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Checking the back of my head for bruises to make sure I didn’t have a concussion and hadn’t dreamt it all, I crunched through the leaves on the forest floor. I obviously didn’t travel like the night angels, silently, because once I got to the edge of the forest, I heard someone call out, “Eval, is that you?”

Who called me that? I heard someone coming closer; hoped it was Michael, but was disappointed. “Ethan?”

His silhouette turned into a recognizable form. It reminded me of the night angel. He looked tired from cutting, but smiled when he saw me. “Michael told me he saw you running towards the woods, but no one saw you here. What were you doing out there?”

I wanted to tell him, anyone, what had happened. But it seemed so strange, I had no idea where to begin. I needed to think about this first. Someone I could trust more, like my mother.

“I was dancing with the shadows,” I said, purposely being mysterious.

“Do they make good partners?” he asked.

I hadn’t expected him to respond like that. I smiled slightly. “I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe you should try it. Then you can tell me.”

“I’ll have to do that someday.”

“By the way, my name’s Evaling, not Eval,” I told him. Ethan just smiled. “Is Michael nearby?”

Ethan pointed to his left, not saying anything. I followed the path of his finger, waving goodbye. He waved slightly, then went back to work, exhaling a lot of air. Poor thing, he must be tired.

I crossed the border of forest and village. Several men were working nearby. A few looked up to see me, but didn’t pay much attention. Then I saw Michael. His muscled bulged as he brought the axe down from above his head, falling faster than an apple from a tree. He was splitting wood, not actually cutting down trees at the moment. He looked up and saw me. I waved timidly.

We both walked toward each other. I wished I knew how to make myself look pretty. I felt so plain. Michael must be comparing me to Lily right now. Why hadn’t Lancithar taught me anything? I felt my face reddening against my will. Traitorous face.

“What happened this morning?” Michael asked.

Why had I come? I should have hidden myself from his beautiful face forever. “Sorry for my behavior. There was something in the woods I had to explore.”

He looked confused. I couldn’t blame him. “In the woods? What’s out there?”

A beautiful man, more so than you, but don’t worry, I still love you. This strange man who disappears in the shadows says he wants to give me magic and take away the night soothings. “An apple.”

“An…apple?”

Poor, poor man. “An apple tree. The apples taste best at dawn. I wanted to get there before they lost their taste.”

Michael must have figured out that he saw me after dawn, but decided not to say anything about that. “Is everything all right?”

No. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Do you want to take a walk?”

I stopped. Did I understand what he was saying? “Yes?”

“Let’s go, then.” He took my hand and almost had to drag me, I was so shocked.

We walked into the woods, and I faintly heard some men whistling behind us. I had been spending a lot of time out here lately. Nor could I help but try to look for Lancithar some more, but I tried to be discreet about it. At first, we didn’t say anything. It felt nice to have his hand covering mine.

“Where’s this apple tree of yours?” Michael asked after a few moments.

“Oh, I couldn’t find it from here,” I lied. I didn’t want to go back right now.

He looked like he wanted to say something more, but didn’t know what to say. We were silent a few more minutes. Then I had to go and ruin it. I knew it was a bad thing to say before I did, but I couldn’t help myself. “What do you think of Lily?”

He let go of my hand and blushed red. “She’s…nice.”

“Just nice?” I asked. Why did I torture myself?

“What do you want me to say?”

“What you think.”

“I don’t think anything about her.”

Stop, Evaling. Stop it. “Surely you have some opinion of her?”

“Look, Eva, you’re not my girlfriend, so I don’t feel I have to answer to you whether I think a girl is pretty or not.” He stopped after that, looking uncomfortable but also fuming a bit.

What had I done? Now he would never want to be with me. What had I been thinking? I had basically chased him off to Lily. I felt really awkward, and felt my cheeks turning red. It was not supposed to turn out this way. I turned my head away from him in shame. But that wasn’t enough. So I ran.

“Eva…” Michael said, but didn’t chase after me. That cemented my belief that I had committed an irreparable mistake. I just kept running, wiping tears from my eyes, wanting to escape, but thinking about what he would be thinking about me. A branch reached out and snagged my arm, drawing blood, but I just kept running.

A few moments later I burst out of the forest. I tried to avoid the men, but some of them turned their heads in my direction. I could hear the gossip working in their minds. Lily was there as well, and when I glanced at her, she smiled slightly. She knew what happened, and she was enjoying my pain.

I ran home, to find my mother chasing my brothers, an exasperated smile on her face. When I came in, though, she sensed right away that something was wrong. She took me to my room and asked what was wrong. I told her everything. About Michael. I wasn’t sure what to say about the man in the forest. It felt more like a dream, and I was more concerned about Michael now than some promise of magical powers.

My mother took me into her arms and rocked me back and forth, whispering things into my ear that didn’t really make sense, but that didn’t matter. My tears wet her blouse. Eventually I calmed down.

It was nearing evening; I had been working, doing chores, when a knock sounded on the door. At first I thought it was my father, since he usually came home around this time, but as I opened the door, being the closest to it, I found someone else entirely.

At first I thought it was Michael. Our house faces the west and the sun was getting low, so the figure was backlit by the sun. I held my breath, but when I saw who it really was, I exhaled.

“Ethan?”

“Hi Eval…ing,” he stuttered. He was looking at his feet.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I saw you run out the forest crying, and wanted to make sure everything was all right.”

“That was hours ago.”

He looked at me and gave an apologetic smile. “I know, but I couldn’t get off until now.”

I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling all that charitable at the moment. “Well, thanks for checking up on me. I’m fine.”

“Why were you crying? What happened in the forest?”

I was not going to share my innermost feelings of love and turmoil with him. So I answered the second question. Even though it was the part that happened before everything with Michael. “I found a night angel who gave me magic powers.”

“Huh?”

“Thanks for coming by, I’ll see you around.”

“Wait, why would getting magic powers make you cry?”

Was he taking me seriously? I almost rolled my eyes. Until I remembered I was speaking the truth. “Because I don’t know how to use them.”

“That would be a problem,” Ethan said, nodding sagely.

This conversation was ridiculous. I laughed, and softened a bit. “Really, thanks for your concern. But I’m all right. I’m a big girl.”

“Yes, I’m sure you can take care of yourself. Are you coming to pass out soup tomorrow?”

Inwardly, I blanched. The wounds with Michael surfaced again. “Are you still cutting down trees? Haven’t you cut down enough?”

“The trees…they don’t like being cut down.” Either he was making fun of me, or he was the person most likely to believe what I witnessed. But I had no proof. I didn’t feel ready to share my experience with anyone yet, though.

“Yeah, they do seem kind of sad.” We stood there for a few moments.

“Well, you should go to bed, Eval. Maybe the soothing will heal your pain.”

“I didn’t say I was in pain,” I said, a bit harshly.

“I…I just meant your scar,” he said, pointing to my arm. I had forgotten about that. I doubt that had been what he was referring to, but I let it drop. I gave him a weak smile.

“Sleep well yourself,” I said. “May the night angels bless you.” I don’t know why I said that.

We waved goodbye, each a little sad. I walked into the house. My mother and brothers were staring at me. I walked past them to my room without acknowledging them or their need for gossip. As I lay down after changing, I rolled over to one side, but winced when I felt the pain of the scar from the branch. It had not healed well. The injury was early enough in the day that it had festered a bit. Oh well, tomorrow it would be gone. Rolling over to my other side, I tried to go to sleep, to forget about the events of this day. It would be better if it had not happened.

Unfortunately, too many thoughts rushed through my mind, all blurring together. Letting go was no easy task. I heard my father come in and speak with my mother before I drifted off to an uneasy sleep. Michael became the night angel, but he cursed me with magic instead of blessing me. Ethan and Michael fought, but then they turned on me. The trees sang wailing songs. The apple’s two bites became eyes that stared at me. Three beings looked down on me, judging me. They argued among themselves, shifting into my parents. The stars told stories, gossiping.

Finally, night became morn, but when I woke up, I felt I hadn’t slept at all. I was still worn out. Forcing myself out of bed, I felt pain in my arm, but was too groggy to think much of it. Unsuccessfully trying to comb my hair with my fingers, I stood up and walked out of my room.

My mother was cooking eggs for my brothers, who were bouncing in their chairs. She gave me a cursory glance and then looked again, nearly dropping the pan. “Eva…”

I saw where she was looking, and it wasn’t at my face. It was at my arm. The one that had been hurt yesterday. That was still scarred. I hadn’t been healed. Seeing the panic on my mother’s face, the fear, I started feeling it too. Why hadn’t I been healed? Was I not worthy anymore?

Then I remembered Lancithar telling me that the night soothings would stop. Was it only for me, or would it stop for everyone? Did it stop last night? I looked at my brothers. They were clean and unbruised. So they must have been healed, because they never go a day without minor injuries. Did this only apply to me?

“Did you hurt yourself this morning, Eva?” My brothers looked between my mother and me. She was looking at me like I didn’t have a shadow. I could see in her eyes that she wanted me to lie. She saw the scar yesterday; she knew it was highly improbable I could duplicate it in my room. But she didn’t want to think through the implications.

“Yeah, that must have been it,” I said numbly. My brothers went back to eating their porridge, uninterested now.

Even if my mom refused, I started thinking about what this would mean. As far as I knew, no one was ever denied the soothing. It was as natural as the sun itself. Would people think I had been cursed if they knew? How would they treat me?

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