Wednesday’s Child

Prompt: It was Wednesday, the day of kindness.

The sun dipped low on the horizon and with its descent, Savina could feel the tension settling into her shoulders. In the reddening sky, the smiles on everyone she passed felt sinister. A reminder that the truce of today would not continue through the night. She resisted the urge to clutch her knapsack to her body. She forced herself to keep walking with her head held high.

Once she left the crowded market, her steps quickened. She had to make it to her hideout before the night settled around her. The path through the woods was treacherous in the dark, full of roots that came alive in the night to snag ankles and cracks that opened in the ground to swallow feet. She could not afford to have an injury when the sun rose.

In the morning the villagers turned into a band of pitchfork-brandishing and torch carrying monsters.

The day of kindness. What a misnomer.

It was the day that the villagers let the outcasts come into town.

They fed them.

They bathed them.

They cared for their injuries.

If they were sick, they gave them medicine.

After all, where was the fun in hunting prey that was too weak to put up a fight?

She gate she passed through was rudimentary—she could easily clamber over the waist-high wooden structure even had they closed it, but it was not there as a physical barrier to keep villagers in or outcasts out. It was a reminder that she did not belong. A visual separation of us and them.

When she was a little girl, there was no fence, no gate to keep children from wandering into the woods.

All it took was one night in the woods to receive the brand of outcast. Even at the tender age of seven Savina was not welcomed back into the village when she finally managed to retrace her steps home. For half her life she hid in the forest only coming into town on the day of kindness. Even after seven years of peering into the faces of strangers, she could find no one familiar. Not a trace of her mother or her father. Not so much as a glimpse of her brothers. They vanished on the same night she left town.

At the first bend of the road that took her behind the covering of a hill, Savina stepped off the path. Her steps were measured as she walked into the forest. Twelve steps and then a left at the tree that looked like a woman sitting in a rocking chair. Twenty-eight steps and the ground began to slope abruptly. She sat on the edge and scooted forward until her feet dangled over the steep drop. She drew in a sharp breath and shoved forward, free-falling to land on a narrow ledge several feet below that protruded out of the side of the cliff.

She continued to make her way down to the bottom where her cave awaited her—six steps to the left, four rocks down and three over (she’d reversed it once and nearly fallen to her death), a hop, skip, and a jump.

She tied the laces of her shoes together and draped them over her neck. Her bare toes found purchase in the ivy and rough stone, and she gripped a handful of the vines as she made her final descent.

When her toes tangled in vines and found no rock, she knew she’d reached the cave. She kicked her feet clear and dropped down onto the smooth stone ledge.

“Savina?” A rasping voice carried through the vines. She pushed through them and slammed into someone and it was only her quick reflexes that kept them both on their feet.

She blinked against the darkness, unable to make out the form of the person she ran into, but she recognized him by his voice and bony frame. “Marius, you should not be up.” She did not add that if he was going to be about, he should have at least tended to the fire. “Come.” She draped his arm over her shoulder and slid his arm about his frail waist helping him limp the few steps to the rough pallet they’d cobbled together in their years spent in the cave.

She tucked the threadbare blanket around his shoulders and then went over to the fire pit. Warmth still radiated from the ashes—a good sign that there might be a few embers still smoldering that would help her spark a new blaze. She cleared as many of the ashes as she could easily scoop out until she could see the faint red glow of embers and laid fresh kindling. Even before she reached for the flint, smoke began to rise from the pile. Before long, she had a decent fire blazing.

In the light, she could make out her companion’s features. Pustules disappeared into the neckline of his thin shirt. “I brought more ointments.”

She’d tried to take him to the day of kindness once, but even their charity did not extend to his weeping sores. Even if he were physically able to make the journey, he would not be welcome. As soon as they saw his sores they brandished torches and ordered him to leave. Savina did not visit for many weeks and when she returned the earth was scorched and the bathhouse no longer existed. A new structure stood in its place.

She dug her thumb into the pockmark on her thigh, breathing heavily. All she had was the memory of agony, hunger, and thirst that told the story of how she received them. And then when the pain stopped, Marius was there. The pustules were slow to come for him. And even when they receded, they would come back again and again and again. Sometimes with the first scorch of summer, other times with the first frost. At times when the leaves turned red and carpeted the forest. At least when it came upon him when the flowers were in bloom she had something to cover up the smell.

This was the sixth day of his pestilence and he had gone without ointment for most of them. She had not realized how perilously low her stockpile had grown. Had not thought to replenish it. Or rather, had hoped that since it abated for so long that perhaps this time it truly would not reappear.

She helped him peel off his shirt, making a mental note to wash it in the river the next morning. She did not want to risk being caught out after dark. The ointment was grainy beneath her fingers and she slowly coated each of the pustules with it, trying not to gag at the smell. Some had already ruptured and she used his shirt to wipe them clean before she applied the ointment.

He nibbled at the roll she passed him and fell asleep before he managed a solid bite.

Once his breaths deepened, she pushed through the vines and pulled her knees to her chest, staring up at the night sky. It was not long before the wrenching sobs took her over. This was the worst Marius had ever been and she wasn’t confident he could recover this time. Then she truly would be all alone out here.

The moon was high overhead before she felt calm enough to return to the cave where her companions wheezing snores filled the chamber.

She woke with a start.

Something was wrong.

Her first thought was that the villagers had found her trail and followed her to the cave. But the only light was from the banked embers of the fire. Even if it were still night, if the vines were pulled aside, the soft light of the moon and stars would shine through.

It was silent.

Too silent.

Marius.

She scrambled over to his pallet, desperate to hear a snore or a wheezing breath.

Nothing.

He wasn’t there.

She hurried to the mouth of the cave.

“Marius!” Her cries echoed. There was no response. She screamed again and a bird startled and took flight from the bushes.

The sky was red in the pre-dawn light and for a moment it was his blood painted across the heavens.

She followed the animal trail through the forest, faint, but the only path away from their hideout. Had he taken any other route, she would see the broken twigs and disturbed foliage.

In the distance, she heard the baying of dogs.

Then she heard a sharp crash and she cared not for the way the rocks and twigs cut at her feet with every step. “Marius!”

The dogs grew louder.

She saw him at the base of a tree—down the hill and off the path. He must not have turned with the bend. Now he lay motionless with his neck a sharp angle. She scrambled down in a cascade of debris.

“What were you thinking?” She felt for his pulse, but without much hope. Her heart caught in her throat and she dropped her heavy head onto his chest. “Why couldn’t you stay in the cave? What pulled you away?”

But a dead man had no answers.

When the dogs reached her, she did not bother to run.

When the villagers surrounded her, she did not fight them.

“We’ll have to burn his body.”

“And everything she is wearing.”

“Girl.” She felt her body rock, but it could have been someone else they were shaking. “She’s in shock.”

“Someone get her back to the village.”

“Do you think she’s—“

“Not any longer.”

Savina let her eyes close, welcoming the loss of consciousness.

Every muscle in her body ached and her feet burned, but she had never awoken feeling so comfortable. “How are you feeling?”

“Is it Wednesday?”

“No sweet child.”

“Then why are you being kind?”

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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