The stories they tell are received the same way, regardless of whether the words are uttered with hushed tones of trepidation or delivered with dramatic depth and emphatic gestures. The stories linger in the minds of the children with lucid images inspiring fear and wonder but as the children grow, as the years begin to pass at an accelerated rate the wonder fades and the fear transforms. The fear is no longer acute or vivid, the stories no longer believed and yet when the mind blindly stumbles beyond the familiar they find the fear is not gone, it is just no longer accompanied by awe. Despite becoming nebulous with the passing years, the stories continued to bind them; committing them to the same roads, faces and beliefs. Beyond odd, eerie moments when a faint whisper of suspicion renders life less real than originally thought, they remain content with what they have. Despite this, you are different.
You follow every story with a sense of longing bordering on desperation, and while the images of those creatures lurking beyond the trees lingered in your dreams, you consumed everything you heard and read. Your fear deepened but so did your wonder, at what could lay beyond the trees encircling the village where you were born and destined to die. At that point, the alienation separating you from the others, like an expanse of stagnant water undisturbed by even a single ripple was not apparent as you still had Samara.
You can't quite recall when you first met but for some reason, you envision a crowd that scared you but from which you could not escape. Hidden, in the furthest corner you closed yours eyes waiting for everyone to go but then something changed. You open your eyes and see a girl about your age, with dark hair and even darker eyes. She smiles down at you, the way you fearfully glance around but her smile is not a mocking one, rather it is slight with understanding. How this girl, who approached you without fear could ever know your dread is a question never answered but this persistent ambiguity never ripened and rotted what immediately existed between you. For the crowd was no longer menacing when she was near.
Samara once called you the moon and herself the sun, at the time you did not understand what she meant but now you do. You were both so different from the others, and in some ways similar to one another. You both looked to the night as a place of transfiguration, when the familiar and mundane were rendered with an otherworldly mystique that could never be seen but only hinted at by shimmering silhouettes. But you were so different, she did not consume the stories but questioned them, embellished them. The way she did this, the way she regarded people without fear and questioned every statement put her way by her elders made you admire her, the difference between you did not impose distance but made you feel close.
Samara's ability to understand the stories, to live them meant she was good at creating them. You went everywhere together, through the trees where the summer sky became fragmented to pulsing slices of blue by the overhanging branches, through the glade and meadow as you shivered from the nibbling cold, but she only ever told you her stories when you were on the hill. You would sit among the wisps of grass, sometimes swayed by the wind that stroked your cheek. On this hill, the village was behind you. What you both faced was nothing but trees, hiding the ground and stretching as far as you could see so it was as if they met and vanished into the sky at the most distant point of the horizon.
Samara never confused her stories with the ones spawned in the village and purported to be fact. Rather she revelled in the imagination that opened possibilities in front of you as she spoke the words that seemed to be carried away by the wind and to that world she created. The only place where her words could be true. This distinction was violated only once when she tried to deceive you.
On a cold morning, you told her of a woman who appeared in your thoughts with a presence asserted as certainly as the wind but also as translucent. This woman lacked any features, rendered nothing more than a hazed figure but for some reason you regarded her with familiarity and sadness. Samara listens, deep in thought before asking you about your mother. You tell her things you never told anyone, things you thought no longer affected you due to the neglect that left them untouched in the darkest corner of your mind. As you talk, you cry for the first time and Samara does not interrupt. Despite her stubbornness and eagerness, she had always been able to suddenly appear wise and the grave expression made her seem the wisest person in the world.
Once you were done, she tells a story, but she claims she heard it down in the village and did not construe it on the hill. You know she lied but you listen as if she didn't, as if what she said was the truth.
She talked of the sister you never knew she had, how her sister taught her to read and swim. She talked of her sister's love for poetry, a volume in particular composed of twelve poems telling the stories of twelve different birds. Samara's voice grows distant as she talks of her sister not returning home, she talked of her pain that stopped her from doing anything but breathing.
Samara diverts from her narrative by recounting an instance when she was first learning to swim. When she ignored her sister's warnings before she suddenly starting to sink. Samara drowned that day only to be saved by her sister, Samara compared her loss to the drowning except the sensation of helplessness was dragged throughout every subsequent day. Samara was saved by her grandmother who is gone now, her grandmother told her a story of where the dead went. How they went to another world to watch over us, how certain points of contact could be reached where we could feel that they were with us.
Once Samara heard her grandmother's story, she went home and picked up her sister's favourite book of poetry. She started to read and slowly, a voice was revealed but it was not her voice; it was her sister's voice that sounded every vowel and followed the rhythm of the poetry as if it were the most ethereal of music. The voice did this in a way Samara never could, in a way no one else could. Samara claimed to have felt her sister, as firmly as she feels your hand under her own. You know Samara is lying, violating the sanctity of the stories that formed the village and the lives dwelling within, but you don't mind. You accept her words and the subsequent comfort as if they were true.
You never knew your life, your place within it until you lost Samara. Of course, you had hints, fragmented facts lingered in your mind, but they seemed inconsequential to the events of the day. When Samara was gone, the picture of who you were and where you were was complete. You no longer thirsted for stories, no longer returned to that hill and looked to the menacing shadows under the trees with an expression of wonder. Your world had not changed, it was stripped bare like flesh from the bone, so the truth stared back at you until you cowered under the heavy gaze. All you had was her, there was nothing for you here. You had no place in what could only be called home, a word laced with sardonic venom.
They always regarded you the same way, a blunt stone that learned nothing and knew nothing. This was because of your dim eyes and silence, they were wrong. You were simply gone, to places they could not see and only you knew but without Samara, you were reduced to what they rendered you. You were a spectator to your own life, as displaced in the endless days as a baby bird fallen from the nest only you did not have a near death to free you, to suddenly impart some kind of significance on your life before you lost it.
One morning, you woke and went to work. As you did so, a hellish shriek stopped you. You turned to the source and became transfixed on the terrible scene, they were killing a horse. A horse desperate to escape despite being bound, they had to use machetes. To you, it seemed they hacked dozens of times but the shrieks, filled with an incomprehensible terror continued to ring out and follow you through the day.
Later that evening, as the day receded so a deep blue hue verging on blackness dimmed the world, you returned to where Samara lived. The house was long abandoned, the rooms stripped bare of any signs of the past lives that once moved and breathed within these walls. All that can fill the empty spaces are memories but even now, you lack the energy to even recall her face. So, you wonder why you are in the empty rooms.
You don't know how long you were sitting in her room before you notice it, the loose floorboard. For a moment, curiosity and possibility flicker within you like a fragile flame threatened with extinguishment with every passing moment.
From the floor, you extract her book of stories. Some are familiar, others are new. You read them, again and again until you are forced to return home by the bearing darkness. What you have read already filled your mind, protecting you from the cold as you make your way home.
The rest of that night is spent by the candlelight, as you read it feels like your mind has been reawakened from a deep sleep. The previous days and the coming ones, once rendered so threatening have diminished so they no longer plague your mind. You were nowhere but with Samara and her words. When the fresh morning light came, you felt no burden or sadness. Your mind remained alive, your thoughts danced with the stories, with the characters, colours and places she described. Despite this tranquillity, you fear the coming day will drag you away from her, so she is once again rendered a distant figure.
The days come and go, at times you lose the magic, but you rediscover it as much with your memories as you do the stories. Even when the magic is undermined by the familiar, you carry them with you always. The sky seemed larger, more vibrant with a deeper blue. The sunlight seemed warmer and the shadows danced at a slower pace, the flowers brighten your day with lush colours while the fallen leaves seem to be strewn across the forest floor as if life remained within their red and brown shades. Through her stories, you rediscover the world with a fresh gaze dancing along with every movement or settled on the stillness with the impression there is some hidden fabric of life revealed to you by Samara.
With the brilliance revealed, your days grow more unbearable. You expected to arrive at the decision in a climactic moment but instead you are gently led there by the subtle music of a life you have rediscovered. With every passing moment, every passing day the truth further seeps into your mind. You cannot stay here, a thought reinforced with every flutter of wind.
You pack your provisions and approach the trees, not hesitating before vanishing beneath the branches stripped clean by autumn. You walk a long way; every step is more certain as if you are following a path you cannot see but know intimately. In the bag, you have just your provisions and the book.
At some point you stop and look back, but you can no longer see the village, the only thing you can see is the hill. On this hill you think you can see a woman, even those you can't make out a single feature of this figure you are left with an impression of warm familiarity and a sense of loss. As if you know her somehow. A part of you wants to go to her, to learn more but some hidden aspect of this woman urges you onwards.
So, you turn your back on me and go further than I went. I too looked towards the trees, I ventured beyond them believing I was on the verge of a new journey and the start of my life, but I turned back for I only had their stories of fear, but you have more, you have Samara's stories guiding you onwards. Soon, you are further than I went, and you know you are not turning back.
You leave their stories behind, taking only Samara's. You no longer use her words as a desperate source of escape but rather her stories guide you, softly encouraging you like the touch of her hand, the brush of her hair or her lingering smile as she looked at some point in the distance. You carry her stories to guide you to new places, to new stories.
Jacob is a postgraduate student who enjoys writing and reading offbeat stories.