A boy who lost everything, a princess who has everything, and a woman who want everything
| “What are you doing?” Olivia stood leaning against the creaking doorway with her skin clinging to her bones like the skin of an alley cat that hasn’t eaten in days. Olivia impatiently waited for a response from her brother and watched him with curiosity as he lay huddled on his grimy bed, ignoring her arrival. Loose, chestnut braids hung down to Olivia’s waist with thin and frizzy ends.
Standing in the doorway, she held a bouquet of white daisies that may once have been beautiful, but now cried for water and hung lifelessly caressing her soft, pale fingers. All of her skin was pale with a thick coating of freckles that were covered by years of collected dirt. Olivia’s cheeks had been kissed by an angel and they gleamed with rosy bliss.
As Olivia waited, her brother sat, entranced by some small, shining object that Olivia had never seen before. She became frustrated with her brother since he still failed to notice her. She was not used to her brother not noticing her.
“What are you doing?” Olivia forcefully asked her brother again, drawing his attention away from the mysterious object he held in his hands to her glimmering eyes. Her eyes were pure chocolate melting on a hot summer day with a green fire of passion exploding from the center. The bright flames danced with life and excitement, shouting with exhilaration. The boy never got used to the feeling that filled him when he saw Olivia. The bright exhilaration that gleamed in her eyes reminded him how much he loved and cared for his unique sister. She flashed her bright, contagious smile at the boy. Her smile could make the darkest of rooms light up and let everyone around feel her powerful love fill their hearts.
Quickly concealing the object which had captured his attention so intently, he turned to Olivia and his somber face began to light up. Olivia always made him light up, for he loved her more than the very breaths that kept him alive. She was unlike anyone who lived in Genedonn, and she reminded him of how his father had been. She even had her father’s eyes, radiating with joy. His love for Olivia could be heard coating every word he spoke to her. “Oh hey Liv, didn’t see you there. What’s with the dead flowers?”
Olivia bounced to her bed and lovingly placed the wilting flowers on her pillow. “I found them fallen by the road. They’d been ripped away from their roots – I assume by a ruthless boot or animal – and they needed my help. But the flowers are not dead, they are simply wilted.”
“They look pretty dead to me.”
“Well of course they do, you only look at what you can see.” She stated matter-of-factly. “When you look at these flowers they appear dead, but if you’d take the time to examine them a bit closer you would see that they are just in need of my help. You must look at what cannot be seen at a glance, because a glance cannot show you the way they beg to be taken care of. I know you won’t believe me, no matter what I say, but just you wait. After letting the flowers rest and relax they will be back in bloom and full of life once again.”
“Oh, I see. Well good luck with that… At least have them ‘rest and relax’ on the dresser wont you? We have to get you to bed before mother gets home.”
Olivia swept away the lifeless flowers and danced to the dresser. Meanwhile, her brother scraped off layers of dirt from her sheet and attempted to hide the holes eating away at the blanket draped across her puny bed. Olivia crawled under the covers and laid still as her brother sat by her side, softly singing the lullaby his father had once sung to him. Her brother sat, singing to Olivia until she drifted off to sleep. He waited until her thoughts had entered a world of dreams far better than the world they lived in.
Once he trusted that she was sound asleep, her brother left her side and returned to his own grungy bed. He reached his arm beneath his pillow and grasped the cold medal in his hand. He felt the light drain from his face as he slowly wrapped his hand, one finger at a time, around the solid medal. Silently, he pulled the object from its hiding place and began to flip the chilled, shining medal between his shaking fingers. He stared at his father’s name on the surface of the medal and began to trace the engravings.
His thoughts drifted back eight years to the day he had stood next to the old wooden coffin and peered down at his father’s ashen face. The same day he was introduced to the men his father had saved and was praised for having been born to such a kind man. It was the day he hoped would never come and the day that had lasted forever.
He had been introduced to a tall man that wore a blank expression and a uniform identical to the one his dead father wore. His chest was covered in shining medals like the one the boy now held in his hand. The man had two thin patches of black hair running above his ears and his eyes refused to show any emotion. The man had saluted his father’s dead body as it lay in the coffin and the boy remembered feeling anger pound in his throat at the thought of the fact that his father could not salute back. The boy had wanted to punch and kick the man and yell at him for taunting his father that way, but instead he had politely shaken the man’s sweaty hand and accepted the medal from him.
The man had explained to him the meaning of the medal: it was awarded to his father because he had died in the battle against the rebels who had tried to overthrow the king. All soldiers who lost their lives in the fight to protect the king were awarded this medal, and it was viewed as the highest award a soldier could receive.
The man had then pointed to the soldiers who stood holding back tears, looking down upon the boy’s father and he told the boy that those men were alive today thanks to his father. His father had lost his life by protecting the lives of those men. The boy remembered biting his lip as he refrained from attacking the soldiers that had caused his father’s death. He knew the soldier that gave him the medal was just trying to make him proud of his father, but he only became furious as he heard that all these men got to live while his father lay dead in a coffin that would soon be nailed shut and buried underground. He only felt hate while he glared at these men and thought of all the sons who would get to be sung to sleep by their fathers that night while he would lay in bed alone and cry himself to sleep, if he slept at all. He wanted so badly to yell at the men and make them give his father’s life back to him; but instead, he had silently accepted the medal on behalf of his father and kindly saluted his father’s comrades.
A single tear rolled down the boy’s cheek, lightly caressing the edge of his lips as he stared at the medal, remembering the day it was first presented to him. He quickly wiped the tear away, hiding the evidence of his emotions. He stuffed the medal fiercely beneath his pillow and sat on his bed in the dark, trying to collect himself. He knew he needed to be strong for Olivia. He could not allow time for grief, there was no time to mourn anymore.
While he stripped his clothing off and slid under his sheet, he heard the front door fly open and his mom angrily enter the house. Her nightly ritual had begun. She banged the kitchen cabinets and searched for another bottle. The boy lay in bed and thought about how despicable his mother was and how much he hated her. He was craving to take his fathers old silver sword and slash it through his mother’s skinny, white neck and watch the blood ooze out of her. He wanted to feed her dead body to the dirty, disrespectful dogs she worked with. The boy knew she deserved it, and he knew he and Olivia would be happier if she was gone. But instead, he did nothing. He gnawed at his nails and listened intently as she tried, once again, to drown her pain in bottle after bottle. While listening to her upset pounding and painful drinking, he smashed his eyes together and prayed that she would stop. The boy begged that she would start acting like a real mother and he wished that for once someone would hear him – that for once someone would do something. But, as always, she didn’t stop. As always, no one heard him. She kept drinking, and he kept wishing.
* * *
“Boy! Get out here now!” the boy’s eyes suddenly snapped open and he ripped away his blanket, pulling his clothing on in one swift, effortless motion. “Hurry!” his mother yelled. Her shrill voice sent a wave of chills through his body. The boy shook away the fog that clouded his thoughts and ran grudgingly to his mother’s side. He hoped to get her to stop yelling before her noise woke Olivia. “What the hell is this?” she accused when he emerged from his bedroom. As soon as he was close enough his mother grabbed his shoulders and violently shook him.
“What’s what?” he growled bitterly. He felt the anger seep through his veins and grasp his chest. His mother’s cold fingers struck his cheek and his face flushed with a furious heat. He tasted desire to harm her fill his mouth while he stared into her cold, emotionless eyes. They were dark and loveless, frozen over by her painful past. Her hollow eyes sucked all the heat from the boy’s body and chilled him to the bone as she glared back at him.
“That!” She screeched, pointing one long, crooked finger at the empty plate in front of her. “What the hell did you do with the food that used to be there? That was my breakfast, now tell me what you did with it you vile thing!” He watched in horror as her dark eyes blazed with fury and her waxy skin glowed with a wild red flame.
“Well maybe you would have more food if you didn’t waste your entire income on booze.” He threw back at her, his voice overflowing with hatred.
“You little shit. Don’t tell me how to spend my money. Just tell me what you did with my food.” Her voice shook the walls and the boy, overcome by terror, involuntarily shrank away from her piercing screams.
Fear began to creep into his body and he tried to distance himself from her evil scowl. The boy studied his mother’s icy eyes and used the disgust that filled him as strength to stand up to her, regardless of the how he knew she would act. He steadied his voice when he spoke, and each word rang with artificial confidence. “I took it. I took it and gave it to Olivia. She needs someone to take care of her and feed her. Since you clearly aren’t worried about her health I have to watch out for her. So there you have it. I gave your breakfast to Olivia so that maybe she could make it through one more week in this miserable house without starving. Happy?” He took a step back from his mother with each word he spoke.
“How dare you.” Her voice was only a whisper, yet it slithered around him. Fear enveloped him as his mother approached him one heavy step at a time, her voice climbing louder and louder as she spoke. “I earned that food with my own sweat and blood, and I should be able to eat the food I earn. You and the girl are my children and I can take care of you however the hell I want to.”
“You don’t deserve to take care of us!” He spat the words at her, grasping for air as pure loathing and wrath filled his lungs.
In one sudden motion she was atop him, wrapping her cold, clammy fingers around his throat and slamming him against the wall. Using her other hand, she smacked his face with all her strength. He felt the sharp sting as her rough hands came into a painful contact with his burning skin. She roared, “I made you! You would be nothing without me!”
“We would be happy without you.” His words hit her square in the chest, harder and stronger than any punch he could have thrown.
She loosened her fingers from his throat and let him go, pulling her arm away and staggering backwards. Shakily, she hissed at him, “Then leave. Prove your words true. If you think you’d be happier without a mother then leave and never come back. I never want to see your disgraceful face in my home again. Leave and never return to this town. Just leave!” She spun around and raced out the door, shielding her steady stream of tears from the child.
“Wha- what was all that about?” Olivia’s innocent voice melted away the tension as she stood looking questioningly at her brother. Her sweet scent soothed the pain in the boy that his mother had left with her harsh words and he felt all the anger, fear, pain, and hate rush out of his body as her shining eyes bore into his.
The raw panic and naïve curiosity in Olivia’s worried face forced all of his antagonizing thoughts about his mother to disappear. Rushing to Olivia, her brother grabbed and hugged her fiercely. Love for his sister poured out of his body and filled the room. His love pushed away the disgust, hurt, and anger that had filled the room just moments before. “It’ll be okay Liv, everything will be okay.” His voice shook as he tried to reassure himself. He was scared and didn’t know if he had done the right thing. The words he spoke to Olivia were not said to comfort her. He spoke them in hope that they would give him the courage he needed.
“Well of course it will be. It’s always okay… but, can you explain to me what will be okay? What exactly are you talking about?” Olivia wheezed as her brother’s arms tightened lovingly around her. Letting go of Olivia, the boy took her hand in his and peered into her eyes, his face shining with concern.
“We’re leaving.” He gulped, dropping his eyes as the words left him. “I’m going into town to get some food and supplies before we go, but when I get back we’re leaving for good. While I’m gone pack anything you want to keep, because we’re never coming back.”
Olivia’s eyes flooded with questions, but she held them in and simply stated, “Okay,” she reached up on her tiptoes and gently kissed her brother’s cheek, “just please don’t steal anything.” She skipped off to their room, leaving her brother standing alone in the kitchen.
* * *
The boy threw open the door to their room and tossed his sack onto the bed. Food gushed out and filled the room with the mouth-watering scent of freshly baked bread. The boy sank to the floor, dripping with sweat.
“You stole.” Olivia accused.
“I had to.” He replied breathlessly.
“It’s still wrong.” Even as she criticized him, she walked to the mound of food and picked up a small piece of bread, scarfing it down like a starved animal. Ignoring her comment, her brother began to fill the rest of the sack with socks and blankets. Lastly, he uncovered his father’s medal and crammed it into the bottom of the bag.
When he had finished packing he smiled weakly at Olivia. His eyes filled with apprehension as he spoke. “Well, I guess we leave now.”
“I guess we do.” She took his hand in hers and gave him a supportive smile. Her brother swallowed his nerves and they left the house together to begin their journey.
When outside, the boy stopped walking and spun around to face his house. The small, one-story house swayed with the wind, threatening to collapse at any moment. The beige paint was chipping off at the edges, revealing the weak structure beneath. It was just a building to him; it had never been a home. The empty windows and creaky door filled the boy with horrible memories of everything that had happened to him and Olivia in that house. He knew he was crazy to believe that he could care for his sister while he himself was still so young. When he thought of all the responsibility that he was forcing upon himself, he felt a flash of fear jolt through him. His instincts told him to run back into the house and hide under the bed, but he shook those feelings away and told himself he could handle the new responsibility. A part of him wanted to disappear and give power back to his mother, but he knew he was doing the right thing by taking Olivia and leaving.
So he stood and looked at his old house and felt a smile spread across his face. He was scared, but he was excited to be on his own, helping his sister be happy. He was going to take Olivia and make a home. He felt Olivia’s warm hand wrapped around his cold fingers and thought about the many violent nights that had occurred inside the lonely, empty house he was looking at. An odd calm filled him as the truth of the situation reached him. He was going to keep Olivia safe now. She was going to be okay.
Closing his eyes, the boy slowly turned away from the house. He opened his eyes to the road in front of him and saw the long route of freedom wind on continuously. He and Olivia glanced at one another and the boy took a deep breath, filling his lungs with confidence. Their time had come and finally their journey was beginning.
* * *
After hiking for hours Olivia and her brother finally arrived in Buruser. The children got lost in the hustle and bustle of the town as vendors yelled prices at the townspeople as the people ran from shop to shop, trying to find the best deals possible. Teenagers sulked in the shadows planning elaborate schemes of how to rebel while clergy men stood outside the church begging people to accept God into their lives and seek repentance. The town had clearly recovered well since the rebellion. People no longer spent their nights starving and their days begging. Still, a reminder of those times hung like a whisper in the air. Veterans could be seen shuffling through town with their heads down and leaning on canes or wooden limbs. Some would be missing eyes or ears as well as legs and arms. They would walk around without purpose, lost in their own memories of battle. The townspeople rushed past the soldiers, pretending the scarred men weren’t there, hiding what remained of the rebellion.
Olivia and her brother wove through the maze of people crowding the cobblestone streets and found an alley between two brick buildings whose sides had been painted with an array of offensive words. The two children sat and argued as Olivia tried once more to convince her brother that they had enough food for the day. “You already stole in Genedonn, why do you need to steal again here? We still have food left.”
“What we have left is barely anything. We’re going to need that when we start traveling again, and when we get to the mountains. This is the only way. I promise I’ll only take one loaf of bread, than I’ll come straight back here. No one will care if I take one loaf of bread. No one will even notice.”
Olivia hid in the shadows of the dark alley while her brother crept through the busy streets of Buruser. As he made his way to the baker’s cart he felt his body get pushed and pulled from side to side. He was a tug-of-war toy being yanked around by the animals carelessly rushing past him. The street in front of him seemed to grow longer and longer, and the people around him grew ten times their normal size as he snuck towards the cart.
Finally, he forced his way through the swarm and arrived next to the cart in one piece. Standing in front of the baker he stared at the basket that overflowed with fresh, warm loaves of golden bread that had just been taken from the oven.
His entire body shook as he slowly approached the mouth-watering food. Nerves overtook the boy as he got closer. Taking deep, heavy breaths he felt the people around him start to disappear. He was invisible as he wrapped his fingers gently around the bread and felt its warmth rush into his skin and fill him head to toe. He slowly pulled his arm away and slid the warm bread under his shirt.
With a feeling of success and relief he left to return to Olivia. He beamed from ear to ear as he left the scene of the crime with the warmth of the bread radiating underneath his shirt. Suddenly, he felt a weight come down from above and attach itself to his shoulder, pushing down and wiping away his smile. The boy fearfully turned his eyes towards the source of the weight and saw a man dressed in a navy blue Buruser’s police uniform glaring down at the protuberance beneath his shirt.
“Whatcha got there son?” his husky voice emphasized his curly, rough beard and black beady eyes. The buttons of his uniform screamed for relief as they gripped onto his shirt by one fraying thread, struggling to hang on. The officer’s bulging stomach pressed against the stretching uniform, pushing the buttons away. The boy inspected the man’s belly and knew he could easily outrun the man, but he had no hope of escaping the firm grip the officer kept on his shoulder.
“Oh, I’m sorry sir. I, well you see I… and my sister, well she… and, but my mom, and…” the boy grasped for an excuse as the officer’s eyes bore into his, searching his soul for the truth.
“Tell me son, where is this mum you speak of?”
“She died a month ago.” Olivia’s sugary voice sent a wave of relaxation through the boy’s tense body. Olivia filled everyone she met with sudden energy and overflowing emotions of love and happiness. She was able to melt even the coldest of hearts, and her brother knew she would be able to get him out of this.
“And who are you sweetheart?” the boy felt the officer’s grip loosen as he gleamed at Olivia’s bright face and became entranced by the vigor with which her fiery eyes sparkled. The officer was softened by the amount of life that exploded within the small girl he looked upon. Olivia’s charm was working already.
“I’m the sister. And our mom and pa were killed a month ago. They burned down with our house… and all our money. We’ve been left to fend for ourselves, and we’re just trying to survive until my brother is old enough to find work. Please sir, have a heart. We don’t want to steal, we just want to live. And to live we have to eat, and unfortunately, to eat we have to steal. Please understand sir. We need this bread. It very well may be our only meal for the next week.” As she wrapped her lie around the officer, Olivia spilled tears of pain that gathered on her cheek. The officer released the boy and Olivia wiped her tears away.
“Aw shucks,” the officer looked down at his feet and fidgeted uncomfortably. “I’m sorry darlin’, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’ll let you two go just this once as long as you promise me you’ll try and find another way to get food from now on.”
Olivia politely pecked the rough surface of the officer’s hand. “I promise sir. Thank you, thank you so much.” She grabbed her brother’s hand and yanked him swiftly through the crowd and back to the dark alley.
“Olivia! That was amazing!” Her brother’s eyes twinkled with excitement as he praised his sister.
She scowled at him with disgust. “I lied” she sneered.
“Ya you did! And you did it well Liv. Thanks to you we get a warm dinner tonight.”
“A stolen dinner. I helped you steal!” Her eyes shone as tears crept into existence, pooling at the edge of her eyes, threatening to pour out.
“Don’t cry Liv, it’s all right. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m the one who got into trouble. You just did what you had to do to save me. Don’t get mad at yourself. You’re a good person and you were only trying to help me.” He tried his best to reassure her, hoping she would not cry. He dreaded her tears because they meant something had hurt her. He loved his sister so much and wanted to keep her from getting hurt at all costs.
He sat behind the dumpster and Olivia crawled into his lap. Taking a bite of bread she murmured, “I wish you wouldn’t steal. Then I wouldn’t have to save you. Why can’t we just tell people the truth? Don’t you think someone would want to help us?”
“We need to steal to eat Liv. No one would listen to us if we told the truth. People don’t trust runaway children- they believe we are immature and that we ran away due to a temper tantrum or something. We would be sent back to live with mother, and I know you don’t want that. The people around here don’t want to have to deal with other people’s pain; they all have enough of their own pain left over from the rebellion. Runaways to them are trouble that should be dealt with by their parents. We need to fend for ourselves out here, even if that means lying and stealing. But don’t worry; I’ll be more careful in the future. I won’t get into trouble anymore, and you won’t have to save me again.”
The boy pulled a blanket around Olivia and they said nothing more. Her brother rocked back and forth singing their lullaby until Olivia fell asleep. He then sat and thought in silence until a foggy sleep took over his mind.
* * *
The next morning the children left Buruser. They spent their whole day trudging through the scorching beams of sunshine. Finally, they arrived in Everett and both Olivia and her brother had only one thing on their minds: food. It had taken almost the entire length of the trek, but the boy persuaded Olivia to help him get their food in Everett using her newly discovered ability to lie. Olivia and her brother timidly approached one of the small, white cottages placed along the street of identical homes and ran over their plan one last time.
Children ran up and down the streets inventing their own exotic games and giggling with delight. The small town lay in the shadows of the Nilgen Forest and the Beor Mountains, but the childrens’ laughter and their parents’ smiles gave the town a light that welcomed all visitors. The parents adored their children and showered them with pure love and affection. The town seemed untouched by the past years of rebellion. Everyone in the town was happy and appeared to be unaware of the meaning of loss, or at least they hid their pain well. The boy could tell their scheme would go as planned, because everyone waved to him and Olivia with distressed faces revealing the people’s desire to help the children in need. The people trusted children, and that would make it easy for the children to fool them.
Hand in hand, brother and sister inched toward the cottage. The boy steadied his breathing and assured himself that they could easily pull this off. As he did so, he heard Olivia release an impatient and uncomfortable sigh. Three steps later he was lifting his arm and lightly tapping the large oak door in front of him.
“I don’t want to do this.” Olivia whispered as regret filled her eyes.
Her brother squeezed her hand, “But we need the food. Now we have to be quiet, someone’s coming.” The door swung open and a woman stood there peering at Olivia and her brother. She was an older woman, but not elderly. Her hair was a soft auburn wave crashing around her shoulders with occasional grey hairs peeking their heads out of the copper sea. Her wrinkled face was defined with experience and hardships, yet her smile gleamed with youth and joy.
“Well ain’t you two just the sweetest dang thing I ever saw? What can I do for y’all?” Her breath filled the air with a sweet perfume of apple pie and cider. The boy felt saliva gather at the edges of his mouth and his tongue ran across his lips. His stomach let out a roar, demanding to be fed, causing him to nearly fall to his knees as the strength of his hunger hit him.
“Hello miss. We sure do hate to be a bother, but we’re looking for someone who can help us…” Olivia started, then turned to her brother with watery eyes that begged him to relieve her.
“You see miss,” he jumped in, “we are on our way to visit our sweet old Grandmamma. She lives in a little cabin on the edge of the Beor Mountains. Usually when we get there she makes us a delicious feast, but she can’t do that today, for she is sick, and dying. We told her we would bring her food this time so she wouldn’t have to cook for us, but some dirty thief took the food our mother sent us with. Now we don’t have any food for our dear Grandmamma, and we don’t want to intrude, but…”
The woman whisked the children into her home and slammed the door shut exclaiming, “Oh shut your mouth child! No need to fret, I got plenty o’ food. I can spare a bit for some poor children and their lil’ ol’ Grandmamma!” and she dove into the kitchen, her hair splashing around her as she went.
Olivia glanced desperately at her brother, her eyes brewing with pain and discomfort. He smiled humorlessly and forced himself to shrug and whisper, “Hey, we won’t starve tonight. That’s what matters.” Before Olivia could respond the woman reappeared swinging a basket full of treats. Glancing in Olivia and her brother saw fresh, juicy fruit of all different colors; warm loafs of bread; a picture perfect apple pie; and three bottles of ice cold cider with drops of moisture sliding down the sides of the bottles. As they gazed at the luscious food in front of them the children felt their stomachs flip with the desire to eat and enjoy it.
“I hope this is enough for y’all. You need anything else and you just hustle on back here so I can help y’all. Go on and tell your sweet Grandmamma that I say with a bite of this pie and a sip of that cider she’ll feel better in no time. Now run off you two!” And she scooted them out the door, beaming all the while.
The two children made their way out of the town, slowly advancing toward the threatening mountains. Olivia suddenly dropped to her knees and burst into tears. “She was so nice, and we just took advantage of her! We lied and stole! We are horrible people!”
Tossing the basket of food to the ground, her brother rushed to her side and pulled her into his arms. He rocked her back and forth and hummed their lullaby until her sobbing slowed to a silent, steady stream of tears. Her brother tenderly wiped the tears off of her rosy cheeks and delicately chose his words. “First of all, you didn’t lie Liv, I did. Secondly, you are the best person that has ever set foot on this planet. You tried to save wilted flowers for God’s sake! You deserve to survive, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens. Don’t cry, and don’t feel bad. She wanted to help us, and we let her do that… even if the reasons we told her we needed help weren’t exactly true. Liv, I will continue to get you food through any means, because you need food to live, and without you this world would be a dark place.” The boy squeezed his sister, silently willing her tears away. Olivia rested in his arms, slowly letting his words sink in. They sat in silence, brother holding sister, rocking back and forth until Olivia’s tears stopped. Her brother helped her to her feet and waited as Olivia took many long, deep breaths.
They left Everett and continued their journey to the Beor Mountains. When they reached the mountains they would search for a new place to call home, but for now they walked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
* * *
Four months passed since Olivia and her brother left their house. During the past four months they had been living in a small cave carved in the edge of the mountains. They were only an hour outside of Everett, yet the mountains contained a peaceful serenity that made the children feel as if they were years away from any civilization. The mountains were looming and intimidating, but the smell of pine and the warmth of the sunshine made the children feel at home. The cave Olivia and her brother had claimed as home was low and deep, keeping the children safe from the terrors of the weather. Almost the entire cave could be seen from the entrance, except for one crevice that lay in the shadows in the corner. There was nowhere for animals or other unwelcome visitors to hide. Olivia and her brother were happy there.
Every morning the boy would leave to sneak around the streets of Everett and steal more food for him and Olivia. He had more days of failure than success, but he was still able to get enough food to keep him and Olivia alive, which was all he cared about. While he was gone Olivia would stay in the mountains near the cave. Usually she would explore, dancing around the mountains, spreading her love to any creature she came across. Olivia opened her heart to every creature on the mountain. The light she emenated helped all living things around her thrive.
Slowly, her light began to dim. She had lost her appetite, causing her to starve. Plus, her unsanitary home introduced her to unknown diseases that she was too weak to fight. Olivia hadn’t left the cave in the last three weeks. Instead of skipping through the open air she sat in the shadowy crevice of the cave, wrapped in all the blankets the children had, and shivered. Life no longer thrived without her and she sat in misery every day as the lonely darkness ate away at her.
All of her energy had drained from her body. Her sweet, rosy cheeks and soft skin were now a ghastly, bloodless white. Misery had sucked the succulent red juice from her lips, leaving them dry as a smoky desert. Her eyes had sunken deep into her skin and dark shadows lay beneath them. Her tense body quivered on her frail structure. She had become so fragile that one light gust of wind would be enough to shatter her. Even though every sign of life had drained from her face, her eyes remained alive. The green flames never failed to dance and glisten with liveliness.
The boy often worried that he would not be enough to keep Olivia alive, but he didn’t know how to help her. He was solely responsible for her and felt the obligation to figure out on his own why she was dying and how to stop it. He was terrified that he would not be able to get enough food to keep her alive. Still, when he focused on her shining eyes he knew that her soul remained strong beneath the pain her weak body portrayed. The boy prayed that she would be able to push through it all using the strength hidden within her. As he watched her fade he became concerned about her life and what he could do to save it. He feared that he had taken on more than he could handle by taking charge of Olivia, but he told himself that she had so much more inside of her little body that she would improve if he gave her more rest, food, and time.
The next morning came like every other morning had come for the past four months: the sun leisurely crept over the edge of the mountain and poured into their little cave. In an instant the small cave transformed from cold, dark, and quiet to shining with light and every crack would grow warm from the sun. The sounds of the world around them – the birds chirping, the squirrels bickering, and the leaves of the trees whistling in the wind – filled the air.
Olivia’s brother felt the warmth of the sun seep under his skin and rejuvenate his body. Casually, he stretched all his muscles, sore from another night spent among the rocks. When he turned to face Olivia he could tell that she had spent another sleepless night sitting in the corner of the cave. She sat covered by blankets, staring thoughtlessly at the world outside their cave. He smiled at her, wishing she would rest, and thought about how much he loved her. How he would give anything to make her better, because he didn’t know what he would do if she got worse. Rubbing his eyes, he waited for his morning grogginess to disappear and for his thoughts to make sense again.
“Happy birthday Liv.” He yawned, propping himself onto his forearms. “Nine is pretty old. I just might have to get you a little something while I’m in town today.”
“Thanks, but please don’t steal for me.” Her voice had lost all of its purity. She no longer sang her words, but rather, she croaked them. Every time she spoke a horrible cough escaped her, choking the room with a taunting doom as her brother worried about her health.
“Don’t you worry about how I get your present. It’s your birthday Liv. You deserve a little treat.” He quickly hopped up and kissed his sister’s forehead, than he dashed away before Olivia could object to his inevitable thievery.
While the boy was in town he thought only of his sister. With each apple or loaf of bread that he swiped, he pictured her dancing eyes and contagious smile. Everything he stole sent another thought about helping Olivia recover running through his mind. “Maybe it would only take a bite of that pear to bring the color back to her cheeks.” He told himself. “Maybe it would only take that strawberry to give her the sweet perfume of innocence that she had once possessed.” And so it went. Stealing and wishing; taking and hoping. She was his life, and he wanted to ensure that she got healthy again.
The boy ended his successful day of stealing by finding the perfect gift for his sister. He snuck into the little bakery and stood in the shadows, silently waiting for the baker to return to his kitchen.
When the baker left the boy crept behind the counter and slid his hand under the glass. He suppressed his nerves as his fingers brushed over the cookies and other treats.
Nimbly scooping up the small slice of cake, he wrapped it in an old handkerchief and lightly placed the cake in his sack. He left the bakery with pride and sighed with relief as the door swung closed behind him. He fled without a single person giving him a suspicious look. He wasted no time, remaining in the shadows cast by the trees and mountains, as he made his way back to the cave that his sister lay in. After a short period of time the boy found himself climbing the last obstacles to reach his home.
“Happy birthday Liv! I got you a slice of cake. It looks pretty delicious if you ask me. Come try some.” The boy boomed as he reached the entrance of the cave. When he didn’t receive a response he turned to face his delicate sister. “Liv?” Quiet filled the cave and engulfed the boy in a deep silence. He looked nervously into the shadow-filled crevice of the cave and laid his heavy eyes on his sister. “Olivia?” His heart skipped a beat. His breath caught in his throat as he tried to make sense of what he saw. Olivia lay on the floor with her blankets strewn carelessly across her. Her short legs were curled along the side of her body with one limp arm resting on her chest. The other arm was tossed lifelessly across the floor. The sight of her motionless body sent sparks of horror and aguish through her brother.
Olivia’s brother threw the food on the floor and collapsed next to his sister. He grabbed her inanimate shoulders and shook them violently, screaming, “Olivia? Olivia wake up! You have to wake up. You can’t do this to me Olivia. Olivia? Olivia wake up now!” his voice cracked with fear as the pain of seeing his sister’s deserted body crashed into him. Her head rolled to one side and her brother desperately examined her face. All color had disappeared. Her skin had gone grey, cold, and stiff. Her lips were a dim shade of blue with peeling skin gathering at the edges.
Olivia’s brother looked deep into her eyes and gasped. Her eyes had stopped shining and an empty blackness had taken place of the green flame that had once danced there. The boy searched for life and gazed into her empty stare. The chill of her eyes filled his body, causing him to shiver and forcing tears to stream out of him. He felt the darkness seep into his eyes and fill his every crevice as a tear splashed on her hollow cheek. The darkness covered his soul and wrapped itself around the life that remained inside of him. He threw his body across Olivia and cried in pain as he felt the dark strangle his heart. Pulling Olivia’s weak body into his he sat, rocking back and forth, singing her one last lullaby as the darkness broke him apart one piece at a time.
And he wept, for his life had been ripped away, and darkness had taken its place.
To be continued…