Last story for 2015! A friend of mine suggested I try a different genre and I picked „Romance“. As you will see, the story ended up taking its own turn again.
The wind howling around the house did nothing to cover Susie’s cries. Clouse had dragged her downstairs but she was putting up quite a fight for such a small girl.
Aria stood by the fire and stirred the soup. Clockwise, clockwise. Counter-clock, counter-clock. Clockwise. It was only for Susie’s own good.
The door fell shut downstairs and finally drowned out their daughter’s screams. Clouse’s footsteps were heavy on the stairs.
„It’s worse this time,“ he said, wiping his forehead. „We should have kept her inside sooner.“
Counter-clock, counter-clock. Clockwise. Aria nodded.
„It hurts me, too,“ Clouse said. „I hate that they make me do this.“
„I know,“ Aria said. She did know. She knew that Susie was only safe down there where she couldn’t hear the call. She knew that Susie wasn’t herself this time of the year. She knew it was necessary. But her heart broke every time, nonetheless.
She poured Clouse a bowl of hot soup as he sagged into the chair. Susie was getting stronger and stronger every year as Clouse got older and older. Aria kissed the top of his head as she placed the soup in front of him.
„What would I do without you?“ he asked after the first spoonful. Playful, lightening the mood.
„Eat uncooked leaves and berries, probably.“ Her smile was genuine and yet more for his benefit than hers.
„That’s for damn sure.“ He asked for another bowl shortly after. „You can’t bring her anything, yet,“ he said when she poured soup into a second bowl. „She’s still too wild.“
„Do you think she may have… been exposed?“ Aria asked. Clouse grunted.
„Don’t know. Schuster’s girl definitely has, what with the way she took off on him earlier. Punched him square in the nose that girl. He’d be proud if it weren’t so tragic.
„He’ll heal.“ At least his nose would. His pride… his heart might not.
Clouse yawned. Finally.
„Why don’t you head to bed?“ Aria offered. „It was a rough day.“ The village had lost three girls to the woods today. That was more than they usually lost in a year.
Clouse grunted and yawned again.
„I’ll be right along,“ Aria said. „I’ll just finish the dishes.“ She busied herself with the pots and bowl until she heard his first snore. It sounded through the house like an alarm.
She grabbed her coat from the rack. She’d leave the candle on the dinner table burning. Just in case. Then, before she could change her mind, she opened the front door and slipped out.
Braeden leaned against her neighbor’s house. As soon as he spotted her, he peeled off the wall. She fell into his embrace.
„I’m so glad you came,“ he whispered, his voice a deep whisper. It reminded her of the wind whistling through forest leaves. „I was afraid you wouldn’t.“
„Never,“ she said. She looked up into his face. His green eyes, always so captivating, shone in the moonlight. She kissed him. He tasted like summer rain.
Aria had known from the first moment she’d met him that this was inevitable. When she was younger, she’d never understood why the girls lost their minds. She’d always thought the forest song had driven them crazy.
„Are you sure?“ He asked. „I want you to be sure of this.“
„I’m sure,“ she whispered. „I’ve never been surer of anything in her life.“ His smile went right to her heart.
Aria loved Clouse. They had been destined to be together, get married, have children and live in that house of theirs. It was comfortable, knowing her life was so secure and she’d gotten one of the good ones. She loved him for everything he had ever given her, especially Susie.
Then she’d met Braeden. He’d sought her out by the lake months ago, just like his kind sought out young girls every year. She’d expected him to try and hex her with a song, like they always said the forest did. But all he’d done was ask questions. She was far too old for the forest to be singing to her, anyway. She’d felt safe answering and asking her own. He’d answered every single one of them. With every answer came a new question. With every question came a smile.
She hadn’t known that was his way of singing.
Aria didn’t want to leave Clouse. She would miss his heavy footsteps on the stairs. She would miss Susie’s laughter. She would miss their dinners and his thundering snore. But Clouse had never asked any of the questions Braeden had. He’d never answered her questions the way Braeden had. And he’d never been able to offer more than ‚comfortable‘.
She’d thought she’d be frantic and crazy, like the other girls. And even though she didn’t feel like running or screaming, or punching anyone’s face, she knew that this was what the forest song did. It made her want more than ‚comfortable.
„I’m sure,“ Aria said again for good measure. Holding Braeden’s hand, she went slowly, quietly into the woods.
Original image by JackPeasePhotography on Flickr.
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