“Okay children, gather around. It's time for a story.” Frantic rustling and the patter of many feet filled the room as the children sat around Anahid. They looked up at her with open and eager faces. No one would miss one of her stories, not if they could help it. Anahid had the rare ability to ensnare the listener like a spider web entangles a fly. One could sit for hours and let her voice wash over them, entranced by the spell she cast. For the children of her village, her stories were a bright ray of sun in an otherwise dreary day. “What shall it be today? Maybe a tale of the great sisters - Zeyda and Zalia - forever cursed as enemies? Or perhaps you'd like to hear about Rajan and the price he paid for lying.” She named a few of the well-known stories from the tribal myths. There were a few half-hearted cheers, but the children erupted when Laia suggested a story that Anahid had come up with herself - one that was by far the favorite of everyone - a tale entitled Scar. For this story, even the adults put down their chores and came to listen.
“Alright everyone, settle down and listen. Children, you can help me with the beginning. All together now…”
“Once, in a world full of fire, ash and burning embers, where the sun was a curse, not a blessing, there lived a boy and his best friend. They had no parents, just each other and the monsters they ran from. These monsters roamed the earth they had destroyed, as if searching for something they would never find. They varied in size and appearance, but one was no less lethal than another. The humans that remained were few and scattered across the barren stretches of destruction. They didn’t know any other way to survive than to hide, so the boy had met very few people in his life.
“When he was just a child, his mother left him in a cave, that he may live, even if she did not. He never saw her again.
“One day, a girl wandered into the cave. In the time that came, they became inseparable - the best of friends. But they were more than friends - they were dependent on each other to survive. She had skin the color of honey and warm, welcoming eyes. Her presence made the world a little less evil and foreboding - like shining a small light into endless black.The boy had once been very handsome, but a monster had torn a gash in his face, leaving a long jagged scar. It ran from his hairline, through his left eye and part of his mouth, down to his collarbone. It never fully healed and afterwards he spoke with a lisp and could only see out of one eye.
“Even in that godforsaken place, they found it in them to smile, to play games, to enjoy life. They told each other stories, and laughed until they couldn’t breathe. For many years they lived like this, pretending that the world around them wasn’t burning up and tumbling down. When they were hidden, it was easy to forget about the constant threats they faced outside. However, the monsters were forever lurking in their subconscious, waiting to resurface.
“For a while, at least, they lived this happy life, but you must understand children, in this world no one could be happy forever. For what it’s worth, they had built a home there. But all good things must come to an end, so it was not unexpected when a monster came to tear down the walls they had so carefully built.
“This particular monster could not see, but it had a heightened hearing ability. It had a large, lumbering body and short legs. Its mouth was full of rows and rows of gleaming teeth, sharpened to a point. With a look of acceptance that the girl reached out and hugged the boy, tears in her eyes. Into his hair she whispered,“You are my moon and my sun and my stars. You are the ground I walk on, and no monster will ever change that. I love you.” He was honored and taken aback, but there was no time for heartfelt speeches. He gave her one nod, full of everything he hadn’t had the courage to say before, and they stood together, close enough to feel the heat of the monsters’ breath.
“When it came, snarling and angry, the terror set in and the girl let out a petrified squeak. That was all it took. The monster crossed to them and at the last second the girl ran. But it was not enough. Her heavy footfalls lead the monster right to her, and as she screamed, it grabbed her with its gleaming teeth. His voice wouldn’t work, but the boy was silently screaming, pleading with every god he could think of. Again and again, he mouthed the same words: Please not her, take me instead! Anyone but her, please, no! The girl had stopped screaming, so the boy looked up expecting the worst. Instead he saw her trying to speak. It came out in a croak, “You have to run. Now, it’s the only way.”
“‘No, I won’t, not without you!’ He turned his face away as the first tears started to fall.
“‘You need… to…to run. You can’t always be the hero. Save yourself. Go!’
“I won’t! I can’t, not without you.” This time he didn’t try to hide the tears.
“‘I don’t want you to see me die. Remember me, and all the times we laughed, not like this. Go, do this last thing for me.’
“‘I will always remember you, always…’ The last thing the boy saw was her face, now calm and relaxed. Acceptant of her fate. Then he turned and ran.
“Even though he knew there was nothing he could have done, the boy was saddled with a sense of guilt for the lives that had been sacrificed for his. The girl and his mother flashed before his eyes. Grief stricken, he lay for days and sobbed. He felt the girl’s presence like an aching hole in the pit of his stomach. To himself, he thought, the scar on my face is nothing compared to the one on my heart.”
When Anahid finished, the room was silent, save for a few people quietly crying. After another beat of quiet, the room was filled to a bursting point with passionate cheers. Though some might not have told children a story like this, it was the children cheering the loudest. Laia rose to her feet and wrapped her thin arms around Anahid. Everyone was quick to follow.
When the room settled down, Anahid spoke again. Her voice carried an air of wisdom - she was the kind of person that didn’t need to ask for people to quiet down - once she spoke, people strained their ears to listen. “So you see, children, we all carry scars, and sometimes the ones that hurt the most are the ones that no one can see. But we must remember that all scars carry memories. It’s the memories that we should pay attention to, not the pain.”