Clenching my hands hard until the knuckles turn white, I watch Yash squeeze his petite frame through a tiny window and plop onto a heaped blanket of white flurry right below the window.
“Eliza, where are we going?” He asks with innocence laced in his tone.
“Somewhere,” I say, reaching over to envelope his cold hand in mine and pull him towards the dense woods that expanses across a vast area of land behind our house, “let’s not waste any time.”
Thick sheets of snow sheathe the tall trees and the earth, obscuring any green beneath. Bitter wind howls by as if mourning over someone’s death. Hills peep over the forest, reaching high and proud to touch the summit of the sky, tops enwrapped in snow. Yellow and orange splatters over the sky; dark red to the bottom as the ball of fiery rage begins to settle down, hiding behind the horizon.
Holding on to Yash’s hand, we sprint further into the woods, not glancing back at the house that holds billions of memories of a cocktail of emotions.
“There,” a voice shouts from behind us, “hurry up, you morons. I want them finished off. Come back alive, knuckleheads.”
Turning my head behind, Archer stands at the window, his bloodshot eyes boring into mine and lips pursed into a thin line.
Tears spill over and gush down my cheeks like water escaping a dam. It’s because of Dad, Mum is dead. His people murdered her as if butchering an impotent animal, ready to be presented to the customers.
Because of him, six year old Yash is in danger. If he hadn’t joined that wrecked gang in the first place, we wouldn’t see this day happen.
Years ago, my dad had entered his name in one of the most notorious and brutal gangs in the town, all behind his family’s back and not under any circumstances would he open up himself and reason why he’d returned home so late, his mouth infested with alcohol.
“Whaat is y-y-your problemmm?” He’d once said when mum sat him down, trying to pry off his boots, “ya knoww, I k-killed a hare with myy bare hands and it wass soo muchh funnn.” He’d even blurted out a secret.
The sound of the crunch of the snow under our boots increases even more as we dart forward into the core of the woods, chirps of birds and crickets’ stridulating abating as if absorbing into the layers of snow. Yash’s hand slips out of my grasp as his pace slackens down, feet tripping over a camouflaged rock, sending him dashing to the ground and straight on his belly.
I shriek and crouching down, help him up. “Are ya okay?”
He shakes his head ever so slightly; his doe-like eyes glistening in the dim light, a streak of gash decorating his elbow, dripping with dark red hue. Pushing the stray strands of auburn hair from his little forehead, I examine his elbow and rip a strip of cloth from my cloak, securing it around the deep wound.
“It should be fine, huh?” Yash’s eyebrows straighten up when I peck on his forehead; he just needs extra attention and everything’s fine.
No sooner do we rise up, than a swick drifts pass my ear, piercing right through the tree bark. A knife. Peals of laughter reverberate through the tranquil of the atmosphere, distant murmurs echoing far behind.
It’s a damn game to them…hunters commemorating over a ‘successful’ hunt in vain because they missed the prey.
“C’mon, under the cliff.” I whisper as footsteps approach near with each second.
Hurrying Yash to the cliff, I shove ourselves as close to the dark as possible, so that our bodies aren’t visible despite the cramped space.
“Jay man, what’s up with your poor throwing skills, eh?” A voice speaks up, dangerously close to the cliff.
“Eli, it’s hurting.” Yash says in undertone, his voice implying he’s on the verge of breaking down into sobs. I clasp my hand around my brother’s mouth, his cries disrupting the silence. I feel wicked for doing this to him, he’s never cried over a wound, but affliction can’t be quelled.
Just a few more seconds.
Just a few more seconds.
I cry in my head. We’ll be away in any moment. Dad’s expression when the gang members had barged in our house today flits across my mind; he wore a terrorized look on his face, realization dawning upon him of what happens when a deal is not kept; Archer, the head of the gang had demanded a heavy quantity from him after he learnt my dad wasn’t going to be a part of the gang anymore and also that he had an enormous sum of wealth stored away, all without us aware of it. Dad wouldn’t give away anything and that’s when the ruckus transformed to a life-threatening chase.
With the presences departed, I stick my head out and scan my surroundings.
“All clear.” I mutter and crawl out of the space.
“It’s going to be okay, kiddo.” Ruffling Yash’s hair with trapped crystals, we get on our foot.
Without wasting any precious time, we bolt toward a section of crowded and murky trees.
Maybe, it’ll be safe in there. No knives flying at us.
“Ahead of me.” I pull Yash forward and direct him to continue running, the trees doing a good job of concealing us.
“Arrghh!!!! I screech as I collapse to the ground, Yash gasps and scampers back. A pang of harrowing sting creeps its way onto my leg as I grapple to pull the knife that’s found itself deep into the flesh. I scream, cry, curse, but it’s arduous.
“Run. Get as far as possible.” I shout as Yash crouches down to my side.
I huff and squeeze my teary eyes shut as I pull the bloody knife out. Yash’s gone, but a black figure looms over me and grabs my other leg, pulling it towards him. I struggle as his free hand makes an attempt to grab the knife from my hand.
No. There are three people after us and only one’s here...
Hardly has the man ceased his clutch on my ankle, when my foot comes in contact with his jaw in an excruciating collision knocking him out of his senses.
The knife in my hand, I limp precipitously for my brother. The forest opens to a frozen lake; frosty breeze slapping me on the face and tangling my hair into a nest. Dazzling dust shimmers in the gloomy evening like shiny blobs of light in the night sky. Yash stands in the middle of the lake, gaping at me, his face marked with appal.
“Watch out!!” He yells, his eyes meeting mine.
Before my brain can procedure anything, a kick lands on my back and I’m thrown to the lake, certain I heard a few pops. I careen to the ground and toward my brother.
The young man, who I now recognize as Asher, advances towards us, empty handed. I gaze at the knife in my hand and back at Asher.
“You don’t have to do this.” I plead, but to no avail since he dodges my words in the air.
He’s been brainwashed, I think to myself.
Asher and I were friends, but his father, Archer didn’t like it when we talked to each other and apparently, Asher has…had never been of the violent type.
“Step back, Yash.” I extend my hand in front of him and push him behind me.
I swish the knife at Asher when he charges at me. He gets a hold of my hand which clasps onto the knife, however, I punch him in the cheek, my own knuckles throbbing with pain. As he stumbles back from the smash, I stride toward him, but he boots me in the gut, bringing water to my eyes as I gasp for air.
I swear I’ve never been hurt this bad.
Before he can launch another boot, I move closer so he doesn't have enough room and encircle my arm around his neck, pressing tight and get behind him. Just as when I’ve done so, the familiar sound flies in and Asher jerks and his body goes limp.
“Eliza!” Yash’s long gone voice pricks my ears, my attention snaps towards a man with his abdomen drenched in claret and his shoulder forming a gruesome dent. Archer staggers forward, his hand clenching onto his shoulder, but crumples do the ground. With bafflement bubbling its way into my body, I turn over Asher’s body, knife jutting out from his abdomen and head bathed in his own pool of blood.
If I hadn’t turned away, I would’ve been the one sprawling on the ground instead of Asher.
Ice beneath me crackles and I move away, spotting a petrified boy making his way toward me.
“Oh…I’m so glad you’re okay,” I embrace my brother in a tight hug. I pull away and look him in his hazel orbs, “ya have any idea who might’ve injured Archer?”
“I did,” my eyes widen in horror as well as amazement, a six year old did something which I can’t imagine myself capable of doing.
The ice beneath Asher gives away, engulfing him into a clear world of glacial aqua and the layer appears afresh as if the lake’s been cursed with magic.
Our life’s history is now a mysterious one just like Asher’s whereabouts.