This snap fiction story (what’s that?) stepped up when I snapped this photo of a series of steps leading up and out of a park.
An Exit out of Othgurd
Marila felt the next set of steps even before she could see them. By now, she knew the sensation. The world started to feel fluid and viscous, the air thinner and colder, and time seemed to struggle to keep up with her. Or did she struggle to keep up with time?
Even after six previous encounters, it still unsettled her. Could it be that here, at the seventh set of steps, the effects of the enchantment were even stronger? If the Old Matriarch had told them the truth, this would be a way out—the way out through the Witching Woods. At every step, their trek had become harder, punctuated by the steps. The flights had been about five miles apart, and it had taken all of Marila’s persuasion to keep Roug from running up them, desperate as he was to get out of the forest.
Day had turned into night since they departed the Old Matriarch’s hut, and night had turned to day again. They were very far from home now; or were they, as promised, very close?
“Come on, Roug, we’re almost there,” she urged.
Her brother was pale and listless, less than a shadow of the bouncing boy she had grown up loving so much. But she was determined to succeed. She had promised to return him to their parents, who had already been magicked out of this newly darkened land of Othgurd after surrendering their copy of the Lore Scrolls. If, that is, the old woman had told the truth.
Othgurd was lost, that much Marila believed, after all the suffering she’d seen. There was no way back, but there might be a way out.
“Marila?” Roug’s voice was barely a whisper. She kneeled before him and looked deep into his eyes, forcing his attention towards her.
“Can you hear it?”
Only then did Marila realize that she didn’t hear it. In fact, she heard nothing. The rustling of the leaves, their footsteps, her own breath—it was all gone. All that remained was Roug’s voice.
She remembered the Old Matriarch’s words: at the gate, Roug would receive the gift of hearing and she, Marina, would have the gift of sight. Could this be the moment?
As she led Roug towards the seventh steps, he clung closer to her.
“Can you see them?” she asked.
He shook his head and shuddered. His voice was barely more than a breath as he said, “I see nothing.”
Marila checked that the Lore Scroll was still secure in her leather pouch and then placed Roug in front of her. She placed her feet under his, just as they’d done so often when they were smaller. Footstep by footstep, she guided him forward and up the steps.
“Trust me,” she said, “I can see it.”
“I know,” he almost laughed, “I can hear it.”
Marila’s world was still devoid of all other sounds. She asked, “What do you hear?”
“Mama’s voice,” Roug said, and his grip on her hand grew stronger and stronger with each step.
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