Patina – Chapter 18

In truth, Sadja did not really know what to think. As far as she could remember, her world had been one of off-white walls, iron bars, blinding lights and needles. Now that it seemed this moth-people family did not want to have anything to do with what ran through her veins, it came a surprising improvement. Other aspects were a tad harder, such as no matter how hard she tried they did not allow her to sit at the table with them. She had her spot next to the fireplace and while it was warmer than most, she had doubts these people thought of her mostly as a dog. 

Sure, she had tails and ears, but besides that she walked upright, she kept clean and she wasn’t surely going to stop and bark at something. And they also gave her clothes. Harsh wool, which bit against her naked skin, but kept her warm.

The daughter, the one who found her in what she came to know as their backyard, had taken to her surprisingly well, while the mother and father mostly ignored her. Maybe she thought she was their daughter’s pet or something. 

Still, save for the occasional misunderstanding (like when the daughter tried to put a collar on her), she was enjoying her days with this newfound family. 

Even just to spend the winter with them; it was clear that the biting cold was getting harsher and harsher with each passing night. On her second day with them, as she was looking for another blanket to cover herself with, she found a large porcelain plate hidden under a pile of dirty towels. It depicted a series of building with thick red roofs and tall green trees surrounding it. And thinking about it, the whole house was filled with certain tools that spoke of a different past, between the handles that were either too high for these people’s lower set of arms or too low for their upper, or the doors too narrow for their wings, it showed that they had likely came to inhabit this home when it had been abandoned. 

Either that or… she frowned at the thought. 

But it wasn’t really her business. And it was getting too cold to think. She finally found a blanket or two and rolled into her makeshift sleeping bag, leaving such ideas for the next day.

Things ended up falling into a routine. Morning had a shared supper (with her drinking from her plate as she sat next to the still-warm fireplace) and then everyone had to do their share of work. Now that rain had abated, she either followed the daughter to their field, where she helped her plant more seeds or pull up the mangled fruits of their sows. Often the moth-girl shook her head and chirped sadly, looking at the meagre results: maybe a handful of crooked, unhealthy plants from the hundreds or more they tended to. 

Sadja wondered if there was something bad in the soil to make them grow like that. Her meals often came on a plastic or porcelain tray, and she could see each individual piece of meat or each carrot precisely cut. It was one of the very few aspects of her past life that she missed.

Still, they kept sowing. The soil was fertile enough to produce such unnatural growth that in a few days every seed had turned into a plant. She guessed it was alright. 

Seeing how little they had pushed her to work double-hard. If she had dig into the frigid earth every day until her nails were black with dirt, she would. If every afternoon, she had to sweat under her load of firewood, she did.

And little by little she began to pick up some of the other rules of that solitary house. For one thing, the father and mother, though they did not speak much, were often quite affectionate with each other, pushing their foreheads against one another and entwining their black, insect-like fingers.
Sadja observed it all from her spot, and, with every day colder than the last, she repeated herself that as long as nothing bad happened, she wouldn’t mind spend a little more time here. She liked it they seemed to appreciate her efforts. They did not praise her with venomous words, nor pat her head nor call her a good girl. They did not poison her mind bit by bit, turning every thought upon itself until she couldn’t tell up from down anymore and she ended up swimming in an ocean of lies. 

Sometimes, by night, she still dreamed of her.

She appeared as always in her clean white robe, lined gold and black, the only visible feature above her collarbone the sickle of her smile. Everything else hidden by the silvery metal mask. She would come in her cell and soothe her, clean her wounds, ask her how her day had been (it wasn’t like she could remember) and make sure to tie yet another invisible string around her neck. 

Those were the worst of nights. The third time she woke up screaming, she found another figure next to her, and she recoiled, her tail springing up behind her, but it was just the daughter, looking at her with a quizzical look in those golden pools of her eyes. 

“A bad dream,” she explained, trying to go back to bed. 

And the next morning, she woke up next to the sleeping form of the moth-girl.

That gave her hope. She wouldn’t find her here. 

This lasted for a bit, but then one night she woke up to strange howls and scratching at the door, the daughter sitting next to her, her spear in her four hands, pointed at the door. More shadows moved along the walls and the rest of the family came down, each of them armed and pointing them at the windows. 

Sadja, trying not to look useless, grabbed the brazen poker next to the fireplace and did like the others. The howls died out after a while, but from the next night, the entire family slept in the main room.

And though she did not like whatever was outside, sniffing, prodding, she felt every day less alone. 

A certain event did turn out weird though. On the first of her moon-days, she woke up with cramps. The family did not have an inside bathroom, so she proceeded outside on the frigid grass, her stride creaking a fresh coat of silver brine. It had rained that night and she groaned even more at the thought of having to clean her feet to come back inside.

Once she reached the closest water canal, she undressed and took a look. No doubt about it, it had started already and droplets of mercurial blood stuck to the inside of her thighs. 

Sighing, she sat close to the canal and began to wash herself. 

It was yet another small victory, being able to do that on her own. She looked at her arms as she carefully cleaned it all: the pockmarks had faded into a pale, almost-white color, but she figures they’d be there for a long long time. Another reason for her not to forget.

She’d never go back there. 

No idea where to go from here, what with every day being colder than the last, the growing red saps washed downhill with the rain, the growls and scratching and everything else… it was clear that for the next few months the woods would be a scarier place than usual. But she had found a way to survive. A smile tugged at her lips. It must count for something. 

Her ears turned back, picking up a sound. She looked behind her to find the brother, hunched over and trying to hive behind a tree, giving her a very strange look. His yellow eyes seemed to burn and he leered at her, at what she was doing. A strange feeling burned inside her heart – she was vulnerable again. Slowly (why was she acting so slow? These were her friends?) she put her clothes back on. 

The brother let out a breathy chirp. He detached himself from the tree and took a step towards her. Why was he coming there?

Someone else came out of the house. The daughter ran at him, flailing her arms wildly. She chirped and hissed in the strange language that they seemed to use between themselves. The brother turned and ran back inside, followed by the girl’s angry hisses. 

Sadja managed to relax a bit. 

“Thanks,” she said her. She was not really sure about what. But something did happen. 

That afternoon, the brother approached her and gave her a few flowers he must have picked up in the woods. Apparently some still grew even so late in the year. She did not know what to do with them. He did not have an answer and left her alone, going back to the fields. 

Sadja, once again, did not know what to think. 

On the last morning, she had worked so hard tilling their fields that she had dirt stuck up to her neck. She was sweaty even in the cold air and really needed a bath. 

“Come with me?” She pointed at herself, at the daughter and at the tiny river that flew downhill. The moth-girl tilted her head, but she did follow her there. Sadja took off her working clothes and washed her body as the daughter waited for her close to the riverbank. 

No sign of her brother, so she felt a little safer cleaning up all the way.

“Come on in! It’s cold, but it does feel nice after a while,” she said with a smile.

The girl looked the river and then at her. She shook her head. 

Sadja blinked. Strange. 

Coming out, she dried herself and took one of the girl’s hands. Did she not want to get a bath? In fact, she noticed, though the family did drink and sometimes cleaned themselves with a sponge, it was always with water they had collected. They had never approached the river.

Strange. She remembered falling down a river, a few weeks before. Passing under that arch, and the pressure over her mind leaving forever. Maybe it was something like that.

Still, she felt like doing something nice for her. She made her sit on a fallen pine and took a branch to comb out her hair and even her wings. They were really beautiful, shimmering in the cool light. 

“There, all done!” The daughter looked up at her hair, shook her head and passed all four of her hands through them, messing them up again. “Aww, after I worked so hard!”

The daughter shook her head again.

“Lllliked it. Fffoundling nnice.”

She held out one of her hands. Smiling, Sadja touched it with her own. Pale skin against black carapace. Her hand felt cold, and smooth, and more like a stone than any living thing. But it responded to her touch and slowly, the girl put her forehead against her own.

Sadja smiled. Maybe she did found a friend, after all. 

Her first friend.

Walking back home, Sadja’s heart felt lighter than it had ever been. Even with white clouds peering over the horizon and the freezing winter from the north, and the howls and the shrieks and more of that red sap that seemed to cover everything, things were looking up. 

No reason to think it wouldn’t be like that forever.

And then she found the brother and father talking in their skittering language. The daughter joined in. They all turned to look at her.

No, past her.

Sadja looked back.

Far off, through the thick canopy of grey and crimson, a shifty string of smoke rose against the wind.

Pic by Eagle XI

Author’s Notes: well, almost two thousand words and longest chapter yet! I probably could have split it but I preferred to keep it all in one chapter. I really liked how Sadja is coming out. I hope you had fun with this chapter here. Apparently hard times ahead. But then again isn’t it always like this? Thanks for reading!

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