My lungs burned, scorching a hole inside my chest. For all I knew, my breathing sacks were eating my heart. It would explain the pounding that gave the speed of light a run for its money. Prison guards screamed behind me, and I forced my lungs to go harder. They were what allowed me to run. To try and escape. The battle between my heart and lungs would have to wait.
Branches and thorns attacked my ankles. My thighs. My cheeks. I didn't care. I needed to get as far away from those guards as possible.
Another shout thundered against my eardrums, slightly closer this time. How was that even possible? Every prisoner had bets on which guard would drop dead of obesity first. Half of them couldn't even wobble up stairs.
I leapt over a fallen tree, my jumpsuit so torn it flapped behind me as a cape. I cleared the log, swerving around the short bushes reaching out with their claws of wood. That's when I heard it. Water.
I veered to the right, barreling toward the sound. My savior. My hope. The bushes cackled at my sudden change of direction, ensnaring my ankle in a cold embrace of spiders and thorns. I tried to pull free, needing to run for the water but they only tightened their hold, yanking me to the ground. I plummeted, my nose cracking against the hard dirt. Warm liquid trickled down by face, outlining my ruby lips.
“Please?” I asked the bushes, desperation breaking my voice. They contemplated it, their sharp branches swaying against exposed skin. The guards bellowed and my lungs went into overdrive.
My eyes were as big as baseballs as I begged the bushes to release their unbreakable hold. “Please?” It was nothing more than a whisper.
The wind brushed my face, answering my plea. It forced the bushes to loosen their death grip, allowing me to pull free. I nodded a thanks, hobbling back onto my feet. My ankle screamed but it didn't matter. None of the pain would matter if I didn't make it.
I raced to the faint hush of water, hoping it would soon become a roar. The branches seemed to pull away, not wanting to slow my journey to freedom. The faint dusk light glinted against something in the distance. I was close.
I pushed myself to go harder. Faster. The glitter in the distance lengthened until it formed a vast river. The powerful current crashed against large jagged rocks that resembled fangs of an ancient creature. I pulled up to the soft mud along the side, glancing for any guards. No one, their calls so far away they became part of the wind. I released a breath I didn't realize I had been holding, the sound nothing more than a rasp.
I began my trek along the riverbank, venturing deeper into the woods that surrounded the prison. With every step, my lungs became lighter but my heart grew heavier. Each step brought me closer to salvation but also to demise.
The river twisted away, but the bank continued straight, the damp soil leading to a forgotten path. I trudged along it, staggering forward until a withered gazebo rose into view. The white and blue paint that used to adorn it had chipped away, revealing dark mahogany polished by the wind. Pink and indigo flowers curled around the outer posts, making the gazebo feel like it was plucked from a fairy tale. I reached its weathered steps, walking up until I stood beneath the center of the dome. The indigo flowers formed a spiral inside the roof, the petals tips glittering like stardust.
I released another breath, plopping onto the ground. Now I just had to wait. Wait for my heart to arrive.
A dove fluttered into the gazebo, landing next to me. It stared at me with sad dark eyes.
“What's wrong?” I whispered to it. I was probably mad, talking to a bird the last nail in my loony bin coffin but the dove seemed so … broken. The pain more than any creature should have to bear.
The dove opened its beak to respond but instead turned away. I’m not quite sure what I expected.
“You know, I’m kinda an expert at waiting people out.”
The bird ruffled its feathers, not believing me for a second.
I sighed, “Fine, but be prepared to lose. Just warning you though, I might have to skedaddle when my heart arrives”
At that, it slowly pivoted toward me. Beak drooped, eyes hollow as if- as if it were in grief.
I shot to my feet, “What do you know?”
The dove stared into the distance behind me, letting out a soft caw. It echoed around the gazebo, gaining in strength until it barreled across the forest. A mighty squawk tumbled back.
My blood turned icy, taking in the pure white head and shiny feathers. Its body seemed to radiate moonlight, filling the dome with a soft glow.
“You’re an omen,” I breathed.
It lowered its mighty head, a claw extending backwards to give a slight bow.
I was either completely mental, or really screwed. Omens were never a good sign. Almost every horror movie started out with a terrible omen. I really didn’t need than it my life. Someone in a mask chasing me with death thingy was way to close to the prison I just escaped from. I was not popular.
I took a deep breath, clearing my head of the person who recently tried to stab me with a toothpaste cap. “Ok, I give up. What are you supposed to represent?”
The bird hopped forward until it sat beneath the sky. It raised its head, staring straight up. I hobbled out, following its gaze. The bird watched the moon, now in full view since the sun had set. It was bright and shining, glimmering in the sky as clouds blocked out the stars. The night sky was like a dark blanket, the moon the only thing that could penetrate it.
The dove whispered a sound, the moon seeming to shiver. An answering murmur came from deep in the woods and the black sky quaked.
Light almost always meant life, but darkness… My heart thundered in my chest. “Where's your mate?”
The bird tilted its face away from the sky to look into my eyes. True remorse shone there.
“Where is the omen of death?” I snapped, the words like poison along my tongue.
The bird lowered its head.
My heart beat so wildly I thought it was going to tear me apart from the inside out. It seemed to grow claws, trying to force its way out of my chest to reach its other half. The one I was waiting for. Its love.
I sank to the ground. No, she was coming. She had to. The dove's pain wove around my raging heart.
My daughter was coming. There was no other option. I had escaped out the front to attract the guards as she went out the back. She shouldn’t even be in this dump; she had never harmed another soul.
She was coming. I could almost see her laugh, her gleaming hazel eyes. I would wait until the stars gave out for her to arrive. She was just a little late. She had to be, because otherwise there was no reason for my heart to beat. Without her, there was no reason to go on. Without her, I was just walking ash.