“The Great Mother needs a new Guardian,” the Caretaker said.
“Ivy has seven seasons left before she needs—” Cerise began.
“I’ve been Caretaker since before you crawled out of the muck. I think I’m more than capable of understanding what Ivy needs.”
Cerise clenched her jaws to keep from telling the Caretaker exactly what she thought about her capabilities. The Great Mother must’ve had good reasons, she thought. If not, she would’ve never made such an overbearing being watcher over her sister and her. “When do I leave?”
“Now,” the Caretaker said, signaling Cerise to follow her out of the conservatory.
In the back garden, the Caretaker’s apprentice was strapping a box to the handlebars of a bicycle.
“I want Ivy and you to have a couple of days together. So I’ve shortened the trip by securing your safe passage through The City. Stay on the main road until you feel the Great Mother’s grove. City law won’t ensure your safety, if you were to stray from the path.”
“I need to gather some personal things to take with me.”
“Of course,” the Caretaker said. Then, as if just remembering the detail, she added, “Oh, and Cerise, do stay away from people. We don’t need them seeing anything that isn’t for their eyes.”
Cerise had pedaled for three hours when loud yelps made her brake in the middle of the deserted road. She followed the sound with her eyes, and saw a man and a woman clad in the white and silver colors of The City. The man was pulling on the ends of a rope that kept a net suspended a few feet above the ground. The woman held a silver staff that buzzed every time she jabbed an animal that struggled in the net.
“Hey!” Cerise called. “If you cut the rope, the animal will leave without giving you trouble.” She was almost sure that they had been the ones to trap the terrified animal. But people were more likely to correct their mistakes, when given an easy way to deal with any resulting shame.
“Go on your way, girl,” said the woman. “This doesn’t concern you.”
Cerise tightened her fingers on the handlebars, but kept her face serene. She knew she wasn’t the only one seeing the law maltreating the animal. The nearby shops and houses were quiet and seemingly empty, but she could feel their occupants’ curiosity oozing out of cracked windows.
She was stepping off the bicycle, when an old man walked out of a teashop and ran to her. “They hunt the wee beasts for their meat, teeth and fur, green lady.”
“But they are the law,” Cerise whispered, not acknowledging his recognition of her kind.
“Yes,” he said, looking down to meet her eyes before walking away, “they are the law.”
“I can trade for the animal,” she yelled in the direction of the pair.
“What do you have?” the woman said, smiling as she walked towards Cerise.
“Half my food,” Cerise said, pointing at the box.
Using the non-electrified end of her staff, the woman opened the box, glanced inside, and shook her head. “That’s not even a third of what we would get for the wolf.”
“I have other things.” Cerise wondered if the law woman would be interested in a wind chime, a holed stone, or any of the treasures she carried in her backpack.
“You can keep your food and your other things, girl.” The woman’s smile widened. “But my partner and I would trade the wolf for the bike.”
“Fine,” Cerise said. “Bring me the wolf and you can have the bicycle.”
Thirty minutes later, Cerise walked towards the Great Mother’s grove, carrying her food in a basket she got from the old man. The wolf strolled quietly next to her. If they traveled through the night, they could make it to the grove by midday. And the long hike would give her time to come up with a way to explain the presence of the wolf and her loss of the Caretaker’s bike.
The sun was setting, when the wolf stopped and howled towards a path that led off the road.
Cerise was going to say that they didn’t have time to stop, but the low rumble of an approaching engine kept her mouth shut.
The wolf howled again, and before Cerise could stop him, he sprinted for the oncoming vehicle.
“Stop,” Cerise said, dropping backpack and basket and running after the wolf. The wild animal continued running in the middle of the path. Cerise flailed her arms over her head, but the driver didn’t see her, or saw her and didn’t care because the vehicle wasn’t slowing down.
When Cerise realized that she wouldn’t catch the wolf by running, she stopped and removed her shoes. Crouching, to reach for the Great Mother’s energy with hand and foot, she smacked the dirt and leapt into the air.
The direct energy jolt sent her soaring above and past the speeding wolf. She landed on the hood of the vehicle in a half-crouch, yelling, “Stop!”
The shrill in her voice, and the stunned face of the driver, told Cerise that the man in the vehicle was probably seeing her: a tiny redheaded woman, with black pupilless eyes, and brown skin the texture of tree bark.
She lost the bicycle. She showed herself to a stranger. The Caretaker was going to make firewood out of her bones.
inspired by “In the Dark”, winner of the seventh Expanding Wee Bits of Dark Fiction and Poetry
Note: this is the first of two parts; for as I’ve done in the past, I got overexcited with this tale and let it grow way too long for just one post. I shall publish part two next week.
Abstract Black and Red, from Vortega, via