Shadows Beyond the Wall
The year Mae was born a crack was discovered in the greenish-white Serpentine Wall. The crack ran from the very top of the twenty foot high wall down to the ground, and presumably even down to the bedrock on which the wall was built over a millennium ago. When Mae turned five the crack widened enough to be called a gap. The gap was the width of both Mae's tiny hands put together, just big enough to peek through. Of course, the only thing that Mae could actually see from the gap in the Wall was the Line, a mere thirty paces away from the other side of the Wall.
She didn't know what made the land on the other side of the Line so dark or why even the sky above seemed gray. She only knew the scary stories her mother told her when she refused to eat her vegetables. "Mae" she would say, "If you don't eat your carrots right now then shadow demons from beyond the Line are going to come get you!" But Mae wasn't scared; she didn't like carrots and gave them to the dog when her mother wasn't looking. No demons had come for her yet! And now that she saw the Line she thought it was even less scary than her mother said it was.
It was just a line, a boundary actually. On the side facing the wall, the grass was a dry greenish yellow. Massively overgrown, probably taller than Mae if the grasses were standing, but they weren't. They looked trampled, as if a huge group of people stood there for days until the tall grasses lay flat. Of course, nobody had been on that side of the wall since it was erected, and Mae had no idea when that was except that it was older than her grandmother's grandmother; probably older than her grandmother's grandmother too.
At first Mae thought the darkened ground was burned, like the time her older brother Kent accidentally kicked over a lantern in the middle of the Miller's field and set it on fire. Mama was so mad, but Papa just laughed and said that the grass would grow back, no real harm done. But this looked different, odd to Mae's little eyes. The long, trampled grass looked exactly the same on the other side of the Line, except for the color. It was like someone poured paint on it. Like someone poured paint over everything.
When Mae's mother found her trying to stick her arm through the gap in the Wall the whole of their small village panicked. Mae was locked inside her house for two whole weeks. Both of her brothers were forced to stay inside as well. They spent all of the two weeks glaring at her, as if she'd done something wrong. But nobody ever told her not to go near the gap in the Wall, how as she supposed to know? Peter, her younger brother said it was because the Demons would get her first now. But Mae just frowned and remembered that she never did eat her carrots.
A guard was placed on the gap in the Wall. All the boys who were at least fourteen had a chance at guarding it. At first, it seemed so silly. It was, after all, a very small gap but over the years it widened little by little until the winter that Mae turned nine.
It was a vicious winter, worse than any Mae could remember. She spent the cold months huddled around the hearth with her brothers and her parents trying to keep busy by playing games or reading the few books they had. It was dreadful. If she had to hear a reading of The Adventures of Pirate Gary and the Seven Sisters one more time she was pretty sure she would go insane.
When the snow finally started to melt that spring, Mae was ecstatic. Although patches of snow still lingered in the shadowy places in their village, she could feel the breath of spring coming. But the adults in the village were dismayed. During the rough storms of winter, the thick layers of ice and snow tore at the gap in the Wall until it was no longer just a gap. The millennium old stone on either side of the gap crumbled and now it was a hole, an opening, a doorway to the Line. It was wide enough that three or four men could stride through side by side without having to squish together.
A delegation was sent to the city-state of Perga asking for help in rebuilding that section of the Wall, Mae's father went with them. But Perga was very far and no one expected a response for many months. There were closer cities but Perga housed the Parliament and the great libraries and the builder's guild. If anyone would know how to fix the wall, they would live there.
That spring, Mae's brother Kent turned fourteen. Their father was still away in Perga and Kent entered into the guard rotation with his chest puffed up with pride. It was a bright sunny day when Mae brought him his lunch at the hole in the Wall. She hadn't been this close to it since she was five. With the hole this big, she could see much more than just a small glimpse of the Line beyond the Wall. If she stood at the right angle, she could see the faint outline of a city in the far distance. She'd never heard about a city beyond the Line, she was beginning to think that nobody actually knew what was over there. Nothing ever came across the line, nothing even moved over there. The city, like everything else beyond the line, was in various shades of gray. It looked…broken. Towers that were tall enough for Mae to see even at this far distance were jagged, as if someone had broken them like a twig. It made Mae incredibly sad.
"Have you ever crossed the Line?" she asked her brother as she handed him his lunch their mother packed. A loaf of bread, some cheese and carrots, Mae still hated carrots.
"Of course not." He said as he munched on one of the carrots. "Don't you know that anyone who crosses the Line immediately dies? Nothing can live over there, it's all dead."
Mae blinked and looked past him to peer beyond the Line, "Just because it's all black doesn't mean it's dead."
Kent rolled his eyes, "You're so stupid Mae". He tore off a hunk of bread and held it out to Mae to share. Mae glared at him but took the bread anyway. "The mayor told me that a thousand years ago that city," he pointed his thumb behind him in the general direction of the city, "was the greatest cities in the whole world. It was the center of everything, and it was ruled by Kings and Queens".
Mae's eyes widened, there were no Kings or Queens anymore and there hadn't been any since the Shadow Wars. Not that Mae actually knew what that meant. "So what happened"?
Kent shrugged, "I don't know, I asked but the elder didn't know either. I think nobody wanted to remember so they all forgot".
Mae furrowed her brow, "then how do you know what happens if you cross the Line"?
"Because, that part was remembered, the Mayor told me it's why the Wall was built in the first place. It's in the histories. At the end of the Queen's war, the last of the Shadow wars, the people built the wall together to stop more people from dying".
"Oh" Mae chewed thoughtfully on her bread as she stared at the broken outline of the city. "I think that's just tales".
She stood abruptly and marched past Kent, who was slow to get to his feet, through the gaping hole in the Wall. She walked determinedly to the very edge of the Line. Kent was shouting at her but she ignored him. If he wanted to stop her, he'd have to come and get her, but Kent despite all his bravado was a giant baby. She threw a glance over her shoulder at her brother; he'd crossed the Wall but stood a tentative ten paces behind her. He held out his hand toward her, his eyes fearful. Mae rolled her eyes and looked down at her bare feet. Trampled greenish yellow grass gave way to trampled black grass mere inches in front of her toes. She wondered what made all this tall, wild grass so broken and matted to the ground. She stretched her toes and felt the dry grass crackle below her feet. There really was no difference as far as she could see aside from the color.
She looked around on the ground intently and smiled when she spotted a small fuzzy, green caterpillar crawling over the broken strands. She picked up a small, skinny twig and plopped the caterpillar on the very end. She grinned back at her brother, who had inched closer and was now looking more curious than frightened. She said a quick apology to the caterpillar, held her breath and stuck the stick and the caterpillar across the line. Nothing happened. She pulled the stick back and poked the caterpillar. It wiggled in response. She looked back at Kent with a raised eyebrow, he shrugged.
"Maybe it has to be across longer"? He suggested, inching his way forward.
Sure, why not? She thrust the stick back across the line and waited. After a few minutes an ache crept up the length of her arm. That ache soon turned into an uncomfortable tingle. She tried to shake her arm gently but the caterpillar flew off the end of the stick anyway. She heard Kent's sharp gasp. She cocked her head to one side, the caterpillar landed only a few inches on the other side of the Line. It looked odd there, the bright green sharply contrasting to the muted black. Kent was only three paces behind her now. They watched with baited breath as the tiny creature slowly inched its way back across the Line. Kent let out a relieved sigh but the corners of Mae's mouth turned down into a frown. He bent to pick up the caterpillar with a shake of his head.
"I knew it was just tales"! She exclaimed.
Then, before Kent could stop her, before he could even shout at her, Mae stepped across the Line. She blinked and looked around. It was kind of boring, she thought. She looked down at her feet. She wriggled her pink toes on the blackened grass; it felt no different in texture than the greenish yellow grass; dry and crackly under her feet. She turned around to smile triumphantly at Kent but her smile died as soon as she saw him. His face was pale and there was abject terror in his eyes. There was a growing damp spot between his legs, running down his pants. She noticed the tiny caterpillar in his hand wasn't moving. It was no longer the vibrant green but a dull, lifeless gray. Tears sprung to her eyes, she took a deep breath and held it as long as she could before letting it out with a big whoosh. Her eyes met Kent's; he had tears in his eyes too.
"Just stay there Mae! I'll run and get help"!
Kent's voice seemed so far away. She watched him turn and run through the hole in the Wall as fast as she had ever seen him run. Something hard and unpleasant settled in the depths of her stomach. She wondered if she would ever see her brother again.
"Don't be afraid, Mae".
Mae turned at the soft sound of a melodious female voice. Her eyes widened at the woman in front of her. Although she was washed in shades of gray and black, the woman was stunningly beautiful. She had long ash white hair that Mae imagined was once a golden blond. A metallic circle perched upon her brow, some kind of gem dangling in the middle of her forehead. She was tall and slender around the hips. She wore a long, flowing gown of soft looking fabric that covered her feet. The gown was cinched around her waist with an intricately woven belt, tucked into that belt was a dagger that looked to be made out of crystal or maybe glass. It was stained with red, the only color at all that Mae could see. But even with that, Mae couldn't bring herself to be afraid of the woman. She was just so beautiful, like what she always imagined a Queen to be.
"Are you a Queen"? She whispered as she wiped away her tears.
A tinkling laugh spilled from the woman's lips, "I used to be dear one, a very long time ago". The woman bent at the waist and put her hands on her knees bringing her closer to Mae's height. "I've been waiting for you dear one, for so very long".
"For me? But why?"
"Why? Because you are special, so very special".
Mae heard something behind her; she looked back toward the Wall. Several people had gathered at the edge of the Line. She frowned in confusion, they seemed to have been there for a long time but Mae was sure that it had only been a few minutes. Her mother's mouth was moving frantically, but Mae couldn't hear her. Kent sat on the ground, his head in his hands; she thought he might be weeping. Peter stood next to him, barely taller than Kent's seated form. He was looking at her in confusion but didn't move. She took a step toward her family.
"I'm so sorry dear one". The Queen said. "You cannot go back to them".
She looked at the Queen; she still had her hands on her knees. Mae blinked in surprise; the Queen's eyes were bright blue. But she was sure they'd been colorless before. The Queen looked sad, genuine sorrow crossed her beautiful face.
"Why not"? Mae asked. She took another step toward her mother.
"Because dear one," she reached out a hand to Mae's cropped brown hair but hesitated her hand hovering in the air. "You are already dead".
She gently brushed aside Mae's bangs and touched her index finger to the center of Mae's forehead. Mae did not stop screaming for a very long time.
A/N: Hello, welcome to my new story. For those of you still hoping for updates on Maneater, well it may or may not happen. We will have to see! This novel; however, is from deep within my heart. I've actually been working on some version of this or another for nearly 10 years now. I'm really happy with the current version of the draft, and although it isn't finished yet I hope you still stick around to read it and enjoy. Thank you!