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Marcus couldn’t see a thing beyond the light of the fire Fatima had set. She held dried leaves over the flame and let them fall into it. Marcus could barely keep himself awake. Only the pain of his cut fingers kept him from falling asleep. He watched Fatima feed the fire. “You keep surprising me,” he muttered. Fatima turned to look at him for an instant before returning her sight to the fire. “What happened after I fell?”
She folded her hands over her lap, “I tried to follow you but I lost you. I spent the day climbing down the mountain, looking for you. I tried to ask the forest but it couldn’t find you either. It’s no surprise since Hope found you first.”
“What was she?” Marcus asked.
“Hope? She’s a forest witch.” Fatima explained, “She has good intentions but dangerous methods. Many travelers have died after she has tried to help them.”
Marcus shivered. There was so much he didn’t know about the forest before Fatima found him, and wondered how much more he still didn’t know. He couldn’t stop staring at Fatima. That was one more mystery he realized he knew nothing about. “Fatima,” he said, “how old are you?”
Fatima closed her eyes as she muttered something. She opened them again, “I don’t recall.”
“I stopped counting the days a long time ago.” To Marcus, Fatima looked like a statue. She didn’t move anything other than her lips.
“How did you end up daughter of the forest?” He asked.
Fatima ran her fingers through her long, black hair. “I remember waking up one day in the middle of the forest. I was naked and I didn’t remember anything, not even my name. Everything hurt. I was really scared so I started to cry. But then, I heard a whisper. It talked to me without saying a word. I stopped crying and listened. It told me that my name was Fatima and that it would protect me if I protected it. And so I did. It has kept its promise and I have kept mine ever since.”
Marcus listened in silence. Fatima never questioned. She didn’t seem to need to. She knew the forest better than anyone. There was nothing new to ask about. Except him. “You never asked for my name.” He stated.
She passed her hand through the dirt floor and scooped up dry leaves, “I suppose I didn’t.” She let the leaves fall onto the fire once more. Marcus thought he saw them burn before the flames had even reached them.
“Have you ever wondered who you were?” He asked, “What you were?”
She turned her gaze to him. Her eyes pierced like ice. “What I was?”
He looked away, “Hope didn’t look too different from you.”
“I’m not a witch.”
“You could have been.” He insisted.
She turned back to the flame and closed her eyes, “It’s not important anymore. The here, the now, that’s all that’s important to me.”
“How?” he asked.
“How do you not care about the past?”
She remained silent. She leaned her head back. Wind blew off the leaves from the trees and let the white moonlight fall over her pale face. Her skin soaked it up like sunlight. “It hurts.” She confessed, “Whenever I try to look back to my life before the forest, it hurts. I’d rather not look back.”
Marcus leaned back onto a tree. He didn’t need to wonder what it was like to hurt when looking back at one’s life. He closed his eyes. The image of his wife appeared in his mind. He could feel her soft arms around his neck and her warm lips on his. He could smell her hair like honey. His heart raced and he could not help but smile.
The image shifted. He held a child in his arms. She was crying. Car lights passed through the window and painted the room for only an instant before they disappeared. Marcus sang something he could barely understand. He fought the tiredness that pulled on his eyelids and kept singing. She stopped crying and closed her eyes. Marcus smiled.
He opened his eyes and it was all gone. He grasped his chest and fought through the pain, fresh as if he had just lost them again. It seemed the pain was the only thing he had left of them. “I forgot my name.” He muttered, “When I was weaving baskets with Hope, I forgot my name. It didn’t feel wrong at the time. It felt pleasant. But looking back, that’s what scares me the most. I forgot who I was. I forgot what I cared about. I forgot why I’m here.” He looked down at his hand. His fingers had stopped bleeding and the cuts had begun to heal. “We’ve come so far and you’ve saved my life, yet you don’t know who I am and I don’t really who you are.” Fatima opened her eyes and met his gaze, “Do you know who you are?”
She breathed out and looked at the dark forest. “Who am I?” She whispered.
Marcus extended his hand, “Hello, I’m Marcus.”
Fatima gazed at his hand for a moment. Cold wind blew through the forest. She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. She opened them and took his hand. “Hello, Marcus.” She said, “I’m…”
She dug her nails into her skin. She squeezed her eyelids and let out a gasp. Marcus shivered. Fatima looked pale like snow. “Who am I?” She breathed out. The wind intensified. It grasped on her hair and pulled it out. Leaves cut onto her skin. Blood painted her face. She screamed. Her nails drew blood from Marcus’ hand.
“Who am I?” She yelled. Her ears bled.
“Fatima!” Marcus screamed. He pressed his hands around hers and let her claw at his skin. His heart raced. He didn’t know what to do but he had to do something.
“I heard you!” She roared, “Stop trying to protect me and tell me! Who am I?” The wind hissed so clearly that even Marcus could make out voices. He didn’t understand a single word. He knew they weren’t meant for him.
“The child,” Fatima whispered, “Marcus, get to the child.”
“The child?” He gasped.
“The forest would never hurt me. Not like this.” Tears ran down her cheeks, “The child’s cry is hurting it. It’s losing its balance.” She let go of his hands and jolted back. “Go!” A red stained formed on her stomach. It grew as Fatima breathed harder. Her irises went white. “Stop it,” she whispered. A hand marked itself on her throat. “Let me go. Please, don’t hurt me.” She grasped the floor. “Help me!” She screamed.
“The child.” Marcus repeated. He didn’t think. He had to save her. He stood up and ran. The wind pushed on him but he pushed back. He broke the roots that grabbed his feet. He pushed through the branches that clawed at him. He ran until Fatima’s cries faded.
Then he heard it. He heard it without Fatima’s help. He heard it crystal clear. The child’s cry.
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