Note: This is a stand alone story, has no relationship to the previous weeks.
My eyes opened slowly. I sat up from bed, already dressed in my rough-spun clothing. The bed sheets fell off the mattress onto the floor with a slight rustle. Carefully I brought one foot to the floor, slowly shifting my weight on to it. I scowled for every distressed groan it elicited. I slowly pushed myself off the bed until, finally, I was standing. I froze, cocking my head to the side and straining to hear any signs of life. There was only the creaking of the house’s old bones and hushed whispers of the night’s wind.
I glanced around the room. There was nothing new; the dirty beaten up walls matched the floor. It was a typical house for a struggling family, there was nothing special, nothing to tether me here-well, other than one thing.
I made my way over to the second bed in the room, wincing at the ever-tortured sound the floor made. Grace was laying there, her young innocent frame curled into a ball. The ghost of a smile flickered on my face as I pulled the thread-bare sheets back over her. But, as I tucked a strand of her golden-spun hair behind one of her ears, my heart ached. I closed my eyes for a second as guild wracked my body. I was betraying her, leaving my little sister alone, without guidance, without protection. Now she would have no one to shield her from our parents.
“I’m sorry, Grace,” I murmured to her still-sleeping body and turned away, not letting my emotions betray my purpose.
I took a deep, shuddering breath, and realized I was finished here. I started walking toward the room’s only window, grabbing my patch-worn pack from the side of my bed as I walked. I stared out the window for a moment when I reached it, gazing at the luminescent moon and stars, longing for the freedom they embodied. I put my hands on the window’s rough sill and pushed up. It resisted for a second and with a squeal of pain, the window begrudgingly opened. I stuck my head out of it and inhaled, basking in the night’s smell.
I brought my head back into the room, and swung my legs over to straddle the windowsill. I was hanging precariously on the border of entrapment and what I thought was a future of boundless opportunity. I pushed myself out, my body plummeting to the ground, but my mind was soaring with a wild fervor. My landing, however, was less then graceful. My legs fell out from under me as I smacked into the unforgiving ground. But I recovered quickly, not letting the small mistake dissuade me.
I began to follow the paved road out of town, the night amplifying my boot slaps on the pathway.
Well it was hardly a town, more like a glorified trading outpost. It was a small scuffed-up and cracked stepping stone that only led to better things. The beat-up, worn down houses loomed over me as I made my way around them. The houses were riddled with small alleyways between them, offering respite from the prying eyes of wicked neighbors, or from my paranoia of them. Few people dared to leave the safety of their homes; they were too afraid of their shadow, preferring the façade of safety their homes offered. Back then, I would have hardly have called my home comforting. All my problems seemed to center around it, made up of two parents who had driven each other to the bottle, and a town that was simply countin’ down the days until my parents drove me to it. Looking back, I was never in the mood to prove them wrong. I hated it there. I hate the memories of it. Somehow, it had gotten worse though, the dark days staining themselves with an even more dismal shade.
The paved stones slowly gave way to loose rocks and packed dirt. I began following the scars of old footprints, naïvely hoping that they, unlike most, would prove to be a reliable guide.