It seemed that I had lost much more time than I knew. But then again, between the visits to Sorina’s house, and my time spent closed up in the flower, it was no wonder that everything seemed so confusing.
Gabi had called the girl in front of us Crina. The last time I had seen her, she had been a small blind girl, with flowers blooming from her eyes. But the being in front of me was not a little girl anymore, and her eyes were empty.
She was looking at me. She had no eyes to see with, but I still felt that she was looking at me: a powerful tingle of perception seemed to pass between the two of us. My new body trembled from it. She smelled very much like the sickly-sweet white grove, perhaps because she was wearing a shift made of stitched-together leaves. But the leaves were red and alive, and part of me wondered if they were growing right out of her body. Because she was a fadua like me- me, with my arms still full of the stubborn vine growing out of my navel.
“I see you, little one,” she said to me. It should have been a ridiculous statement, since she was so much shorter than I was, and still so very young-looking, and very blind, but I did not feel like laughing. I felt chilled, and when she began to walk towards me, found myself frozen in place.
Pascha and Gabi were between her and I. But Pascha, with a frail-sounding whine, immediately stepped to one side as she came close. All of the light seemed to have gone out of him, so that amongst the shining white trees around us he was a dark, human-shaped blot. His face was full of fear.
Gabi did not stand to one side, though when I looked, every visible muscle on her seemed tensed, her fingers curled, her shoulders and back rigid.
“You’re not Crina,” she growled, as Crina came towards her.
Crina stopped, as confusion welled up inside me. Now she was not Crina? But- no, somehow, even though she was so different, I felt fairly sure that she was Crina… But why was I so certain?
When Crina- or perhaps not Crina- spoke, it was not to confirm or refute Gabi’s accusation.
“I wish to see the child.”
“You’ve seen her,” said Gabi, her voice pitching up and down oddly. “Now go away! We’re leaving.”
“I’m not going to hurt her. Don’t be frightened.”
She reached out and touched Gabi’s cheek with two fingers. As though all of the strength had gone out of her at once, Gabi collapsed on the ground.
I crouched down over her, dropping the bush in my arms to one side, and grabbed her shoulder to turn her over. She was still breathing, her eyes half-open, but when I shook her she did not respond.
Something very cold touched the top of my head, sending a cascade of chills down through my body, and I looked up. There was Crina, standing over me.
“What did you do to her?” I demanded, pulling Gabi up closer to me. She was so solid and heavy my arms shook. She did not resist.
“I didn’t hurt her,” said Crina, and crouched down to look at me from Gabi’s other side. Her voice was so calm and gentle that I almost believed her.
“Who are you really?” I asked, holding Gabi tight.
She was not the one who answered- it was Pascha, lurking darkly amongst the trees.
“It’s her! Mother Forest!”
Crina slowly turned her head in his direction, and he ducked back with a whimper. My fingers were squeezing Gabi’s shoulders.
“No,” I said, my lips feeling numb and heavy, like I had already forgotten how to use them. “But you are Crina. Are you not?”
She turned back to look at me, and I shivered at the sight of her empty pits.
“Yes,” she said, “that is a name they called me. But I was not whole then.”
She paused, and then a slow realization dawned upon her face.
“Why… we have met before, you and I, haven’t we? I remember your voice. And this one.” She pointed to Gabi, still prone in my arms.
“I do not understand,” I said. The heat from Gabi’s body was sinking into my chest, the weight of her making my legs ache and tingle. I could feel the faint throb of her pulse. I thought I saw her eyes flicker.
“Neither do I,” said Crina, with a smile that was sweetly sad. “She did not tell me about you. She did not tell me she had made a child of her own.”
“Adamina.” The word came out as a sigh. “She hid you from me as I slept. She tried to keep you to herself.”
My mouth worked silently for a moment.
“She is not my mother!”
“But she loves you,” said Crina. “She loves you and fears for your safety at my hands.”
As if in answer, the earth beneath us suddenly shuddered. I swallowed.
“She tried to destroy me.”
“Yes,” said Crina, “yes, I think she fears you as well. You are everything she has forbidden herself. Free will…” Suddenly she stretched her arm out, and traced the line of my brow with her fingertips. I did not move. Her touch was barely perceptible, even with my new, stronger senses.
“I don’t understand,” I managed to say.
“Neither do I,” she said again. “This body you have… a strange power binds you to it.” She picked up a loop of the vine that protruded from my stomach, and suddenly a queasy feeling passed through me, and I covered my mouth with one hand.
“Bones…” murmured Crina, tracing her way down the vine’s length towards my navel, “clay, flesh, and blood…” She looked down at Gabi, still prone in my lap. “So strange… a golem should not move from one vessel to another. And yet, you have succeeded… almost.”
“What do you mean,” croaked Gabi, so suddenly that I jumped, “almost?”
Weakly she batted away my hand as I tried to push her hair out of her eyes. Crina tilted her head.
“So you can still speak?”
“What did you do to me?” Gabi growled, still in that hoarse voice. “I feel half-dead.”
“Ah,” said Crina, “that is probably because I stopped your second heart.”
Gabi’s eyes momentarily looked like they might pop out of her face, and I found I shared the sentiment.
“Please start it up again!”
“It will begin again on its own,” said Crina, sounding unconcerned. “What an extraordinary bond the two of you have forged- and what a peculiar one.”
For some reason, this made Gabi blush, and she sank further back into my lap.
“What do you want?” she rasped. “What do you want with Kezia?”
Crina tilted her head the other way.
“Hmm… I don’t know. Can you still speak to the earth, little one?”
Gabi made a bewildered noise, but I knew exactly what she was talking about. The place where my bare legs (now prickling and sparking from taking Gabi’s sustained weight) touched the soil felt… cold. And nothing else. Try as I might, in this body there was no extension from myself into the earth, no connection with the great web I knew lay just beneath us all.
“No, I cannot.”
Crina nodded, her hair falling forward from behind her ears.
“Flesh,” she said, “is a barrier and a compromise. Your red companion knows this…” She paused, looked at the dark, quivering blot that was Pascha, “…or at least, he once did. Someone has wrapped the poor thing up in spider-silk so fine, I doubt he can even feel it.”
“I do feel it,” said Pascha, but meekly.
“Is that what you meant when you said you weren’t whole before?” I asked. “That you… no, I still do not understand.”
“A piece,” said Pascha, looking at Crina, and then his own hand. “It’s only a piece of the whole thing. That isn’t really what it looks like. When I saw the real one, it was like a great… big…”
“A tree?” said Gabi. She tried to pull herself up onto her elbows, making me wince: it hurt when she poked into my thighs. “A tree?! You went screaming through the woods in a panic over a tree?!”
“It was a very frightening tree,” Pascha muttered.
“Crina does not look like a tree,” I pointed out, though doubtfully- I did not think I looked very much like someone who had recently come out of a flower, either.
Crina spread her hands in a who-knows? gesture. She did not seem very interested in our speculation about her. On the contrary, she was still staring intently at me. She had not let go of my vine. I felt it like a reminder, a little clutching feeling in my too-solid stomach.
Suddenly she rose to her feet, the vine playing out through her fingers. Gabi went stiff on my legs, one hand reaching back to grasp my wrist. Her circling fingers, though they did not touch, felt strong as an iron band.
Crina stood there, considering my vine, for a long moment, and I felt a growing sense of anxiety: perhaps Pascha’s fear was catching, or the fact that Gabi was down and I was very weak had only just dawned on me. I was… very helpless, on my knees in the dirt.
The trees creaked, as another tremor passed beneath us. Crina finally looked up with a slight smile.
“Adamina reminds me of the work we must do,” she said, and lightly released my vine. It hit the ground as I exhaled with relief. “I cannot keep my attention here… not now.”
Gabi sagged as well, her grip on my wrist slackening, but Crina had not finished speaking.
“That,” she said, pointing to the wrapped-up bush, forgotten on the ground beside me, “belongs in the earth. You mustn’t remove it from this forest. If you do…” She caught my gaze with her empty eyes in a long stare, “I shall come fetch it back.”
My new tongue, which had already seemed too thick, now seemed immovable; I could not respond to this. Gabi and Pascha, too, stayed silent. Though Crina had done nothing to suggest it, I think that all three of us were suddenly quite aware that she was, truly, the Mother Forest that we had fled and feared this entire time. The Mother Forest who had destroyed entire villages, that commanded an army of clay golems, and that the great Baba Yaga found threatening enough to confront.
Pascha, I thought, was right: the Crina before us, the small, pale girl without eyes, was only a fraction of the whole being that was Mother Forest.
“Autumn wanes,” she said, in a soft voice, head cocked as though she were listening to something. “Winter comes soon. My forest is hungry.”
She gave a strange shiver, the leaves bound around her body crackling, and then seemed to fade away. Gabi gave a little cry of surprise, clutching my wrist tight again. Where Crina had been standing was instead the slender trunk of a white tree, with red leaves fluttering down from the canopy, and one dark, open knot where her left eye had been.
Pascha broke the ensuing silence with a kind of low moan.
“We’re trapped,” he said, slumping into a squat, with his head hanging low. “Did you see that? A tree, I told you. Any one of these trees, she could be watching from.”
I stared long and hard at the little white tree, at the gaping knot and the fluttering leaves. A distant rumble passed beneath my legs.
“So what if she can?” Gabi countered, finally pushing herself off of my aching legs. She put one hand to her chest with a grimace. “Even so- I can’t claim to like it, but she didn’t say she was going to do anything to us. She didn’t ask us to do anything for her, either, which is a sight better than most witches I’ve dealt with…”
“Fool,” snapped Pascha, raising his head enough to glare at her. “Why ask us to do anything? As far as she’s concerned, we’re already her servants. Or her sacrifices!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why should a witch want any servants besides golems?” She gave a sidelong glance in my direction.
“Gabi is right,” I spoke, feeling a little strange as I said it. “I do not think she cares about what either one of you does. I do not think that she would even care if you left the forest.”
“She said she would get us if we left,” said Pascha. “I hardly think that counts as not caring.”
“No,” I said, “she did not say that. She said that she would come and get me. Only me.”
Again I felt strange, as they both turned to stare at me. Gabi was the one who spoke up first.
“She didn’t say you, Kezia- she said that!”
She pointed at the wrapped-up bush, which lay on its side next to me, looking dirty and feeble in its blanket. Branches and roots poked out of the hasty binding in every direction.
“That is a part of me,” I felt compelled to point out, and put one hand on the base of my vine.
“It doesn’t have to be,” Gabi argued, shaking her head. “Each time Mother Forest plants her seeds in a village- and we know it must have been more than once- she sends out a fadua, unattached! She must be the key to all of it.”
“But she didn’t seem too keen on separating out Kezia,” pointed out Pascha, tone morose. Still, his head had come up slightly; perhaps realizing that I was the only target had made him feel better.
Gabi made a frustrated sound and rose to her feet, scuffing her bare toes in the dirt. I supposed that meant that she had no answer to offer. I had none, either, and my legs ached. Pain was distracting, and so was the heaviness seeping through my body, especially my head: I think that it might have been weariness.
Gabi paced for a few moments more, and then said, “Well, I say we still move towards the edge of the forest. We aren’t going against the witch’s wishes so long as we’re still within the trees, and it’ll be easier to make a run for it if we must.”
“Hmm,” said Pascha. I thought I glimpsed a flicker of violet behind his brown eyes. “It doesn’t matter. I’m bound to go where you do, until my mistress calls for my return.”
Gabi gave a little grunt of assent, then spun her heel to look down at me, where I still crouched in the leaves and the dirt.
“What say you, Kezia?”
I stared blearily back up at her, somewhat surprised to be asked my opinion. My head and chest felt so weighted down that it was hard to think, but I said: “I would not mind walking a little.”
It was a statement that was bolder than I felt. Perhaps Gabi noticed this, for she frowned, and then offered me her hand. When I took it, clasping her warm palm with my fingers, she tried to tug me up, and staggered.
“Kezia! Can’t you get up?”
I blinked several times, feeling my eyes moisten, and tried to push myself up off the dirt. But my arms twitched hopelessly: I was trying too hard again, and I had lost the rhythm of it. My muscles spasmed in jerks as I tried to force them to obey my commands.
“Stop that,” Gabi was saying, a worried look now crossing her face as she knelt to grasp both my arms. Her eyes trailed down the length of my vine, to the crumpled, uprooted bush. I grasped the source of her anxiety, and felt it seep into me as well. How long would the bush survive, kept out of the earth?
“Oi, you, move aside,” said Pascha, and suddenly his hot hands grasped me beneath my shoulders and jerked me powerfully up. I was so startled that I lost all tension in my body, and hung limply in his grasp for a moment before he set me on my feet. Gabi grabbed me from the front before I fell over.
“Who said you could-” she began to say, but her tirade towards Pascha was cut off once she staggered from taking my whole weight, her face colliding with my neck. Pascha snickered.
“I am sorry!” I exclaimed, clumsily grasping Gabi’s shoulders to push myself off of her. She emerged looking rather cross-eyed and dazed. My weight went back to my heels, and just like that I had control of myself again. I took a careful step back from her, feeling jittery tingles travel up and down my legs.
Gabi rubbed her nose, and did not look directly at me- instead, she scowled at Pascha behind me.
“Don’t manhandle her like that! Haven’t you got any shame?”
Pascha laid one elbow on my left shoulder, and scoffed. “She’s on her feet, isn’t she? And no, I haven’t got any shame at all. Whatever gave you the perception that I had?”
So saying this, he reached out and cupped my left breast in one hand, giving Gabi a mocking wink. I moved away- more from the startling heat of his touch than anything else- but Gabi’s eyes widened as if he had inflicted some terrible injury on me, and slapped his face. Sparks of bright light flew from his cheeks.
“Ouch, again!” Pascha protested, grabbing at his cheek, and then flinched when Gabi growled audibly at him.
“Gabi!” I grabbed her arm, as she started towards him (he was backing away quite rapidly). “Please do not start a fight with him, he is only provoking you, and I am not bothered.”
“You don’t know enough to be bothered!” she snapped, trying to wriggle out of my grasp. “You don’t know! You can’t just let a person- you can’t!”
The other Kezia had given me enough to guess at the source of her rage, but that was only a blurry concept of something truly terrible, nothing like the brief jest Pascha had played on us. I could not figure why she was so furious.
“Please,” I said, gripping her tighter, “if there is something I do not know about, I am sorry, and I will try harder to learn, but please do not take it out on Pascha.”
She turned to me, every feature on her face briefly radiating fury, and I, too wanted to back away: and then it all faded.
“No,” she said, “don’t apologize, Kezia.”
She seemed like she wanted to say something more, and then looked at Pascha, and her features hardened slightly.
“If you’re trying to provoke me,” she said, her voice low, “don’t use Kezia to do it. I’ll happily go at your throat for any other reason.”
“Noted,” said Pascha, in sort of a mutter, and pushed his long hair away from his forehead. “If you want me to treat her like an ordinary village maiden, I suppose I have no choice, do I.”
It occurred to me, as Gabi’s eyes flashed for a moment with residual anger, that perhaps I had been wrong- perhaps it was not Gabi he had been trying to provoke, but me. I looked across at him, and he met my gaze: the look in his eyes reminded me of the first walk we had taken together, into the dragon’s lair. Then as now I was being tested.
Though this time I was not sure for what.
“Kezia,” said Gabi, and I turned to see her stripping off her vest. Pascha raised an eyebrow, then looked skyward with a sigh.
“What are you doing?” I asked, or started to ask, for she abruptly took the vest and started forcing my arms into it.
“Ah- Gabi, that hurts-”
She ignored my weak protests and managed to get both of my arms through the right holes. At first it seemed that it would not be able to get over my shoulders at all, since they were much broader than hers were, but somehow they fit, and the vest, though open, still managed to hang so that it covered my breasts. I suppose that was because it was magic.
Gabi stepped back to examine her handiwork, with a muttered, “Better.”
I moved my shoulders back and forth a little, testing the feel of the soft fabric. It was strange, how the feeling of it touching my skin seemed to disappear when I did not think about it, yet come back if I did. I had not known that a sense could go away and come back like that- but come to think of it, without my realizing it, my legs had stopped prickling and aching, and my head had grown less heavy and tired now that I was standing up. Perhaps flesh could only feel things for so long.
While I had been experimenting with the vest (if I slouched so that the fabric brushed my breasts, it tickled in an odd way), Gabi had stripped off her skirt as well, so that she stood before me in her underclothes.
“Step into this,” she ordered, holding it open at the top.
“But Gabi,” I said, “if you take off your clothes then why do I-”
“Kezia,” she said, tone very firm, “this is what’s known as a compromise. Put on the skirt, please, and give me a little peace of mind.”
I frowned, wondering if I should argue more- it was my body, after all, not hers- but I think by then I was only being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. I braced myself on her shoulder and stepped into the skirt. It, too, fit me comfortably, and as soon as it was around my waist Gabi gave a long sigh.
“Ladies,” said Pascha, “if you’re finished…”
Gabi’s eyes thinned, and she took my hand in hers.
“This way, Kezia.”
I supposed she was not speaking to him now, for she walked by him and pointedly did not look in his direction. Pascha did not seem to care very much at all, though. He picked up my bush in his arms, and trailed after the two of us from a short distance.
Walking beside Gabi, in my bare feet over the forest floor, was such a strange thing. I think that under other circumstances, I would have been very focused on the way leaves crunched underneath my heels, and the sharp points of little sticks, the wet squish of mud, the tickle of a breeze against my neck- but for the moment all I could really feel was her hand grasping mine. It was warm, very warm against my cold fingers, which I had not known had been cold until a moment ago. She was gripping me tightly, yet her hand was still smaller than mine, and when I looked at the place where we were joined, her fingers only barely peeped around the sides of my palm.
I do not know why it felt so strange. I had walked alongside Gabi like this before, when I was a golem (though most of the time on our travels, one of us had carried the other). It was true that now I had flesh that could feel a vast world of sensations, but it was not as though as a golem my senses had not worked at all. It should not have been so different-feeling. Yet as I walked beside Gabi, holding her warm hand, stepping over sticks and mushrooms as she did, feeling the push and pull of my own breath in my chest, it felt… It felt…
Perhaps Gabi had not been entirely unjust in treating me differently in my new body. Something had certainly changed besides my senses. Or perhaps it was because of my new senses that something had changed. Palm to palm, there was a sense of closeness I had never felt before. As a golem, I had been a clay barrier surrounding the hollow space that was truly me; now, it was as though I had been turned out, and that hollow space was forced to touch the world. And Gabi.
I peeked sideways at her face, to see if she was perhaps feeling any of the strange things I was feeling. But I was disappointed to see that she merely looked haggard and worried, her eyes darting from tree to tree, as though she was worried that Mother Forest might show up again at any moment.
Well, it was not an unfounded fear, I supposed.
I think that we were going quite slowly for my sake, for I stumbled often over obstacles, especially now with Gabi’s skirt on. And there were several times when I had to stop and rest. Each time Gabi let go of my hand and fussed over me, asking if I needed to sleep, or if I was hungry.
“What does it feel like when you are hungry?” I had asked, and she scowled for some reason.
“Like your stomach is caving in, and you want to fill it!”
I told her I did not feel like that- if anything, my stomach felt too full and solid still.
Each time after I had rested a little while, she would take my hand again and we would move on, walking slowly. I found that I was rather… not quite happy, but pleased, somehow, with the way things were going. If I were my golem self we would have made it in a quarter of the time. If I were my golem self, I would have not enjoyed the mere act of walking, of feeling and seeing and smelling and hearing things in the forest. And Gabi. If I were a golem, I think that I would have wanted to fill the quiet air with chatter, to pull words out of her in any way that I could. But with flesh, I did not need words to know that she was beside me.
So strange. The light was going dim as the sun went down. We had passed out of the fadua grove, and the white trees had petered out and given way to ordinary ones, beeches and firs and oaks, and the scent had shifted from sickly-sweet to the dull, earthy scent of pine and cedar and rotten leaves. Twilight pierced the canopy with orange shafts, and I held out one hand to watch the shadows play over my fingers as we passed.
“We better rest for the night,” came a voice from behind us, and I jumped- I had completely forgotten about Pascha. But he was there, still holding my bush, and since he had stopped, I had to as well. Gabi’s brow, which had softened during our long walk, immediately furrowed again.
“Why?” I asked, turning halfway around, still linked tight to Gabi’s hand. “If it is the night, Gabi will be able to move better.”
“Hmph,” said Gabi, squeezing my hand a little. “Let’s keep walking.”
Pascha gave a soft, impatient little sigh.
“Perhaps you’ve forgotten, O strigoi,” he said, “but nights are generally colder than days, particularly if one is dressed lightly. I don’t think Kezia will be able to move comfortably much longer. We had better turn our attention to finding her some shelter.”
Gabi muttered something that sounded like “Drat” under her breath.
“I can keep walking,” I insisted, but to my vast disappointment, she dropped my hand.
“The stupid horse is right about that; it’s going to get too cold for you. I keep forgetting it’s autumn now- time has passed much too quickly.” She scowled and plucked an orange leaf from a branch in front of her, and then crumpled it in her fist. “It felt warm as spring in that grove before, but I suspect the nights out here will be different.”
“Deep in this forest, the seasons don’t seem to change,” said Pascha. He was beginning to acquire a very faint glow, the same orange as the twilight around us. “Even here, it isn’t so much like the outside world. It’s nearly winter, you know.”
“Impossible!” scoffed Gabi, sweeping an arm out to indicate the foliage around us. “It’s still half-green!”
“And out there, the leaves have nearly all fallen,” said Pascha. He raised his nose to sniff at the air, and then set my bush down on the ground. “It’s as though the forest is fighting the change.”
“I suppose,” I said, “that that makes sense, because in the winter the trees have no leaves and do not grow at all, do they?”
“Fir trees still have leaves,” muttered Gabi.
“Mother Forest wants this forest to expand,” said Pascha. “As much as it will. Perhaps that is why she has only shown herself now, when the winter is about to shut it all down.”
Gabi muttered, “She woke in the autumn…”
She fell silent. The trees had begun to shiver slightly around us, and not from a breeze.
“I think we should find somewhere where the ground solid, and get her warm,” said Pascha, jerking his head in my direction. I pressed my lips together; I had hoped nobody would notice that I was starting to shiver. It was just a little bit cold.
Gabi took my hand again and stood silently for a moment as the tremor beneath our feet passed, shaking the trees on either side of us. I was pleased that it did not unbalance me- I was getting to be very stable on my feet.
Unfortunately, even though I had explained that I wanted to keep moving, Gabi and Pascha both agreed that we should rest for the night. For some reason the sense of urgency had left both of them. Not that I had been feeling it very strongly myself, but to stop and wait for so many hours seemed like a waste of time, now that we had got going. But Gabi had my hand and Pascha had my bush, leaving me very much subject to their whims.
Gabi changed into a bird and went to scout about for any sign of shelter, but the best she could find nearby was a gap between two pine trees carpeted on old needles. The branches interlocked tightly above us, though we all had to crouch in the narrow space. Pascha lit a little fire in his hands, which I nearly touched before Gabi grabbed my arm and gave me a warning look.
I did not remember falling asleep, but I suppose that is the normal way of things. When I woke up, it was very dark, and there was something warm and soft in my arms. I blinked, and my eyes adjusted, and found a dim source of light- Pascha, lying down horse-shaped. His eyes were closed. I looked down and discovered that the thing in my arms was a small red-furred dog, and hugged it a little closer. The dog snuffled but did not wake up.
I went rigid. A sensation I had never felt before passed down the length of my spine, like feeling cold but worse. There was a tiny voice in the night.
“Gabi,” I whispered, but she only snorted, and did not open her eyes. Carefully I got up, holding her tight in my arms, and crouch-crawled out from under the tree, my vine dragging behind me.
Outside, I shivered: in the semi-enclosed space, it had been quite warm from Pascha’s horse body and the little dog radiating heat against my chest. Now I understood what they had meant when they said that the night was cold: it was frigid. I was shaking already. There was no way I could have walked far in this.
But that little voice was still calling.
“Please…. help… Mama…”
My shaking arms could not support Gabi’s weight anymore. I tried to let her down slowly, but she slipped out of my grasp and landed with a thump on her back. With a growwff! her eyes shot open and she twisted to her feet.
“Gabi, it is all right,” I said, trying to hush her, for she was growling and looking all around for some sort of threat. “Listen… do you hear that voice?”
She twisted her head up to look at me, then changed back into herself with a whisper of leaves.
She stopped. I saw why. In the dimness, I could just make out a pale little figure walking towards us, stumbling and limping.
“I think it is hurt,” I whispered. “What is it…?”
Gabi was silent for a long moment, crouching on the leaves with her nostrils flaring, and then she said, “It’s a child.”
I stared at the little thing, which was slowly struggling closer, making soft whimpering noises. One of its legs seemed unusable, and it took me a moment to realize why: it was white and twisted like a tree branch.
The child stopped a few meters away from us, looking around, and I realized, with a sickening jolt in my solid stomach, that there was a flowering branch growing from the side of his neck as well. One of his eyes was cloudy.
“Help…” he moaned, his voice frail and fragile as the wind.
“Don’t, Kezia,” said Gabi, trying to grab my arm, but I was already walking to the little boy, the little boy with the white tree growing out of him. He saw me, and his eyes grew wide, and he reached out his hand, and I took it.