Posted by : Wendy B Tuesday, 30 December 2014
Inspired by TF. Image source: [x]
Its wings had fluttered their last over an hour ago, but still she watched. Just in case.
Behind her, the other children continued their games of hop scotch or hide and seek or whatever else it was that made them laugh and sing and do all the things that children are supposed to do.
They invited her to their games sometimes, but the girl just ignored them until they gave up and went away. She was quite content to be on her own, though there weren’t many places on the compound to find true solitude. Still, she was good at staying out of everyone’s way, so most of the adults didn’t pay her much mind, save for the ones who always had something to say about her mother. They couldn’t say such things to her mother directly, so they would say them where they knew the girl could hear, shaking their heads and casting glances. Pitying her.
There was one woman who still tried, though. Most often at bed time when she called the other children to her lap for story time. That woman still looked to the girl hopefully, with her haunted eyes, wanting so much to give comfort that the girl did not need. That woman was the one who still thought of herself as a mother, even though the last of her children had been stolen years ago. She clung to the few that were left in the compound as if they were her own, and huddled with them by the firelight at night to speak and sing of rainbows and princesses, dragons and fairies. Happiness that held no meaning in a world where monsters were real.
The girl hated bedtime. When everyone hid underground and spoke in hushed voices, just loud enough to drown out the incessant buzz of the demons that waited in the distance. The grown-ups talked and talked until the children fell asleep, sometimes daring to turn on the little music box and sing along. Anything to keep the children from hearing the nightmare.
Curfew was an hour before dusk and the girl could not disobey the silent alarm of waning sunlight that called everyone into the depths of the compound where they hoped they were safe. She hated it. The cloying stink of hope that they clung to, singing their lullabies and telling their stories. The stench of fear that made them hide instead of fight.
It was the one time the girl hated her mother—but only just a little.
The shadows shifted and the girl knew twilight was not far away. She would be called back soon.
She tapped the glass once more. The creature didn’t respond. She sucked in a breath and put a hand on the jar, then slowly tilted it on its side, then let it go. She waited, her heart racing, ignoring the light that scattered through the glass as the jar rolled away.
This was not one of the demons’ vessels. There was nothing to fear from a real and true butterfly, yet sweat trickled an icy path down her back as she stared at the creature with wings the colour of ash and flame. So rare to find any remnants of nature that had not been tainted by the demons’ poisons. It had taken the girl a morning of patience to capture it. She had spent the rest of the day watching it die.
And now she would watch it burn.
The lighter was already in her hand. She’d retrieved it from the pouch at her thigh without even realizing it. It was stolen, of course. Supplies were scarce. A tool like this was not meant for foolish experiments and if she were caught, she’d be punished with extra kitchen work for days. The girl didn’t mind extra kitchen work. It was an important and necessary task. But she hated that the adults thought of her investigations as silly dalliances to be punished rather than praised. While the other children played their vapid games, she was learning how to survive in this forsaken world.
The flame flickered, pulsing softly to the beat of her heart. It was hard to drag her eyes away from it.
The shadow shifted.
The girl spun around, tucking the lighter behind her back. It was a useless action. She knew it was too late. Whomever had caught her had likely been there for long enough to know what she’d been up to. Still, her mouth opened to form her defense, then snapped shut when she saw her mother staring down at her.
People said that the girl had her father’s eyes—warm, amber fires that twinkled when he laughed. But the girl didn’t laugh. And she didn’t want her father’s eyes. Not when her mother's eyes spoke so much louder. The adults always spoke of how cold her mother’s eyes were, though they were never referring to the colour. Sometimes the girl thought her mother’s eyes could pierce darkness with their pale blue glow.
When the grown-ups looked at the girl and shook their heads, they would speak of how her mother had been different once, before the demons’ had taken her father. Before she’d lost the unborn child he left behind. The last baby that would have been born to any one for a long, long time. Their deaths had stolen her hope, the adults would say, leaving behind a shadow of a woman, and a strange child that didn't know how to smile and play.
The girl didn’t need the bedtime stories of the other children. Her mother’s eyes told her stories that meant so much more. Her mother's eyes told her how to fight. How to survive. And how to protect the people who couldn't--or wouldn't fight for themselves.
Her mother reached up with her right hand and retrieved the heavy gun over her shoulder. The girl had seen it many times. She knew exactly what it did. She understood every part, from the charred muzzle to the tank strapped to her mother's back. She had never touched it.
But she had seen its flames.
The girl stood and her mother crouched so that they were eye to eye. The sun had begun its slow descent behind the mountains. The others would be scrambling to lock themselves away from the darkness. The girl held her breath. Above the silence that hung between them, the girl could hear the buzzing sound of waking demons.
Then she saw the little twitch at the corner of her mother's lips. The woman stood, turning them both toward the gate that led out into the valley, away from stories of princes and princesses safe in their castles.
"It's time you learned how to use this."