As time went on Espero and I kept my powers secret. Espero never mentioned them again, in fact, not even in private. I wasn’t sure if he forced himself to forget, or if he was just too scared to talk about them. Either way I figured it would be best only to practice when I was alone. It seemed a waste to have special abilities and never use them.
It was a cool day almost a year after the incident with the bird, and I was gathering berries in the woods. Espero had said he knew a good spot to find lots of berries, but I knew it was the same spot we had checked yesterday and there were none left in that area. So we had split up that day to see who could gather the most on our own. I had found a nice spot farther south from the pond that was plentiful with fruit.
After loading up my basket I began walking through a clearing where I came upon a bear that had been shot by several arrows and, apparently, had run from his pursuers only to bleed to death. I was still near the tree line, looking around to see if I could find the hunters. I thought they must have lost his trail because I couldn’t find any sign of them. Bears had been scarce near our home, probably because their furs made excellent blankets.
I had had only a few opportunities to practice my abilities since discovering them, so I felt this would work nicely. I focused on wanting the bear to be alive – made myself feel sad for its passing and eventually, I started to feel the cold in my head again. This part, at least, I had gotten down fairly well. The bear stood up and of its own accord, and slowly wandered around, twitching in an odd sort of way with every step. Its head lulled back and forth focusing on nothing in particular. I tried to focus on what I wanted it to do.
“Stand on two legs” I mumbled.
Just like with previous attempts, however, the bear continued without heeding my instructions. After a few minutes passed I heard the hunters approaching and there were too many of them to be completely silent while escaping, so I hunkered down behind a tree. Across the clearing I could see the hunters as they approached the bear cautiously. They hesitated at the tree line when they saw the bear was moving about. I stared on helplessly at the roaming bear. I didn’t know how to make things die again. It just sort of happened on its own with all the other animals I had raised.
After a few minutes the hunters started shooting it with more arrows. My heart began to race as I imagined what they would do if they found out the bear wasn’t alive. When the arrows started striking the bear it showed no signs of noticing. This caused an audible conversation between the hunters, although, I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.
I was taking deep breaths, “fall down” I kept chanting to myself.
After several more minutes and many more arrows, the bear finally hit the ground with a heavy thud. The hunters approached the bear with caution, and I could hear them trying to come up with explanations. “Maybe it was sick?” one of them said. For fear of being spotted I did not stay to hear more.
I was slick with sweat when I made it back to the pond, which was where I had agreed to meet Espero. I took a seat on one of the flat rocks surrounding the pond and watched the frogs swimming gracefully beneath the water. “See I told you I knew where to find them.” Espero had a smug look on his face and was holding up his basket.
“Huh? Oh,” I peered into his basket which wasn’t even halfway full “That’s not near enough for everyone.”
“More than what you got.” He nodded toward my empty basket.
“Right.” In my haste to get away from the hunters I had forgotten to keep the basket upright, completely emptying its contents. “Ah well, maybe mother will understand.”
Espero just looked at me with one eyebrow raised and his hands on his hips. It was his best impression of mother and it made me giggle. “Ok,” I said “you’re right. We’ll just have to go find more. Let’s stay together this time though.”
“Ok, where do you want to look?” He was grabbing berries out of his basket and slowly munching on them.
I sighed and slapped his hand away lightly. He glared at me, but I ignored him and looked around trying to think of a new spot “How about pine cove?”
He nodded and kept munching while we walked.
Pine cove was really just a row of pine trees that we had named. I hadn’t known if the berries there had grown back or not, but it was the opposite direction from the clearing where the hunters were. After a couple hours of searching we managed to gather enough to go home.
We saw our mother in the garden as we approached the house “How many did you find?” she asked while she pulled up carrots with her dirt encrusted hands.
“A full basket between us.” I was leaning the basket toward her to show her, though she never looked up.
“Ok, put them on the table and then get the fire for the stove started.” She wiped her brow on her shoulder as she worked “You remember how I showed you?”
I sighed “Yea I remember” I had lit fires for years at that point, but the first time I tried, I lit half my hair on fire. Mother was always paranoid after that. We put up our baskets and got some twigs and leaves for the fire. I used the flint to start the flames in the stove and Espero watched diligently at my side. Mother joined us with the carrots and water. I got to work, and helped her clean and cut the carrots. “Are we going to the village this spring?”
“I told you Greilya, we’re not going back to the village. It’s not safe anymore.”
Her tone said she was done talking about it, but I was tired of being kept in the dark. “But why isn’t it safe anymore?”
I interrupted her before she could give me the same excuse she had been giving me for the last year “You’ve been telling me it’s not safe, so we don’t go. But I’m almost ten, I should get to know why.” She gave me a stern look and I gave it right back, sitting up a little straighter in my chair.
Her eyes were locked with mine “Espero, go get us more water.” I could hear Espero groan but he left quickly enough. She stood up and went to the stove to light a rolled cigarette, something she did only on occasion. “Ok,” she came back to her seat “I didn’t raise you to be an idiot, I suppose it’s only fair I don’t treat you like one. Do you remember the last time we went to market?”
“Yes, the bearded man said something that upset you.”
“It wasn’t so much what he was saying as what he was doing. He was gathering a group of angry people to form a mob. Mobs of people like that act as one, they become a devastating beast. They forget reason and feeling and know only blood lust.” She took another drag of her cigarette and seemed to be gauging me with her eyes “You know your father and I didn’t start out like this. I’ve told you before we use to live in a big city.” I nodded, and she continued “When mobs of people are formed, whatever the reason may be, they will seek to destroy anything unusual. They view the oddities as threats. Choosing to move from a big city to a small house in the middle of nowhere is unusual. We’re educated and we speak differently which is also unusual. That’s enough reasons to make us a target for any mob.”
“But we have friends in the village, they know us. They wouldn’t hurt us.”
“You can know a beast, give it food, see it every day, but what if one day the beast is angry? Would any of those things matter? Would your words stop it from killing you?”
I hesitated, digesting her words “No.” I said fidgeting in my seat.
“No” she agreed. She stubbed out her cigarette on the ground. Then she kneeled in front of me and put one hand on my shoulder, while using the other to raise my head to meet her gaze. “Greilya, I’m not telling you these things to scare you, but you’re right. You are almost ten, and though that is still very young, you are the eldest child. It’s your job to protect your brother and to do that you need to know what to be wary of.” She searched my eyes “do you understand?”
This restored some of my confidence “Yes mother, I understand.”
She kissed my forehead “Good.” Then she took her seat and we finished preparing the food.
* * *
Several weeks had passed and Espero and I were heading home from an evening of playing in the woods. I heard it before I saw it, the beast my mother feared. After hearing the yelling, I Immediately knew something had to be wrong. I grabbed Espero’s hand and pulled him into some bushes at the tree line, still sixty feet from our house. “What’s going on?” Espero whispered.
I put my finger to my mouth to indicate silence and looked on towards our house. I could make out probably thirty people with torches. Many of them were yelling. Then I heard my mother scream. They pulled her and my father out of the house. They were kicking and screaming but it looked as though their hands were tied. The villagers had erected a post in the yard surrounded by branches and were marching my parents toward it. I was trying to think of what I could do when Espero stood up. “Espero sit back down.” I hissed at him.
“What are they doing?”
“Espero, sit back down, we’ll come up with a plan.”
He clearly didn’t understand but he sat back down. Then the beast started chanting “Burn the witches!” as they were tying my parents back to back to the post.
Espero’s eyes went wide and before I could stop him he bolted up and started running towards them “Stop!” he was yelling at them “Stop!” and thirty faces turned towards my brother.
I chased after him and grabbed him before he got too close. Now I could see the bearded man from the village among them. He pointed right at us “Bring the devil spawns so they may be cleansed by the fire!”
“Run!” my mother screamed while several of the men lit the fire at her feet. At the same time the rest of the men were headed toward Espero and I. There was no time to help our parents now, I had to save Espero. I grabbed his hand and pulled him with me back into the woods “Run Espero! We have to run!” I could hear him crying, but he ran with me all the same. They chased after us into the woods – our woods – where we knew every twist and turn, and every tree and bramble. We weren’t able to lose them, but at least we could stay ahead of them. There was a shack where father would go when he wanted to be alone. The shack was next to a cemetery, and that’s exactly where I was headed.
We made it to the shack where we found the door locked, I knew there was a window around the side, but before we crawled through, I wanted to get things ready. There were probably twenty graves in the cemetery, so I had plenty to choose from. Though I had never raised a human before, I hoped it was just like raising anything else. I focused on one of the graves and tried to feel sad that the person buried there was dead. All I could think of, however, was of my own parents slowly dying back at our house. I wiped tears from my face, still trying to focus, when I heard Espero scream. I whipped around to see that one of the villagers had come up behind us and grabbed Espero. I felt my whole body instantly go cold. “Let him go!” I screamed and as soon as I said it I could hear what sounded like explosions behind me. While the villager stood frozen, staring past me, Espero escaped his grasp and ran to my side. I turned to see the dead bursting out of their coffins. Not just one, but the whole cemetery. They were grotesque things with putrid flesh that writhed from the insects crawling beneath. They were chomping sporadically as they all headed our direction.
I could see more villagers had arrived and I grabbed Espero and ran toward the window. It was just big enough for us to squeeze through. Once inside we clearly heard the men begin to battle the undead. Though I still had not commanded anything of them, the undead were attacking the villagers as I’d hoped, though I never imagined I would be able to raise all of them. It was dark in the shack. The only light came through the slats in the wood from the torches. I held Espero close with our backs to the wall while he sobbed uncontrollably.
As the yelling and screaming continued there was a loud thud at the door. It became a rhythimic noise until it finally crashed open and revealed two of the villagers. They reached for us, but several undead came up behind them, biting and tearing at their flesh. Horror filled me as I watched these men be ripped apart by the dead beasts I had brought to life, not ten feet from me. Espero yelped and buried his face in my arm. One of the dead things looked up at us and tilted its head.
As death took the villagers the zombies began to lose interest and all of them began to turn toward us. I couldn’t understand why, surely the undead wouldn’t hurt the one who brought them back. I looked down at Espero, my brother, and I realized what the dead had taken an interest in.
I stood up and pushed Espero behind me “Stop! I command you to stop!” as I screamed the dead just seemed to become more vicious as they scratched and chomped at the air moving ever forward.
“The window, Espero.” He was still on the floor just looking up at the dead creatures in utter shock. “Espero! Get out the window!” He still didn’t seem to hear me. One of the dead pushed into me and I shoved it back as best I could. There was a wall of them between us and the door, there was no way we could get through. They kept coming and I kept pushing, but there were too many of them. Eventually one of them grabbed Espero by the leg and pulled him into the sea of undead. I dropped to the ground and reached for him, but he was hysterical, so all it served to do was give me a view of him as they ripped him open. I couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t stop them. I could just lay there with my hand outstretched and watch.
* * *
If time passed, I hadn’t noticed. I know I moved him to me, put his head in my lap, though I don’t remember doing so. I didn’t feel anything. After all the running and screaming, I wound up with nothing worth feeling. I sat in the blood stained shack, holding him, just staring at the broken door. I was surrounded by the undead, they had not fallen. They seemed to have been in a sort of trance. I could feel them, just standing, rocking slightly back and forth, around me. I was so cold I was shivering, though I don’t think it was cold outside. I watched without interest as the two dead villagers rose from the floor and joined the others in their trance. Then Espero lifted his head off my lap and stood next to me. I held his cold hand, but otherwise I did not move.
I noticed the change in the sun’s light outside – time seemed to resume. It had traveled across the sky at least twice before I stood up. “Let’s go to the well Espero.” the idea that he wouldn’t follow never occurred to me and we walked outside hand in hand. I saw more undead outside slowly shuffling around. As we moved back toward our house, they followed us.
Having reached the edge of the woods, I could see the charred skeleton of what remained of my home. My parents weren’t there, just a scorched patch on the ground surrounded by ash. I stopped to stare at it, but lacking anything to say, I just stepped around it to the well.
I pulled up some water and drank heavily. I looked back where I’d come from, and I could see all of the undead coming out of the woods behind us. I held my dead brothers hand once more and we continued to walk.