Fighting for Life

Rebecya has taken an oath; never to love again, and to find her true home. But as her life is put at risk, and her courage is tested to the extremes, she finds herself testing her oath too. Where will she find her true home before it is too late? Read it to find out! :) And please comment what you think, cheers!

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1. Them

My vision blurs as the tears threaten to spill out, and I dash them away angrily. My hand smears blood and dirt across my face, but I don’t care. In the middle of the woods, no one is going to see me.  Except the people chasing me. I feel the coldness of the moisture against my skin; feel the blood drying as I run full speed through the woods. I risk a glance behind me. No one is following me. That I can see. I turn to face forwards again, but my foot catches on a root. I go flying, the ground rushing to meet my face. The impact bursts my lip and knocks the breath from my lungs. I gasp on the ground, winded. The grass brushes my face as I breathe, tickling the bruises on my cheek bones. I sit up, and the world tilts alarmingly. I rub my face with the back of my right hand, and stare at the fresh blood on my hand. I can feel it trickling down my chin, down my neck. I swallow, and some blood goes down too. I cough at the taste. I heave myself up, and look around. The thigh height ferns and grasses could conceal any number of enemies. Or they could be hiding in the dense trees…

A twig snaps. I jump, and start running. I cover my lip, hoping no blood leaves a trail. I crash through the under growth, not caring that They can probably hear me.

Birds take flight as I come into hearing. But they remain ominously quiet. They have probably seen this all too many times. The chase at least. But most people get caught somewhere else. Somewhere that no one ever goes. But I have been caught too many times, and my energy is draining. I stumble down a small slope, and end up on my hands and knees in a pebbly stream. I wash my hands and pour water over my lip. The cold water stings the hole in my lip. I stand up. The tips of the ferns on the forest floor are above my head. The perfect hiding place. I start to stumble upstream. The small stones in the stream bed roll under my bare feet, the current washing off the grime form todays’ hours of chasing.

Healthy plants grow on the stream bank. If I had time, I would fill my empty bag with them, they’d keep my family from going hungry for several days. I stoop to pick a carrot-leaf plant; a plant that has bright orange, fleshy leaves, like the old carrots. I pluck a leaf, and notice some gnaw marks on the underside.  The forest seems to fall silent around me. All I can hear is my blood roaring in my ears.

I gulp, look furtively around. Beaver-rats. Great.

 

I start walking again, trying to be quiet. Luckily, the splashing of the stream hides my stumbling footsteps. The carrot-leaf plants become scarcer, and the pebbly banks have boulders scattered on them. The ferns leaning over the stream become darker, an ominous crowd staring at the person who dared disturb them. The streambed gets muddier, the grit stinging the cuts on my bare feet.

The stream starts to get narrower, the boulders around it looming over, threatening to fall on me. In the gaps under the rocks, dark creatures scuttle and hide, their yellow eyes reflecting back the weak light filtering through the dense trees. I hurry, almost running, taking no care to hide my footsteps. I must be near the end of this gorge I think.

I keep running, scrambling over the boulder that now clutter the stream, as if a giant had a tantrum and threw them in.

 

I haul myself up over a particularly tall boulder, my feet sliding on the slimy orange weed that clings closely. I peer over the edge, hoping to see a flat expanse of sunny forest, dotted with clumps of fern and the air filled with birdsong. I was definitely NOT expecting to see a waterfall, about 15 feet high.

 

I push myself off the rock, my feet sliding into the cool water. And then my knees. And my waist. And my shoulders. When my feet eventually touch the bottom, I have to tip my head back to keep my mouth clear of the water. I half wade, half swim to the waterfall, the fine spray dancing through the air, making pretty rainbows. I glance back at the boulder, expecting to see one of Them. But there is no one there. The fact I now have to climb the waterfall to leave the gorge sinks in. I grit my teeth, and step under the waterfall.

 

Two things happen at once. First, the ground disappears from beneath my feet. Second, the waterfall pushes down on me, forcing me down to the seemingly vanished stream bed. I kick and struggle, fighting the pull of the depths. It sucks at my feet, trying to pull my down to the blackness. The waterfall keeps pummelling me, on my back, my face, my stomach, until I can’t tell which way is up. The weight of the water presses down on my chest, forcing my breath out in a soundless scream. I open my eyes; see the last silver bubbles of my breath trail away. And, far below, a rippling, shining thing. I relax; let the water pull me down. The bubbles sink with me, following my wake. That fact disturbs me. Bubbles, going down? But I don’t have time to think. My sight is fading, getting black around the edges, the small circle of vision I have left becoming a bright white circle.

My head burst through the shining thing, and the air hits me in the face, the coldness of it slapping me. How confusing, I had been certain I had been going down. I gulp in the air. And gulp in a wave from the waterfall. I cough and splutter, treading water.

I look around, feeling disconcerted. Then I realise that I am on the other side of the waterfall, the side that is right against the left hand side of the gorge. I look up, taking in the tall wall of boulders, covered in more of that orange slime. I look down, hoping to see a helpful rock to push myself out of the water with. Instead, I see a white shape, getting bigger and bigger. I am just making out what it is, when pain explodes around my ankle.

Thinking fast, I do as my mother taught me; don’t struggle, the water-demon will take your foot. Instead, push your foot into its mouth, and when you feel something slimy, kick down, hard.

I let my leg sink into its’ jaws, feel its teeth scrape my skin. I hit the something slimy, and kick it. The water-demon lets go of me, and I scramble for the boulder wall. I scrabble at the slimy stones, clawing for a handhold. My nails slide harmlessly through the orange weed. I stretch up higher, and find a gap between two boulders. I haul myself up, desperate to escape the creature of the deep.

 

My foot clears the water, and then I see the extent of the damage. A deep gauge runs around my ankle; luckily, no bone shows. There are long scrapes up my legs too, strips of skin dangling loosely.

I dig my injured foot in to a foothold, pushing myself up. The water-demon’s head bursts from the water, its’ jaws snapping. Through its translucent skin, you can see the blood from my leg trickling around inside it, the absence of a stomach, and of any digestive organs, letting all its food slosh around in the hole where a stomach should be.  A gross smell attacks my nostrils, the smell of food from long ago trapped in its body forever.

I grit my teeth and push myself up the boulders. Every step with my injured leg is agonising but I carry on. I risk a glance down, and see the water-demon sink below the surface. I keep going, dragging myself over outcrops of rocks, shredding my clothes. I’m completely soaked; my hands keep sliding on the orange slime, and my feet slip off their footholds.

 

I reach up to pull myself up, and I catch a tantalizing glance of a tree root. I scramble quickly, desperate to be off the treacherous cliff. But my impatience gets me now where, as the outcrop of rock I was clinging to breaks, and I start to slide down the cliff.

 

Slowly, then gaining speed, I slide down the boulders. But the boulders I dragged myself over don’t spit me off the edge, instead, I slip around them, twisting and turning around them. Faster and faster, until the boulders start to throw me into the air as I go over them.

Suddenly, I’m tossed high into the air. I fly over a small boulder, and land with a thump on the other side. I scramble for purchase, and find myself on a small ledge. A very small, very wet ledge. Wetter than it should be, even with my clothes dripping everywhere. I glance up, and my heart sinks. I am under the waterfall.

 

The corner of the gorge to my right, a small wall on my left. The water fall must have once run against the cliff, and when it became stronger, come away from the cliff, leaving a ridge.

There was no way I would be able to climb over it; I was on a vertical slope with spray from a water fall soaking everything.  I slide along to the right of the ledge, and stare up the wall. In some ways it was easier, the corner made more hand and foot holds. But the waterfall spray made everything a lot harder.

I take the opportunity to check my leg. It’s almost stopped hurting so maybe it’s healing… I take one glance at my leg and nearly throw up. Blood pours down it, making the water on the ledge turn a pale pink colour. As I take the extent of my injury in, the pain registers again. Usually, I’d take a strip from my leggings or my baggy over trousers and tie that around it, but these are the last pairs of leggings and trousers that aren’t threadbare or covered in mildew.  So I reach for my bag. And find nothing. Not even nothing in the bag, but nothing nothing, as in no bag. I realise it’s either in the water, in which case I am NOT going back for it, or it’s on the cliff somewhere. I look up hopefully, and spot my bag. Its strap is hanging down off the small wall. I crawl back along the ledge, and reach up cautiously. My fingertips touch it, and the small pressure brings it down. It hits my head, and thumps to the ground, spilling its content across the ledge, some things fall down to the pool below. I scramble, trying to catch as many things as possible. My rescued objects don’t amount to much; half a blade of a knife, a short, frayed coil of string, a few medicinal leaves, a leather pouch and a piece of cloth. I think of the bits of dried meat at the bottom of my bag, a small water skin, a cloak and a bracelet- the bracelet… I peer over the edge of the cliff, craning my neck to try and see if the bracelet was stuck on the vertical slope. No such hope. I let a single tear slip down my face. The bracelet had been made of a bright orange rock, a speciality to our area. My father had made it for me when I was little. But now it was gone. I try to tell myself it’s better that way, rather than trying to cling onto bits of the past that have no hope of returning.

 

I turn back to the cliff, but something catches my eye. A small green pouch. I impulsively reach out to try and reach it, just below me.

My grasping fingers brush the drawstring sticking out above it. The small movement sends it tumbling to the pool below. Just as it’s falling, I grab the neck of the pouch. A small wooden ball falls out, and a braid of hair. But I rescue the rest of the contents. I cradle the pouch in my arms, the tears running down my face freely now. The pouch and its contents meant so much to me. Much more than the bracelet from my father. I stare in to the pool, willing the ball and braid of hair to rise up out of the depths. But they don’t. All I see is the wooden ball floating, being buffeted by the waves from the waterfall, it makes its way to the water fall, and then is pushed under. It doesn’t resurface. The last glimpse of it I see is of the symbols carved into it, sinking below the waves.

 

I sit on the ledge, misery clouding my thoughts. Eventually the pain in my legs brings me to my senses again. I stick my leg out, into the spray, letting the water wash all the mud and dirt from the cuts. I numbly mash the leaves up against the rocky ledge with the blunt side of the knife blade, and smear the paste onto the cut. Its stings, slowly bringing me out of my miserable state. I cut a strip from the cloth and tie it around the deeper cut. Then I cut a smaller bit from the remains of the cloth and put that bit on the ledge, out of the pool of blood, where it starts to soak up the water. I pack the last leaf and knife blade into the pouch, and then I rub the wet bit of cloth over my face, clearing away the mud, bits of fern and blood. Then I wash it, wring it out and stuff it into the pouch. I slide the smaller green pouch in after it. I stand up brush myself down, straighten my clothes. I pull my leggings up, stretch the legs of my over-trousers down over them. The elasticated leg-end reach just above my knees, the adult sized checked shirt almost reaching there too. I pull the checked shirt up through my belt, so it reaches halfway down my thighs. My woollen cardigan is wrecked, none of the buttons are on it and it has more holes than fabric; so I dig my knife out and cut it off at my ribs, throwing the cut off into the pool. I push my bow up over my shoulder; slide my arrows into the bag. I roll my sleeves up, take a deep breath. And I begin to climb again.

 

 

 

 

 I reach the top of the waterfall at last, my nails full of orange slime and my knees grazed. I pull myself over the edge, and lie there on my stomach for a moment, enjoying the firmness of the ground. The pain in my leg soon wakes me out of my feeling of contentment. I drag myself in to a sitting position and steel myself to look at my leg. The sodden knot is hard to untie, but eventually I manage. I have to peel the cloth out of the cut, it’s so wet.

The sight of my leg makes my breakfast threaten to make reappearance. I clamp my mouth shut, and take deep breathes through my nose. The blood has half hardened in some parts, but more keeps oozing out, making a horrible sticky mess on my leg. Some of the flaps of skin are trying to heal, but because of the climb, they’re all crinkled, and, if I leave them, will make a weird lumpy bit on my leg.

I bite my lip, and take my knife blade. I’ll have to cut them off. The first cut is alright, but I pull the second bit of skin too tight, and it rips two inches up my leg. I quickly stifle the scream of agony that half came out my mouth. I glance around, suddenly remembering that I was being chased. I hurriedly cut the rest of the bits of skin, leaving some of the more tender bits at the top of the cuts. I smooth those bits down, and carefully clean the deeper wound round my ankle with the last healing leaf. I wrap the big, dry, bit of cloth from my bag around my leg and heave myself to my feet.

 

The first step with my injured leg is excruciating, and I can see the stains of blood seeping through the bandage. I find a sturdy branch, and lean on it. I manage about five steps, before I simply have to check the bandage. It looks more red than white, so I pull what's left of my legging over it so I don’t have to look at it. Then I set off again.

 

I have never been in this part of the forest before. Nor have I heard any one talk about hunting here. I can now see why. The trees are too close together, and the pine needle carpet prevents plants from growing through, so there is no undergrowth, except the occasional, exceptionally prickly, bramble bush. The only sounds of wildlife are the irregular calls of a small wren that’s hopping about in the roots of a tree.  I slip my bow off my shoulder and load it. Only five arrows made it through the waterfall, so I have to make each shot count.

I creep silently through the trees, and find a clearing that some animals might come to. The stream runs through it, and some edible looking grass grows on its banks. I crouch behind a bramble bush and wait for some unlucky animal to wander by.

 

I wait too long. I hear the twig snap long before I see the creature that made it break, but, after an hour of waiting, I know there are no animals in this part of the woods. I push myself stiffly to my feet, and start to stagger through the trees. I left my stick behind, no time to go back now. I keep going until I can’t breathe and my leg is too sore to take another step. I pause behind a tree and draw short rasping breaths. I know I have to keep going, but I simply can’t step on my leg. I resort to dragging my useless leg. It leaves an obvious trail, but it speeds me up.

I've gone barely gone 30 metres when my injured leg catches on something. I crash to the ground, the something that has caught my foot holding it there. I awkwardly twist around to look at what has trapped me.

 

The skull stares at me. The wide staring eyes, the grinning mouth. My breathing becomes jagged; I can feel the scream building in my throat. Try to lift my foot up, which is agony; and, I can’t help it, let out the scream. My foot is caught in the skeletons ribcage.

The sight of my foot stuck in a human ribcage sends me over the edge. I swing my foot about wildly, ignoring the pain it causes. The skeleton refuses to let go. I start shaking my foot, rattling the bones. Some fall off, the tendons that held them together having rotted away. At last my foot’s free, the skeleton comes flying off and falls to the ground, bones falling everywhere.  I take a deep calming breath through my nose, and the stench of rotting flesh hits me. Which is strange; as the skeleton had no flesh left. I crawl backwards, and my left hand sinks in to something soft. I turn around. The body lies there, its dead unseeing eyes still filled with pain. I look down at my hand and the scream comes unbidden. My hand has burst through the skin and is in the body’s stomach.

 

I keep screaming. Until I have to breathe. I take a deep, juddering breath.  Swallow deeply. The whole situation is ridiculously disgusting that I let out strained sounding laugh the sounds more like a cowardly whimper. I turn my face away as I remove my hand from the corpse’s stomach. I hold my hand out behind me as I walk to a tree and slowly wipe the stuff off my hand. Still breathing through my mouth, I look around.

Flies buzz in the air. Bits of body lie scattered; eyes pecked by crows, hands torn off by predators, guts spilled across the clearing. Choosing a body that doesn’t look like it’s too far into the decomposing stage, I examine the wounds. Busted nose, split lip, slashes and cuts, which could only be from a knife, all over the torso and arms. I roll the body over, and see a familiar sight; a body signature. A body signature is when the killer, or killers, carves their signature in to their victim. Three long scratch marks, not animal but definitely from a knife, about the length of my hand. One scratch diagonally across them all. It’s meant to mean “they crossed us” but it isn’t very clear if you’ve never been told the meaning. Something catches my eye. A messy carving, across the bottom of the body’s neck.

You are next.

I'm up and running before I think about it. They know I'm here I think. That though alone keeps me running. The message could be for any one. But it isn’t. Firstly, because it was fresh. Very fresh. Secondly, the symbol carved beside it. My symbol. When I was, briefly, a part of Their gang, I went along with their body signature. But when I left them, I came up with my own signature. A play on theirs. Three short, more rugged scratches, with a line through it, like theirs, with a curving line joining them beside it.  Firecat. An F and a C. In their logo. They called me firecat because of my auburn hair and fiery, cat like personality. But right now, all it means is I'm about to get caught.

 

 

 

 

I don’t know how far I managed to go; after about twenty minutes, my leg was too sore to even crawl on, I so resorted to dragging it again for a while. But now, even that’s too sore, and I'm exhausted. I collapse on the ground.  Luckily, I spot a clump of ferns growing nearby, so I drag myself over on my elbows to the plant and break off a stem. I take my bandage off and rub the fern between my fingers, reducing it to a green paste. Then, not really looking at the wound, I smear the paste on it. It stings a little, but then fades to a gentle throb. I cautiously poke the cut with a finger and don’t really feel anything. I sigh in relief, and push myself back to my feet. I wonder why They haven’t caught up with me yet. Then I realise why. “They’re playing with me” I say out loud, my voice raspy from all the running. I start walking, hoping They’ll get bored and attack me before They get me to where They want me to be. They don’t. But something else does.

 

I hear the scraping sound behind, and turn to look. A small, close to the ground creature glares at me, its long yellow front teeth protruding from its mouth.

A paddle-rat.

 

I consider my chances. If I was uninjured, with a decent knife and at my full strength, I could probably get out in okay shape. But with an injured leg, half a rusty knife blade and almost dead on my feet, there is no way I’ll get away from even five of them.

Visitors to our area laugh at our tales of how ferocious these creatures are. True, the description in all the guide books only mentions the sharp teeth, and that they get to about two foot long and half a foot high. What the guide books don’t say is that they attack in groups, big groups, and move lightning fast and have claws as well as teeth…

Oh, yeah, and venom.

 

So, my chances are pretty slim. I listen to the scraping sound and guess there are about twenty or so rats. Chances of surviving if I stay and fight: about one in one hundred. Chances of surviving if I run, or even hobble, away: about one in twenty. I run.

 

Well, I move as fat as I can, which isn’t very fast. I go up stream, keeping as close to the stream as I can, unwilling to lose my source of direction, but not really wanting to wake more paddle-rats. The sound of the paddle-rats drops behind, but I keep going. At least if They catch me, they won’t try to kill me, They’ll leave me for the animals of the woods to finish.  I carry on till the sun is a lot lower than it was at lunch time. I take a breather, climbing one of the boulders that have started to scatter across the forest floor. I look down, and see the forest spread out below me.

The ground drops steeply away from me; a pine needle littered slope, dotted with boulders and thick with pine trees, the occasional deciduous tree a startling orange amongst the green. Off to the right, I can see a small cluster of houses. My village. All the running must have brought me around in a circle. I can see the dump, where most people scavenge; I can even make out small dots moving about on it.

 

I strain to see what's beyond the woods. I have never been out of the woods, all my life. I think about leaving almost every day, but the thought of what is beyond the trees scares me.

I can see a faint outline of something on the horizon. But I'm not high enough to see clearly. To my left, the ground rises in a ridge. I look behind me, no one there. Perhaps They think the paddle-rats got me. I shrug, and set off along the ridge.

 

I reach the highest point, and the objects on the horizon become clearer. Hills, I think, but they are a funny colour. Yellowy-orange. I squint, trying to make out more detail. I lean forward, putting my left hand on a tree to steady myself. The pieces of picture don’t make sense; orange hills, no houses or people that I can make out, no trees either.  I lean back; slide my hand down the trunk of the tree. Turn to climb down. And an arrow hits the tree where my hand had been a second before.

 

I stare at the arrow uncomprehendingly for a second. Then my muscles kick start. I'm up the tree in a flash, while my brain still reels from the thought that They have found me. Lucky for me, the tree is a tall one. I'm about seven metres up the tree when I look to see if I can see the shooter. Nothing, then I catch a sight of six or so people walking towards my tree. I gulp. The four boys are about double my size, height and width, and are all armed with weapons of various descriptions. The two girls are tough looking, and have about two feet and two stone on me each. They, too, have a collection of weapons. They don’t look too scary, until you see the hatred in their eyes, and the scars all over their bodies. Their clothes reflect their life styles; all the garments fit and have sharp bits of metal studded through them. The girls have miniskirts edged with silver beads, and crop tops with triangles of silver metal along the bottom. They both wear a red, skin tight top underneath; and black leggings. They are both traditionally beautiful, long thick hair; one with her hair in a long braid, the other a high pony tail. Now I think about it, I have never seen an ugly Diamond Thief (yeah, that’s Their name). Or even one that isn’t pretty.

 The boys wear three quarter length, camouflage trousers; and brown jackets that are open, showing off their muscles. The shoulders on their jackets have spikes sticking out of them, and their hair is short, like buzz cut short. Except one of them. The boy with brown hair, blue eyes and golden brown skin. I instantly recognise him. Detlan.

 

Our eyes lock for a second. His piercing blue eyes seem to stare straight into my soul, as always. But, for a change, he looks away first. I stare at his face for a second more, then turn and look at the bigger boy, the obvious leader. He steps forward and stares at me. Smirks and says, in a sneering tone “Well, what do we have here? A little squirrel?” I spit at him in reply. He carries on, regardless. “You caused a lot of trouble for us today. We saw you sneak out in the morning, ad ambushed you. But you got away. So we went back to the village. And you didn’t turn up. So we headed out here. And we found you. So, now, you are going to make things easy for us, aren’t you? You are going to climb down here and give us everything. And we’ll let you go.” I stare at him, then deliberately start to climb again. What they said about me being a squirrel is true, I love climbing trees. And I'm can go along the thinnest of branches, and I hardly ever fall. My leg doesn’t like this, the stepping high and putting all my weight on the leg. But I make it about another eight metres when the first knife whizzes past me and lodges into the tree above me. I leave it; if I throw it down to try and hit them, they’ll just throw it back at me; I stick it in my belt, they’ll get it when they catch me. I notice They are wearing metal studded gloves, obviously hoping for some action.

 

I keep climbing, as knives and arrows fly past. I leave them all. None of them hit me; they just sink harmlessly into the tree. Every now and then I glance down, seeing how far from the forest floor I am. Then an arrow hits my injured leg. More specifically, it hits the deeper wound around my ankle. I gasp, not wanting to show pain. But the fact I rip the arrow out and clutch my leg kind of gives the game away. The girl with her long blonde hair tied up laughs and leans against Detlan, who I presume fired that shot. I bite my lip. If I anger them now, they’ll make things harder for me. But I can’t resist it. I swing my bow off my shoulder and load it. I take aim, staring at their interlocked hands with a fierce concentration. I let the arrow go. It sinks into their hands, sending a fine spray of blood over them. Then I turn and start climbing again, fast.

I hear Detlan curse me under his breathe, hear someone load their bow. I instinctively swing around to the other side of the tree, hiding. The arrow thuds into the trunk, where I had been half a second before. The only thing with this side of the tree is that it doesn’t have very many branches. I have to go back around the other side. I go up the side, keeping my head on the protected side. I reach the top of the tree, where even I can’t go any further. I take a risk, and sit facing away from them, hoping the branches will block their weapons.

 

I look out to the distance, trying to ignore the fact They are waiting at the bottom of my tree. I stare at the horizon, daydreaming. Then my eyes focus on the hills beyond the woods. Now I understand the broken picture I had received before. There is a desert out there. A vast, rolling plain of sand, no people, nothing. My heart beats faster. To me, that place spells freedom. No rules, no family depending on you, no gangs to beat you up. With the exception of no trees, it seems the perfect place to go to. I hold the hills in my sight, not wanting to look away, in case they disappear.

 

I hear the gang shuffle below me, talking amongst themselves. I hear a bow being loaded, but I can’t bring myself to look away. The hills hold my gaze, as if hypnotising me.

An arrow whistles past me face, but still I stare at the distant desert.

Then a knife slices into my forehead, filling my eyes with blood. The last thing I see is the yellow hills, and then my eyesight dims and all I can see is red and then black, and I can feel myself falling, down, out of the tree, but I can’t stop myself. I feel the branches hit me, sending me tumbling to the ground. But all I can do is hold the picture of the yellow hills in my mind, as I hit the ground and lose consciousness.

 

I feel the pain but not properly. It’s like when I am just waking up, and I can hear mother calling me, can feel the sheets, but I cannot reply. I can only lie there, feeling the pain and holding the image of the yellow hills in my mind.

They kick  me, punch me, and throw stones at me. They don’t use their knives or weapons, they only use their bodies. No weapons, just the studded gloves. Which is just as well, or I would be dead.

A studded glove hits my face, opening the wound which cause me to fall from the tree to even wider. The blood pools on my face, warm and sticky. Its’ salty taste fills my mouth.

I feel something connect with my ribs, it feels like a shoe. The pain spreads up my side. I hope the bone hasn’t broken. Then a hand grasps the neck of my shirt, and I'm hauled up, and fists pummel my shoulders and stomach. The studs on their gloves open up gashes on my arms, and they go straight though my thin shirt and vest. I'm dropped, hitting the ground with a thump. A foot grinds into my wrist, pushing it into the leaf mould. Then I am swung into the tree and I fade into unconsciousness again.

 

When I eventually awake, all I can register is the pain. Then the shock that I am still alive. Usually, They kill you, I have seen that much from that clearing full of corpses. I sit up, dizzily. I feel like I have lost my grasp on life as I used to know it. Perhaps I have concussion. I hate concussion, it feels like I have lost part of my life, or, in this case, like it has been stolen from me. That’s why They are called the Diamond Thief’s; they steal everything precious to you. Your family, your animals, all your possessions. Anything They think you value and will hate to lose. Apparently, They thought I valued what was in my bag, because it isn’t there. Not that I really cared about anything in it, but it’s nice to be able to call something your own.

I struggle to my feet, and the world tilts sickeningly. I end up on my hands and knees, my eyes closed. I haul myself up, and lean against the tree. I take a few deep breathes. Then I look at my body.

 

I seem to be red. Blood red. The cuts and scrapes ooze blood; I can feel it trickling down my skin. I can’t seem to think straight; a thick fog fills my head. The only thing that punctures it is the pain. It feels like I have been dragged over a bed of nails, shot with thousand arrows.

Somewhere in my confused brain, I work out that I need to stop the bleeding. I rip strips off the bottom of my adult sized shirt, and wipe the blood off me with one of them. Then I wrap the strips around the worst of the cuts, every movement is unbearably painful. Every muscle shrieks in agony even when I only raise my hand. Luckily for me, They left my leg alone. I rub my face, and my left hand screams in pain. I stare numbly at the misshapen last two fingers. They are curled inwards, and rest against the other fingers. The bottom knuckle must have broken. I find a stick and press it across my fingers, so they are braced against it. I get little strips of shirt and tie each finger to the stick. I also tie my middle finger to the stick, to keep it up-right.

 

 I push myself off the tree, and wobble over to a stone to sit on.

 

I sit with my head in my hands, exhausted. In the triangle between my hands, I can see the pine needle coated ground, spotted with blood; my blood. I simply can’t find the strength to go home. The thought of my family, waiting expectantly for the food I should bring home, fills me with dread. Those starved, accusing faces that stare at my hands as if they expect food to magically appear in them.

I glance up at the sky, judging I have about two, maybe three, hours until it’s dark. I think back to the view I saw at the top of the tree. The forest, the village… the yellow hills. I reckon our village is about five miles from here. Plenty time to get home; if I set off now. I sigh; stand up; find a branch to use as a walking stick. I lean on it heavily, the way my old dad does when he tries to walk. Then I head off, stumbling in the general direction of the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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