A young girl, alone and afraid, must escape a terrifying situation.
And so she ran. Deep into the green labyrinth that she knew so well, she ran. She ran parallel to the frothing stream, and when the water dried and ebbed into the dry forest floor still she ran. She ran under the branches and she ran over tangled foliage. She ran until her feet bled and her legs ached and her heart threatened to tear itself from her body and she ran until she felt alive. For she knew that there would be no running within the infernal walls of that stony prison and resigning herself to that timid fate for the coming months repulsed her. She ran until she reached the foot of the mountain.
This development gave her pause for thought as she stared wide-eyed at her panting breaths as they turned to mist in the air. There had never been a mountain for hundreds of miles, Elodie thought to herself, let alone within my woods. She knew this forest more than she knew herself, and yet the mountain confronted her, silent and unyielding. For the first time today she gazed upwards, craning her neck in an attempt to glimpse the summit of the impossible structure. The peak rose far beyond her view, jagged snow-coated edges piercing the white-splotted grey of the sky above.
For a moment, she was lost. In wonder, fear, confusion and more feelings she hadn’t the words to describe. Perhaps, she considered, this has always been here. Maybe there’s always been a mountain, and I had never encountered it before. Could I truly be this blind? Gingerly, but deliberately, she reached a finger out to touch the snow. With a start she pulled her hand back, clutching the snow-covered digit, and cursing. It burned me, she realized, almost angrily, the damned snow burned me. The burning pain did not leave her finger, but it spread like plague and sickness, seeping down through her arm and into her chest, until her whole body burned like hot coals were bursting from her skin. Scalding tears streamed freely down her sharpened cheeks as she screamed. But there was no scream and there were no tears and there was no mountain.
Elodie awoke, vision engulfed by the gaping void. Her heart pounded as she screamed, her mangled nails tearing at the cloth round her eyes. The silk, black as crow feather and just as light, fell silently from her grotesque orbs, plunging Elodie into an abyss far deeper and far more monstrous than what she had escaped from. On instinct her arm flailed, fingers desperately caressing the darkness until she felt the familiar solidity of her cane nestling into her palm. Coiling her outstretched digits around the carved ebony, she arose from her bedding, planting her feet firmly on the floor. “Your cane is your only weapon against the black” she once more recalled her tutor’s words of comfort, “A strong defense against the darkness”.
He was there when it happened. Well, not when it happened. I was alone when it happened. For those everlasting minutes I was alone – but he was the first voice I heard in the darkness. She did not scream as she fell, nor when she landed. Her eyes were lost and the world was silent as she lay alone, consumed in nothing. Those sparse few thoughts that wistfully floated through her dying mind were wholly incomprehensible at worst; at best, a ramshackle collection of tattered memories, stitched together like a patchwork dress. It was the old man’s shout, she firmly believed, that dragged her from death’s stony grasp. Only then did the screaming start.
Elodie shook herself from her remembrance; when one treads life in darkness, the mind is oft to wander back to the light. Another one of his, she thought, paraphrased slightly, but still his. With her hand snaked tight around her cane, she tentatively navigated the way through her abyss. The heat from the crackling fire was a gentle reminder of belonging; the warmth a comforting statement of home. For the first time tonight, Elodie noticed the sweat trickling down her features. The summer heat, she assured herself, and the stress of the dream. A terrible dream yes, but a harmless dream nonetheless. She allowed herself a moment of reflection as she reached her arched window, her delicate fingers groping the glass until the hatch unlocked and the cool night’s air washed through her.
The breeze carried with it cruel recollections of her night terror. Dark thoughts of burning snow and impossible mountains taunted her from beyond the inky blackness; her knuckles turning white as her grip around her cane became tighter. Whilst the fear within her was undeniably palpable, she felt another familiar feeling appearing from the black. The sense of loss that had plagued her waking moments since the fall that took her eyes. She felt the tears well around her bulbous eyes but refused to let one fall. I have wept enough for a woman thrice my age, she reflected, resolute in her defense against her tears. She missed her sight. She grieved for it, and had done every waking moment since her fall. The first week was the easiest, Elodie recalled. She was still in an almost dreamlike state back then – the abyss an ethereal curiosity for her exploration. Slowly, she thought, the darkness became like a guest, who never noticed the cue to leave. It took a little under two moons for the prospect of eternity to set in.
Elodie stood quiet by the window, with only the gentle roar of the fire passing through the silent veil. She took a deep breath, but the night’s breeze was tainted. The air seemed thick, and tasted of decay and, most importantly, it burned. It scorched her tonsils and seeped its way down her throat like a coiled serpent of coals until Elodie retched. Bent double like a hunchbacked hag, she coughed and spluttered until tears streamed from her putrid-purple eyes and her lungs felt beaten and bloody. In all her retching, the clattering of her cane falling to the floor went unnoticed. In the midst of her hysteria, only one coherent thought floated to the surface of her mind. The same thought she had been trying to quell for the past minutes but now stood, unyielding and undeniable, at the forefront of her consciousness. They never light the hearth at night. Her hands were twitching, her body shaking, and she fell to the floor, desperately clutching at the carpeted stone in search of her cane, while she tried to dispel the thought that wouldn’t stop its incessant hammering into her head. A singular word. I must find my cane, she pleaded, please just let me find my cane. Her prayers went unanswered, her fingers grasping nothing but air. Except it wasn’t just air, and she knew it wasn’t just air, and the plaguing word returned to the forefront of her mind.
Smoke. It’s all damned smoke. Elodie lay, paralyzed and blind, staring into nothing while the inferno consumed her room. For the first time, she truly heard it. She felt it. Her tongue still burned from the tendrils of smoke, slowly engulfing her stricken carcass. The flames licked and nipped at her, sparks flying like biting insects in the dark. Beyond the abyssal veil, Elodie caught glimpses in her mind’s eye of an all-devouring creature, its flaming maw bellowing and molten limbs ready to pounce upon her.
I have to run. Her body twitched, slightly at first, but slowly Elodie regained control. I have to run. She sat up, cane long forgotten to the void. Her legs quaking, Elodie rose. She planted her two feet in the ground. My own defense against the darkness. Her arms outstretched, grasping into the black. She took a step. She took another. She took yet one more. She stepped and stepped until she reached her solace. The flames parted like the sea for her and once more the cold night’s air caressed her from the window.
Her fingers clasped around the windowsill. The fire roared behind her, but she heard nothing. Her heart beat, but she felt nothing. She climbed, standing firm upon the precipice. The wind was strong, and for a moment she felt pushed back into the flames. She no longer shook and she no longer felt. She took her last breath, and Elodie fell.