She opened her eyes and purple twilight rushed in. She sputtered, sitting up on her elbows. What happened? Her head felt heavy, just like when they put more of those hurtful needles into her arms…
By habit she looked down at her arms, now clean. Yes. She had thrown away the rubbery tubes.
And what else?
Memories bubbled up her mind. She had run, crossed the arch and couldn’t hear her anymore.
Where was she now?
At the bottom of the waterfall. Sharp rocks bathed in rushing water, and clouds of foam rising up into the darkening sky. All around her the trees waited, straight and crimson, covered in the same red growths. It smelled damp.
Her clothes adhered to her body, or well, what remained of them, as ripped as they were.
She was out, which was what mattered.
This part of the forest was different. She stood up and sloshed out of the riverbed, sitting one of the still-warm rocks.
Sadja breathed hard.
“Sadja,” she said in her own voice, listening with her own ears. “My name is Sadja. I have escaped.”
Her voice sounded a bit like the shrill tinkling of waterfall on nearby stones. Argentine and full of energy. She looked at her wet tail and began to wring it, taking out most of the water.
She was out.
And she was free.
Sadja let out a long breath. It seemed to carry away the last ghosts of her long sorrow. A smile dawned on her lips even as the day furthered its death.
She was free.
And getting cold.
She walked away from the rock and further downriver. The forest seemed to wait for her. Since her awakening she had heard not a chirp nor a creak, nor a growl or a call. It was entirely, eerily silent, as if waiting for her.
“Hello?” She called. No answer. A few steps in, freezing in her drenched clothes, she stopped a moment to take her robe off. Would it be better to throw it all away? But who knew if she would find something else to wear here on the mysterious outside. Surely people could not be bad? Surely she would meet someone who was not in league with… with that person.
It surely was so! The world was a big place, and she was just about to explore it!
She squeezed as much water as she could out of her old clothes and kept walking downstream. It felt… weird to be naked.
She was usually so when they cleaned her. Memories of people in white masks and clothing with long rubbery gloves passing all over her body pierced her mind. They had been both careful and efficient, making sure she was as clean as she could.
The moments when she could then lay down in bed under the warm, heavy blankets were the very few ones that she could remember as truly peaceful.
Here there was nobody to look at her. To tell her to raise one arm so they could pass the sponge in her armpit or to stop waggling her tail.
In fact, she thought taking a look at it, she could waggle it as much as she wanted!
Take that! She waggled it left and right, feeling how evening’s cool air passed through her hair, how the muscles at the base of her back shifted to move it. It was her body and she would do with it what she wanted!
A whiff of wind rose and she shivered.
Maybe finding somewhere warm would be a good starting point…
She let the river behind. Something in the forest seemed to call her – maybe it was the many scents now attracting her attention. That sweet sweet smell that she remembered from before now ever stronger, but some others kept coming up.
They made her think of the meals they served her, in her off-white concrete cubicle, always on the metal tray. Pears and salad and sometimes a strip of salted meat. They told her they were giving her the best they could, and she should be grateful for it.
They were the same people who would then proceed to fit her full of needles and suck her blood dry, so she tended not to believe that.
That had been, in fact, the first step. Stop believing their lies.
Some just took more time than others.
Her nose guided her from tree to tree – they were pines (she had heard the name), shooting up at the sky and apart from resin (which was yucky) there was little she could eat. Out of curiosity, she tried to take a bite out of the crunchy brown fruits that peeked between their needle-like leaves.
They smelled good. But tasted horrible, like burnt wood!
She spat the half-eaten crumbles.
“I don’t like pines that much anymore…” she commented, trying to follow a good scent that could bring her to food. She knew where to take water, so she might as well focus on looking for something to eat. Her stomach was starting to feel a bit empty. After all she ran for a long time.
Beneath the overwhelming presence of peaches’ muck, something else appeared. A little zestier, like the oranges they gave her from time to time.
She followed the trace as it became stronger and stronger. Behind a few more rows of pines the terrain curled in terraces, covered by bushes, and what looked like large vegetables, their leaves fanning out as large as her torso.
“Whooo…” she whistled, her eyes widening in surprise. She licked her lips. Who thought there could be such a place right into the forest! Further down left there was a boxy shape that was a little harder to make out now that light was almost completely gone. She had never been outside after sundown, so she didn’t really know what to expect, but for the time being it seemed as if colors muted to shades of white, grey and black. But she could still make out shapes and movements, so everything was pretty much alright.
The source of the zesty smell was a low tree, its bark silver and its leaves a dark grey. They had a strange heart-like shape and amidst them were a lot of tiny, oval-shaped orane fruits.
She was not alone though: two large, brown animals were busy nipping at the leaves. They were almost as tall as her, and though they did not look dangerous, they had long and pointy antlers. Curiously enough, both of them had large flowers similar to roses sprouting from their horns. Now that she was closer, she could make it out among all the other smells and it was pleasantly sweet.
“Hi,” she greeted them, giving them a small curtsey and lowering her ears flat upon her head, like a good… well, like a proper human being. “Can I?”
The animals pierced her with their brown gazes for a long while, to the point she began to squirm. The fruits seemed delicious. And at that point even the crunchy wooden fruits of the pines stopped looking so bad.
The two beasts turned back to their meal.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” She reached the tree. “Thanks for the meal!”
They tasted much better than their smell – zesty but then suddenly really really sweet. A bit like a mixture between lemons and oranges, really strange but really good. The peel especially good, the best part.
The animals did not seem fazed at all by her presence, to the point she sat against the tree, putting her tail over her lap as a makeshift plate and ate as many fruits as she could.
This was so much better than staying cloyed up in that horrible building. If every day was like this, she really taken the best decision in her life.
Sure, it was a bit strange eating with these two beasts nearby. They did not seem to like speaking their mind, but maybe they were just a little shy.
And eating with such peace, no intrusive voice speaking into her mind, making images flash between her eyes… it was so relaxing. All she had to focus on was to fill her belly.
Some images still managed to crawl in – a brief flash of… doing something like this. With someone else? Not the masked blonde woman, a girl of her age.
She could not remember her face.
For some reason, the image in her head gave her stark red hair.
She could not even make out her eyes, even as the girl in the memory was looking right at her.
Sadja shrugged. It likely wasn’t even important.
Once she ate a few dozen of those delicious fruits, more or less clearing the entire lower half of the tree, drowsiness come back.
It had been such a long day, she deserved a bit of sleep.
“Thanks for the company…” she said the two horned animals. How did they call them? With those flowers growing out of their antlers, they must not be the most common ones, otherwise she’d have found all sort of petals scattered about. Maybe something like rose-horns? Like liked it. Rose-horns.
As her lids became heavier and heavier, Sadja rested her arms on her chest, gettin ready to sleep, letting her full belly think for her. Tomorrow she’d look for more food. And she’d better put something away. She knew about seasons and something called the Queen’s Breath, or the Tide, though they had never explained the details. But she had made it out so far on her own.
Sure, things were looking up.
Just like that pair of bright eyes.
Looking up at her.
“Yowl?” Sadja jumped back against the tree, scraping her back. The two rose-horns stepped back, unfazed as ever.
Even as a small creature, covered from head to toe in what looked like black fur, aiming its stone-tipped spear at her throat. It had crude leather clothes covering most of her body, giving it a savage look. Its huge eyes shifted from her to the tree and with one of its four arms it pointed at it.
Maybe this would not be as easy as she hoped.
Pic by CoinblinAuthor’s Note: This marks the completion to the first week of my 100-days challenge (writing and publishing at least 1000 words of fiction per day). Strangely enough I thought I’d have a harder time writing Sadja, but she’s just so amazing once you get into her headspace this chapter was finished in a jiffy. Also it looks like she’s in a bit of a pickle. Please keep reading to find out what happens to our favorite post-apocalyptic wolfgirl.
To all those who left a like, followed or even just read: thank you. I’ll strive my best to keep being worth your time.