The only distinct sound in the darkness of the woods was of her running. She sprinted fast, as her bare feet disturbed the fallen leaves and their peace, with each of her hard steps ruffling them and lifting parts of the piles a few inches from the ground, just to fall back down and rearranged. The slight noise they made as they touched one another midair, and while settling on the dirt again, was the only audible movement in the forest. Each step was agonizing, each step meant small branches cracked and pointy rocks stabbed at the bottom of her feet, but after a while the biting cold made her whole body too numb to feel any pain. The icy breeze cloaked around her like a hostile entity bound to harm her, but she kept going; she kept running ahead like she was running for her life. Every few seconds she would turn to look behind her back, to see if anyone was following, but she could only see as far as the faint moonlight allowed her to; all else was pitch black. Her knees were bloody from having slipped and fallen, as well as her arms, covered in scratches and cuts caused by the sharp branches of the trees. Those wounds on her fragile body looked like claw marks, as if she had been attacked by some ferocious animal. The light white nightgown she was dressed in wasn't that white anymore, but all dirty and torn in places, as though it had been dragged through the mud. As her breathing was becoming faster with each step, her strength began to betray her, until on the next stumble and fall she didn't have the energy to get up again. Her weary feet tripped on an out of place log, she lost her balance and hit her head hard on a thick branch that out of the blue blocked her way. The collision was sudden and it caused her to fall down hard and slip into unconsciousness in an instant.
She awoke to the first rays of morning light. She opened her eyes and looked around. The woods didn't project the same inhospitality by the light of day, but the mountain cold was creeping through her whole being, it caused her every muscle to shake beyond control. Her face was sick pale, her lips had turned purple and she could hear her teeth chattering inside her head, although she couldn't feel her jaw's movement. Her wounds looked worse, as the blood on her knees and arms had dried and appeared darker and more repulsive than before. The once full of grace sixteen year old girl was long gone and had given her place to a trembling being, a terrifying sight that could have scared the bravest man. Still lying on the ground, after a lot of effort she brought her shaking hands before her eyes and examined her fingers, as they were all covered in a black substance from the nail to the middle phalanx. She attempted to wipe it off, but it was pointless; it would smudge anything she touched, but wouldn't come off. When she touched her face trying to put away the hair that was hanging in front of her face, blocking her sight, the black substance left markings on her skin, contrasting its eerie whiteness. Exhausted and hypothermic, she got up shivering, crossed her arms before her chest, she began walking back where she came from. In slow movement the petite hunchbacked figure was crouching through the frigid morning woods like an apparition.
It took her a while to return home, but she got there. At that moment she was at the weakest she had ever been, but her home being within reach made her feel safe again. It was an old but well-kept farmhouse that sat on two hundred acres of green land. It wasn't much, but it provided a decent living for her and her family. There was no other place she had ever called “home”. Getting nearer, she felt sentimental in a very strange way to see the familiar surroundings up close again; the poultry yard, which sheltered many chickens and a few turkeys, and the pigsty containing only a couple of pigs, but most of all the place she was most connected to, the imposing barn, located a few feet away from the family house, a home for many bigger animals like sheep, goats and cows, which she used to help with, even if she had to miss school and skip homework to do it. A few feet outside the main house's entrance there was an old rusty wagon where she sat for a minute to catch her breath and compose herself before entering. Tremors were still dominating her body but at that point she had trained her mind not to pay any attention to them. She reached in her bra and pulled out a key, which she used to unlock the dilapidated wooden front door and enter.
The entrance led straight to the small living room filled with cheap, but durable furniture and that did not match one another. The disarrayed shelves on the rough white walls held all kinds of useless junk, from frames with old family photographs to novelty bibelots, like little porcelain animals and antique clocks. A tabletop transistor radio was reporting the news in poor, fuzzy reception. Among the inelegance of the room's disharmony sat her father, a man in his early fifties whose weary face reflected how much of a hard worker he'd been all his life, having coffee for breakfast and appearing devoted to the newspaper he was reading. He was startled to see his daughter entering in such condition. He got up, threw his glasses off his face and onto the table and followed her, concerned to death. He was confused about what had happened to her and why she was in that state. He chased her around the house, asking whether she had been out all night, if she were okay and if she needed any help or a doctor to call, but he didn't get a reply. The girl rushed into the bathroom, slammed the door behind her, locked it and turned on the hot water, the sound of which running covered some of the volume in the man's voice. After a couple of minutes he gave up asking and returned to his original seat, worried sick, but hoping that he would have her talking after she was all rest and calm. “At least she came home in one piece”, he thought to bring himself some peace of mind.
After she took a long hot shower and treated her wounds, all cleaned up, she locked herself in her room. She felt better as the shaking and the trembling were becoming less intimidating by the time. She was in warm clothes at last and she kept a heavy black blanket wrapped around her shoulders for extra warmth. Although she was tired and felt like she wanted to sleep for hours, she couldn't stay in bed for long. She tried to force herself to sleep by laying still on her bed, staring at the posters of the musicians and the record covers which wrapped all four walls from top to bottom like a tapestry, but each image sparkled such exiting thoughts in her brain, thoughts based on song lyrics or certain sounds, making her feel rather awake and not drowsy at all. When she realized that sleep wasn't an option for her at that point, she got up for good.
She reached to the bottom shelf of the record storage unit which beside her bed stored a few dozen vinyl albums. She pulled out a record and gazed upon the cover image for a bit. On an all black background, right below the band's indistinct logo, a monochrome illustration depicted the top of an imposing building which had the appearance of a grandiose Cathedral. She unfolded the gatefold packaging and with care she pulled out the black vinyl record from its white inner sleeve. The combined smell of vinyl and paper hit her nostrils hard and excited her like a child in a candy store. With both hands she placed it onto the player that sat on top of the furniture, put the needle on and began spinning the album.
A dynamic, unpolished sound made of razor sharp guitar riffs and fast monotonous drumming, built up to a point where it met with the growling, unfathomable vocals, that sounded like they were coming straight from someone's filthy gut. From the second the track kicked in, the whole place shook under the music's enormous powers; the extreme sounds filled the room in loud volume like an avalanche of noise and sadness and although it might have sounded like cacophony to most people and it would most likely make an average normal person uncomfortable, for the first time in a while she felt calm and composed. She sat in front of the mirror and stared at her own reflection, motionless and with no expression on her snow white face, lost in the music she selected to score her early morning isolation with. She reached for the near-at-hand drawer and took out a make-up kit which she had set up herself; nothing but a worn out off-white paper box full of cheap accessories. The first item she got out of it was a black lipstick, a larger than usual amount of which she applied on her lips. Then, with a fluffy, synthetic brush she painted around her right eye with eyeshadow until she covered a large area in black, from her eyebrow to nearly her cheekbone. Next she used a thick black pencil to drag lines down her eyes with precise moves, irregular lines that looked like tears and gave her whole appearance a rather supernatural dimension. She looked frightening but confident. She continued doing the other eye and adding details to her corpse-paint make-up, in which she perceived a part of hers that had been stayed oppressed for too long; a part of hers that was living under the floorboards for her whole life, a haunting spirit in wait to be set free.
In the living room the father seemed disturbed by the loud noise but at the same time he felt relieved. He thought that if his daughter was in the kind of mindset to blast out music, it must have meant that she was fine or at least better from whatever the matter was. He wouldn't have heard the knocks on the front door if they hadn't occurred in the interval between songs. He answered to greet the nearby village pastor, a man around the same age as him, who looked distressed and unusually overworked for that hour, still being early in the morning. After he expressed his surprise and asked about the reason for the unexpected visit, the priest told him that they needed as many hands possible and asked him if he was able to join the rest of the villagers and help with whatever he could, for during the previous night the old village church, an important historical landmark for the place and its people, had burned to the ground.
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