She Walked Hurriedly Through the Woods...

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She walked hurriedly through the woods with a trail of blood marking her steps. Exhausted as she was, she continued to journey forward away from the place she left. The place where she grew up. To the Indians that lived there that place was home, but to her it was a form of torture.

Victoria hadn't eaten in days-aside from a few old strips of jerky in her hunting pack, and her bare feet were bleeding from the sharp stones she hadn't bothered to watch out for in her haste. One laceration on the sole of her left foot was particularly gruesome, stretching from one side of her foot to the other, and sending sharp waves of pain through her foot and up her lower leg. She barely noticed. However, she knew she should stop soon because her body could not endure her neglect much longer. Her head was swimming from lack of nourishment and sleep and she could feel her whole body aching from her stubborn refusal to stop. Her mouth was so dry that it reminded her of a time when she was eight years old and ate a mouthful of dirt on a dare-an unrewarded attempt to fit in. Somehow, she just couldn't care about all of these things much and couldn't and any feeling of her self-preservation kicking in. Victoria couldn't stop. The anger and betrayal drove her legs to keep moving-every step putting more and more distance between her and those savages.

The forest that she now walked had always been her refuge, but she had never ventured this far and was unfamiliar with the dense woods that surrounded her. Undergrowth in this area was much thicker, forcing her to slow her pace. It was not something that would normally annoy her, but now she was quickly losing patience with it. Victoria found herself foolishly stomping and kicking at the stubborn foliage. Just as she went to step through yet another unusually thick clump of plants her foot caught on a hidden root and she tumbled to the ground with the undergrowth cushioning her fall. She lay there motionless thinking of her usually flawless balance, unable to remember the last time she had fallen.

Instead of picking herself up off the moist ground, she lay there listening to the sounds of the forest around her. For the first time, she noticed that everything was louder here. It was almost eerie with no human sounds interrupting the sounds of the wild. Victoria heard clearly the busy hum of a bee, the slither of venomous snakes, and, somewhere above her, a low and familiar rumble emanating from deep inside a panther's chest. To most people, that last sound would have been one to fear, but she was not frightened. The animals of the forest had never bothered her, but had instead let her move harmoniously amongst them, as if she belonged. It was an unexplained, but deeply satisfying, gift that had provoked jealousy from the boys in her village. They didn't understand how she, a Pale-skin, could have such an essential gift when they, natives, could not.

Sunlight filtered down through the leaves, casting a greenish tint as far as she could see, and simultaneously drying the tears on her cheeks. Now, in place of her tears, there were smudged, grimy streaks that marked her lovely face. She used her weak arms to push herself up into a sitting position so she could get a better look at this new and breathtaking place. Vines snaked their ways across the ground, twisted in death-grips around the much thicker trunks of trees, and hung down like ropes when they journey upward became too much. There was a thick layer of moist, decaying leaves that had fallen to their fate and now creating a rich mulch that would give life to the never-ending supply of new plants.

The flowers that she now noticed shone bright as gems where shafts of sunlight touched their beautiful array of petals. She found the bright oranges, deep burgundies, and multi-hued blues pleasant to look at and was surprised at the calming effect that had on her mood. Nearby she could hear the soothing sound of a freshwater spring and couldn't believe her luck. She knew she needed to hydrate herself before her body gave up on her. With a new determination, she pushed herself the rest of the way up off the ground, intent on finding the stream. After she drank, she would hunt and then find shelter so she could eat and then get some rest.

She stumbled her way through the forest towards the sound of the stream, stopping every couple of minutes to listen and make sure she was headed in the right direction. Victoria realized her thirst more and more with every step she took towards the source of water. Finally, when she was so close to giving up, as she broke through an impossibly thick layer of bushes, she found her goal.

The beauty of this place took her breath away. She could only stand there for a moment with her mouth slightly agape soaking in the details of what had to be the most beautiful place in the world. Masses of colorful flowers covered rocks, grew around tree trunks, hung from vines, and were grew liberally across the private little clearing. There diverse groups flying playfully through the air, resting in trees, and hunting in the thick, plush grass. Small animals that lived beneath the earth popped their heads curiously out of the ground but vanished at the sight of the birds' frenzied movements. And, straight down the middle, was the clearest, most inviting stream she ever could have dreamed for.

Victoria cautiously started across to the stream, not wanting to disturb the animals carefree mood. The slow pace was a relief, though, and she welcomed it as the soft grass protected her injured feet from the hard ground. She looked above her as she walked and saw a perfectly clear, blue sky with no clouds, heavy from rain, to blotch out the radiant sun. So lost was she in these things that she didn't realize how close she was to the stream until the ground became moist and gave way to wet sand.

The stream was even more beautiful up close than it had been when viewed from the clearing's edge. Warm sunlight danced across the water's surface and made her blink her eyes at the brightness. Leaning over the bubbling stream's edge, she peered into the shallow depths of the water at the silver minnows and green water plants. As she looked closer, she saw tadpoles propelling themselves along in a desperate attempt to be one of the few who survived, reminding her of the reason she came here.

Victoria dipped her hands into the cool, flowing water and let it wash away the dirt that had accumulated there. Cupping her hands, she lifted some of the water to her dry, cracked lips and drank it until all of it was gone (most of it had slipped through the spaces between her hands to splash back down into the stream). She repeated this process until her thirst was completely quenched and was surprised when she realized how incredibly thirsty she had been.

Standing up at the water's edge, she looked farther up the stream and realized there was a small pond surrounded by large boulders covered in bushes and vines. She walked down to it, calculating the time it took to get there. It was only about five minutes away from where she had been kneeling to drink. With it's feeling of privacy and the beauty the wildlife provided, she decided it was every bit as breathtaking as the rest of the clearing. It was crystal clear and she estimated it to be about six to seven feet deep at the most in some places. The boulders that very nearly encircled it were a light gray color and heat from the sunlight rolled off of them in waves. She could see the bottom of the little pond and noticed that it was made of white sand and was hardly littered at all with stones or twigs. It would be a perfect place to bathe and she intended to after she ate.

While gathering large, broad leaves, long, thick branches, and vines for shelter, she scoped out the hunting game in the area. She spotted a couple of rabbits and many squirrels and decided that would have to work, even though it wasn't much of a challenge.

She designated a place for her makeshift shelter and then went back for more supplies. After a few more trips, she had enough to put something decent together. Using the vines as rope, she connected the one side of ends of five large branches and stood them up tepee-style. Then, she connected the large leaves she had collected so they were like overlapping shingles and then attached those to the branches so that she had a nice, enclosed space inside. She left one side of the shelter open so she could move easily in and out without having to always move stuff out of her way. When she looked at the results of her labor, she was satisfied with the results, taking pride in the fact that she could take care of herself.

Lying quietly beneath the camouflage of a bush, she eyed an unsuspecting rabbit. She didn't like hunting such small, helpless prey, but she didn't have many options at this point. It just didn't seem right, somehow. Finally making her choice, she drew back the bow string silently, aiming carefully before she shot. She let go. The accurate arrow shot unwavering through the air and the rabbit never flinched as the arrow found its mark.

She cleaned the rabbit right where she had killed it and then carried it beck to camp, picking up firewood along the way. After she made a skewer stick, she let the rabbit cook over the fire she had built. She decided to go ahead and bathe while her food cooked and got up to head in that direction. But as she stood up, she heard the sound of a twig breaking and spun around to see what it was. A heavy blow crashed into the side of her head, knocking her to the ground. She struggled to keep the blackness from taking her, but it was a futile effort and she quickly lost consciousness.

Where was she? No, it was Lea. She hated her. She hated her for the looks of disgust and hated her for telling her the truth. Why was Lea here? Lea began walking towards her and Victoria felt a swell of hatred and rage surge through her body, turning her face red and accelerating her pulse. She wanted to beat that evil smirk right off her face. That was surprising because she had never been prone to violence.

Before Victoria had run away, Lea had come to see her in her hut.

“ Your parents are murderers , you know.”

“Lea, go away. I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Of course you don't. They've tried so hard to keep it from you. All of these years. What, you're about seventeen now?”

Victoria didn't know how to react. So she just sat listening as Lea tore her world apart.

“Your parents couldn't have kids. They tried for years, but your mother started to get old.”

This was wrong and Victoria knew she shouldn't listen, but Lea had managed to snag her attention.

“Well, a young American couple traveled through one year-some missionaries, I think. Anyways, your parents were very hospitable to them because, you see, they had this beautiful little infant.”

No, she couldn't listen to this. It wasn't true. It wasn't right. She couldn't listen to these lies about the parents who had raised her from almost birth. But some little part of her was already starting to believe it, and once that started, it couldn't be stopped.

“One afternoon, your parents took the couple for a hike after lunch, leaving the baby with an old couple of villagers. Oh, poor baby, you're crying.”Lea smirked. “ I just bet you can guess what happened next. You see, we were having trouble with panthers that year, and wasn't safe to be out in the woods alone, especially if you were unfamiliar with them. It was so sad. Your parents came back, but the young couple-John and Beth, I think were their names, actually-never came back. But the villagers heard a scream of terror and then screams of pain. What could your parents do but take care of the baby. And how convenient for them, don't you think?”

Victoria shoved Lea out of her hut and onto the ground. Lea's black, silk hair fell over her face and some of the dirt disturbed from her fall settled into it. She smiled triumphantly up at Victoria as she examined her bloody hands and then dusted them off. Victoria wondered how Lea could get such wicked delight from inflicting her famous mind games on people. She spat at Lea who was still sitting on the ground where she had landed from Victoria's shove. Then Victoria sat and waited for her mother to get back from visiting her friend in a nearby village. When her mother returned, She asked her about the things Lea had told her. Her mother didn't have to answer. The tears in her eyes were all the answer Victoria needed. She didn't say a word as she grabbed her hunting pack and ran blindly from her hut and into the forest.

Victoria slowly came back into consciousness and noticed right away the skull-splitting headache that seemed to throb with every beat of her pulse. She instinctively lifted her hand to the side of her head where the pain seemed to be centered and felt a warm, sticky liquid that she knew must be blood. Her hair was matted to her head, so she couldn't get a good idea of how severe the wound, but guessed it wasn't very good considering the amount of blood. She realized that her eyes were still shut, but at the same time heard voices far off and someone else's breathing nearby. Being certain they already knew she was awake because of her groans of pain, she figured there wasn't much she could do but open her eyes.

She instantly regretted her decision to do so. Five dark sets of eyes stared down intently at her and each pair of eyes was set in an even darker, more sinister face. Each face contained a wide, delighted smile that told her they already knew what was going to be done with her, and she was certain it wasn't going to be pleasant. Victoria felt her body stiffen and when her body began shaking, she made a futile effort to keep them from seeing.





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