She repeated the question. She did not know why she had asked. A name rolled at the tip of her tongue, but she hesitated. She did not know why. It was one of the names from The Book. Suddenly she thought of Mother. Maybe the name is why she thought of Mother. Mother’s face beneath the white shawl, Mother’s whispers in the dim candlelight beside bed, Mother’s firm hands on her shoulders. Sister reminded her of everything but Mother. Sister’s face lit by the morning sun, Sister’s giggles echoing between flowers, Sister’s clutch as she reached for her hand and pulled her out of bed and into the open where light flooded her eyes. Too bright. Too bright she could not see anything but feel the warm touch of Sister’s hand.
The girl smiled. Yes, I suppose I do want a name.
A hushed whisper. Hands tightly clutched. Sister had caught her as she flipped over the wall. They rolled onto the ground together. She tasted grass. Sister was laughing. Dogs were barking on the other side of the red brick wall. A crowd began to bubble and boil. She imagined Mother’s voice rasping at the edge of panic. But there was nothing much else on the other side of the wall.
Sister pulled her to her feet and they took off running. Sister wore a backpack made of sheets and curtains and wore clothing sewn together. She made one for her too. She wore it on one shoulder and hurried to get the other strap on as well. She could feel the bounce of wrapped sandwiches and bandages and a pocket knife and an extra pair of clothes against her back as they raced away from where light was, into the darkness of the forest, away from the yellow and the brown and into the green.
Stars lit their way.
Mother was draped in white. She wore a white headdress and a white cape and a white dress beneath and white gloves on her hands. Mother’s eyes were dark; not brown, not black, just dark, she observed. It was then Mother spoke:
You must escape.
You must go with your Sister.
Mother shot her a sharp glance. You know why. Mother’s hands were clasped. Then they unclasped and landed on her shoulders. She could feel the fingers prying into her skin through her white dress. Prying open her soul.
We are family. Mother said. We help each other. We protect each other from danger.
Isn’t it dangerous to leave?
Do you love me? Mother asked.
I love you, Mother.
That is why you must kill her.
Mother’s words were blown away by the evening wind and the smell of wheat on the fields.