I can forgive myself for leaving him where he was, but I can’t forgive myself for spending one whole year in depressed rage, forbidding anyone from saying her name in front of me. For three hundred and sixty-seven days and nights I lived in a world washed free of colors and joy, praying to the Gods of the Highlands that she could finally come to see the wrong she’d done, that she should come back to me. I prayed for her to return and know she had brought tears to my eyes and illness that was born from grief to her father, my husband.
I hate myself for it. And that hate would remain within my veins for as long as I lived, running through my blood with every thump of the heart.
There were barely any traces that could be followed, but I still spent two years looking, searching. I found him in the end, near the borders of the Lowlands.
It was an early morning in late spring. His house had walls paved with rough gray stone, standing tall and fine between the curve of two grassy hills, and the air carried the scent of dew on grass. The hem of my traveling cloak dripped with rainwater from the night before as I approached it.
A boy who looked about nine or ten years old crouched near the front door of the house, collecting tangled bits of wool into a small basket. The wool was thick and curly, hidden between the outstretched branches of a short bush that had almost no leaves. He was so engrossed in the work that he didn’t notice me.
“Pleasant morning,” I said.
He jumped a bit and looked up, eyes wide as if I had come right out of thin air. The half-filled basket hung from the crook of his left arm.
“I am light on my feet,” I said. “Is this the house of Randy Hansen?”
The boy nodded and rose to his feet. He was about half a head shorter than me and tilted his face upwards slightly to give me a curious look. “I am Randy Hansen.”
“I see,” I said. “Is there anyone else here named Randy Hansen? I’m quite sure that I’m looking for an adult.”
The boy frowned slightly, his basket of wool swinging almost undetectably in the lukewarm breeze.
“Your father, perhaps?” I prompted. “May I please speak with him? It would only take a moment.”
The boy blinked twice. “Who are you?”
“A petite woman traveling around the place. I’m here for Randy Hansen,” I said.
“Why are you looking for him?” the boy asked curiously, and then, after a few seconds of hesitation, added, “Why are you so tiny?”
“I have something to ask your father for help,” I told the boy. “And being tiny isn’t always a bad thing, young Randy. In my theory, people communicate better with those who are about the same height as themselves. My height lets me understand children better. I literally see things from their point of view.”
The boy laughed, then said, “Wait here for a minute.”
I stood by the grassy hillside as Randy Hansen Junior went into the front door of the house. The house was larger than what most could afford these days. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought it was the home of an old doctor or a lawyer, not the property of a former rogue.
The boy came back with a tall man who had broad shoulders and rough hair the color of clouds before a storm. He looked like he was somewhere in his thirties, striding across the calf-length grass.
“Well, hello,” I said.
He didn’t reply and instead stared at me distrustfully, his gaze moving from my auburn hair, which was a bit of a mess, to the hem of my tattered, dampened cloak.
“I’m looking for a man named Randy Hansen. If you happen to be him, please let me know. If you happen to not be him, please let me know, too, and I’ll leave right away.”
“And exactly why are you looking for Randy Hansen?” the man asked. His voice was low, like a rumble that comes from the back of a wolf’s throat.
“I wish to hire him to be my guide.”
“A guide,” he repeated. “A guide to where?”
I looked directly at him. “It’s hard to express through words, because you can’t find it on a map. Some think the place doesn’t exist. I mean a cave, on Rowk Island, in the mountains, or so I heard.”
For a moment he fell silent, then called, “Randy, you go back inside the house.”
“What? But dad—”
“Go. Don’t make me tell you twice.”
“But I want to know—”
The man slapped his son across the face. The sound of it broke through the thin sheet of silence that had covered over the hills of springtime.
“Go,” he said.
The boy turned and dashed towards the house, almost tripping on his own foot several times along the way. A flap of the back of his shirt flew off his skin, and I saw bruises both green and purple, one atop another, for one brief moment before he reached the front door and hurried inside.
Randy Hansen turned back to me as if nothing happened and asked, “Why are you looking for the Cave?”
“I need money,” I said bluntly. “And I heard the cave is full of gold. I want, no, I need that gold.”
He looked me up and down and I waited for him to make a comment on my height, but he didn’t. “I don’t help people for free.”
“That, I know,” I told him as I reached into the pocket of my tunic and pulled out a leather bag and held it out. As he took the bag and opened it, pouring a handful of fat, round coins into the palm of his left hand I said, “Those are for the trip to the place. When we come back, I’ll pay you double.”
He nodded curtly and closed the bag once more, then said, “When we arrive at the Cave, I’m not going inside. You have to go by yourself, and you will be only allowed to take what gold you can carry on your person. I wouldn’t touch them. The place’s cursed.”
“That’s fine for me,” I said.
He stared at me for a while, then said, “Fine. I’ll go and grab some supplies for the trip. Wait here.”
We didn’t say a word to each other during the first day of our journey, because both of us knew the way to Rowk Island. What I didn’t know was the way up the mountain. The sky was a really soft purple as we walked on, climbing over hills and small mountains, and the temperature dropped as the sun set.
We met little people along the way. I made a fire, and both Hansen and I threw a handful of oats into the small pot of river-water an old gypsy woman gave us to cook. His handful was a lot of oats, while mine was only a small amount the size of my palm. He noticed this and said, “You’d better not be eating half the porridge.”
I told him that I wouldn’t, and I really didn’t. It was another advantage of having a small frame. I eat much less than an average adult, which meant I could keep on traveling with a bit of wild berries and a few squirrels. I gave some food to the gypsy woman and she, in return, offered to see our palms and tell us our fortunes.
She took Hansen’s hand first and looked closely at his rough palm. “You have come back to where you began,” she said. “You will climb up to a high place….yes, you will….and, yes….something from your past is making its way back. It will find you.”
He grunted, but I saw him steal a quick glance in my direction.
The woman took my hand next. I saw her wrinkled fingers, thin with age, trace the lines in my upturned palm. She was silent for a few moments before saying, “I see….oh yes, I see….there is death in your future, young lady.”
“Death lies in every soul’s future,” I said.
I wasn’t sure if she heard me or not. She studied my palm closely and didn’t say a word. The winds of nighttime soared around the three of us as the woman spoke in a low whisper so that only I could hear her. “In your past, there was a girl in a tree; in your future, there will be a man in a tree.”
I looked up at the gypsy woman and knew that she knew.
The next morning we set off early, climbing over the last few grassy hills. The sunrise spilled golden specks on the narrow roads and on our backs as we walked. Hansen was much taller than me, but didn’t slow down even for a little bit, taking one big stride after another as I jogged to catch up. I didn’t mind. The times jogging along hillsides with grass brushing against my pant legs reminded me of my own childhood, when I had to herd the sheep my family kept to the other side of the Highlands where there was the freshest water and plants for the sheep to feed on. We all need certain things to sustain our lives, I suppose. It reminded me of my daughter’s childhood. Clare and I used to go for walks around the Highlands, and she would talk on and on about the boys in the village, her dream of being a dancer when she grew up, and the sounds the Highland winds made as they swept through the land, all over the place. Clare heard music in the wind in a way I never could. She said it was a natural thing—the dances, the movements, and the melodies came to her the way sheep came to their shepherd. Clare looked up at me and grinned, her auburn hair identical to mine a bit plastered to the side of her face. She liked sheep and rabbits, furry things with pure minds that munched on grass. She liked dawn and the full moon, bright orbs with light that watched over us. She liked the wool cardigan I made her, liked stories about magic and adventures, liked jam on her bread better than butter, liked the squishy armchair in our living room that was made by my husband a few weeks after she was born.
My only daughter, Clare.
We got to the only pier in both the Highlands and Lowlands in the afternoon. The sea was a rusty gray, with white sea-foam occasionally blooming over the top of the tides. I could make out the blurry outline of a piece of land a far distance away, covered in layered mist. Hansen saw it, too, and told me while pointing at the island, “There it is. Rowk Island.”
I nodded. “Where the gold is.”
“If we find it,” he corrected me.
“How many times have you been there?”
“Only once.” He pursed his lips. “Thought it was a legend, but I tried looking for the cave of gold, and I found it. I took what gold I could carry on my person and left Rowk Island. Now get moving, do you plan to stand here till sunset?”
There were only a few fragile-looking wooden boats floating unsteadily in the flows of sea water, tied to the trunk of a withered tree. A rusted bell that was about the size of my fist hung at the end of a string tied to the only protruding twig on the tree’s side, shivering in the wind.
I rang the bell, and soon after the metallic ring a fisherman, whose beard looked like an angry tangle of seaweed, hurried to our side, his voice hoarse as if he hadn’t spoken in a long while as he asked, “Where to?”
Hansen and I boarded the small boat as the fisherman untied the rope which bound our boat to the dead tree. Sometimes you must leave the dead behind to move on. Speckles of rough sea-salt made soft noises as my boots stepped on them. The sky was a pale gray, like ashes left behind after the flames died out.
Water splashed into our boat as we sailed slowly forward. The fisherman held out his hand. “Three coins for an adult. As for you, young lass….one coin should do.”
Hansen grumbled under his breath as he handed the man three coins. I, too, handed out three coins, knowing the fisherman had mistaken me for a child or a teenage girl due to my petite frame. He glanced down at my upturned palm which held the coins, then cackled loudly, “You didn’t try to deceive me. Save the two coins. In times like this, two coins may help you do a lot more than taking a boat to an island with nothing but a mountain and loads of fog.”
The boat rocked gently as I said, “Two coins are good, but I heard there’s gold on Rowk Island.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hansen shoot a warning look at me with a firm shake of his head. The fisherman turned to stare at me with wide eyes. “You’re not looking for the Cave, are you?”
“You know about it?”
“Everyone around ‘ere knows ‘bout it,” he said as a deep frown creased his sun-tanned forehead. “And we know enough ‘bout that blasted place to not go looking for it. You’re an honest person, young miss. Don’t go there. The place’s cursed and it decays people’s souls.”
“I’ve heard the saying that gold decays human souls,” I said, ignoring Hansen whose mouth was pressed into such a thin line his lower lip had gone pale.
The fisherman spat into the waves below. “Not the gold. The Cave itself. Who knows what the heck lives inside. The curse decays whatever happiness you thought you’d get from what you took from the Cave. You get a shitload of gold, yet whatever you buy with that gold cannot make you happy.”
With that, he fell silent, and we sailed the rest of the way to Rowk Island with only the sound of water thrashing against the side of our boat.
Hansen and I left a trail of murky footprints on the onyx sand as we walked across the beach of Rowk Island. The tide rushed in to smooth our footprints away, leaving only wet glittery sand. White mist curled around everything, some patches of them so dense I felt it brush against my face like a shroud.
A shop run by a small family sat at the foot of Mount Mirk, and we filled our pockets with dried oats and jerky made from unknown large animals. Might be deer, or a goat, I wasn’t sure. The youngest child in their family thought I was about her age—twelve or thirteen, at most—and waved at me with a smile. Her twin brothers ran around the store, passing a wooden ball around and laughing loudly, until their father yelled from behind the counter to scold them.
We left the store, and began our climb up Mount Mirk. Clouds and mist swirled on the path in dancing shades of gray and white, weaving in and out of one another. Hansen walked with big strides as if we were in a hurry, as drizzle began moistening the top of our heads. It was almost midnight when we made camp near a small pond. We made a fire to warm ourselves and to roast a fish I caught from the pond, as Hansen began tearing a large piece of jerky apart in a wolfish manner. Smoke from our campfire rose into the night sky, mingling with the mist which this island seemed to naturally produce. We slept atop a pile of dried leaves, me tugging my tattered cloak around myself to keep out the chill.
In the morning, I made some oats into porridge for breakfast, and we ate in silence as huge eagles circled high above us, their feathers blown wild by the strong wind. As they circled higher they became distant dots in the white daylight, like dreams that fade from our consciousness before people could remember them.
Hansen strode next to me, squishing nameless ferns under his boots. I looked up, squinting to see through the mist. From this angle, Mount Mirk looked like it rested its tip against the sky in the manner a writer would pause his pen above a page.
“How much longer till the Cave?” I asked.
“One day more, or maybe two, if it rains.”
It started raining in mid-day, and gray vapor blanketed our surroundings, making the stones slippery and forcing us to slow down. We walked along a thin path that was probably used mostly by goats, which was fine for me but way too narrow for Hansen. He slipped on a particularly fragile piece of rock which crumbled under his weight and fell to the ground, his back slamming into the blade-like rocky landscape of the area. The blade-shaped rock went through his shirt, but didn’t stab through his shoulder as it should have. Instead, the rock broke off when it came into contact with a sheet of armor he wore beneath, leaving Hansen unharmed but scowling, cursing the weather. I held out a hand to help him up, but he ignored me.
“Nice armor,” I commented.
Hansen shook water from his rough hair before answering, “Snatched it with the gold from that cave years ago. Supposed to block every weapon there is.”
“I thought there’s only gold in the Cave,” I said, though I already knew the answer.
Hansen shrugged. “The Cave provides what you want. I wanted gold and protection, and it presented me with that armor. The thing’s unbreakable.”
“What do you want protection from?”
“Anyone, everyone. Obviously,” he snapped at me impatiently. “A man with gold is always in danger.”
It was my turn to shrug, and we walked in silence the rest of the day. As we walked I looked around to remember the directions, marking out certain rocks and a few trees. We went up a steep slope when I saw a pile of goat bones, crossed a small stream which ran quick and shallow, walked along a second one until we reached a pile of rocks darker in color than the rest and turned left. We kept walking.
We made camp in a clearing and had some jerky as dinner, because there wasn’t enough dry wood to make a fire this high up the mountain.
I was surprised when Hansen spoke.
“Why do you want gold?” he asked through a mouthful of jerky, chewing loudly in a way that would make any mother scold their child if they did the same.
“Why wouldn’t I want gold?” I threw the question back at him, dumping some gravel out of my left boot.
He scowled at me. “You’re a woman. Not an attractive one, but a woman nonetheless. Don’t you have a husband to make the money you need? Or a son who works?”
“My husband died two years ago,” I said. “Deadly disease, rough winter. He didn’t make it through.”
Hansen made a non-committal sound. I was glad he didn’t tell me he’s sorry. Most people with decent manners say that, but I’ve heard the sentence enough times in my life and didn’t wish to hear it anymore.
I thought the conversation was over until he spoke again. “Was your husband short like you?”
I wasn’t sure if the question was meant to sound offensive or if it just happened to be. “No, he was about as tall as you are. When we were young, some considered him the most handsome man in the Highlands. He got hundreds of sheep and a house from his family when he was old enough to leave home and to roam the world.”
Hansen seemed speechless for a moment before he asked, ”How come he married you?”
I told him the truth, “He said that I am intelligent and always reliable. Most importantly—I wanted him. I always get what I want. In the end, at least.”
“But he died.”
“We all will, sooner or later. Just a matter of time. It was a sadness born from grief. I almost got it, too.”
“What grief?” he asked absentmindedly.
I told him the truth again. “Our daughter, Clare. She was thirteen, and he never saw her again.”
“Running from home, eh?” he nodded. “I did that when I was a teenager, too. Didn’t think my parents cared as much as you do. She’ll probably come back when she needs food and supplies. All teenagers do that.”
I made a noise suggesting that I heard what he said, and the conversation soon ended in the howling of winds.
The next morning we started off again, walking into the dense mist. I had to wipe my eyes every half an hour to get rid of the droplets of icy water collecting inside my lashes. They ran down my face like tears. The sky was a clear cerulean. The path trotted by goats came to an end, so we had to climb up the rocky landscape with bare hands and the rope Hansen brought. Some of the rocks were sharp like protruding onyx knives, and I carefully avoided them. Another advantage of being small is that if you’re nimble enough, you can go where others can’t. Hansen didn’t mind the blade-like rocks for they break and shatter on his armor like glass thrown towards a brick wall.
We arrived at the entrance of the Cave, just in the afternoon.
“That’s it?” I asked.
It looked the same as any other cave I’ve seen, perhaps even more ordinary than some I’ve seen, made with stormy gray rocks and nothing more. No torches on the walls, no crystals growing from the rocks, no ancient runes running along the floors, no eerie smoke coming from inside, and no unspeakable sense of dread filling the air around its presence.
“What, you expect to see guards?” Hansen barked a laugh.
“Perhaps,” I replied, “it’s a cave full of gold.”
He spat on the ground. “Every villager here knows how to get here. They’re just too wise to do it. I didn’t think there really was a curse. I took gold from the Cave.”
“And you’ve used that gold to buy a large house, live a rich life, and to marry your wife.”
Beams of dusk danced across his scarred, wolfish face in fleeting shades of pink and gold. “True. And whatever I bought with that gold cannot make me happy. I feel nothing when I kiss my wife. Life in that house is just a bit better than that around the borders as a rogue.”
There was silence, pierced only by the winds soaring around us, circling the top of Mount Mirk like a mother looking for her lost daughter. Patches of purple and orange light dappled upon me as I broke the silence. “Rogue life must be tough.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” he sneered.
I shrugged, and felt my mist-damped hair sliding across my shoulder blades in little tendrils. “You ever killed anyone?”
“Of course. I was a rogue.”
“What about women? Have you ever killed any women, Randy Hansen?” I asked in a flat tone.
“No,” he said, almost on reflex. “No true man would kill women. I haven’t.”
“I heard it was a girl,” I said.
He picked out the words after a long silence rang between us. “I didn’t kill that girl. I was a rogue, looking for a valuable procession to claim. I saw her, herding sheep. Ones with fur the color of soft snowfall, the best kind in the Highlands. She yelled at me, saying the sheep belonged to her family. She was quite pretty, but still too young for me… Anyway, I held a dagger to her throat to shut her up.”
“I dragged her behind a cluster of dead trees and tied her there with her hair. I took the sheep. Maybe I did something wrong.”
“I didn’t kill her,” he said. “They probably wouldn’t find her since the place was deserted, but I didn’t kill her. I don’t kill women. Or girls.”
I blinked hard, and the image that had burnt itself into my eyelids appeared before me once again, hauntingly detailed as always. Highland summers were dry and windy, with dead wood and crisp leaves, things to burn with the slightest sparks of flame. It was the middle of June when I found her, the dead leaves and twigs that had concealed her from the rest of us burnt away by forest fire. I ran through smoke so thick they clung to the insides of my lungs the way a small child clings to her mother. I pushed burning trunks out of the way and heard the fibers rip. The forest fire burnt down even the oldest meadows that had been there longer than history and left blackened ashes in its wake.
I found her hanging, by blackened, twisted bones, to the half-burnt trunk of a tree. Flesh was burnt apart to the point that they hardened and cracked apart like broken clay, exposing her insides. Thin streaks of gray smoke rose from the remaining, once auburn hair as a soft rain of black ashes fell from the skeleton’s empty sockets.
I walked into the cave without glancing back.
The cave was much deeper than it seemed, and shadows danced across walls as I walked. My vision in the dark was better than most people. I trained myself after what happened that day. Swordsmanship, martial arts, senses, and will power. I was a petite woman, with hands no bigger than a child’s, but I could make these hands take life the way children pluck wool from bushes. And I would.
I saw no gold. The space around me was dark and empty, my footsteps echoing into a long distance away and back, but of course I saw no gold. The Cave does not present gold to people.
It presents what you desire. A voice whispered, the sound slithering leisurely around me. And you don’t want gold, unlike the others I’ve seen. You want revenge.
“He killed my daughter,” I said.
Aye, said the voice. And you are fully prepared to take his life for it. Name them, the things you desire. Tell me what it is you long for, and I shall provide.
I thought of afternoon walks by grassy hillsides, thought of the scent of strawberry jam in our warm kitchen, thought of charred, ruined skin and my daughter’s broken form, and thought of Clare dancing to the music in the wind, her skirt fluttering around her ankles, hair that looked exactly like mine lit by sunlight, her smile tarnishing the rest of the world.
“I want a weapon. Give me a blade of any kind, and I’ll do it,” I told the Cave.
Why still ask for a blade, asked the voice, when you’ve already brought your own knife, hidden in the sleeve of your cloth?
“An ordinary blade will not pierce his armor,” I said with a dead kind of calm that surprised even myself. “Any mortal weapon breaks when they but touch the surface of his armor. I’ve seen how it works. It covers all vulnerable spots.”
The voice made a low hissing which I realized was its way of laughing. Good, it said. You are observing and calculating. It means you are ready. Reach out your hand, and you shall find your blade.
I reached blindly into the nothingness of the Cave, and vaguely saw the calluses all over my palm and fingertips from the whole two years of training I did, driven by hatred and a broken heart. I was a mother who loved her daughter. Now I am more than that.
Out from the darkness and the shadows I pulled a dagger with a blade the color of ink, the hilt of it as cold as death.
The voice spoke again, The rogue would be waiting outside, waiting for you to return with gold. He plans to kill you when you do so. And so you must not hesitate.
“I know,” I said softly, my fingers dancing across the icy hilt of the dagger. I sent the blade spinning in a whooshing circle around my wrist, flung it upwards so high it disappeared from view, then caught it with a snap of two fingers and slashed at the air before me. I heard wind ripping as I sliced it in half neatly, then straightened as if nothing happened.
You want your revenge, asked the voice, its tone almost curious, even if there is no happiness within to be earned? People get no pleasure from me. You know the rule.
I didn’t answer. I wanted no happiness as I deserved none after failing to find her when she needed me. I only wanted him dead, to give my daughter peace in the other world. And I was ready.
It was hard to tell how much time passed while I was in the Cave. A slightly unsettling fact, for my sense of time had become very sharp from counting the days I’ve thrived without my family. I guess it didn’t matter then. Not anymore.
It was midnight when I emerged from the Cave, my cloak and hair soaked with lingering shadows. Hansen sat a small distance away from the entrance of the Cave, his squared jaw propped against the leather hilt of his sword. His blood-shot eyes followed me as I walked inside the shadows cast by the rocky landscape, the dagger hidden out of view beneath my cloak. Heavy wind swirled around us, as the starless night sky stayed silent in a curtain of foggy blue and black. I saw a piece of waning moon, shining above us with a ghostly glow like an executioner’s blade.
“What took you so long?” Hansen grumbled as he got to his feet, and I could see the hints of tension in his right hand that held his sword. I said nothing. There wasn’t a need to. I walked around the small clearing we made camp in, concealing myself in the shadows. It was another advantage of being petite. I could hide easily. Hansen squinted into the dark with an exasperated look. And then I struck.
With one clean swipe of my blade I cut at his wrist before nailing it with the hilt of my weapon and sent his sword flying across the clearing. It landed with a metallic clang at the edge of the cliff. He swore and grabbed at me, but I backed away faster than his movement, poising the dagger in front of me.
We stared at each other from either side of our makeshift campsite, Hansen clutching his injured hand with his good one. “What the hell is the meaning of this?”
I answered him by skipping toward the edge of the clearing, then sent his sword clattering down the side of Mount Mirk with a kick.
“What was that for?” Hansen snarled. “If I wanted to kill you with my sword, I would’ve GODDAMN DONE IT on the way. I had tons of chances.”
“But I didn’t have gold with me then,” I said with the utmost calm. “A man with gold is always in danger, you said. Or are you perhaps too thick to recall?”
He stared at me, yet I found nothing terrifying about the supposedly threatening act. We started walking around the clearing in cautious circles, studying each other, him grinding his teeth and my gaze cold. Thin streaks of moonbeams fell upon our backs like the gaze of an audience.
Randy Hansen was a tall, muscular, fully-grown man. I was out for blood. Only one of us would walk away alive from this.
“Why didn’t you bring back gold?” he demanded, picking a piece of stone the size of a ram’s horn from the ground.
“Because I don’t want any,” I said coldly, then continued on with a softer tone of voice. “All the villagers who live at the foot of this mountain know the path towards that cave. Tell me, Randy Hansen, why do you think it had to be you whom I made my guide? You, a former rogue.”
His jawline tightened, eyeing me up and down, his voice a low growl. “I have no idea what the HELL you’re talking about!”
“Clare,” I said. The name burnt the insides of my throat, but my hands were steady as I pointed the tip of the dagger at him. “The girl you murdered. Her name was Clare. She was thirteen and wanted to be a dancer.”
I wasn’t sure if he heard me, or if he even cared. Hansen’s head jerked once as the only response, then came charging towards me with the stone. He couldn’t attack me the way he would an opponent around average adult height, and made the mistake I was waiting for him to make by bending lower to strike at me. I sidestepped his attack and thrust the dagger upwards with both arms, knowing exactly where I was aiming for. I heard a grunt, then pushed him with all my body weight. Hansen staggered backwards, cursing as blood oozed from the deep stab on his shoulder blade. Red seeped through his shirt from the gash on his armor, which he examined with an expression of disbelief and fear.
His face paled. “My arm. I can’t move it.”
“I expect so,” I said softly, sliding a digit down the back of my blade, the blood-stained metal leaving a gentle coldness upon the calluses on my fingertip, like the touch of a ghost child’s hand. As I took a step forward, he took a step back. I locked eyes with Randy Hansen, saw the frustration and the fear in his wolfish features, saw moonlight soaking into the fabric of his clothes along with the blood, throwing a thin sheen of glittery silver atop the crimson. I saw the man who killed the love of my life, and saw the man who I would kill with these very hands.
I hung him, like a puppet with its strings cut, on the branches of an old dead tree. Hansen stared at me, and hissed through gritted teeth as a trail of blood dripped continuously from the corner of his mouth.
“I should’ve known. You have the same hair as that girl,” he said.
His coarse language polluted the air around us as the night slowly faded into the light. I wouldn’t kill him directly, as he didn’t my daughter. I left the dagger in the earth just a few steps away from the tree, precisely just out of his reach when he tried his hardest to stretch his still functional arm. That done, I turned, and with the golden sunrise upon my hair the same color as hers, I walked away.
Clare, your mother loves you. Always.
Herma S.Y. Li is a first-time writer, currently a 15-year-old student about to enter Taipei First Girls High School in Taipei, Taiwan. Her current favorite book is Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan. Born in a city filled with rain and mist, she spends her time reading novels, doodling in notebooks, and wandering allays around her home trying to bring about an encounter with good inspiration.