Part VII

An End

Photo: Svetlana Nesterova

I must have slept eventually though, because then I awoke. There was a strange stillness in the air. There was no wind, and even the fire was silent. It took only a moment to confirm I was alone in the house. My heart started to pound in my chest, and my injuries throbbed. I struggled out of bed, stepped into my boots and drew the feathered cloak around me, then stepped out into the night.

The lane was deserted, and I could see the cheerful lights of the feast hall down the way. The sky was clouded, the moon only breaking through from time to time.

“Children!” I called, but my voice was hoarse.

Light and laughter erupted from the feast hall as the door was opened, someone staggered out and was sick, and then returned inside.

All was still. Slowly I started to notice them creeping out from the shadows, the little purple children. Suddenly the wind tore down on the village, and I heard the roar of all the spirit animals. I should not be out in this, I knew. My mother had taught me as much. But neither should my children be out on this night.

The wind died down and all was quiet as before, but for only a moment. Then I heard the thunder of a great stampede. Coming from the treeline, a young woman with dark hair in a white feathered cloak ran. Her hair streamed behind her. She looked back, once, twice, staggered, steadied herself, and continued on. On her heels were every monster and creature of nightmare. She was gasping, crying out wordlessly, running, running. She crossed the meadow, and her pace slowed as she rose, climbing as if there was a great hill, while beneath her feet was only air. She climbed and climbed, and the creatures gained on her. Soon she was overhead, and soon the sky was darkened with the figures swirling after her.

“Run…run…,” I whispered, trying not to lose sight of her, willing her to make it, to escape her pursuers.

She ran, ever upward, ever toward the horizon.

I heard a panting beside me. I recognized the form of my son, the cloak his sister had made, but his face had transformed and was hideous, like a boar’s head with it’s face half flayed, tusks protruding obscenely. I took a step back from him, repulsed.

He squealed and moved toward me, menacing.

“Come… come back inside. Come back in the house,” I said, my voice trembling.

I heard a snap like a whip, and my son turned off and ran toward the meadow and the streaming masses of creatures. At the end of the long lead, holding the yarn in a light grip, my girl strode forward, her red cloak drawn up tight against the cold, hood raised. Her wolf’s face stared back at me. “Go back inside, Mother. It isn’t safe for you here,” she said, her voice soft and familiar, but with a rising wind behind it.

“Will she make it?” I asked, then tore my eyes from her to look back up at the sky. The animals were swirling there, and I could just barely make out the faint white of her cloak. “The Great Queen. Will she escape?”

“She leads them to their resting place until their time comes again. You must go inside. Don’t look out again until morning.” She started to walk past me.

“Why did she take you?” I asked. “Why did she take you from me?”

My girl paused in her stride, but did not look at me. “We were always hers, you know.” The wind whipped around us and my eyes watered, and in the blur, she looked back at me like my own reflection in water.

“And your brother?”

“I’ll look after him,” she said, and sprinted away.

The little purple children were running past now, with whips and bells, whooping and whistling, circling behind the monsters, urging them all up and up, and up, and the children went after them. The sound of them became faint, and then I was blown back against the door of the house as the flood of creatures tore down the lane again. I was screaming and couldn’t hear my own voice. The door blew open and I fell back into the house, then struggled to my knees and pushed it, inch by inch, closed again. I leaned back against the door and listened to the great cacophony, and felt utterly spent.

Part IX