Shadows of the Past
Author's note: Little pieces in this novel have some sort of link to my actual life but not many. I wrote... Show full author's note »
A Way Out“Naomi, what the hell is that?” Lynn asked with her wide, almond brown eyes glued to my neck. They eyed a nasty bruise that was supposed to be hidden by my hair.
“Damn it...” I breathed in a whispering sigh, knowing I'd been caught. I unclasped my necklace with the charm my mom gave me and placed it on my bedside table so she could get a better look.
Her fingers grazed the blemish making it feel tender and swollen, amplifying the pain. I inhaled sharply, biting my lower lip and jerking my neck away from Lynn's hand.
“It's nothing, I'm fine.” I lied through my teeth.
Lynn rolled her eyes, scolding me. "Oh don't give me that 'I fell' BS. You said that about the black eye, the bruises, the sprained wrist....”
“I get the point.” I interrupted shortly, put off by her interrogation.
“Besides,” Lynn continued, ignoring my tone. “floors and stairs don't leave purple hand prints.”
My heart pounded nervously. I had been caught in my lies. Instead of confessing to it all I just stared at her. Breathing out a half hearted laugh, I tried to clear the air's tension.
“Look, Naomi, I've just been worried about you... Since your mom died you've been very skittish.” Her intent eyes relaxed to a worried stare, still locked on my neck.
Her curly brown hair laid awkwardly on either side of her face and freckles were dotted evenly over her nose. I situated my long brunette hair, back to hiding my bruise. I put my necklace back on, sliding it under my shirt.
...He can't see it...
“Just tell me what's going on! I've been your best friend for years. I thought you trusted me...”
Lynn was right. She had been my best friend since second grade. I don't even remember how we met, too much time has passed. We were both nearly seventeen. We told each other everything... or almost everything. Nevertheless, the secret behind my facade was so complicated and laced with lies even I didn't know what the truth was anymore.
I glanced at my alarm clock trying to avoid that look in her eyes. The numbers read, 2:55 P.M. My pale blue eyes grew wide. Sienna would be coming home from school way too soon. If she saw Lynn was here without my stepfather’s permission, she was bound to tell him.
“Y-You need to go.” I stuttered leading her towards the window, her method to get in and out of my house, and unlocked the latch. The window squeaked as I pulled it upwards. I inched Lynn even more in that direction. “Please Lynn, Sienna will be home any minute.” I pressed on.
She lightly shoved me back, upset at my rushing. “Okay, okay. I'll leave. Jeez Naomi you get so worked up about things sometimes.” Lynn said with her usual attitude, sliding herself strategically out the window and on the dying oak rooted outside my bedroom. She began to climb down almost effortlessly, just as she had a million times before.
She poked her head back up for a moment. “But, ya know Naomi; you're going to have to tell me sooner or later.” Lynn gave me a playful wink.
I shrugged, shutting the window and flipping down the latch. “I choose later.” I muttered, breathing easier now finally out of the spotlight.
I rested my palms on the white windowsill flecks of paint fell to the hardwood floor as I watched Lynn slowly disappear from sight. When I saw she was gone, my stare moved up. Gazing into the potentially endless woods that was in my backyard. I wondered how freeing it would be to walk the trails, to breathe in that fresh air. Rather than be suffocated by the walls of that prison I was supposed to call “HOME”. The dark forest had always been such a mystery to me, though, I never had known why. It didn't look any different than anywhere I had been. The leaves changed with the seasons and swayed in the wind. The world within it grew, thrived, then died. No mystery, no magic, just life. Though, if there's one thing I've learned, things aren't always as they appear; a cliché I hated to use. The forest just felt different. The wind that rustled the trees' branches always sounded like they were hissing my name.
My eyes met the face of my alarm clock once more. 3:15 P.M.
“S***...” I swore under my breath, tearing open my door and dashing toward the staircase.
I cursed myself again as I made it to the foyer. Reflecting light from the glass on the front door flew across the room as Sienna passed through. Her head came about a foot above the doorknob. She looked upset. The over dramatic way that a seven year old gets at their older sister, well, half-sisters anyway.
“You forgot to get me at the bus stop.” Sienna huffed, her cute face turning red in exaggerated anger. I smiled seeing her all worked up over something so little but sighed, praying she wouldn't tell my stepfather.
As soon as I'd even thought it, I heard the chilling words: “I'm telling daddy!”
My facial expression flattened. Sienna was my stepfather's little angel. Any word that was spoken from those innocent lips was law. Sienna was only my half sister but I protected and took care of her almost as if she were my own child. How could she not be loved? Her face and voice were full of pure, childhood happiness that couldn't be resisted.
I breathed another sigh, following Sienna as she waddled over to the kitchen and climbed on a bar stool in front of the island granite counter. I dug my face into the refrigerator searching for an after school snack for Sienna.
“I was just running a little late. You don't need to tell dad.” I choked the words as I spoke them.
Sienna shook her head in an I'm-right-no-matter-what expression on her face.
“Nu-uh! Lynn was here without daddy's permission again, wasn't she?”
When was she here with permission? I thought, biting my lower lip. Second time I'd been caught in a lie today. Damn...
“No,” I lied again. “I just lost track of the time.”
She doesn't know what she'll do by telling him...
Sienna shrugged as I handed her an apple, still suspicious of me, but with her attention span it wouldn't be long before she was on a different topic. I took a soda out of the refrigerator for myself tapping the top of the can with my fingertip, regardless if the trick worked or not.
As I pulled the tab forward letting some of the carbonation escape, I heard Sienna squeal, “Look at what I made in art!”
Leaving the fact that she had changed the subject unnoticed, I smiled at myself in accomplishment. Just like clockwork. “What is it Sienna?” I looked at her, trying to sound interested. Frankly, I wasn't in the mood to tell her that was the prettiest “one of those” I'd ever seen, like most elders do while looking at a child's artwork. As she rummaged through her pink princess backpack, Sienna's purple headband slid out of her shoulder length hair. It was similar to mine; shine, texture, color only the length was different. She was dressed in a purple T-shirt with a kitten on it and a denim jean skirt. Her eyes were big and hazel; I could always tell what was on her mind when I looked into them. Sienna still had yet to learn how to hide her emotions, even when she thought she was, I knew the truth. Even so, they were the kind of eyes that, in the right light, she could get whatever she wanted with an effortless glance and a smile. Sienna whipped a painting out from her backpack and handed it to me, a grin never leaving her face. She looked so proud of it, like she would earn a reward just for showing me an assignment. Examining the picture I saw it was a painting of a woman, or girl... I couldn't tell, dressed in a green dress. Her hand was raised outward, in it were two diamond shapes. The background was full of rainbows and color. Glitter that had been dumped on the paint when it was wet made the picture come to life with a sort of magical sparkle. Before I could comment on it Sienna spoke up, unable to keep it quiet and longer.
“It's mommy!” She giggled. “...in her sorceress dress.”
My eyebrows rose. Where in the hell did she pick up the word “sorceress”? Our mom was many things, but a sorceress was definitely not one of them. The painting didn't look anything like my mom, though I didn't expect it to. Simple shapes...triangles, diamonds, circles...all tied together with a smile that seemed to be mocking me.
“Well, what do you think?” Sienna pressed on, her sweet eyes begging for praise.
I bit my lip, fighting back tears as a lump crept up my throat. I missed my mom more than anyone could know, or even begin to understand, and too see her good name dragged into Sienna's fantasies, rather than being laid to rest, broke my heart. But, her inquiry pushed me to the breaking point.
“What do I think? What do I think! I think you're losing it, Sienna. Mom died two years ago from an incurable disease and she's not coming back. Just leave it alone! Stop making up these insane stories!” My voice was cold as a corpse and completely unlike me. It was as if a something inside me was feeding off of my own hurt and rage. I had never spoken to Sienna that way. Unsure of what to do, I shoved the painting back to her as she began to cry. Turning away from her, I let a few of my own tears escape. It was a relief to not have to hold them back anymore. Running away from the situation I bolted for the stairs. Each one creaked as I climbed. Sienna's smalls wails following me all the way to my room. I slammed the door, leaning against it to keep them out as though a monster were chasing me. I slid down to a sitting position sighing loudly, placing my head in my hands. In the privacy of these four familiar walls, I began to sob. Sometimes I'd swear Sienna needed a psychiatrist. She seemed to be going mental these past 6 months. This incident wasn't the first time Sienna had confused reality with fiction. She'd woken up several nights in a panic that some witch was after her, trying to kill both herself and me. Other nights, a werewolf that she called a “dark blood” would visit her in her dreams helping her escape the witch or tell her stories of our mom being some powerful magical leader. I ignored it all at first, everything seemed so farfetched that I figured it was just child's imagination taking over. Then everything started to get creepily repetitive, the dreams, and even the pictures like the one she had show me today. It made me sick to my stomach to think of my mom. I tilted my head to look up at the ceiling that caged me from the heavens.
“Where are you now?” I whispered almost inaudibly.
Tears slipped down my cheeks as I sat there...just thinking. Replaying the incident over and over in my mind like I had gotten it on videotape. Replacing what I truly said with what I could have said, and should have said. A heavy feeling set in over my whole body, dragging down my eye lids. Giving into the tiredness, I rested my eyes. Unaware that I had dozed off, that hours had passed, I awoke with a groggy feeling to the sound of the front door squeaking open and slamming shut. Disoriented, I looked at the clock, 6:32 P.M. He was home...
“Daddy!” I heard Sienna squeal, her voice still shaky from crying.
I pressed my ear against the smooth wood of my bedroom door, trying to eavesdrop on what was going on. Though from how predictable Sienna was, I didn't need to hear. She was probably complaining about how I'd forgotten about her, then yelled at her, most likely slipping something in about Lynn being here when she wasn't supposed to be. I heard Sienna's voice squeak every so often but I couldn't make out words, then my stepfather's low voice grumbled in response like a bass through the walls. Relief started to come over me a moment too soon, just as I thought I was in the clear I heard my stepfather exclaim something.
S***.. I'm screwed.
My stepfather's feet began to thunder over to the stairs. I stumbled to my feet as fast as they would carry me, running to the farthest corner of my bedroom and waited for the inevitable. The thunder crashed closer and closer.
“NAOMI ELIZABETH SHADOWS!” His voice boomed from outside my door.
Even the walls and the door frame quivered in his presence. My whole body cringed as my ears heard my middle name, the way any teenager would. The door burst open to reveal my poor excuse for a stepfather. He was a large man, broad shoulders, with a cleanly shaven head and face. Empty eyes overrun with rage locked on to me in my false sanctuary of a corner.
“Naomi...” He said, this time through his teeth. His breath carried a sickeningly heavy scent of whiskey, drunken slurs soon to come.
“Dad.” I said shortly, grimacing at the taste in my mouth from calling him “dad” again.
“What is this?” He slurred, tripping over his words as he spoke. My stepfather's left hand was hidden behind his back, I couldn't see was he was striving to hide. In the other hand, he held a piece of paper I had guessed was Sienna's painting. Forcefully, he shoved it into my arms. The once colorful, magical rainbow was now a sickly, tear stained brown. My heart sank with guilt seeing all Sienna's proud hard work ruin by my harsh words. My eyes went straight to the tan colored carpet.
“What did you say to her?”
“Nothing...” I mumbled.
My stepfather was fuming, the vein on his forehead bulging and moving like a blue worm.
“Bullshit! You sneak people into my house, you upset my daughter, then you lie to my face?” The walls shook with how loud his voice was, making him all the more intimidating. He thrived on dominance, on power. Guess it was the only thing that made him feel anything anymore.
“I told her the truth.” I replied simply in defense, breathing slowly trying not to show my submissive fear. “She's not perfect, she's a child who needs help from a shrink... not a drunk.”
Something I said set the spark turning the situation super nova. My stepfather didn't change his expression, didn't huff, didn't even scold. Not a word left his lips as he removed his left hand from behind his back. Gripped tightly in those rough, beefy fingers was a newly sharpened pocketknife glinting in the light streaming through my window. I looked at it, intimidated and nervous. Sweat began to form on my brow as the blade taunted me. Before I had time to wonder what he had planned to do with it, his left hand moved swiftly toward me. Where he was aiming for, I'll never be sure, but where it made contact was with my cheek. Dropping Sienna's painting, I fell to the ground as pain shot to every nerve in my face. Blood poured down all over my clothes and the carpet. I bit my lip trying not to scream. That only upsets him more... On reflex, my hand clasped to my cheek. The wound felt deep but it didn't go all the way through. A stinging sensation was constant in the left side of my face. I rolled on the floor back and forth in agony, wanting the pain to end, wanting to cry, wanting to scream. My stepfather stood over me, cold as stone, just watching my suffering. I could hear his labored breathing out of his own anger and adrenaline. As soon as the pain finally started to subside, he kicked me hard in the back. I groaned loudly as his steel toed boot pelted into my spine repeatedly.
“That should teach you to bite your damn tongue, you pathetic disrespectful child. Next time you say anything about my daughter it'll be your tongue that I cut.” My stepfather threatened firmly and free of slurring.
I kept my face to the floor, unable to look at him anymore. It was so hard to listen to anything he said. All running through my mind was, “oh God, this HURTS”. I swallowed hard, keeping back the lump in my throat as best I could. My stepfather's boots clunked towards the door.
“Damn kid...” I heard him mutter as my door shut.
Beside me was Sienna's painting, and there was my blurry mother, still smiling at me. Gripping the pastel colored quilt that was spread across my bed I pulled myself to my feet. I winced, biting my lower lip as my spine shifted. Looking up to get a better grip on the bed I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked awful. Like I had been swept through a tornado and a piece of glass hit me in the face. My hair was tangled and my gaze looked tired and weak. My eyes locked with my reflection’s. This person was not me at all. This person was scared and unsure of themselves and the world. I knew who I was. Terrified as I may be, I always stood my ground. This person standing before me wanted to run far away. Curiously, I brought my fingertips to my cheek as I watched my reflection do the same. I inhaled sharply, sending another stinging sensation through it as my skin grazed my cut.
“Damn…” I breathed, examining the cut in the mirror.
It looked raw and crude. Blood had dried on the side of my face trying to clot. My eyes filled with tears dripping down one by one. I whimpered in pain as my salty tears mixed with my open flesh. My shirt was dotted with blood and dirty with my stepfather’s footprints from his boots. I sobbed harder, noticing everything wrong with me.
My messy hair. My bruises. My blemishes. My dirty clothes. My life.
The list ran infinitely through my mind in both directions. Out of impulse, not thought, I threw my fists at the mirror at full speed. Immediately regretting it as the glass shattered into the skin of my hand. Still in tears, I pulled them away from the mirror, looking at the damage. Most of the bloody glass fell to the floor but a few pieces hung on to my skin. I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel anything. My eyes met my reflection’s once again. Now it looked exactly how I felt. Broken.
I pulled my mother’s charm out from underneath my shirt, gripping it tightly in my hand. Where the hell was she now? When I need you, Mom, where are you? My fingertips traced the edges of the crystal, my mind screaming for some sort of guidence. After moments of utterly painful silence a voice hinted in my head, Leave…run away…You’re not safe here anymore. Save yourself, Naomi.
My mind whipped back to what my stepfather had threatened. That he would cut my tongue. I covered my mouth, swallowing hard as I pictured the agony that goes along with that. My stepfather was a very violent man, but he had never, not once, drawn blood. My mind was made up instantly. I wasn’t safe here. It was time for me to go. I rummaged through my closed finding a bag small enough to carry but big enough to fill with a few essentials.
Sparingly, I collected a few articles of clothing and some snack bars I had hidden for those nights my stepfather had sent me to bed without supper.
Lastly, I pulled out a picture of my mother, Sienna, and I together from a drawer. I lost myself in the pureness of the snapshot. Bringing me back to a time when things were simpler. The smiles on our faces weren’t faked. There weren’t hints of worry in our eyes. We were all full of life and love. We were all genuinely happy. A lump began to form in my throat as I came to the conclusion I would probably never feel that way again. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that feeling of pure joy. It had been so long I couldn’t even remember what it felt like.
Rubbing my eyes to stop tears I continued to pack. A hairbrush, a sweatshirt…one by one the bag filled. I guided the zipper across the track, breathing a definitive sigh. This was really happening.
There was something else I had to do before I left my old life behind. I was leaving the one person I knew honestly cared for me. I reached for the white, cordless home phone that had been left in my room, again, from a previous call and punched in Lynn’s number from memory. The phone rang twice then stopped, I heard silence on the other end. That was the way I could always tell it was Lynn. It was like she expected me to say “hello” for her.
“Lynn?” I sniffed, trying to make it sound like I hadn’t been crying.
“Speaking,” She replied with a mouthful of food. “Naomi? Is something wrong?”
I wasn’t sure what I exactly planned to say to Lynn. How to tell a long term friend I was going away for a long time, possibly forever, without giving away too much. “I-I called to say goodbye.” I heard myself say.
“Goodbye? What are you talking about?” Lynn asked. She covered the mouth piece of her phone to say something to her parents. I heard some rustling as she removed her hand.“Sorry Naomi, what were you saying?”
“I’m leaving and I don’t know when I’ll be back…or if I’ll ever be back…or if I’ll ever see you again.”
“Naomi, don’t do something stupid. Just come over to my house and we can talk—“
“No,” I interrupted. “That’s the first place he’ll look for me” Lynn paused for a moment to let it sink in.
“You’re really serious aren’t you? But the first place who will look for y—“
I hung up the phone unable to continue the conversation any further. I didn’t want Lynn to worry but I also didn’t want her to know where I would be or why. I felt like I was losing oxygen the longer I was cooped up in the house. The house, the room, it was all no longer home to me. My stepfather meant what he said. This wouldn’t be the last time he hurt me if I didn’t leave now while I had the chance. He’s the one who left the chokehold bruise still wrapped around my neck. The man I had been lying for for way too long. I gazed out my window again, drawn into the dark mysteriousness of the forest. The wind was eerily creaming my name louder than ever now. The woods was my answer. That’s where I needed to go. I needed to be free… After changing into jeans and a simple sweatshirt, I piled my blood and tear stained clothes on my bed. I wrapped my wounded hands in makeshift bandages out of a torn old shirt and taking a hair binder I gathered my hair into a low ponytail then opened my window as quietly as possible, leaning my head out to assess the height. I felt the breeze on my face, stinging my cut. Covering it with my hand gently, I eyed Lynn’s route down the old oak outside. Strapping the backpack of my belongings on my back, I took a deep breath. I slid my foot out the window resting the treads of my sneakers on the bark, my hands followed grasping the branches tightly. Pulling my weight out the window, off the ledge, and lastly, leaning myself against the sturdy trunk. My eyes followed down the trunk to the base. My heart pounded faster as I took meticulous steps down, branch by branch.
“One more step. That’s all you need to do, Naomi.” I whispered to myself, placing on my foot on the last of the rickety branches.
A loud noise rang out from under my feet. Panicking, I jumped down landing on my ankle. I yelped out in pain, my loud screech slashing the stillness of the autumn September night. My eyes darted from left to right. I held my breath.
No one heard my scream. Thankfully. Pain rushed through my leg like a freight train. I looked at my throbbing ankle. The twigs and thorns that jutted out of my skin were bathed in blood. I cursed myself over and over again for being so clumsy. Getting hurt three times in one night. With all this damage I was surely broken. Using the trunk of the oak I hoisted myself to my feet.
As I regained balance, the forest caught my eye. There, yards in front of me, was my curiosity. The mysterious woods behind my stepfather’s house. Its blackness staring me down, threatening to swallow me whole. A dirt path began at the tip of my toes, a path to freedom. Something finally hit me. I was running. Running away from everything I knew, headed into a place I had no knowledge of. Anything had to be better than my stepfather, right? I breathed a longing sigh, this was it.
Last chance to turn back, Naomi. I heard in my ears, ringing in my head.
I shook my head. No, I can never turn back. Without looking back, I limped weakly into the dark abyss. The forest was dark and dreary. Only thing lighting my way was an ominous moon lingering above. Every time the breeze rustled through the tree, they would make the shadows move. This startled me every time. My arms were sensitive to the slightest touch of a branch. Embracing the darkness, my eyes slowly began to adjust. I started to see shapes and shadows. The world around me was awkwardly silent, yet, I felt welcome as though I had been here before. I had an overwhelming sense of home and on the other hand, confusion.
Why here? Why do I feel safe here?
The sound of my footsteps was the only familiarity around. In my ears, I picked up the sound of a light trickle of water on rocks, a gentle crying stream. I followed the sound down the dirt path a little further. Pushing a few branches out of my way, I rounded a corner. I found the water source, a small stream as I had thought. It was clean water. Nothing like the murky lakes and rivers we have in town, surrounded by people and cars—civilization. This place was tranquil and peaceful, I could see the pebbles on the bottom as the stream flowed its merry way. I knelt down by the stream, resting my knee on a strone planted firmly on its small bank. A cold refreshing feeling came over my skin as I dripped my hands in the water and brought it to my face. I bit my lip as the water seeped into my cut. Silent tears slid down my cheek from the pain. I wiped the tears away before they could make it worse.
Breathe…I heard in the gentle breeze. Relax… Let your worries fade…
I held my mother’s crystal charm tightly in my palm. My thoughts flashed back to today’s events. The way the knife shined in the light, my stepfather’s expression, Sienna’s wails still echoing in my memories. It was hard to believe they were all behind me now.
My fingertips glided over the edges of the crystal, and over the metal thorns on the rose that was wrapped around it.I closed my eyes memorizing every shape, every scratch, and every flaw. Feeling as though my mother’s presence was near me I finally relaxed, closing my eyes and let the sounds of the forest fill my thoughts.
“What a beautiful little trinket you have there, Lady Shadows.” A raspy voice said from in front of me, breaking my peaceful meditation. My eyes snapped open in surprise.
The safe feeling I once had vanished from around me as I eyed a nightmarish creature. The owner of the voice was a red-eyed woman. She looked ageless, flawless. Her skin was a pale porcelain. My jaw dropped as my eyes focused on what was behind her. Attached to her back were large wings like those of a bat, which were tucked away neatly poking up over her shoulders. I blinked a couple times questioning what I was seeing.
Was I hallucinating? …Then how the hell…? That’s not even possible…is it? My nerves jumped as it spoke again.
“Cat got your tongue?”
I remained in my place, frozen and numb.
“That’s not something to carry around in this forest, Lady Shadows.” She crouched down to eye level, cocking her head to the side. “Some greedy little thing might take it, Lady Shadows.”
Why was she constantly calling me “Lady Shadows”? How did she know my last name?
Her gaze made me nervous, empty eyes hardly making eye contact no matter how much they tried to burn through me. My hands and legs began to shake as I cautiously got to my feet taking a few steps back. The only thing between this creature and myself was the narrow creek. My eyes were locked on the creature’s every move.
“You must have me confused with someone else, this thing isn’t worth a cent.” I concentrated on not making my voice shake as I finally found the courage to speak.
She shook her head and let off a slight, evil, little chuckle baring needle sharp fangs. I was speechless. I felt my mouth drop open again, wanting to scream. No sound came out. I had frozen yet again. To my surprise, a rough hand suddenly slithered over my mouth. My eyes grew wide and my heart pounded as I began to panic.
I screeched muffled, squirming wildly even though I was trapped in place. “Shut up.” A male voice hissed in my ear. “I’m trying to help you.” His warm breaths sent chills down my spine. “That thing in front of you is called a ‘poison’. I don’t really have a lot of time to explain but the poor bastard is nearly blind. Just trust me and follow my lead. She senses you by your heart beating, try to slow it down.”
I couldn’t stop starting at the poison but I began to breathe in deeper and exhale more slowly. As I did so, he released his grip of my mouth.
“Good…now step back.” The voice coaxed as the poison started to hiss and gorwl softly locking in on her prey.
“There’s a bush behind you, go and wait there until I come for you.”
I attempted to do so, I really did, but I couldn’t move, as though my feet had been bolted to the dirt ground. Questions popped into my mind one after the other going through every scenario of how this could turn out.
There was no time to answer, unfortunately.
“Trust me, it’s okay.” The voice whispered, his phrases echoing in my ear. The poison’s worthless eyes darted back and forth trying to stalk us.
“Naomi, just trust me damn it!”
This time the voice shouted, startling the creature in front of us. She lunged towards me. The sound of my name seemed to make everything change. The boy behind me threw me over the bush making me land hard on to my stomach. I groaned, revisiting the pain in my spine from earlier in the night. With the bushes’ branches in the way I couldn’t see a thing, only hear. A blood curdling shriek, followed by hissing, growling. Then silence. No sound but my own heart racing...