Part 2 of my entry in the 1000 days of freewrites contest (with @zeldacroft)

in Freewriters2 years ago

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The story below is a long (trust me), long freewrite based on the picture @zeldacroft drew. I wish I'd had more time to edit and develop the story more, but she's been sick so it came down to the wire. Still, I hope you enjoy it. I had fun writing it!

The Prompt:
Ten Years of Darkness and the following image
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We’d walked until our feet bled that day. Only then, when the thin soles, stained red, finally gave way did Ferris let us stop. I dropped to the ground next to Niam in a small grassy clearing on the edge of the trail. I remember how the brown grass crunched under me when I wiggled out of my pack to lie flat on the ground. I couldn’t imagine the sharp, crunchy blades ever being green, or soft enough to run across it barefoot, but Ferris insisted it was true. Ten years of darkness, all ten years of my life, taught me otherwise. The sky was always gray, only growing darker or lighter over the course of the day. The plants were hard and dry, most of them brown but a few, black. Ferris talked about how it used to be, so many colors in the world. Now the color was gone, except for red. People still bled red. Ferris said it started the day we were born.

Niam yelped. He’d tried to take off his shoes. I motioned for him to stop. Tears filled his eyes, and I knew he couldn’t manage the pain. Inside my pack, I found the willow bark. I handed it to him and told him to chew on it. He nodded and did as he was told.

The gray sky still shone bright, it was only half past morning. We started that day before dawn, using the dimness to pass through the Tenter’s land unseen.

“Is there a stream on your map, Ferris?” I asked.

He stopped his nervous pacing long enough to glance in my direction, “I don’t know. Probably.”

“Can you check? We need to clean our feet.”

“We don’t have time for that Nyla. Don’t you understand? We have to get there today. If we don’t find it, then this never ends.”

“We aren’t going anywhere if we can’t walk.”

Niam whimpered, rocking himself back and forth.

“I can carry him,” Ferris said and stepped toward Niam.

“You can carry him to a stream, or I won’t move from this spot.”

“But both of you have to be there. It won’t end unless you’re both there!”

“Then take us to a stream. Let me clean and treat our feet, then you can carry him and I’ll walk wherever you want me to.”

Ferris hesitated, but he knew how stubborn I could be. And how protective I was of Niam. No one understood him like I did.

“Fine,” he said, pulling the map from his pocket. “There’s a small stream just off the path a short way ahead.” He picked Niam up easily, placing him on his back. “Hold on tight to my shoulders. Ok?”

Niam, eyes shut tight, still leaked tears.

“He’ll be ok,” I said when I saw him grip Ferris’ shoulders. I grabbed my pack and slowly got to my feet. Ferris was already ahead on the trail, so he didn’t see me stumble when the grass stabbed the open wounds. After a few steps, I found spots on the sides of my feet that hurt less than the rest. I still lagged behind, but I never lost sight of them.

I heard it before I saw Ferris step off the path toward the stream. It gurgled and sputtered and I imagined relief in the cool waters. I’d caught up to them by the time they’d reached the edge of the stream. There was a wide, sandy spot at the edge of the water. Even though the water moved fast, the stream was not much wider than Ferris was tall and didn’t come higher than my knees.

Ferris put Niam down on the sand, “Be quick.”

I pulled him the rest of the way so his feet were in the water. Even though we were the same age, he’d always been small. When the chilly water numbed my throbbing feet, I slogged off the remains of my left shoe. The water had done its job, washing away the dirt and blood that had stuck the leather to my feet. Tossing the shoe back towards my pack on the bank, I saw Ferris pacing on the sand. I wished then, that I understood him as well as I did Niam. My brothers were so different. Though Niam never spoke, he shared everything with me. Perhaps being born together created that bond, one I could never find with Ferris. All I knew he was trying to fix something, something he thought we’d broken. He never said what it was. But it always seemed to me he was broken and not the world.

My other shoe slid off with no effort. When I tried to clean my wounds, I couldn’t find any. Next to me, Niam smiled, playing with the water. I hurried to look at his feet. I saw no sign of wounds through the holes in the wet leather. I still took them off gingerly, but his feet were completely healed, just like mine. I ran to my pack, grabbed my water sac and began filling it. No herb or remedy I’d learned about ever healed this fast. The water was… magical.

“Did you know?” I said to Ferris. “Did you know the stream here had healing waters? Why didn’t you bring us here right away?”

“I didn’t know. The map says nothing about it.” He studied the map again, as if looking at it harder would show hidden information.

“Mark it now. I’ll have to come back with a larger sac, no a barrel! Imagine how many people this can help,” I said, finally having found a reason to be glad he’d dragged me on the journey.

A splash caused me to turn back to the stream. Niam was halfway across and had slipped on a rock.

“Niam!” I started to yell, but Ferris grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth with his hand.

“Shhh,” he said, taking one hand off me to point across the stream. On the far bank sat a brown fox, watching Niam. My instinct was to run and save him, but I held still as Niam took his tiny steps. It wasn’t Ferris’ trembling arms that held me still, though. It was the fox. Something about the way it watched Niam felt so kind, patient, welcoming. Expecting. I felt
I knew it the way I knew Niam.

Once he made it across, Niam knelt in front of the fox. They talked. That’s the only way I can explain it. Neither Ferris nor I could hear anything but the occasional whimper, whine or snort. Suddenly the fox stood, lowered his head and raised its tail into the air. Niam copied, a sheer sense of joy emanating from his body. The fox leapt forward, brushing against Niam’s shoulders, then bounded into the forest. Niam followed without even a look back.

Ferris released me then, and I rushed after them. The short path from the river ended in a wood. The pine needles created a carpet, only broken by shrubs where the canopy let enough light in. I hurried after the pair as they darted back and forth, tackling one another then running ahead only to be caught again. I knew Niam was nimble, and prone to bursts of energy, but I had never seen him act the way he did now. I almost guessed the truth then. Their play led to a clearing, surrounded by shrubs and a tall tree at one end where the land dropped away, revealing the mountains farther north. I found them sitting at the base of the tree, breathing hard. Niam looked at me, his face peaceful, content. I’d never seen him so at peace. As I approached, the fox blinked then lay down across Niam who wrapped himself around the fox.

Ferris stumbled out of the woods. The fox lifted his head to watch him as he neared. Ferris kept his distance, but he dropped to his knees and hung his head.

“I’m sorry,” I heard him say.

The fox whimpered and lowered his head back onto Niam. I understood then. Ferris was the one who broke the world, before we were born. But we shared his burden, and we were all needed to fix it. Ferris knew the truth of what had happened, and understood the magic and mystery of how to set things right. My twin, always kind and gentle, had the spirit of the fox; in some way had always been the fox. I’d been born a healer and was chosen to study remedies earlier than anyone before. There was no potion or salve that could heal this pain, though. For the world to be made whole, I needed to let my brother go, let his spirit return to its proper place. I knelt next to them, both resting with their eyes closed, drifting off to sleep. I wrapped my arms around them, imagined all my love for Niam flowing through me to them, knowing they were one in the same and always had been. Warmth spread into my body, and something shifted between my arms. I closed my eyes as a light, brighter than any I’d ever seen, radiated outwards from us.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself hugging a white fox. Its eyes sparkled with familiarity, its body emitting a faint glow of pure white light. It nuzzled my neck, then pulled away to sit under the tree. Around me the world transformed, it burst full of colors I’d only known through Ferris’ tales. The grass under me was green and soft. The flowers on the shrubs were shades of purple and blue. The clouds rolled away, revealing a deep blue sky. Yellow birds darted from branch to branch, and a swarm of orange and white butterflies flew out of the shrubs across the valley. Behind me, I heard Ferris weep. I embraced him as the tears swept away his pain and shame.

The fox came to him then and pushed its head between us.

“Thank you,” Ferris said. The fox bumped him with his nose, then nuzzled my face. It pulled away and headed for the edge of the clearing. It looked back at us, then dove into the shrubbery. Ferris and I made our way home, every once in a while spotting a glow in the forest and fields around us.

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Beautiful, excellent entry. 💕

I like happy endings :)
It's a nice story, @ntowl.

And I recalled @zeldacroft's image when the fox turned white.