This is a short story cut long.
FIRE BURNING IN THE WIND
Read Chapter One
She had passed another water on her way further down, into the valley. The remaining humid heat made her move faster and more during the evening, the twilight. She still covered quite a distance during the day. Two days earlier she had discovered smoke in the horizon and knew now that it came from this valley. She flowed through the forest, ran across the plains, bathed with great pleasure when the opportunity and her need warranted it. Without hurry, she got closer to her goal, the far valley. Smoke, other people.
Late one day, shockingly sudden, she stood rigid in the forest glen and stared at a wall of raised timber pushed into the ground. Pushed far down, they had to be, to stand so firm and secure. Someone had placed them tight together, so tight that there was impossible to look through the space between them. They formed a huge circle at the center of the plain. People lived there inside the circle. How could they stand it? The Sun. Even now, late in the day, it shone mercilessly down into the circle. Every sunny day (and now these days, there were mostly sunny days). She remembered She knew of such villages, such buildings, houses upon houses, remembered how they looked inside. People built a whole lot of cramped homes inside such dead trees.
An old, burned out war machine rested peaceful just inside the open gate. It was pretty much blocking the gate and she wondered why it hadnít been moved. Away from the open closed gate.
Her eyes moved, to those who worked on the field outside the tall wall. Men and women, humans like herself, caring for the growing things they had put into the ground and cut in the soil to plant more. Damaged it. She had a certain idea that this was something she somehow had seen before. She was filled with both happy wonder and dark curiosity. Her expression didnít change from the obviously eager look and she hardly missed anything of what was going on. As the forest had taught her to teach herself. Big eyed she studied these members of her own species who kept themselves into the open landscape. Kept themselves there voluntarily. She shuddered without knowing why. Gooseflesh ran all over her naked skin. Shrank with misery, she did, when she without any problem what so ever sensed their misery. As they strained themselves. Also here among the trees, inside cooler shadows of the forest, the heat rose violently in the middle of the day and the following hours. Still it continued to rise. But out there in the field, in the full heat of the sun, the heat had to be unbearable. She kept her silent stare on them, saw how they strained and how much they suffered in their particular strain.
And her eyes touched the many remains of the old world strewed around. The junk was not in any use, but was visible above the grass and plants all over the field, hampering those who worked there. That, too, seemed odd.
Her eyes came to rest on a young male, a boy who worked pretty far away from her modest hiding place. She lost the doubting, concentrated look and her face lightened up yet again. Thought and action were virtually instantaneous. She moved carefully closer to the boy, filled with careless, excited eagerness. She had her entire attention focused on him. Studied all of him, both the body and what was hidden. In her back of the head, she wondered what might lead her to such carelessness. A worried, but not very insistent voice. He was... different than the rest. The dark skin, the smooth, black hair. He was different because of his outward appearance, but also... in other ways.
Her thorough, intense study revealed why he had attracted her attention, from the very first look. To her it was easily understood that he did not thrive digging the earth. She read it in the way his body spoke to her. Couldnít the others see it? How he disliked every movement?
She heard someone cry out and twitched, saw them all discover her one by one. There were more shouting and more people turn their eyes on her. A huge man walked towards her. He had almost covered the entire distance between them before she was conscious of how close he truly was. She took one step back. He halted too, with an uncertain look in his eyes. He started too talk to her, in a kind, soothing voice. She understood his words. Some she had some problems with, but their immediate significance she quickly understood. Where did she come from, what was her name? She didnít really know how to answer those questions. They seemed important to him. She didnít remember, she told him so. How was it possible that she had survived in the wilderness? By hunting, she replied flat out. He asked her about the scrape on the arm and nodded when she told him it had been caused by the sharp teeth of the near - wolf. Many dogs had become wild in the time after the breakdown. He wondered how she had gotten away, though, stupid man. She replied with a proud stance that the near - wolf bitch, had not escaped, she herself, had personally killed her and eaten her warm flesh. Her words didnít cause the expected reaction from the big man. He looked rather worried. The meaning of all the strange questions and their strangely cautious way of approach, slowly dawned on her. She remembered and understood, in a way.
A woman came forward and asked if she was hungry, if she wouldnít come with her inside the palisade and take a bath. The words was expressed with a certain friendliness, but it wasnít prominent. The girl looked hard at the woman. Hadnít she just told them of her prowess as a hunter? That she could manage outside the palisade and didnít need their smothering comfort? And she had been bathing. The smell she scented from these people was far worse than she had ever smelled. Here, out in the open, it drifted in the wind, not so distinctive, but was still like a sharp pain in the nose. The smell of boredom, imprisonment.
She didnít want to stay here any longer and moved carefully the size of a heel backwards. Everybody got seemingly restless then.
She declared quietly her desire to leave their company. To walk away. She didnít really see the purpose of telling them this. The action in itself should be sufficient. But she recalled something then, that it had been seen as important to the people she had stayed with. She turned and with light, springy steps headed for the woods. The huge man started chasing her then. Her walk turned immediately to running. It happened so fast, from one moment ot the next. As the wind, it was later claimed. We saw nothing but the wind! The young face shined when she saw that the male halted by the forest glen and advanced no further. He breathed heavily already. But her deeper senses told her it wasnít his sole reason to stop his chase prematurely. She stopped running, but continued deeper into the forest, keeping watchful eyes on him. Relief and a kind of euphoria, flooded her mind. Seconds passed and then he cried out to her from far behind, furious, enraged, at a loss of what to do, with a slight touch of anxiety, that she gathered his fellow tribe members didnít notice. Or wished to notice.
- Whatís WRONG with you? Donít you want shelter and safety?
His words didnít really register in her mind, her inner self. She suspected that they would have, once, but she had changed now, beyond what once would have been her wildest imagination.
She kept running on the outskirts of the woods a few hundred steps, long enough for her to have the opportunity to wave to the special boy. Did she imagined it, hope in vain, or did his hand really move in a slight, almost invisible wave? The thought, hope, alone, made her blood boil a little extra, when she once again moved deep into the forest. Far away from those who wanted to imprison her.
After sleep, after hunt, she forgot them all. Also the boy with the dark skin. Only the moment existed to her.
The next days and nights she used to familiarize herself with the new land. She killed two rabbits early the first day and therefore she could use a lot of time to explore and to satisfy her undying curiosity. It got dark early this time of the year, the cycle. One of the simple signs that said it was not Summer. In spite of the tremendous heat. It didnít discourage her in any way. She saw it as a challenge to learn to move in the dark.
Feet drummed on paths, tight grown forest floor, through the silent, noisy night. Hours melted away. It was like time itself disappeared. Some time during the silent run, she took a quick glance up, toward the treetops, leaves woven tight. Clouds dark and heavy, covered the stars. In a night truly dark. She could have stopped and made a fire, but decided, without contemplating, not to. She ran on.
After a while, she stopped, without knowing why. Uncertain and hesitant, she sniffed for danger. There were none. There were no prey close enough either. Usually she stopped without needing a reason. This time she felt there was one. She stayed under the tree where she had stopped her wild run, hesitantly, unmoving, attempting to understand.
Something hit her left hand. She looked down, at small droplets of water jumping on and off her skin. It made her upset at first, since she couldnít determine from where it came. She touched the corner of an eye with the fingers on her right hand. Wet? Was this tears? She looked up. There was no water from the sky. She was certain of this. It could, she supposed, have been gathered moist on the leaves during the twilight. Enough to form water, turned into droplets, hitting her.
Next morning she packed her supplies of food and weapons and went on her way, with the purpose of putting the biggest possible distance between her and the village.
Far, far away was her goal. Further west, to what she imagined would await her the big water. Daystar in her back felt good. She put on extra speed, traveling without thinking.
It was not so far, so long, afterwards, it couldnít be, that she noticed that daystar didnít warm her behind anymore. It blinded her in its brilliance. She realized with a start, that she had turned and circled back, and had done so for quite a while now, towards the loathed place. There was no mistake. This was familiar territory to her. she had prowled these parts only yesterday. She stopped fighting against what was fast becoming a compulsion almost immediately, taught herself as she had, to trust her instincts.
Daystar warmed her behind anew, but now it was setting behind the lone mountain in the west. She reached the settlement well within twilight and kept herself hidden while awaiting patiently the darkness.
Clouds gathered with the darkness. This night, too. Distant thunder rolled in from the mountains in the east. The top, the points, of the palisade was drawn sharp in the bleak glow of the fires inside. She wanted to take a trip inside. Just a little one. A quick smile crossed her lips. It could be fun. Action followed thought virtually immediately. She covered the last few meters of distance to the wall half crouched and on all fours. Quiet, unnoticeable. Without hesitation she jumped and climbed the wall, quiet and easy. She swung herself over and landed with a soft noise in the grass on the other side. As she had gathered there were not anybody in close proximity to her. None of the guards had moved as much as an inch. Their smells had not changed. No way they had discovered her. They could just as well be made of stone, as far as she was concerned. She could not fathom why they were there. Both why they guarded and why these in particular guarded.
The wilderness already cried out to her to return. Comprehension dawned slowly, why this place was so heavily guarded, why the guards behaved more like stone, than guards. This place... she wanted to huddled up on the ground merely by being here. She remembered. She had stayed, even lived, in such places before. It wasnít long ago either, it just felt that way. Until now, when fractured and unpleasant memories flooded back to the surface of her mind.
The war machine was placed by the entrance, as if on a pedestal, a representation of a god. The very sight of it made her shiver in disgust. A disgust enhanced rather than lessened.
The houses, they had build them no more than a few lengths apart. Like small cages placed tight together. In one single big one. The smell... rancid. To built shelter from the rain was one thing... but this... How could they stand it? She suspected strongly that they did not. Of the people she smelled, sensed, close no one seem any happier than the people she had observed on the field. They all paid dearly in their attempt to close off Nature, close themselves off from it. They had to be both deaf and blind to not realize this themselves.
No one discovered her in her journey between the shadows. In a moment of weakness, she was tempted to make an obvious sound, to see if they discovered that.
Common sense and a damp fear she did not manage to embrace, kept her from such a stupid act.
She moved fast and silent between the houses, went in and out of every single one of them. Some people slept in, others were empty. It did not matter to her. She was not discovered or even detected. Nobody noticed the changes between the shadow and light or sensed movement in the air where she moved. They did not smell her alien smell. Every one of them had to be deaf and blind and lacking their senses.
She saw it in the center of it all, the big hut. As she had gathered, the biggest and most important house could be seen from virtually every other in the settlement. There was no guards, but the closed entrance, the door, attracted her interest. The girl remembered seeing some of these in her life. Not many, but some. They closed people out and the people inside, in. She tried the handle. The door was not locked. She opened it further and before she had really thought about it, she was inside.
There was so much interesting, so much that caught her eye. Utterly useless, but interesting. Only a few items of any practical use to her. She brightened when she discovered a whole collection of steel blades on the wall by the dining table. It was as she had gathered. These people had such abundance of them that they shouldnít miss a couple. Fresh meat, on the other hand, seemed to some extent to be lacking. Old words mixed with her new, more natural ways of expression, brought a quick smile to the young face. She loosened the rabbit meat she had brought from her belt and put it on the table. Then she meticulously studied the steel blades and after a while, chose two of them. She fastened them to her belt and was immediately fast on her way.
She had just opened the door when she heard steps. And a slight change in the breathing of one of the people sleeping by the opposite wall. A woman screamed. Behind her. The steps, the heavy steps, thundered in front of her. It was a close call, but she managed to avoid the grip of the fast approaching bear of a man. After that, she threw all caution to the wind. She ran in a straight line. All of her became occasionally visible in the light of the many fires. Suddenly it seemed that everybody who were not asleep and then some more, was chasing her. In desperation and exhilaration mixed together to something more then, she felt in truth, as one with the wind, the one they wanted to ban her from, she raced towards the palisade - and Freedom. Some of the people chasing her, stopped in their tracks, frozen as stone. To them it seemed like she flew. Flew, flew, flew. Flew away on eagle wings. One flash, one twinkle, and she reached the wall of dead trees. Another flash, another twinkle, and she reached the top of it. And then - she was gone. Vanished into the menacing darkness.
Later. She heard them all around her, seemingly everywhere in the woods. The big forest. Torches glowed in the boiling hot night. They didnít, wouldnít stop, the jerks. No way! They seemed determined to stay in here indefinitely until they had found and captured her. There wasnít any big danger of that happening, she assured herself. Their persistence irritated her, thatís all. The way she saw it they totally exposed their clumsiness and inaptitude, and should not, in any way, cause her misfortune.
But they were many. And she was alone, so alone.
She still felt... dirty, after her visit inside the dead, dead trees, as if something of the disease there, had tainted her somehow. She felt tainted... and f-frightened. It had to a certain degree, been luck, when she had avoided capture. She didnít knew for certain what would have happened if she had been caught. She didnít want to know. Perhaps it wouldnít have been so bad... on the surface, where it didnít count.
- RED HAIR! a woman shrieked.- A witch, I wager. May the Almighty give her the deserved punishment.
- We must find her, a pious voice rose.- For her own sake, save the wee child from eternal damnation.
The girl had grown herself big and strong in the time since arriving in this forest. And had also gained speed and agility. She did not doubt her ability to defend herself, survive in a hard, ruthless world. But she felt as if she froze now, and the frost sank to her deep and stayed there. One horrible moment she thought she wanted to creep into the closest hole. And stay there. Insane images flickered for her inner eye. She realized they stemmed from the time Before. Before what kept her from remembering. The images meant nothing to her, gave her no release, but filled her with a horror she just barely could imagine.
She kept in constant motion, forced it on herself occasionally, but it worked. Human instincts worked no matter what horrors filling the conscious mind.
Kept herself nearby, close to their oozing fires. It would have been the easiest task in the world for her to pull back, far into the deep forest, disappear from the countenance of this people forever and ever. She didnít want that. Not yet! The fear lurked close to her all the time, chasing her. Only something within she did hardly understand, kept her for giving in to it. She pulled herself together, raised her self to full height. In a sudden, almost painful, insight she realized what the villagers never would realize, that without risk life would never be worth living.
They didnít leave the forest fast, as she had believed, but made more fire not far away from where her sleeping place had been. She imagined it was not the first time they had spent nights here. Still, there was no hiding their nervousness to her, thick on them as it was. They tended to avoid the forest. Looked upon it as a place they reluctantly visited, rather as a pleasant home.
She circled around them several times. Counted them, Made sure no one was hiding, waiting to ambush her, around the camp. She felt more secure, bolder. They were in her kingdom now...
There was a huge trunk of a tree close to one of the circles of tall fires. She climbed it silently, effortlessly. One of the inner, thick branches stretched so far out from the tree, into the night air, that it reached almost inside the circle of fires. She straightened her body to its full length, stood there for a while, enjoying the moment.
I can see you, she thought with a wolfish grin.
Studying them. In vain. There was no discernible difference between them. There was nothing there, except a single, homogenous mass.
Shaking her head in sudden anger, she stretched her arms straight out from the body. The sound started deep down in her throat, a low, growling like sound, and rose to a noisy, dark laughter of a snarl. In that exact moment the owl howled, howled from the deep of the night. Each and every one of them almost jumped out of their pale, thin skin. The laughter and owl howl echoed through the forest and seem to come from everywhere at once. The saw her, floating in the air above them. Maybe they a tiny moment took their eyes off the demon, the abysmal sight in the tree, maybe not. They had seen her. Now, they didnít.
They stood there for a long time, frozen in their tracks. Many sat straight down on the ground without softening their descent in any way. If the leader, the big man from the big hut, hadnít screamed to them, commanded them to rise and bring their weapons, they probably wouldnít have moved at all until morning.
No one got any sleep that night. Not the forest spirit, nor the people who in fear and hatred and deep, fundamental confusion, chased and hunted her like a trophy.
By dawn she sat wide awake on a hill and stared at the people below and what they had build. They had returned to their dwellings during twilight, grateful because they had survived the night. Furious that they had let themselves be terrorized by the small, helpless girl and had let her get away with it.
She sat by an anthill, studying it intensely, with a wondering, despairing look. These people sought, by the way they lived their life, to imprison themselves. She nodded sadly. They admired and honored the ant. She didnít really find anything wrong by that. But... they didnít need to live like it, did they? They were human beings, were they not, and not ants?
The human made ant hill awoke slowly, painfully. And late, very late. She lightened up. Was it caused by arrogance on her part, when she assumed she could claim quite a lot of the honor about this? Partying late often caused late awakening the following morning. And they had partied a lot. She giggled. It sounded strange, like an echo from an early dream one night, after awakening in the morning.
Quite a few of those digging in the dirt this morning exposed a restless, nervous attitude. To each other, to the surrounding area, to themselves. It so happened that they looked in all directions with shifty eyed stares. She didnít feel any pity for them whatsoever. They should have done anything else except be scared to death by her presence.
The wolfish grin came to her easily and effortlessly.
The Sun shone and did so mercilessly. The day grew so hot that she routinely needed to brush sweat from her forehead. And she hardly moved, hardly felt like moving, even there inside the forest shade. Finally she tore off a tread off her already torn sleeve and tied it around her head. It worked somehow. She didnít constantly get sweat in her eyes anymore.
Contrary to yesterday and the days before yesterday, this day the very air, was dry, dry as paper. And that was how her tongue felt, too. Humidity was virtually non existent, seemingly a distant memory. There was no wind, to dry anything, but everything was still dried. And drying. Her gaze changed between the ground and the distant mountains. Didnít they get it, the ant people? Didnít they hear the silent sound of the distant thunder?
She closes in on the boy, silently moving to a position where she was as close to the dark skinned boy as she possible could, without being seen by the other villagers. She couldnít really stomach using her talent for stealth in such a fashion, but there was not a choice was there, if she wanted to speak to him in private. If they captured her, they would probably burn her at the stake or what she felt was even worse, force her to confirm to their ways. Images of binding rope around her ankles and wrists, and a lifted stick arose in her mind. And the image that filled her with dread to her very core: Herself kneeling and submitting before them, erasing her own self.
This close she could see the nuances in his face. Fear melted away and was substituted with a boundless curiosity akin to blindness.
He stood by himself a bit away from the others, as he always did. It was funny. As far as the eye could see, physically speaking, he wasnít far away. Still, he was always apart from them.
She stood up and waved to him, totally reckless. He froze and looked warily around. But he didnít cry out. She rewarded him with her best, sweet smile and wanted to jump up and down in boundless joy. Reluctantly, she held back, and didnít do more than sign to him that she wanted him to meet with her inside the forest. He hesitated a bit, said something to the man on this right, and then started walking. She had already disappeared between the bushes.
A flash there, a waving hand there. She allowed him to see glimpses of her, enticing him, luring him ever further into the deep of the forest, Ďtill she decided they would be fairly safe from being... distracted.
She sat down on a thick rotting fallen tree in the middle of nowhere. He approached her hesitant, with a sullen skeptic look in his eyes. This approach felt perfectly normal to him. It was, after all, the way he was brought up. He had been taught to fear strangers.
He accused her immediately for having stolen the two knives, bursting with righteous anger. She did return his angry stare with her unconcerned, shameless look. The two knives in her belt was a tell tale sign. His outburst didnít seem to carry much punch, though, and sounded in spite of the apparent harshness, pretty mild. She stretched her legs with a satisfied smile. She hadnít been the slightest wrong about him.
In an obvious innocent demeanor, she reminded him about the rabbit she had left in place of the knives. He revealed that he was aware of that fact, but didnít feel it would amount to much... to the others. The young femaleís smile widened ever more. When she implied that she wanted them to bathe together, however, her tone of voice quickly become less brazen. There was a water, she told him, not far from here, deep enough to be both cool and refreshing. After a short hesitation, he replied with a sulky No (and wavering eyes). He had to return, return to the work, he insisted. They would miss him, if he was too long gone. She became sad then. The game was done. She carefully hinted at the fact that he didnít need to return to them. He could go with her, live as she did, in freedom, unfettered by walls, in forests and wilderness. He attempted to make her return with him. And kept assuring her that he wouldnít have any problems about making them forget her minor pranks, assuming she would agree to submit to their ways. She shook her head. She wanted to go with him, be with him, but shook her head in dismay and sadness. She was alone, but didnít want to move in there, to be trapped inside the dead trees.
They said goodbye. She told him about the signs of the approaching Thunder. He gave her a strange look, but did thank her. And then left her. He disappeared in the forest. Usually, she would have smelled him, even if she didnít see him. Now, no senses came to her, none what so ever. A throbbing head sank down between the knees. She had had such a nice feeling inside, outside... all over herself, while he was close. Now, there was only the feeling of deep loss washing over her. A hollowness, a Hunger, that made her sit still much longer than was supposedly safe. She sat still and dead and hardly moved.
(for a long, long time)