It’s time to share a short story! This is one I wrote a few months ago, just for fun.
Nothing, not even my mother’s warning, could have prepared me for what I saw when I stepped outside the door.
It wasn’t their weary bodies, with the ragged clothes that hung on their backs, or them huddling together for warmth. What caught my attention were the thin faces, hungry and longing, staring at me.
Gripping my satin skirt until my knuckles turned white, I tried to swallow around the lump in my throat as I gazed out across the crowd. Cold fingers wrapped around my heart and I tried to cut off the strangled cry that came from my lips.
I’d never pictured it happening this way.
Their eyes, sunken and pale, stared back at me, unwavering. This is what you’re here for, Aislyn. You’re what they need now. Mother’s words reverberated inside my brain, taunting me.
The faces blurred together and the world slanted like I was falling. I stretched out my hand and grabbed the wooden, splintered deck post for balance. This was not what I was here for. Not now. It wasn’t supposed to happen yet.
Once again, Mother’s voice invaded my thoughts. Your time is now! We’ve always known it was coming.
Jerking upright, I told myself, Stop hiding, Aislyn. You know it won’t work.
I forced myself to look back at the people, who were watching me, waiting for my decision. Would I heal them all? But how could I? My chest was so tight I could scarcely breathe, and I squeezed my eyes shut.
This was my time, and I knew it. But I’d always thought it wouldn’t come for years. Yet, here they were. The children of the kingdom, who needed healing. Healing that had been assigned—delegated—to me.
Taking a shaky breath, I released my clamped hand from the post and slowly stepped down the rickety stairs of the porch. My heavy skirts swished around my ankles as I went.
Every step, every movement I took was painful. Memories haunted my brain, clouding my thoughts like a rainy day. Little Kaley playing dolls with me, my brother Everett teaching me to ride horseback. I almost choked, but I kept the tears at bay. They needed me now, and it was my duty.
The people seemed to be holding their breath as I neared. They knew of the sacrifice I was about to make.
When I stepped in front of them, I paused and tried to steady my breathing. Kaley and Everett… they’d be alright now. This was the best way to protect them from the Tormentor. This was all I could do.
I looked out into the faces of the people, my expression deadpan. My eyes caught Everett’s, who was standing with them. Only now did I realize how he’d transformed.
Once, he had been full of life. But I saw the aged look in his worn eyes and the tired way he hunched over. He was only two years my senior, but today he appeared a century older. The Tormentor had lived up to his name yet again.
The crowd of people parted down the middle as I walked towards my brother, nobody daring to touch me. When I reached Everett, he looked at me, his face a picture of guilt.
“Aislyn, I’m sorry,” he murmured, his voice husky. His face was drawn in tight lines. I studied him for a few moments, a dull ache throbbing in my chest.
I shook my head almost imperceptibly. “It’s nobody’s fault.”
Except the Tormentor’s. But this was my way of fighting for the kingdom, just like the Messenger years ago had said. The Messenger had known my responsibility, and so did I.
“I will see you in the kingdom one day, Everett.”
Gently, I reached out to touch his arm. He jerked back before I made contact, and I knew he didn’t want me to do this for him. “You must let me,” I spoke through fiercely gritted teeth.
Ever since we were children, our stubbornness had equaled the other’s. This time, however, I was determined to overrule the argument, as much as I dreaded the results.
Tears shimmered in his usually striking green eyes, now dull from the Tormentor’s abuse. Before I could change my mind—talk myself out of it—I wrapped my arms around his neck. His muscles tensed to iron underneath me, then slowly relaxed.
It was the first time in nine years I had ever touched another human being, and up till now, I hadn’t remembered what it was like.
Gripping him tighter, I felt his strong arms encircle me as he returned the hug. I didn’t want to ever let him go.
But then the pain speared through my side. The pain I’d known would come eventually.
Crying out, I released Everett and doubled over, clutching my stomach with loud gasps. Compared to this, falling off that wretched horse and getting the wind sucked out of me last year seemed almost comical.
The pain lessened for a bit, and I straightened up, casting an uncertain look at Everett. Then my agony was momentarily forgotten, because now my brother was completely changed. He was proud and tall, dressed in fine clothes and flames blazing in his emerald eyes.
He looked down at himself in disbelief. Then he caught sight of me, rapidly withering away. Already, I knew the life had drained out of my cheeks, along with any colour.
Another spasm attacked and my knees buckled under me. I crumpled to the ground, hating every moment of this terrifying ordeal. Everett knelt down beside me, the tears now coursing down his bright cheeks. His display of emotion caused my heart to clench. How I would miss him when I was in the kingdom. He’d always been the braver one, able to adapt to the sudden changes that were thrown his way.
My task was nearly finished, though, and I had no time to waste.
“Please,” I whispered to the crowd. Only the few people close to me could hear my faint words. “Please come for healing.”
Shouts of rejoicing went up from some in the crowd, while others looked hesitant. But when the first ones came up to grasp my hand or touch my hair, the transformation in them persuaded even the most reluctant. They didn’t want to hurt me anymore than I wanted it, and yet it was what the King desired. I knew that now. Mother had been preparing me ever since the day the King’s Messenger came nine years ago. At seven, I had barely understood the meaning of his words, or why he’d laid his hand on my hair and whispered a prayer to the King. All I’d known was that nobody dared touch me afterwards and that I was destined for something great in the kingdom.
The pain intensified as I lay there, letting them come to me. I inwardly repeated the words to myself, This is what you’re here for, Aislyn. You’re what they need now.
I reminded myself of the kingdom, the beautiful land of legends. I would go there now. It was my turn.
The last of the people approached, and a chorus of thank-you’s rose up from the crowd. With happy faces, beautiful clothing, and well-fed bodies, they looked like completely different people than the ones before.
Despite my pain and fear, warmth flooded inside my body. The thought shocked me. How could I be happy if I knew I was dying? But I was happy. More than happy. I was at peace. Even though every breath I took felt like a spear in the chest, whatever had been weighing me down for years was gone. Maybe it was my fear that had been such a burden. Yet now it was no longer present—whether it was because I’d played a part in healing the people, or the knowledge that I was going to finally see the King.
My heart fluttered as I realized the full meaning of those words. The sacrifice… it had been worth it.
The noise of the people was beginning to fade away. I could hear another voice now, a stronger yet softer one, saying, “Aislyn, welcome to the kingdom.”
I could still see Everett kneeling beside me, weeping. I brushed his face one last time, my final touch, and then Everett and the crowd blurred, replaced with a thick forest blanketed in powdery snow. Huge flakes fluttered down peacefully, some settling on my nose and lashes.
A smile lit up my features and joy burst inside my chest, the pain I’d felt seconds ago vanishing.
Standing before me was the King, a crown inlaid with diamonds on his head and a kind, gentle face. His shoulders were broad and sturdy, cloaked in a gold-coloured robe. His dark hair had a layer of light snowflakes, and his teeth were showing through his beaming smile.
But his eyes… tender blue crystals gazing at me with an intense love I’d never experienced. The love I’d felt with my Mother, Kaley and Everett… that love was magnified thousands of times over.
I couldn’t help myself. With a burst of laughter, I ran through the light snow and embraced him, relishing the touch that brought me no pain at all. The touch that healed me.