Mark of the Shadow Part 23: Tell Me
I awoke in midday. There was something wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There was a smell in the air, like something that’s been sitting out too long. I squirmed under the bedsheets.
I opened my eyes and realized where I was. I was home. Me again, and never happier that I was myself. Then I remembered what I’d seen. I knew what had happened wasn’t a dream. It was too long, too vivid. Whenever I dream’t I was lucky if I could remember half of it. This…this thing, well, I remembered every moment. Every breath I took is as clear to me as the waking world.
Things seemed the same. I was in Cezary’s only bed. There was a chair next to the bed and on the rotting nightstand there was a cup of hot tea. I picked it up and slid out of bed. Ugh, the smell! I was wearing the clothes I’d been wearing last time I was, me. I’d only been gone what, five days? I tripped on somethin’ and fell breaking the cup and spilling hot water everywhere. It made a loud crash and I yelped. My hand was red hot, scalded by the water. I stood and rushed out of the house only to run into a gun pointed my way.
It was Rolph. When I stopped he lowered the gun. I stood there for a second more, then ran off to the stream to cool my hand.
Ahhh. I let out a sigh. The water was refreshing, and the sound was music to my ears. I remembered how horrible it had been not to hear anything.
“How do you feel?” said Rolph. He was standing over me.
I looked up at him. “I’d like to wash off.” My voice was quiet, and hoarse. My throat felt the way it feels after ya throw up.
Rolph nodded but said, “No. Come on, you must eat first. You must be starving.”
I was a hungry now that he mentioned it, but I felt that the stream would feel better than a bowl of soup right now. Rolph was walking away back to the cabin expecting me to follow. I didn’t.
Instead I stripped down and sat in the middle of the stream. I splashed water over myself making sure no spot was left soiled.
This was where I learned how to work herbs. I saw Rolph’s tree big and strong already as tall as me. Then I noticed two other tree’s. They were small, only about a foot, but they were mine. I knew immediately. My magic had worked. I giggled inside. I’d thought I needed that feeling, that great feeling to work magic, but I didn’t. I hadn’t felt it then, so why would I need it ever? That mean’s that Rolph’s three rules were only more of guidelines. Yes. Of course my spell didn’t work quite as intended but it ended up better in the long run. Yep, my magic had worked better than Rolph’s! Two tree’s for the price of one.
My mind wandered back to the battle, as I closed my eyes.
The water was cold. At least, I knew it should be cold, but I could barely feel it on my skin. When I felt clean I let my head drop into the stream face first, eyes closed.
And I kept it there.
It was pleasant. This was the nicest I’d felt in a long time. My lungs crumpled in my chest, and I heard a pounding in my ears. I could stay like this forever. And I would have.
Arms wrapped around me, pulling me out. I screamed and kicked and tore and bit at them. How dare they take me out of this tranquility. I felt skin under my nails and blood on my hands before the arms pinned me against a warm body, overwhelmingly warm. I calmed, my legs stopped kicking and I let my cries out. Rolph shushed me, and I realized that it’s his blood on my hands. I go limp.
He takes me back and sets me on Cezary’s one rug. It’s brown and coarse. I look shamefully into his eyes as he brushed back my wet hair.
“Tell me.” It’s all he has to say. I’m crying again, and that’s that.
Rolph left me there, and then I cried for an hour, two, four more. Cezary came by and cleaned up the spill. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me how much he was happy to see me again. He weren’t sure I would ever wake up.
When the tears stopped coming I realized I was still naked. A blanket had been put over me. My clothes were bunched in a pile by my feet. I slipped on my clothes and draped the blanket around my shoulders. Then I sat on a wooden chair, it’s old frame creaking under my weight. I could feel myself slipping, slipping from me. But I held on because I didn’t want to lose myself again. I couldn’t lose myself again. If it happened again I knew nothing would bring me back. I sat there until it was dark outside. No one came in or out of the house. Pure silence ruled.
I dropped the blanket and went outside. I still wasn’t hungry. Rolph was out on the ground lying and looking up at the heavens. I walked over and stood next to him. It took him a while to notice me, but he stood up when he did.
I looked up at him, “I’ve been holding back. The training, I’ve been holding back.”
“What are you talking about? Something happened… we weren’t sure you were coming back. You need to talk about it.”
I continued as if he hadn’t said a thing, “I’m sorry, it won’t happen any longer.”
“And why…why is that?” he asked exhausted. I noticed for the first time, the rings around Rolph’s bloodshot eyes. His hair was matted down and the mark on his face burned with a previously unnoticed luminescence.
“I have nothing to go back to. This is my life now,” I said. I wondered how long I’d known. I always had hope that after the war I would go home with Daddy and everything would go back to the way it was. But now I knew that there was no going back. There never would be.
“You need to eat, your not thinking,” said Rolph. Now I noticed the wounds covering his arms, his chest, his face. I looked away.
“Did, did I do that to you?”
“I don’t blame you. Whatever happened, happened. I just want you to feel better.”
“I ain’t ever gona feel better,” I said quickly.
“Come on.” Rolph took my hand and lead me back inside. He gave me a thick piece of bread with molasses spread on top.
“How. How do I forget?” I asked. “There must be somethin’ you can do to help me forget!”
“What is it! I can’t help you if you don’t tell me!”
I took a deep breath and sat down with the bread. “My Daddy’s dead.”
Rolph just stared at me as he lowered himself to the ground. He reached out his hand and stroked my arm. “Are you sure. You were asleep for a couple weeks-“
I jerked my arm away. I felt like the less anyone touched me the better they’d be.“-couple weeks? I was only out five days!”
“No, no Anne, you were gone for a long time. Are you sure it weren’t just a bad dream honey?”
“Course I’m sure. So can you help me forget or what.”
“Anne in my experience. You need to face your problems, not hide from them. Better take them on your own terms, lest they find you when you’re at your weakest. Now please tell me what happened.”
I tried to explain. I explained waking inside another person’s body on the train. The long march, my failed escape and the battle. The farther I went the more my words lost their meaning, the more I lost track of my own thoughts. I was an engine with no coal.
Rolph’s face was stone cold the whole time. He nodded at points, helped me find words, but he never asked questions, never doubted me.
When I was finished he said, “And you’re sure it was your father?” I nodded. I was surprisingly calm. “It’s good that you told me what happened. Listen we are going to stay here for as long as we can. We’ll try to find a cure for you when this is out of mind.”
“Out of mind?”
“Right. Enough time passes and the pain will fade. Promise.” Rolph picked up the blanket and put it around my shoulders. I pushed my plate away from me. “Now you promise me somethin. You promise me that you won’t do anything rash, like back at the stream. I know right now the sun don’t seem to shine, but when the sun goes down, it’s only a matter of time ‘fore it comes back up again. It does, and I want you to be there when it does.”
I nodded. “You know the worst part Rolph?” He looked at me gravely. “One step, one misstep. If I hadn’t a tripped I coulda saved him. Daddy’d still be alive.” I couldn’t stop the tears. I slumped down to the floor.
“You don’t know that. I’m sleeping outside OK? Join me when you’re ready.”
I nodded and buried my head in my knees.
I was lying awake out under a massive oak. Rolph was besides me. I tried to sleep, but sleep didn’t want me. Every time I closed my eyes images, flashes would remind me of what I’d lost. I was afraid to close my eyes anymore. Rolph had said the pain would go away. It only felt worse. What was it he said? Out of mind. Yes, I needed to put these thoughts out of mind. So I waited. Hours I waited. Cezary had come out and offered his bed to me. I declined.
When I was sure no one was awake I made my move. Rolph’s pack was by his side when he slept, always. I had to be quiet, but I was small and determined, so I edged it away from him bit by bit. Then when the prize was mine I crawled away with it and opened it. Four small boxes came tumbling out. I waited to see if the sound woke anyone then I continued. A knife, a box of ammo, another knife. I took them all out. Where was it? Then I found it. Rolph’s book.
If there was anything that could help me, it was in there. I looked through it carefully turning each page slowly. I knew if Rolph found me he wouldn’t trust me with magic again. Spells to light, and change, To warp and make. Then I found it. A spell of destruction. There were notes on how to target memories. It was two words. Rolph never mentioned that there could be two words. I could manage.
I found the leaves. Eucalyptus and Oak bark. I closed my eyes, and the image of my dead father flashed into my brain. I opened them quickly. I couldn’t close them. I had to get this over with. Hakai Suru. Hakai Suru. Hakai Suru. The words spun round in my brain. All I had to do was think about what I wanted to forget. I could do that.
“Hakae Suru,” I said.
I was forgetting something. But what? Ah, the herbs. But what did I do with them. There was no tree to make grow to sprinkle them on…
I shoved the leaves and bark in my mouth and made myself chew and swallow. Forget, I kept thinking, forget, forget, forget. The previous day’s events wound through my mind. I closed my eyes willing myself to bring back those gut wrenching memories. It was easy knowing I’d never have to think of them again.
Then I went back to Rolph with his bag, placing it back where it belonged and waited. It’s all I could do.