Journey and Adventure
Janelle and Samantha made their way back to the house and spent the rest of the day deciding what few items they would take on their journey. Although they were very limited in what they could take it was difficult to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. By the time night fell Janelle still had no idea whether they should bother bringing cutlery.
She stood in the kitchen, holding one of the bowls in her hands. If we're on the run, this will just be extra weight… But then, what if we need to store water or something? I don't know, I've never lived in the wilderness before.
Janelle gasped, dropping the bowl so it shattered on the ground. She relaxed when she saw Samantha's brother standing in the doorway. He ventured from his room so rarely she often found it hard to remember he even lived with them. All she knew about him was that he was five years older than her and a blacksmith, the only blacksmith in their village now his mother was dead.
I can't even remember his name… But I can't ask him either, then he'll know I've forgotten.
"You - you scared me..."
"Sorry," he said sheepishly, placing the parcel in his hands on the bench and hurrying over and helping her pick up the pieces. Even though he was five years older than her and Samantha, he did not look it. His hair was red and wavy, and a deeper, more vibrant colour than her own orangey-red curls. Samantha's brother was handsome, but his face was round and boyish. Janelle would never have guessed he was twenty-eight years old if she didn't already know.
"You're leaving tonight, right?" he asked. He did not look at her when he talked, which she found disconcerting.
"Yes," she said, still trying to remember his name.
He nodded, staying silent as he picked up the rest of the pieces.
"Here," he said eventually, placing his own collection of pieces in her hands, his gloves brushing against her skin.
"Thank you," she said, smiling awkwardly.
He smiled back, looking up at last. "No problem."
They stared at each other for a moment. He had nice eyes, she noticed. They were a light blue colour with a hint of grey, but there was something in them that she could not name.
He cleared his throat. "I – I should go…"
Samantha's brother hurried back up the stairs and out of sight just as Samantha herself entered.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"Um, yes," Janelle said quickly, dumping the broken pieces on the bench.
"I'll just go and say goodbye to my brother, and then we can go."
Janelle nodded. "Say goodbye to him from me, too."
Samantha raised her eyebrows. "Okay."
She hurried up the stairs and returned about ten minutes later, carrying her bag. Janelle and Samantha stuck to the shadows as they crept through the streets, anxious not to alert the Gifted. Once they reached the outskirts they relaxed, beginning the long climb up the mountain that bordered the deep valley that housed their small village.
It was almost morning when they finally reached the top. Janelle bent over, her breath laboured from the steep climb. Samantha sat down on a rock nearby, not the slightest bit puffed. How is that even possible?
"It looks so small from up here," Janelle said once she had rested for a bit, staring down at the village below. All she could see of it was a cluster of reddish-brown boxes with white dusting on the top. She had never seen it from such a height – although she and Samantha had practiced their sword fighting in the forest around them they had always remained within the valley, never venturing that far up the mountains that enclosed the tiny town and its surroundings in a circle.
Just think, this may be the last time I ever see my home…
"Do you think we can do it?" Janelle muttered.
Samantha shrugged, her dark hair billowing in the wind. "Yes, I do."
She turned around and continued with their journey. Janelle glanced back at the only home she had ever known one last time, a strange ache in her heart.
"Coming," she muttered, turning around reluctantly and hurriedly following Samantha. They pushed through the snow, eventually making it to the other side of the hill.
"Wow," Janelle muttered, stopping to look. "Isn't that amazing?"
Samantha nodded. Her grey eyes were wide, and there was a spark in them she'd never seen before. Together they looked out at the world beyond the valley.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon, staining the clouds above a beautiful orange colour. Janelle's eyes swept over the green fields in the distance, the dark forests surrounding the mountains. Her heart began to race, but she wasn't sure if she was nervous or excited.
"Have you ever left the village before?" Janelle asked.
Samantha shook her head, her normally pale cheeks slightly flushed. "Never."
"I haven't either."
"Well, there's always a time to start," Samantha said, smiling.
She took Janelle by the hand, pulling her into the new world before them.
Carey watched the sun set over the trees in the distance. After finishing their chores in the morning, their parents had allowed her and Wesley to take the rest of the day off. They had met some of their friends from the village by the river, but they had all gone home now.
"We should head back too," Carey said, nodding towards the horizon. "It's nearly dark…"
Wesley shrugged. "It'll be fifteen minutes yet. It's nice out here."
He's right… Carey stared into the depths of the river, remembering the many hours they'd spent swimming and splashing about during the summers of their youth. She looked up, her eyes sweeping over the farmlands surrounding their village. The cows in the distance were munching on grass, moving slowly through the paddock as they did so.
"It must be nice, to be a cow," Carey mused. "Nobody gives them any jobs to do, they can just eat and sleep whenever they want."
"Yeah, and get killed for food."
Wesley grinned, ruffling her hair and laughing when she scowled at him. He lay down beside her, closing his eyes as Carey continued to watch the farmlands.
They're so vast... Is there really a world beyond them? It seems impossible, but I know it's true.
"Don't you ever just want to get out of here?" she said quietly, glancing down at her brother.
Wesley yawned, stretching and sitting up. "What do you mean?"
Carey pointed towards the horizon. "Well, there's so much to see out there… Don't you ever want to run away, and do what we want?"
Wesley shrugged. "Mum and Dad need our help, though. If we leave, then they'll have to manage a farm and six children by themselves."
"Do you remember that old lady? The one we used to visit?"
Many years ago there had been an old woman who had moved to their village when Carey and Wesley were about five years old, living in a small, run-down cottage on the outskirts of their town. She and Wesley had taken the responsibility of spying on their new neighbour. One cool spring morning she had found them crouched in the dirt under her window. Instead of getting mad, she took them inside and brewed up a pot of tea. As they drank in front of the fire, she told them stories of the life she had led. The old woman had woven incredible tales of adventure, excitement, a life Carey could only dream of.
The woman told them how she moved from sanctuary to sanctuary, places scattered over the island that were free from the rule of the Gifted. There, she was free to do as she pleased, unlike in the villages where most of what they managed to grow or earn was seized by the Gifted in the area.
Of course, she had assured them, it was not as simple as that. The old woman spoke of a time when the Gifted had found the sanctuary she was staying in. Before they had realised what was happening, the whole building went up in flames and the air around them had become toxic as they tried to run. The old woman had begun to shake as she told them this, refusing to say any more on the subject.
However, although she had told them of the danger, Carey couldn't help but dream of having a life like hers. A life with no rules, no responsibilities, a life that she could choose. She and Wesley's games had taken a new turn. They now spent hours pretending to be free and moving from sanctuary to sanctuary, fighting the Gifted and having many adventures.
"Of course I remember her," Carey said after a pause. "How could I forget?"
Wesley took her hand, squeezing it.
"And do you remember what happened to her?" he said quietly.
Carey nodded. The old woman's stories had been popular with the other children as well, although Carey and Wesley were a special favourite of hers. As the rumours of the adventurous life she'd led began to circulate the village, it didn't take long for them to reach the ears of the Gifted. One morning, she and her brother had knocked on the door of the old woman's cottage, but there was no reply. It wasn't hard to guess what had happened to her.
"But wouldn't it be worth it anyway?" Carey said slowly. "I mean, if we left this place we could do anything we wanted! Sure, it would be dangerous, but don't you think it would be so much more exciting?"
Wesley shrugged. "Maybe. But there's plenty of fun things to do around here."
He stood up suddenly, pulling his shirt over his head and running towards the river and diving in, laughing loudly all the while.
"Are you crazy?" Carey yelled as he swam to the surface. "It's almost winter, it must be freezing in there!"
Wesley shook his head, grinning and splashing water towards her. "It's not that cold. It's nice, actually."
"Well, you must have the Gift of Water or something if you think it's nice, idiot. You'll catch a cold."
Wesley laughed and begun to swim in a circle. "I won't be that long. You can go home if you want."
Carey rolled her eyes. "Just don't drown. Mum and Dad will probably blame me if you do."
"I'll try my best," he promised, splashing her one final time before she had the sense to move away. Carey ran back to their cottage, peering inside one of the windows. For once, their crowded home was almost empty, but she could see her parents next to Lindsay's cot. Her mother was leaning over him, speaking softly. Her father was beside her, his hands resting on her tense shoulders. Carey opened the door slowly, careful not to make it creak. She poked her head inside, listening as her father spoke.
"We've gotten through all the others, Amber," he said. He sounded very different from usual, almost vulnerable. "We can get through this one."
"I – I know," she muttered, turning around so they were facing. "But Noah, I... I just have this feeling that this time it's going to be different."
Carey's father smiled, reaching out and tucking a strand of her mother's blonde hair behind her ear and kissing her gently. Carey looked away, screwing her eyes shut and trying to erase the image from her mind.
"I know," he said when he pulled away. "But it really isn't. There's no more chance of Lindsay being Gifted than any of our other children."
"I suppose," she said, sighing as he drew his arms around her and hugged her close. Carey stood, frozen to the spot until her father looked up and noticed she was there.
"Carey?" He let go of her mother and stood up straight as his green eyes surveyed his eldest daughter.
"Hi," she said, waving awkwardly and trying not to look like she'd just been eavesdropping.
"Hi, honey," her mother said, turning away from Lindsay and smiling anxiously at her daughter. "I thought you and Wesley were out for the rest of the day."
Carey shrugged. "I got bored. Where's everyone else?"
"Rebecca and Jack took them to visit the horses."
"Even the little ones?"
Her mother nodded. The three of them stood awkwardly for a few minutes while Lindsay snored softly in the background.
What should I say? Usually it's so easy to talk to them, but they're both so on edge, I -
"Do you mind drawing some water from the well?" her father asked. "The others will be back soon, and…"
"Sure," Carey said quickly, hurrying away and sighing with relief as she began making her way to the village centre. The sun had set at last, but she knew her way through the village blindfold. Once she reached the well she drew a bucket of water and sat down on the stone ledge, staring into the cobbled road.
Is this what my life will really be like forever? Simply toiling away on this farm, or someone else's?
Carey knew this was the best life she was capable of having. Her parents didn't have enough money to pay for apprenticeships for their children, and least by working on the farm, she was guaranteed a safe, secure form of employment.
And yet, I still dream of a life of adventure…
Carey sighed, telling herself to focus. There was no point thinking like this after all. Her life was the way it was, and there was nothing she could do to change it.
Carefully, she lifted the heavy bucket and stood up. Carey toddled through the village streets, trying her best not to spill any of the water. The dim light of the moon and the cold air gave the usually warm, lively village an eerie feel. The late autumn wind howled, and Carey began to tremble, both from the cold and from fear. She remembered as a toddler she'd once heard the wind howling outside and become convinced a monster was outside to get her. Carey had woken up her parents, asking them to come help her defeat them. They'd laughed, her father taking her by the hand and promising he would do his best.
He had taken her outside, checking all around their small cottage with her. To her surprise, there was nothing to be found, no creatures to be defeated. Her father had knelt down next to her and kissed her on the forehead, saying that the monsters were only inside her head. That night, Carey slept soundly.
"Monsters don't exist, monsters don't exist…"
She whispered the mantra over and over as she walked through the streets. Carey forced herself to look straight ahead, not even glancing at the dark, foreboding shadows that could potentially hide the most dangerous of beasts.
See, this isn't so bad. You're just being paranoid, nothing's going to –
Cold steel pressed against her neck. Carey opened her mouth to scream, but a dirty hand was thrust against her lips. The bucket fell out of her hands, spilling water over her boots and rolling away.
"Don't make a sound," her attacker hissed, his hot breath in her ear.
He pulled her around so they were facing, the point of his knife pressing against the underside of her chin. His greasy left hand gripped her wrist painfully, and even though Carey could probably pull her hand free she knew if she did he'd thrust his knife through her neck. Although she couldn't see him very well in the dim moonlight, the whites of his eyes stood out in the darkness, and the stink of someone who hadn't washed themselves in a long time wafted into her nostrils.
I mustn't show fear… Even though she wanted to cower away, Carey gritted her teeth and glared at him defiantly. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that he'd scared her.
"Don't look at me like that," he demanded, the hand holding the knife shaking. "I'm not going to rape or kill you as long as your parents or husband or whatever pays the ransom. I've lost everything… The Gifted took what little I managed to make, and…"
He stopped for a moment, lowering the knife as the anger in his eyes replaced with confusion. "Hey, where'd you –"
Carey didn't have time to ponder his change, pulling her hand from his grasp and grabbing him by both shoulders. She kneed him in the groin as hard as she could, and the man fell to the ground with a groan. Carey turned around and sprinted as fast as her legs could carry her back through the village streets. As she neared the farm, she saw her brother in the distance.
"Wesley," she gasped, clutching her side and bending over when she reached him. "I – I'm so glad you're here."
He jumped violently when she spoke, his eyes darting from place to place.
"Carey?" he said in disbelief, still glancing around. "Don't scare me like – Hey, where are you?"
"I'm right here," she said, confused.
Wesley stared right at her.
"I – I don't see you," he stammered. "I can hear your voice, but I – I can't see you."
"Don't play stupid jokes like that. I'm right here, see?"
Carey lifted her arm up to wave in his face, to show him that he was wrong. But even though she knew her arm was there, the only thing she could see was the cobbled path below and her brother standing before her.
"What?" Carey whispered, shaking as she checked herself over.
Where's my body?
As soon as she thought this, a strange, fuzzy outline appeared where her chest should be. The outline grew stronger, spreading over her torso, travelling down her legs and arms until her whole body was visible again.
She and Wesley's eyes met, and she was sure the terrified expression in his bright blue eyes matched hers perfectly.