Friday, June 1, 2012
I grab the rock just above my head and hoist myself up. My muscles shake and my foot slips on some loose dirt before it finds purchase inside a crevasse. I take a moment, though I'm not sure why. I can barely breathe, and I can't swallow. Fear has sucked the moisture away. I look up, hoping to see the top in sight. But I don't.
Last month, I never would have dreamed of scaling Mt. Vestra. But last month, I still had my brother.
Today, I have a leather bag swinging at my waist. I have blisters bleeding through the gauze on my palms. I have mud clumping my hair and sulfur stinging my nose.
And I have the warning that Susanna gave me when I went to her hut pleading for help.
“Hadara, the past does not want to be retrieved.”
“But mistakes long to be corrected.”
“What you are asking is dangerous. I won't be held responsible.”
“I promise you, we will disappear into the forest. The village will never see us again.”
For every inch I climb, I think of every person that is lost.
I held Madame Joubert's hand when little Bastien disappeared. I cried beside her when he was found. I read scripture at his burial.
And I'd done the same for Madame Lefevre, Madame Thomas, and Madame Perault.
My brother, Dashiell, wrote songs for the lost children, and while he sang, he cried real tears. He didn't remember the terrible things done by the wolf inside him.
I was the one who told the Council about him. I'd woken one night and discovered him gone. I watched out my window, and when the wolf returned some hours later, I saw him transform beneath the full moon, the blood from another victim disappearing along with his fur.
The Council promised they would free my brother from the curse. It turned out they had a perverted definition of freedom.
I see the top of the volcano now, maybe 200 feet away. The heat sears my eyes. My fingers are slick with blood. I cling to the rock wall, unsure if I should stop for a moment or keep moving. I'm dizzy from the height and the fumes and the weight of survival.
I was dizzy the day they burned Dashiell at the stake. Everything piled up on me then too: the smoke, his silence, my wicked eyes refusing to release my tears. I may not have had a wolf inside me, but there was still evil in my soul. I had to make amends for betraying my brother to his murderers.
I'm not sure if I can make it to the top. Part of me wants to just let go, but the other part knows I need to feel this pain.
Once Dashiell's secret was revealed, he spent three days locked in a room in the church. Our village didn't have a prison, and the Council figured God's word was enough to keep us all safe. That, and the four men with broadswords stationed outside his door.
I brought him dinner every night but he refused to eat. His conscience kept him full of regret, so there was no room for bread. He took a sharp piece of straw from his mattress and scratched the number of deaths the wolf was responsible for into his arm. He did this over and over, never allowing the wounds to heal.
I cleansed his arm the night before he was burned. “Mother would have stopped you.”
“But you haven't.”
“No.” When Mother succumbed to the sickness two winters ago, Dashiell and I promised her we'd look out for one another. I tried so hard.
Dashiell took my hand. “I see the guilt in your eyes. It is not your fault.”
“I should have done something.” Though I didn't know if I was talking about the wolf or the cuts.
“You did. The only blood I have on my hands now is my own.”
That was the last time I saw him before the burning. He died with a clear conscience. It was time I cleared mine.
I keep climbing. I cough and gasp, but once I reach the top, I will be rewarded a thousand fold.
Susanna was not easily convinced of my plan. “Unnatural spells have ways of going wrong.”
“My brother is dead. I have failed him and my mother. There is only one way to make up for that.”
“Death changes a creature. You don't know what you will get back. And with the wolf inside of him –”
“We both made a promise. Death doesn't change that. Not for me. And not for him.” My voice trembled with desperation. “Please. I will make this right.”
I swing my legs up and over the ledge. A plume of smoke rises from the center of the crater, hot enough to sting my skin, even from fifty feet away. I open the leather pouch at my waist and retrieve its contents: a bundle of flowers from my brother's grave, a powder made from the items on Susanna's shelves, and two stones that when beat together will start a fire.
I swirl the flowers in the powder. Susanna gave me a chant, and I mutter it under my breath, making certain my intentions are pure.
I light the bouquet on fire, mesmerized by the power radiating up my arms and through my body.
I walk into the wall of smoke and heat. It singes the hair on my arms as I drop the burning flowers into the crater. And when I am finished, I return to the edge to wait for my brother to rise from the ashes.
Photo by: Amy Haslehurst http://brokensundowns.carbonmade.com