Jewel

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” -Rumi

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1. Jewel

“Checkmate!” Kade proceeds to use his black piece to jump my three remaining red ones. “I win.” One glance at my face says what I’m thinking, and he tips back his head and laughs. “Somebody’s a sore loser.”

 I just roll my eyes. “Am not. I was expecting you to win sometime, I just don’t appreciate the gloating.” I glare at him before continuing. “And…Kade? You do know there isn’t checkmate in checkers, right?”

 He gives me a serious look. “Course I do. It’s just more fun to say.” He laughs again. “It’s not like I ever get to play chess anymore, so where else am I going to get a chance to say it?” He cocks his head, his dark brown hair falling into his eyes.

 “I don’t know. How about someplace it would actually make sense?” I glance at my watch, but the hands aren’t moving. Broken. Again.

 “Hey, Kade? You wouldn’t happen to know what time it is, would you?”

 Kade looks at his watch. “Two-thirty. Why?”

 “I need to head over to the Barn to stock up on food. We’re running low on everything, and unless you want to go hungry tonight, I’d better leave soon.” I stand up, brushing off my jeans.

 “Okay.” He pauses. “Can you take Cozi with you? She could use the fresh air, and you know how she loves going downtown with you.” Kade looks at me with pleading blue eyes. I smile.

 “Sure. And you can come too, you know.” Given the amount of times we leave, it surprises me how he rarely accompanies me and his sister.

 “Yeah, I know. Not this time, though.” He starts putting away the checkers.

 “Suit yourself.” I push my chair under the table before stomping down the stairs to the kitchen. Or at least, what used to be a kitchen. The paint won’t stop peeling, and the stove stopped functioning long ago. The only appliance that actually still works is the toaster oven, and even that’s on the end of its lifespan.

 After that, it’s cold food. Not that I’m not used to that already.

 I sit at the bench next to the door and slip on my sneakers. I grab my one and only hoodie, and then call Cozi.

 She comes skipping around the corner, her dark locks bouncing around her face. She’s wearing her violet jumper again, one she’s long outgrown but won’t give up. Under her arm is her beloved Dolly. She holds out her doll.

 “Yes, she can come to. Now, are you ready for some fun?” Cozi hops up and down and a smile lights up her face. Even though she has no voice, she’s found other ways to express herself.

 “C’mon, we’re going to the Barn.” I strap on her sandals and open the door, then grab her little hand. I use my other one to grasp the bag of jewelry Pearl made before stepping out the door, closing it with a nudge from my hip.

 

*****

 

The trip downtown isn’t a long one, but it’s still hard nonetheless for completely different reasons. The road’s on the side of a cliff, and full of sharp rocks. But that’s essentially the only thing you have to worry about. Hardly anyone drives anymore.

After the Fall, the value of everything went down. It seems almost everything went down after that: safety, everyone’s guard and, especially, their spirits.

The only thing that didn't go down was the prices. Instead they shot up, which was far worse.

As of right now, no one goes shopping at the typical mall or grocery store. Instead, they go to places you can barter. Like the Barn.

The Barn isn’t actually a barn. It’s just a huge wooden church that’s painted red, and though it may look like a holy place on the outside, inside is a far different story.

Once Cozi and I reach the streaky red door, we stop for a moment. Then I push it open at full force.

Inside it’s a war zone. People are everywhere, and by no means do they all look happy. A lot of them probably don’t have any reason left to smile. Cozi and I wander between the stands, and suddenly a feel a sharp tug on my arm. Cozi’s stopped, and in a moment I see why.

There’s a doll vendor, and her table is positively overflowing. Bright pinks, greens, reds and blues. The dolls have heart shaped faces with delicate features, and they’re so lifelike I have to look twice.

Cozi looks at me with doe eyes, and I understand.

“Alright, Cozi.” I approach the vendor, and older woman with the whitest hair I’ve ever seen. She’s sewing a tiny dress.

“How much for a doll?” The woman eyes me suspiciously after I say this.

“What have you got?”

I hold up my bag. “Jewelry. Silver jewelry.”

The woman shakes her head. “I don’t take that. Anything else?”

This time it’s my turn to shake my head.

“Sorry, no doll then.” She goes back to her sewing after giving me a look.

“I’m sorry, Cozi.” I look at her, and for being a six-year old girl who just didn’t get what she wanted, she doesn’t look upset at all. She tugs on my hoodie and pulls me to the next table.

This table is a fruit table. Apples, oranges, peaches and plums. Lots of berries. My mouth waters when I see the watermelon.

“Wh-what do you want for your fruit?” I stutter.

“It’s free.” The old man behind the table smiles as he says this.

“What?” I’m beyond disbelief. Fresh fruit’s hard to come by, and when you can come by it, you don’t just give it away to total strangers for free.

"Only an hour to closing time anyways, and the little girl looks hungry. Take all the fruit you need.” He hands me several burlap sacks.

“Thank you. I mean, no thank you. I mean…are you sure?” I still can’t believe it.

“I’ve got plenty more where that came from, don’t you worry. My name’s Ed, by the way.”

“Jewel. And I can’t thank you enough.”

“My pleasure. Now, you’d best be picking out some fruit now.” He picks up a book and starts to read.

After a moment of hesitation, I fill the first sack with apples. The next one I fill with strawberries, and the one after that with peaches and plums. I don’t want to seem greedy, so I only take three sacks. Sadly, I don’t have room for the watermelon.

Before leaving the table, I reach into my bag and pull out a silver ring. A dark blue gem is set in the middle, melting into a green at the center. I know it’s worth a lot. I want to give Ed something for what he’s done, no matter what he says. It’s not every day someone shows me kindness like this.

Lifting the sacks over my shoulder, I grab Cozi’s hand and try to find Rosella’s table. I spot her signature orange umbrella in the far left corner, and head over.

“Jewel! I was wondering when I’d see you. How was your day?” Rosella’s beaming, her red hair glowing along with her face.

“It was fine, Rose. What about you?” I start to scan her table.

“Fabulous, darling, fabulous. Except it’s been a bit slow since they moved me to this corner. Me, in a corner. Can you imagine?” She hands me a basket of walnuts. “Take these, they’re delicious. Oh, and I saved you something special. You’re going to love this.” She reaches under the table, and comes back up with a bundle. She hands it to me, and I eye it suspiciously. What did she do?

Rose stops me before I get a chance to open it. “Wait till you get home. Promise me.”

She stares at me hard.

“I promise.”

‘I don’t think I believe you.” Then she turns to Cozi. “You won’t let her open it, will you?”

Cozi shakes her head.

“Good. Now, you’d better get out of here.” Rose waves me off. “Enjoy the gift!”

“But…” I stop myself. Once Rose had her mind set, there was no changing it.

“I guess we’d better go, Cozi.” I grab her hand and head toward the exit, but I’m stopped before I can reach it. “What is it now, Cozi?”

Cozi points to the table we got the fruit from, Ed’s table. It’s hard to tell because I’m on  the other side of the Barn, but it looks like Ed’s lying on the ground. And…writhing?

Cozi takes off towards him, and I have no choice but to follow. When we reach him, it doesn’t look good. Ed’s definitely having a seizure of some sort, his limbs are splayed out around him and he’s jerking back and forth. His eyes are rolled back in his head, and blood is trickling from his mouth.

Not a good sign.

There’s a woman sitting next to him. Tears are streaking down her face, and when she looks up, I see pain in her eyes.

“Please. Can you help him?” She looks so helpless where she is, and it breaks my heart.

I sit down next to her. “What happened?”

She sniffs. “It just came out of nowhere. I was bringing him some tea like he asked, and right after I gave it to him he collapsed. Then the rest started.” She gestures to Ed’s body and bursts into tears again. “I’m his daughter, and he’s all I’ve got left.”

That hits hard. I know what it’s like to be in her situation, to see the last remaining member of your family…fading away.

“I don’t know how I can help. I’m not a doctor.” I shrug my shoulders.

“There are no doctors.” Ed’s daughter sobs.

I feel terrible for her, but even worse is that I know exactly how I can help. I just can’t.

Cozi looks at me, and I have no idea how she knows, but she does.

I can’t let Ed die.

I grip his daughter’s shoulders, and I’m about to say I can help, but then the unspeakable happens.

Ed stops moving.

No.

I’ve never heard someone wail like that before, and I never want to hear it again. I grab Cozi and run out of the Barn, not caring if I drop any food.

Because I know.

I could have stopped this.

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