It has been ten days since she last saw sunlight, and the shadows have been gathering at her heels since two days before that, thin and scarred and hungry, always hungry for the red red warmth she carries deep in her breast.
Her feet bleed, and scab, and bleed again, and the shadows crowd around the smudged outlines of her footprints and whisper one to the other, their voices soft and shadow-edged as the wings of bats.
She remembers bats, she thinks. She remembers many things – or, at least, remembers that she once remembered. It is hard to be certain here, in this place and this time, and the memories she tries to hold onto slip laughing through her fingers, pale and insubstantial as marsh-mist caught for a hanging moment in the lee of a night breeze.
She walks, and the shadows walk with her. Her feet bleed, and she feels no pain.
On the fourteenth day, she finds the first marker. On the sixteenth, the second.
Her heart lightens, though she cannot remember why, and the shadows cluster closer around her, cold mouths open in a wordless plea.
She does not fear them, for her heart is a bright fire in her chest and her soul sings a fierce echo through the darkness (though she does not know – or does not think she knows – the names to which it calls).
The seventeenth day brings the third marker, worn and familiar to her questing fingers, and she smiles, quiet and secret, the warmth in her chest burning like a hearthfire.
On the twentieth day, she finds the first body.
She does not remember how to cry. She wanders, empty, through paths her feet still know, passing body after body, searching without knowing what it is she seeks, dreading finding something she cannot recall why she should dread, feeling the warmth in her chest gutter like a lamp caught in a sudden draught.
Past another body, smaller, barefoot, and the fire flares hot and painful, battering her ribcage like a panicked bird beating its wings against the bars of its cage, and the last vestiges of memory tear from her clutching fingers.
The cold rushes in.
The fire flickers. Sparks. Dies.
The shadows close around her, pleas turning to whisper-soft reassurance, hands brushing over her skin like smoke from a candle only just extinguished, and she sinks to her knees, heart-song turned to a wail that pours from her chest like blood from a death-wound, and
and the darkness swirls around her, flooding in through nose and mouth, cradles her gently in its embrace, kisses her forehead, her cheeks, eyelids, lips.
She welcomes it.
And it carries her home.
Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.