By: Allison Treese
I can't help but wonder if she found what she was looking for. Somehow, I doubt it.
Her name was Gwendalyn. She first appeared in my life on a rainy night, while the moon waxed, which is ironic for a witch. Normally, I would've simply told her that we weren't taking in any plague victims and hurry back into our cottage. But, as soon as I saw her green eyes, shimmering like the twilight with rain and tears, I simply couldn't turn her away.
"How long do you need to stay?" I asked before she had a chance to speak.
"Um…" she whispered, casting her eyes down towards her bony hands, "I couldn't possibly…all I want is…" She rubbed her fingers together and shifted uncomfortably, her feet making a soft "squelch" in the mud.
She stumbled up closer to me, placing her head on my shoulder and whispering softly, "No one would want meas a visitor." What she placed in my hand after that made my entire arm grow cold. It was a necklace bearing the symbol that confirmed who she was: a witch. My eyes darted to the cottage, as if Mulin had developed some sort of supernatural powers and could see and hear us from inside.
The night was day once again as lightning struck and, with thunder roaring above us, I grabbed her hand and we ran for someplace dry and relatively safe. Soon, we reached the cottage. I felt her draw back at the foul scent.
"Hold on," I whispered to her, indicating that she should be quiet. I crept along the wall and peered slightly through the window. (I was still very young, so what I thought was sneaky was probably clumsy and loud.) Luckily for us, Mulin was passed out once again. I let out a sigh of relief and signaled to her that the coast was clear. She didn't seem reassured. We walked around to the small shack that was my one true home. It was used to store meat that had gone bad and was kept from the customer's eye. However, Mulin often had me mix it in with the good meat for the customers that he did not like. It stank worse then anything, but it was the one place where Mulin never went, even when he was looking for me in one of his drunken stupors. It was my own little hide-away.
"You're going to have to stay here," I said, opening the door, "No one will look here."
She was absolutely horrified. She kept repeating how it smelled so terrible and she was not, under any circumstances, hiding in there. However, I didn't want her to be caught, so I pushed her in, shut the door, and locked it. As I closed the door, I noticed that the black splotches all over her body were now washing off and racing down her skin in streaks of grey. Looking back now, I wonder if it was truly her I was worried about. Was I afraid she'd be caught and burned, or that I'd be caught and suffer an even worse fate? Either way, she was not at all happy with the situation she was in and kept banging on the door.
"Let me out!" she shouted, her voice trembling, "Please! Please! Anywhere but this! I hate dark, scary places!"
I was about to call her a coward and tell her that this was the only place I could keep her, when Mulin awoke. The next thing I knew, he was outside, yelling and screaming about his ale and calling my name, as if I had drunk it all. It made the girl quiet, at least.
The next day was sunny and bright, as if the world were apologizing for its rude behavior the previous night. Mulin forgot all about getting drunk and the events that followed. Instead, we went about business as usual, with me, the unwilling apprentice tending to every single one of the butcher's outrageous demands. I had no choice. I owed him. He was my father, after all.
When business died down, he told me to get out of his sight, so I went to the shack with some food for the girl. When I opened the door, her eyes were foggy, and her face was absolutely green. I panicked a little, and then I hurried her outside in the fresh air. She vomited and turned back towards me. I expected her to be apologetic about shouting and to thank me for saving her life. Instead, I received a sharp slap across the face.
"I told you," she said, in a voice that was so quiet it was barely audible, yet full of more rage then a drunken Mulin, "I told you I didn't like dark, scary places."
And so this cycle continued for the next few days. I would sneak her food, she would remain silent and resentful, and Mulin would remain blissfully unaware (for want of a better term.) One day, she asked me why I didn't run away. I asked if she had run away. She cast her green eyes to the floor, holding her arms as if they were cold.
"Would you like to sing a song with me?" she asked after a while.
"A song of thanks. It's so pretty. Sometimes, I actually believe it."
"You still haven't answered my question."
She rubbed a corner of her sleeve between two of her fingers and remained silent. I shook my head.
"You owe me your life, do you know that?"
"Oh?" she said, green eyes flashing, "What makes you think I even ever asked for your help?"
On this strange note, our friendship began. Every day, I would sneak her some food, and every night, we would go playing in the woods. I can still remember it; running barefoot on the cool forest floor as twigs snap beneath our feet, and her, running ahead of me with her hair flying behind her like a golden stream. Often, we would stay out so late, the sky would turn from black to slate grey, and then rose red, and we would sit by side and talk as the sun came up. It was at these times that she would tell me about the ruins.
There were some old ruins a short walk away from our village. However, no one is allowed to go there. The priests always told us that it was an evil society that had been struck down because of its sins and folly. But, she knew better. She had been there. She told me about how grand and beautiful it was. She would go on and on about what kind of people must've lived there and what great fun it would be to exist in that time.
Eventually, I was thoroughly convinced of this, too, so I went to Mulin and asked him if he knew anything about the ruins.
"Don't you ever mention them again!" he snarled, "They are from a time of evil and darkness. We're much better off today then they were then! Besides, what do you think the priests would do to you if they heard you say things like that?! Stupid child!"
He hit me and walked off, grumbling. If I hadn't known any better, I might've thought he was worried about me.
The days with Gwendalyn were like a wonderful dream. However, like every dream, I had to wake up. There are two ways of waking up: springing out of bed and greeting the new day, letting dreams simply roll off of your mind, and pulling the blanket over your head to block out the sun's rays, trying to convince yourself you're still asleep. I did the latter.
I pretended not to notice when there were less and less empty jugs on the floor, or when Mulin gave me strange looks every morning, or when he gave me hardly any items to bring to the shack each day. I pretended that no one would ever find Gwendalyn, and that I would just keep on hiding until we were both adults and I owned the butchery, and she could live with me as my wife. I stopped pretending when I opened up the shack's door and she was gone.
Time seemed to stand still as I frantically went over all the places she might be in my mind. Desperately, I searched for her, forcing away that cruel voice that said over and over again: "How could she have even gotten out?" Finally, panic took complete control when the only place left to look was inside the cottage. I thrust open the door to find Mulin standing there, his fierce grip on her skinny arm tightening when he saw me.
"How stupid do you think I am?" he growled, "I may be a drunk, but I'm sober enough to see a witch right under my nose." He held out her necklace, which shone like a sharpened blade in the afternoon sun.
Without thinking, I grabbed the nearest blunt object and hurled it at him. His grip loosened and she shot out of the door like an arrow. Panting, the two of us ran in no particular direction except away, until we were at a safe distance.
"Wait," she said, suddenly stopping. I turned and saw the mischievous glint in her eyes.
"Let's go to the ruins."
"He'll have told everyone by now. You can imagine…"
I nodded. I did. I could see the villagers, outraged and storming in great numbers to eliminate the witch, lead by the priests poised for the kill; who were oh so peaceful until they met someone different.
"So, let's go," she said, already off and speaking over her shoulder, "I want to show you it, if only for a moment."
Soon, the ruins loomed above us like a great metal monster. My eyes widened and my mouth hung open in awe over the mind-boggling size of it. The buildings were grey and box-shaped, and so tall I had to crane my neck to see the top. The roads were black and made of some strange rock, with yellow lines running down the center.
An enormous steel bird seemed to have crashed there. I looked through one of its windows and saw rows of cushioned seats with an aisle in between.
"They hollowed out its body to create a lounge?" I said, bewildered. But, Gwendalyn was in a world of her own.
"They say that the humans who lived here before us were evil, but…" She smiled, her antennae perking up, "I think they had life pretty much figured out." Her face fell as her green eyes burned with longing. "I wish…I wish I could be like the women in their paintings." She looked up towards a large portrait of a woman smiling and holding a beverage on it. "I want to wear my hair down and be beautiful and…happy." She started to walk away.
"Wait!" I called, "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to look for a place where there's no such thing as the future or the past, only the present," she replied weakly, "A true utopia where no one has to step on anyone else simply to survive on this planet, or our home planet, for that matter."
Then, she ran into the rubble. I searched frantically for her until they came and dragged me off to the dungeons.
I can't help but wonder if she found what she was looking for. Somehow, I doubt it.