Leila was running.
She had been running for a very long time, so long that she didn't even really remember what she was running from. She just knew she had to run. And fast.
Leila had been on the run since she was 1 year old, but that was when her mother carried her on her back, her older brother in tow. Now her mother and brother were gone, and Leila was alone.
There was a time when Leila and her family didn't have to worry about things like war and hunger, but those times were so long ago, Leila couldn't remember.
Now, she barely managed to get by, with little-to-none food and water. When she found a village, she would try to find a job and make some money. She would leave the next day and look for more places where people lived so she could buy and earn things like food and money.
Leila was alone, except for her little terrier, Maya. Together, they traversed the hot and sandy desert for many days, and Leila thought it would never end.
"Oh, Maya." Leila sighed. "At least I have you." The two were trekking up a sand dune, sweaty and tired. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was shining straight in their faces. Maya barked in reply. Leila laughed wearily and stroked Maya's back. "I forgot. You can't talk. Come on, we'd better keep looking for something other than sand."
There wasn't much to see; just dead bushes, sand, the sun, and more sand. Pretty boring.
Leila and Maya walked for what seemed like weeks, but was probably only days. They'd run out of water a long time ago, and Leila's throat was very dry and sore.
A few days and a ton of sand later, the two saw a little occupied village near an oasis in the distance. It looked like a bustling place, full of people and job opportunities, which Leila liked.
"This is a good place," Leila decided. "We can stay here for a while, maybe get some money and a place to sleep."
"Ruff!" Maya replied. Leila scratched her ears. "First we should camp here for the night. We'll make it to the village tomorrow."
Leila set up her bedroll near the area where she would put her campfire. It was tattered and thread-bare, but it was all she had to sleep on. Then she searched around the area for dead bushes and something to light a fire with. Maya found some sticks, so Leila managed to make a small crackling fire soon enough.
Leila sat down on her bedroll in front of her little campfire. Maya padded over and lay down, her head in Leila's lap.
"Maya, I miss my mother," Leila told her dog. "Do you ever miss your mother?" Maya's ears perked up, which Leila took as a yes.
"I wonder where she is, and if I'll be able to find her when this is over," Leila continued. "But until then, I'll just have to be patient."
The next morning, Leila was woken up by the sound of her stomach rumbling. It really has been a long time since I ate, she thought. Well, at least we'll reach the village today, where we can hopefully get some food.
She stood up, stretched, and began to pack up her bedroll. Maya yawned, showing her pearly white canine teeth, and got to her paws. "Come on, lazybones!" Leila scratched behind Maya's ears, which the dog loved. "Help me break camp!"
Leila was in high spirits today because they were going to make it to the village! That village was where everything would turn around for her and Maya, and everything would be fine. Leila whistled as she packed up everything inside her bedroll, which she rolled up and put on her back.
Maya jumped around Leila's feet, barking and wagging her short fluffy tail. Maya was excited because she knew something good was going to happen, and also because her owner was excited.
And so they set off towards the village over the horizon.
It took them longer to get to the village than Leila thought, so they actually got there 2 days later instead of 1 as Leila had figured.
The girl and her dog arrived in the little town just before nightfall. Leila looked around and realised there didn't seem to be anyone outside. "Huh. Where is everybody?"
Maya tilted her head. Leila took that as an 'I don't know' kind of gesture. "O-kay then. I guess we'll look around a bit."
Leila explored the village, trying to find people. She was very good at finding things, but even she was having trouble. Maya tried to help as much as possible by sniffing around with her terrier nose, but she couldn't turn up anything either.
She sat down on a bench, defeated. Maya looked up at her with her big puppy eyes. "I don't know what to do, Maya," Leila said. "There's no one here. I guess we're sleeping out here tonight."
As soon as she said that, someone down the street opened their front door. Leila jumped up and ran over to that house with the open door. Once she got there, the woman had gone back inside and shut the door.
Leila knocked on the now-closed door. "Hello?" she croak-called. "I'm looking for shelter and food. Can someone here help me?"
A woman opened the door, and Leila realised it was the same woman who had gone out to water her plants.
"Yes, I can help you," the woman at the door said. "What's your name?"
Leila was reluctant to tell a stranger her name, even though this strange woman had already been so nice to her. So she made up a fake name. "My name's Lily," she croaked at the nice lady, who laughed. "What a coincidence! My name is Rose. We're both named after flowers!"
Leila faked a chuckle, a bit on edge, thinking Rose's friendliness came with a condition. "Huh! That is a coincidence!"
"Here sweetheart, come inside."
Leila followed Rose into the house, where she was greeted by warmth and the smell of fresh bread. She breathed deeply, trying to drink in all the smells, from food to heat to clean water.
Rose smiled, but her eyes had an evil undertone behind the sparkle. "I made some tomato soup yesterday that you could have. I'll heat it up for you." Leila nodded in thanks, her throat too sore to talk.
A few minutes later, Rose handed the bowl of soup to Leila. Leila took her spoon and slowly dipped it into the bowl, but soon ended up vacuuming up the tomato soup in a matter of minutes. She wiped her mouth and placed the empty bowl in front of Rose.
Rose unfolded her hands. "That was quick. Do you need something else?"
"M-aybe so-me water, p-lease." Leila could manage a stutter now, her throat not being as sore. But she needed some fluids, some water.
Rose dressed Leila in a nightgown and tucked her into a comfortable, cosy bed. After Rose left, Leila pulled the covers up to her chin. It's nice to be in a warm bed, she thought. But I still can't trust these people. There's something off about Rose.