Unsteady

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Her skin felt sticky with dried blood.  Her hip hurt.  Her vision blurred along the edges.  The quick, and rough, implant of her tracker left her dazed. She heard the judge speaking but her comprehension remained fuzzy.

“You are sentenced to runner.”

Runner.  Her thoughts slowly coalesced around the word.  Runner.  Her incision itched.  She is now a runner.  They opened the large walnut doors leading to the open courtyard and the birds preening in the barren trees stopped to watch her stand, confused, in the doorway.  On the other side of the courtyard the wrought iron gates swung open.  Someone shoved her shoulder.

Run.

She looked back hoping to understand, to find a familiar face, but stumbled farther as another shove across her back launched her across the threshold.  She felt unsteady.

Run.


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She blinked trying to focus.  She felt a hard surface beneath her.  She heard muffled talking.  She smelled wood burning and heard a teapot whistle distantly.  Her stomach grumbled and she vaguely made out a slim figure in a black jacket with white shirt hanging loose over black pants.  She closed her eyes, rolled her head, opened again trying to gain focus and heard a voice say, I think she’s waking.

The familiar panic fluttered in her gut and she tried to swing her legs over and stand but she didn’t have the strength.  She felt a hand gently push her shoulder back.  “Don’t move.”

She struggled feebly, trying to get up, trying to focus, trying to gather thoughts enough to figure out where she was, what was happening, but in the end her head remained heavy against the cushion.  She felt a little unsteady while she dreamed of snow falling while being wrapped in a blanket of ice.


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Everything remained unfamiliar.  The room warmed by wood burning in a large fireplace smelled inviting yet her mind raced to focus on escape.  Her hip ached.  Her legs felt rubbery.  Her thoughts swam and she desperately tried to hold on to something to steady herself.  The figure dressed in black with white shirt walked towards her.

He squat down to make eye contact with her while her pupils desperately tried to focus.  She wanted to grasp her surroundings, to understand what happened, where she was, who this man was, but she kept falling.  She felt drunk.  Unsteady.

Blue eyes stared at her.  Dark hair, day old stubble, black jacket.  She held onto these details hoping to lock her awareness onto something.  Smoky, soft voice.  Dark lashes.  Indigo eyes.  Short black hair.  White shirt.  Black jacket and white shirt repeated in her vision and mind.  A scent of cherry pipe tobacco filled her nostrils.  Pale skin, amber voice, vanilla touch.  She rolled her head trying to shake clarity back.  Her hip continued to throb.

“Relax.  You’re safe.” 

She struggled against the comforting words in distrust.  Desperately she fought the madness to remain still, to remain complacent.  Her vision remained devoid of color and focus.

Tree

Photo Credit: Nasser Osman

Photo Credit: Nasser Osman

A tall lone ash tree stood in the valley equidistant between the east and west mountains. No other trees or bush of any kind except for this lone ash tree and its shadow to eclipse the valley. Forks of red lightning splintered the indigo black sky, otherwise clear, as thunder rolled down the hillsides as if filling the valley solely to strengthen the ash tree. A woman walked towards the ash, across the valley from the north, with arms raised as if summoning the lightning herself.

She walked unhurriedly and when she stood under the ash, and the lightning struck once more, a dark cloud of ravens burst from every branch, cawing to each other. Rain finally fell, as if called by the ravens, even though visible stars still sprinkled the sky. The woman leaned against the ash, watching the lightning dance across the sky, and waited for the rains to fill the valley. As the rains dropped like big fat tears she felt the wind rise, first in gentle breezes then quickly swirling into gales strong enough to snap the strongest pirate sails.

She waited calmly feeling the water begin to trickle in small rivulets and streams until they joined together becoming one large river that sliced the valley, north to south, between the mountains, like a dagger ripping flesh. The waters roiled and swirled, with white peaks and an angry grumble almost louder than the thunder that continue to roll down the hills. The birds all disappeared, the crickets long stopped their song, leaving nothing but the ash tree, the woman, and the water that raged through the valley.

Her long hair wet, strands plastered to her face and shoulders, blew wild with the wind while her toes dug into the muddy soil at the base of the ash. She breathed deep, filling her lungs with the violent winds, tasting the tang of salt and soil in the water while the thunder vibrated in her heart. She kept her face upturned, eyes unblinking despite the bright flashes of lightning, feeling the electricity burn the air and raise the downy hair on her arms.

The water continued to rise and build, threatening to fill the valley and dwarf the mountains, but the ash tree remained as an island amid the turmoil with the woman at its base. Drops ran down her cheeks, rain mixed with tears or simply rain only she could say, but she remained with her face turned upwards. As the clouds moved overhead, dark and tumultuous, the thunder bellowed incessantly, filling her chest with a thrum and vibration that infused with her voice, slowly rising, a single note, strong and clear, deep and emotional, calling all the ravens back to roost.

The birds returned, slowly, like ink drops tossed on a roiling sea, their feathers wet and ruffled, finally gripping a branch in the midst of the storm. They eyed her, silently, with puffed chests, blinking with curiosity as she continued the one note. The valley was gone, now filled with water, the mountains peaks barely visible among the crashing waves but the ash tree remained untouched, barely a leaf blown out-of-place. As her voice crescendoed then fell silent, the thunder boomed to silence and the lightning flashed no more. The clouds squeezed the last few drops of rains before breaking apart and revealing the indigo black sky once more.

When the woman’s voice was silent and the river valley water calmed, an eery silence filled the void. The ravens shook their feathers, preening each one dry, then looked towards the sky as she raised her arms once more. They waited, watching, anxious and curious, but no sound or light flashed, no rains or thunder echoed, only an occasional splash in the distance occurred. The woman stood motionless, with arms raised, until the edges of the sky began to lighten. The sun rose in the west tainting the sky a strange bruised purple before fading to hints of lavender and blue. When the warmth of the sun touched the ravens feathers, the birds began to caw. Their voices rang out across the water, echoing and reverberating, like fish playing in the sea.

She lowered her arms and the birds rose up, filling the blue sky like dark gray smoke, diving and twirling in the doldrums air. They rose in columns of black feathers like soot, twisting and rising higher before falling, like stones, dropping as the rain had only hours before. When it looked like they would smash into the water, breaking the surface and drown, they opened their wings and sailed across the ocean before coming to rest on a mountain peak.

The woman then climbed to the uppermost branch of the ash and breathed deep once more. She let the sunlight dry and warm her skin and hair. Once dry and warmed she looked to each crow perched on the mountains ridge and blinked, slowly, before bowing. She bent at the waist, deep, folding in half, then stood again with a bright smile lifting her lips. The crows blinked and tilted their heads, watching, waiting. She slowly rose to her tiptoes, lifting her arms once more, then pushed off, arching over the edge of the ash tree’s island, and diving deep into the waters and disappearing.