Standing at the edge of the grave, Marcus could not come up with a single thought. He closed his eyes and searched for any emotion. He tried to force tears out of his eyes but he couldn’t. He clenched his fists and let out a sigh. He stared back at the pile of fresh dirt but still felt nothing.

“I’ve always hated sunny funerals.” A voice called from behind him, “I find them very contradicting. But at the same time, at least the flowers get some light.”

Marcus turned around for a second. The woman seemed young, but he didn’t look for too long. He only caught a glimpse of her tangled black hair and black tired eyes. He turned his sight back to the dirt. “Avery,” the woman read, “what a lovely name. How old was she?”

“Barely two years old.”

“How quick,” she muttered, “Was she yours?”

He nodded and turned to the woman, “I’m sorry, who are you?”

She smiled softly, “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Fatima.”

“Fatima.” He repeated, “I’m sorry, how are you related?”

“I’m related to everyone.” She replied, “Through my, let’s call it ‘adoptive parent´, that is.” She pushed her hair back. Dark dirt smudged itself over her pale skin like ink over a page.

Marcus stared at the stranger for a moment and shook his head, “If you don’t mind, Fatima, I’d like to be alone right now.”

Fatima´s smile disappeared. She knelt down and dug her fingers into the earth. Marcus jolted back and yelled, “What do you think you’re you doing?”

“She seems comfortable enough.” Fatima murmured. She closed her eyes and let a single breath out. Green roots sprouted from her fingers and clawed on to her arms. Bright green leaves and yellow flowers grew into the dirt. The brown disappeared beneath the colors of the plants. The grave turned into a flowerbed.

Marcus stepped back. He could not believe what he was seeing. His breathing grew rapid. Fatima dug her hands out and pulled off the roots that had grown on her arms. “That will give her a nice blanket to stay warm during the cold nights.” She stepped toward Marcus, but he took a step back. “Do not be afraid. I can’t do much more than grow flowers.” She said.

“How- how did you do that?” He stuttered.

“I’m the maid of the forest. It raised me and it taught me its secrets.” She explained.

“That doesn’t help!” He yelled, “I don’t understand anything.”

“It is something hard to explain to those that haven’t lived it.” She acknowledged, “You see, my job is to keep the spirits that live in the forest at peace. The plants, the animals, the creatures that hide in plain sight, and sometimes human spirits. I help them live at peace so that the forest can remain tranquil.”

“What do you mean ‘creatures’?”

“Exactly what you’d imagine.” She replied, “But you see, I have a problem and I need a father. Three days ago, a spirit arrived into the forest, a child. But this child won’t stop screaming and crying. The noise has been disturbing everyone and everything. It has made the birds stop singing, the flowers stop growing, and everybody scared of going into the forest. I’ve never had children nor do I remember my own parents. I don’t know how to appease a crying child.”

Marcus looked at the flowerbed, “Three days ago.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You said the spirit arrived three days ago, right?” Fatima nodded. “What does this child look like?”

She shook her head, “I’ve tried to find it, but whenever I get close, it hides. It almost seems to be afraid of me.”

Marcus raised his sight to the gravestone. He couldn’t help but think that maybe he knew the spirit. His body was cold, his head hurt, his hands were shaking, his breathe seemed like ice, but he managed to nod. “I’ll help you find the child.”

“Sir,” Fatima added, “I might not be right, but I believe all the child wants is to go to sleep.”

Hope disappeared from Marcus´s thoughts, but he still managed to nod again. He could at least say goodbye. “I’ll do it.”

Fatima stretched out her hand, “Thank you, sir. Please, come with me.”

Marcus grabbed her hand. Fatima breathed out and roots crawled over her arm and clawed onto his skin. He bit his lip as he felt the roots dig into his arm like knives. He pressed his eyelids together, trying to hold back tears. “If you want to help, you must see the forest through my eyes.” Fatima whispered.

Marcus opened his eyes. Everything looked grey. He looked down at the flowerbed. The colors looked move vibrant against the grey. The brow of the root around his arm popped out against his grey skin. “Hold my hand, sir, and don’t let go.” Fatima began to walk, pulling Marcus behind. She turned and left the grave behind her.

Marcus gasped. Before, he hadn’t given much notice to the woods around the cemetery, but in between greys, the green looked like emeralds in the sun. He didn’t look away from the color as the forest seemed to swallow him whole.


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