And So She Walked

               And so she walked. Her legs trembled, clothes barely held in tattered rags off her weak shoulders. Skin and bones, she was like a walking, living corpse that had died of disease and plague, and rose again; a nightmare. Her pale brown hair, once beautiful and full, thick, curling, now a rat’s nest of knots and grime. Her pale eyes searched the skies with no hope as they shrunk into their sockets quietly and shy.

                She held her hands cupped before her as if holding a child, but draped across them was no infant; a grey piece of cloth, soft and threadbare, swaying in the breeze to flap at the end like a bird.

                What she wouldn’t give to have the damned thing be gone from her for all the misfortune it wrought.

                But no.

                She had a purpose. This seemingly innocent thing clutched in spidery, veiny, starved fingers has a purpose.

                And so she continued.

 

                She questions why her legs have not given out beneath her. How long has this journey lasted even? She cannot remember. Only counts the inhales, and how long the sting in her throat lasts each time.

                Her body was a distorted shell of itself; she knew. How had she come so far with nothing but this damn cloth in her damn hands? She did not know. Except, that she did.

                She had a purpose, even the blisters on her feet weeping red declared her worth. The cracks in her fingers did not cry, for fear they would upset the cloth.

                And so she continued.

 

                They laughed when she passed through towns. Some would throw things, trying to force her eyes upon them instead of the faithful sky. She hardly mistepped when the stones, fruits, dirt, well water, or spit dared to touch her bruised flesh. They feared her then, for what kind of person could not feel the wound opened on her temple, just below the hairline? Surely she was crazy. Demented. A freak.

                And so they let her continue, fearing her attention they once craved.

 

                Show me where to go, she begged. Surely, I have almost arrived.

                Her hands were still, even as she shook with rage and confusion. She wept crudely and loud yet it seemed she was alone. The cloth did not sway any longer. The wind gave her privacy in her anguish.

                She did not collapse or throw herself upon stones when she cried out in that ugly voice ripping from her dried tongue.

                She didn’t dare.

                For she had a purpose, as did this cloth she so loathed.

                And so she continued.

 

                It began to rain that night and she relished in the cold wetness of her sky. She did not turn her eyes from the drops, and in return, they did not blind her in their descent. The rain greeted her like an old friend long lost, and she wept again. It begged her to dance within its arms, but oh she was so tired her eyes could hardly remain open even as she walked, half lidded and soaked to the bone.

                The rain cleaned the cloth’s wounds from the harsh road. It washed remnants of fruits and muck away with gentle hands. As the cloth dried, it sent its drops down to revitalize the cracks in her hands, and so she thanked the rain and the cloth.

                And she continued.

 

                Soon, the wind returned to push her along with urgent hands. She wasn’t to be late. She was close. Oh she could taste her freedom of this journey at the end of the road.

                But she saw no town nor farm nor tree nor cave.

                Only desert sand stretching for miles.

                When had she arrived in the desert?

                She’d begun in the midst of a thick city, then through the harsh branches of a thicker forest. The remainder had always been rolling hills and fields and small towns. When had she come to the desert?

                But she had a purpose, and she could feel in her aching bones that it would soon be fulfilled. This cloth would be delivered and soon she would be free to die in peace.

                Or so she thought.

                And so she continued.

 

                In the distance, she saw a great wall of stones opening onto either side of a lit valley. Her heart sang with praise for it knew deep down inside that this was the end.

                But her legs froze.

                She frowned as she looked upon the ragged stone face for she could see an alter carved as a ledge directly before her. Was this the cloth’s destination? After all of the care her bleeding hands, and the rain, and the wind together gave it, the resting place seemed crude and cold.

                Her knees buckled with the hesitation, finally catching up to the journey she should have never survived. The ground rushed to greet her with angry, greedy hands.

                But the cloth!

                She forced her left leg one more step forward to catch her balance, screaming at it to listen to her commands. It whined and complained, but did not dare to play with her rage.

                The other leg came easier, realizing that the girl was insane and could not be reasoned with.

                As she neared the mouth of the valley, she frowned again when she regarded the alter.

                No, the cloth said, not here. Go in.

                And so she continued.

 

                Dusk fell when she entered, sending blackness over the ground as she walked, but she did not despair. Her eyes returned above. Only a sliver of the sky could be seen between the cliffs, but that was more than enough.

                Her foot wept against a stone that bit her. The walls began closing in tighter. Soon, her arms were weeping too as the walls hugged her. The black, sparkling sky was only a hairsbreadth wide, but it was enough.

                And then she stopped.

                And her eyes came to rest before her.

 

                Glowing hands stretched out to receive her tattered cloth. She grimaced when dirt touched their pink skin, but remained silent. She did not look to the owner. She did not move. She hardly dared to even breathe.

                A hand reached to her chin, raising her eyes upon his face. The moment his one finger touched her dirt caked skin, her legs locked with strength she thought she’d used up. Her wounds closed their eyes and silenced their cries.

                Warm lips brushed her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, her cracked lips.

                Don’t kiss me, she whispered on a voice that she couldn’t recognize without the scratch of a dried throat. Don’t touch me, I am filthy.

                It is only dirt, he whispered on a deep voice like honey. It does no harm to me or to your beauty.

                She could not respond as strange, unknown emotion swelled in her throat.

                Come, he took her hand in his. You need rest, and you have earned a good soft bed.

                I was supposed to die, she whispered through her tears. I was not supposed to make it this far. I promised my poor heart it could rest. I was supposed to die.

                Who told you death was the only rest you could have?

                She was silent.

                Come, he urged again and this time, she did not refuse.

                And so she continued.

 

                What does the cloth do for you, she asked finally after they’d walked in the dark night for only moments.

                There was a soft chuckle beside her and she glanced at him, confused.

                It brought you to me. Was his only answer.

                And so she learned her lesson: he would have her at his side, no matter the journey. She had almost died. She had wanted to die.

                How could you trick me, she raged.

                They stopped walking, she faced him and raged further that he still smiled.

                How did I deceive you when I asked you to bring me a cloth? It is not the thing that brought you to me, it was my invitation that you accepted. Why did you make this journey if not for me?
                She could not respond. She knew it was true. He had spoken, she could recognize that voice now. He told her that he had tried and tried to bring her into his arms, but she was so stubborn. He loved her stubbornness, he took joy in her strength. But she needed more and he’d offered so many times.

                Yet when he blessed the cloth and challenged her to follow the sky, then she came with no hesitation. It had felt different being asked as a servant to come rather than invited as if she were a long lost friend. 

                She was in pain suddenly. Her heart hurting with longing. Tears welled again.

                I’m sorry, she yelled, shaking and sobbing. I’m sorry I did not come when you first called. I’m sorry I deceived myself to think you would not want a wretch like me at your side. I understand. I understand. Please, forgive me.

                He opened his arms, but kept his distance, accepting that apology as if it was never required in the first place.

                Now then, if you are upset about the cloth, here is your choice, and I will not hold your answer against your heart. Come, let me embrace you and take you home. Or you can turn back to the cliffs and I will watch with sorrow as the inevitable takes you.

                His eyes sparkled in the moon’s light, but she refused to admit they could be tears.

                Choose now if your journey was worth your suffering. Let me love you and give you life. I will take you from this place and you will survive.

                Or choose to deny me. I cannot help you if you will not allow me to.

                She did not hesitate. She wanted that warmth again. She did not want to be alone. She wanted life.

                She embraced him with her dirt and grime, smudging his pure clothes with brown stains. He rejoiced, kissing her head and laughing aloud, allowing her heart to cry out and wet his clothing. She wept.

                And so she continued, and death did not have her that day.

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