The Unlabeled Bottle
June walked off the brick pathway and over the grass, until a small dirt hill led them to a creek. He followed her. The little girl was unconscious in his arms, legs and brown pigtails hanging lifelessly. June stopped. They were just far enough from the shouting and rioting that she could hear the creek humming over the rocks. Moonlight was white and clear on the hill beside her and she walked the path as though it were the middle of the day. She kissed him on the cheek. There was no need to walk fast anymore; they had nowhere to be and nobody followed. With each step, the Kingdom faded to the clean sound of the night’s breeze through her shirt.
He leaned the girl down against the hill. June lowered her hand into the creek and let the cool water through her fingers, then rubbed a wet hand over the girl’s forehead. The little girl’s eyes snapped open.
“You’re safe,” June said. “What’s your name?”
The girl waited a moment. “Lilly.”
“Lilly Fenwick?” June asked.
“We’re your Dad’s friends.” June lowered her severed wrist into the cool water and let it sting the burnt wound until it felt good. “I had a brother your age.”
“I don’t even know you bitch,” Lilly said.
“Come with us,” June said.
June grabbed the girl’s hand and pulled her along the trail. The difference between adoption and kidnapping were in the semantics of intention. They walked for hours, until the sun peeked over the sea in streaks of pink and orange. The castle was a mere carrier pigeon perched in the distant south. A trail spit them out onto a yellow sanded beach. He kicked off Lexifer’s ridiculous shoes and peeled the socks off his heels. She unlaced her father’s boots and stuffed her toes into the warm sand. He took her hand. She liked the smooth, calloused fingers between hers. They sat right there in the packed brown sand, letting the water foam up against their legs. He’d been running to the eastern sea when she first arrested him.
“Hastings is the furthest place on the continent from where we are now,” she said, sitting in the water next to him. He poked the letter opener into the side of his mouth and began sawing at the metal wiring. The sound was soothing, somehow. She leaned back until her elbows dug into the sand and let the waves chill her back. “Wait a minute, if we’re on the west coast, how is the sun rising?” He looked at her for a long moment, his mouth curled upwards. “That map was damned wrong, we’ve been going south this whole time!” The tide rushed up beneath their legs, leaving a drifting bottle at their feet. She hoisted it, staring down its glass neck as though it were a spyglass. “I know this bottle,” she said, jumping to her feet. Golden rays shone a rainbow prism through its brown glass.
It was unlabeled and had no title.
He rolled his eyes, popping the cork for her with the letter opener, then continued sawing at the wires on his mouth. Behind him, ever so quietly, the clock tower crumbled under its own weight and fell into the sea—it happened so quietly that he didn’t notice and she didn’t tell him.
“I threw this bottle into the ocean on the same night I met you—this very bottle.” He made a big show of rolling his green eyes. “No, I really did.” She took a hearty gulp of the liquid. She pulled her lips away from the neck baring her teeth in a smile. The sky and sea blushed together at the sun, where rays fanned towards them on the surging tide. He raised the underside of his pale wrists to the sunlight, she wondered if the tan lines from his shackles would ever go away. “I was right in the middle of putting my horse down in the pasture when you came running into Hastings. I never ended up killing old Deceased that night. Funny story behind that horse… when I was younger, we gave it a name and saved its life. Have I ever told you that story, Wesley?”
It was the first time she had said his name. His heart fluttered with the syllables on her lips, as though she spoke the name of a friend and not a villain.