Chapter 4 ♕
I sat in the armchair by the fireplace and watched the dancing flames as my eyes slightly closed every now and then. I tried to fight the sleep with all my might, but it didn’t get any easier as the clock on the mantelpiece indicated it was past midnight. Next to the antique object was a picture frame, containing a picture of the three of us. My father, mother and me. Taken by a nurse the day they took me from the orphanage.
Since I was only a few weeks old, the people of the orphanage had decided not to name me. Instead, they would leave that to whoever would adopt me. My adoptive mother gave me my name. At a later age she had told me that when they first walked out through the doors with me in their arms, the flower field on which the orphanage was located had been filled with blooming Magnolias. My parents had apparently seen it as a sign and decided to name me after it.
When the loud sound of a bell went through the room I was immediately back to my senses. There they were finally. My adoptive parents were antique dealers, for which they often had to travel long distances. From a certain age they trusted me enough to leave me alone. I enjoyed the alone time that was then given me, but the best was always when they came home.
Over the years we had created the tradition in which I stayed up until they came home, despite the time. And when they came back, I always immediately received the present that they had brought for me. In my bedroom I had a shelf that was specially cleared for all the objects they took back for me. Those were my most precious belongings.
I jumped up from the couch and ran through the house with a big smile on my face, after which I immediately opened the front door. And froze where I stood.
It were not my parents who emerged from the nighttime darkness. Instead, there were two men in police uniform. The flickering light from the lantern hanging next to the door cast strange shadows on their faces. I immediately held up my guard.
“Are you miss Magnolia?” one of them asked in a deep voice. “T-That’s right,” I said uncertainly, half hiding behind the solid oak door.
There was a moment of silence as the men glanced at each other. But then they looked at me again. Their faces taken by pity and regret. “We are very sorry to have to bring you this news, but your parents had an accident earlier tonight. Unfortunately, neither of them survived. This is all our colleagues were able to save,” one of them said, handing me an object.
I was numb, overwhelmed and crushed. Yet I took over the object from him with trembling hands. I held it up in the light and felt the first tears run down my cheeks. It was an hourglass. It had five elegant pillars with beautiful classic lines. It was a refined antique edition. And the last thing I would ever receive from them.
Trembling, I turned the hourglass over in my hands, only then did I notice the words engraved on the top of the wood.
The more sand that slips through the hourglass, the clearer we can see through it.
Time is precious, my child. Cherish it.
With a deep breath, I regained consciousness.
My eyes flew open. And as I blinked hastily, I felt a few tears fall down. Annoyed with myself, I tried to wipe them away.
Three years had passed. I should have gotten over this by now. But whether I liked it or not, there was just pain that I had not dared to face. Memories and feelings that I suppressed.
The words of my parents last gift haunted me before my eyes. As a child, I always felt that I was running out of time. There were never enough months in a year, not enough days in a week and never enough hours in a day. I couldn’t wait to grow up.
I always wanted so much at once that I sometimes forgot to pause to appreciate what I had. My father had spoken to me about that so often.
Time is precious, my child. He would say then. Cherish it.
As I brought my hands to my face, I felt a nasty pain shoot through my sides. I groaned. At the same time I heard a heavy door open.
“Try not to move. It’s a miracle in itself that we were able to close the wound before you bled to death. You will still feel it in the upcoming days, but for a human you heal well” the voice sounded amused.
I felt the same sting again as I glanced over my shoulder to see who owned that voice. I felt my eyes widen. Walking up to me was a girl. Judging her height, she was slightly shorter than me. Her body moved in a natural, graceful way that made it seem like you had no choice but to stare. She was slender, thin and clearly younger than me.
The closer she got, the more I noticed about her. Her skin was tinted with freckles on her nose and cheeks. Light brown, full strands of hair adorned her round face. Unique yellow colored eyes stared at me curiously as she took a seat on the chair next to the bed where I had apparently been placed in.
Although I kept my eyes on her, a lot went through my mind at the same time. Fractions of memories began to emerge and played out like a mere feature film before my eyes.
I thought back to the wolf, the blond man, the hunters and William. That added to the dream I had just had, it felt like my head was hit by a sledgehammer.
It was so much at once that I pressed my hands to the sides of my head and started massaged it. I was about to feel overwhelmed when I felt a warm touch on my forearm.
“It’s a lot to have to deal with everything at once. Try taking a deep breath. You are safe here, that’s all that matters. The rest will come later. Don’t worry,” the girl reassured me.
I looked at her uncertainly. I was clearly older than her, but it was she who was reassuring me. I decided to take her advice and took a deep breath.
“That’s a lot better,” she said with a laugh. Her gaze went from amused to interested as she slowly leaned forward towards me. “Your eyes are truly magnificent,” she said, her voice full of admiration. I immediately averted my gaze. I had to tolerate sideways glances all my life. No one had ever complimented me directly.
“Thanks,” I said. My throat was dry and my voice scratchy. The girl offered me a glass of water that had been left on the bedside table. I accepted it gratefully and took a sip.
While drinking, I looked over the edge of the glass to the room where I was in. It was somewhat like those old-fashioned hospital wards that you sometimes saw pass by in film. Metal beds, neatly made, lined up against the wall. The marble floor gleamed in the light from the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
In the past I had to go to hospital when an animal in the clinic injured me. Obviously, this was not my hometown hospital. Unfortunately, I did not have the strength to dwell on that for too long at the moment.
When I had finished drinking, I handed the glass back to her. As she placed it on the side table, I tried to determine if I trusted her enough to ask her questions. I had to somehow find out what had happened and where exactly I was.
When I had to realize that I had no options but to ask her, the door on the other side of the room opened again. A lot less subtle this time. More the opposite of that.
The massive wooden doors were thrown open with such force that they almost flew out of their hinges. I winced, much to the protest of my muscles screaming. I groaned and pressed my hands to my ears. Someone had rushed in with a lot of noise and commotion.
“Goddamn Cayden” I heard the girl next to me shout furiously, which made me cringe even more. I eventually forced myself to look up and immediately recognized the intruder as the blond man from earlier in the woods.
“This is an infirmary. Can you at least pretend that you have some respect for that,” the girl raged on.
The man named Cayden, who seemed rather wild, immediately seemed to relax upon hearing the girl’s angry voice. She didn’t see it, but I did. He dropped his shoulders and cleared his throat, somewhat embarrassed. Apparently this was not an everyday emotion for him, for he immediately shook it off and hid it behind a wall of indifference.
“I wouldn’t have to scream like that if you stayed where you belong. You’re still recovering, Bethany. You can’t just go for a walk without telling someone,” he growled at her.
“I can do whatever I want,” she said simply, and I couldn’t help but laugh. She gave me an amused look from the corner of her eye, then turned back to Cayden. His gaze, on the other hand, was now focused on me. He crossed his arms, which resulted in his muscular upper arms becoming even more rounded.
“I see our Sleeping Beauty has recovered in the meantime,” he said.
In any case, he seemed in a better mood than the last time we spoke. Suddenly something came to mind. I immediately scrambled up and hung half out of the bed. “How is she? How’s the wolf?” I said desperately. I saw Cayden and the girl share a careful look.
“Well?” I asked impatiently.
The man sighed as if he had just lost an internal battlefield and gestured to the girl. “I’d say ask her yourself,” he said.
I turned frantically, half expecting to see the wolf there. But there was no one there, except the girl. “What are you talking about?” I said confused.
Cayden shrugged, as if that explained everything. I felt irritation rising, but before I could say it, the girl started talking. “He’s not kidding,” she assured me. She took a deep breath, as if what she was about to do was against her principles. “Your name is Magnolia. My name is Bethany. Yesterday Cayden and I were in your country to visit old allies from my parents, when out of nowhere we were besieged by those horrible hunters. I was injured, but only thanks to you I survived. I don’t know how I can ever thank you,” she said.
I looked at her, fully convinced that no one here was sane. “I didn’t save you at all. I’ve never even seen you before,” I said, frowning.
“You did. You’ve met me before. And you saved me too,” she said, then stood up.
In a series of activities that my brain couldn’t keep up with, the girl who had just been sitting next to my bed had disappeared. In her place now stood a medium-sized wolf.
I recoiled so far that I was in danger of falling out of bed. I regained my balance just in time and pulled up the covers like some sort of armor. The creature in front of me squeaked softly and rested her head on the edge of the mattress.
“This isn’t really happening,” I whispered to myself.
I was still dreaming. That was the only explanation. I closed my eyes and wished all of this would go away. I wanted to wake up in my shed and have to get ready for nothing but another normal working day.
There was silence and for a second I hoped it had worked, but when I saw through my split eyes that nothing had changed, I groaned in defeat. The wolf was still there, but when it didn’t move to tear me to pieces, I lowered the blanket a little more. The animal wailed again. She came closer and pushed her nose against my leg. I motioned for her to stay away from me, leaving me with not only a cry of regret this time, but also a warning growl from behind me. If I turned around in shock much more often, I would immediately pull a muscle in my neck.
“Can you maybe explain this?” I shouted.
I had already forgotten the warning growl and just gestured exuberantly at the wolf who still looked at me with pleading eyes. Cayden shrugged again. Really, you would almost believe that man is incapable of an intelligent answer.
“You said you wanted to see her. Maybe you should take a closer look before you panic like a little girl,” he said rudly.
I snorted offended, but did what he said anyway as I saw no other options. As I slowly turned to the wolf, I began to recognize more and more details. And to my amazement, this was indeed the wolf from before. I leaned to the right and looked at where the wound had been done to her. There was no sign of it. She had fully recovered, and now that I gave her attention, her tongue was hanging out happily as she panted.
I opened my mouth and closed it again. I repeated this gesture a few times, but it was useless. My head couldn’t do anything anymore. My brain couldn’t reach this. So it did the only thing that made sense to him at the time.
The light went out.