One Way Out

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Write about someone finally making their own choices.... view prompt



Eliza stared out her window wistfully. Outside, gentle snowflakes blew around in the chilly winter gust, occasionally falling onto the window pane and slowly melting. Inside, her mother was trying to give Eliza a history lesson. Wearily, she blew a strand of bright orange hair out of her face.

It was her family's trademark: orange hair. Her mother's hair was more of a reddish hue than an orange, but her father's hair had been the color of ripe cantaloupe in the summer. Eliza was always told that orange hair meant a wild streak in a person, and she always heard it from her mother. Eliza wasn't always out of control, but her mother saw it that way.

Eliza was nothing like her mother, cold and harsh. Eliza was more like her late father, Marcus; a bold man with a wise tongue and a kind smile. 

Eliza frowned. Her father's death was still fresh in her mind. It had not even been two harvests ago, when he went on a hunting trip with two other men. They were all attacked by thieves while still in Scholderin, the lands that Eliza's family had called home for seven generations. 

"Eliza, are you listening?" Mother barked sharply.

Eliza's head jerked away from the window and she pushed the loose hair behind her ear. "Yes, Mother. I was just reminiscing."

Mother's eyes narrowed, but she continued her lesson. "The walls that once kept these lands safe were knocked down in the War of Revolution. Thugs entered the land soon after the War ended in a treaty of hatred, known as The Peace Laws, which forced many people to stop trade within other lands, and separated families."

Eliza's sister, Cinna, raised her hand. Mother stopped, stared at Cinna for a moment, before a smile crept onto her face. "Yes, Cinna?"

"Were the lands as cold as they are now?" she asked innocently.

Mother folded her hands. "No. The wall not only kept predators away from our beloved lands, they kept the chill from the North from freezing our crops."

Eliza's gaze returned to the outdoors. So it hadn't always been so white and frosted outside? She twisted around in her seat. "Please, can we go outside to play?" she blurted.

Mother's mouth formed a perfect o, and her face clouded over. "Eliza May Delibrum." She took a few steps closer. "You know the rules of these lands. No one must step outside but the trained hunters." She raised her voice and slammed her palms down on Eliza's desk. "That is why your fool of a father is dead somewhere off the side of a road, his body frozen. Because he did not respect the laws of the lands and left the comfort of our home as a non-trained hunter!"

Eliza ducked her head and avoided her mother's piercing glare. "Yes, Mother. I understand."

"Let that be a lesson to both of you," Mother boomed. "Those who leave the safety of this home will not be pursued."

Eliza did not look out the window for the rest of that lesson, but never paid attention. Her mind was on her mother's dark words. Those who leave the safety of this home will not be pursued. Was that why her father was dead? Because he left home and her mother refused to try to find him?

That night, once everyone had gone to sleep, Eliza left the warmth of her covers. The hard, cold floor greeted her barefoot feet as she stepped out of the bed. Eliza shivered and wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. There was no other choice; she needed answers and her father's study was the only room where there would be any clues to why he was gone.

Her fingers trembled over the smooth handle on the door, her fingertips guiding her through the house as she tiptoed her way through the dark. Once she reached the far end of the hallway, she took a deep breath, turned the knob, and opened the door to her father's study.

It only took her a minute to find a candle and a match, and once she had it lit, the familiar room was illuminated, and a rush of memories pounded into Eliza's head. The familiar woody scent of her father filled her nostrils, the heavy feel of the air in the room. 

Shakily, Eliza eased into the conformable leather seat at her father's desk. Her fingers tripped over the rough spines of the old books on the desk until she had found what she was looking for.

She dug into the book, flipping each worn page over until she found something worthy of recognition. Her father's handwriting littered the page. In the dim candlelight, Eliza pored over it.

"Secret alliance of the lands," she mumbled. When she flipped the next page, a paper fell loose. After quickly scanning it, she knew what she had to do.

Moments later, she was at the front door of her childhood home, dressed in every layer of clothes she could find. If she was to survive the bitter cold to find her father's secret hiding place, she had to think smart. She pulled the deadlock out and stepped out into the swirling storm.

Eliza's lungs burned, her face chilled by the first feeling of snow. It reached up to her ankles, which meant she had little time if she was going to make it to the breaking of the wall. 

Step by step she trudged through the cold snow until she saw it.

The wall.

It was a massive, towering creation. The split was crumbling, loose rock breaking off  the edges. The wind howled and whistled around it, and an eerie fog settled over the area as the snow stopped, and the wind stilled with every step Eliza took.

Eliza's gloved hand ran down the jagged rock of the wall, her fingers tingling at the touch of such a powerfully historic place. Focus, Eliza, she chided herself. I've got to make it to Father before the wolves come out.

Quickly, she passed over to the other side of the wall, where the air was not dry, like in Scholderin, but humid and heavy, like a weight on her chest. The temperature rose with every step that she took, and Eliza fought the urge to tear her extra layers away. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, she saw the sun break through the thick clouds, blinding her momentarily.

Eliza knew why her father left now. There was a warmth from deep inside her and her face tipped up to the welcoming blue sky and warm sunshine. It was nothing like the snowy, freezing lands she was used to.

On the page that she had found, her father had written of the news he received from his friends outside of the wall. How they were so much happier, and they were no longer controlled by the fears of making the wrong choices within the dangerous countryside of Scholderin, where every choice meant life or death. Her father had written a list of supplies and the time it would take to reach them. By his notes, it would take Eliza half a day with no rest to reach her father.

She stopped in the road and began stripping her outer layers away from her sweating body. By now the temperature was high, and because she had lived in the cold all of her life, she was not yet adjusted to it. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead as she bent down to pick up the extra clothes.

Eliza panted as she wadded them up and held them to her side. The sun shone over her pale face and arms, warming her whole being. Was it always this hot and bright here? Suddenly, her eyes spotted green waves. It was not the beige prickly grasses sticking up from the ground, dotted with black rocks, it looked soft, and so colorful.

Her feet pounded against the earth as she ran to the grasses. It meant she was almost there. Eliza's hand released the clothing from her side; she didn't care if she lost it now, she didn't need warm layers here.

Stop, something said inside of her. Stop, and look up. Look where you are. Eliza gasped and slowed, then lifted her head. Now she saw tall trees in the distance. And beneath them, a shack, with smoke rising near it.

"Father," she whispered. Eliza started towards the illusion, panting. She did not have the strength to run any further.

But the moment that she reached the area, which was surrounded by loose dirt and small stones, a man emerged from the home.

He stared at Eliza for a second, his expression unreadable. His hair and beard were the color of ripe cantaloupe in the summer, his eyes watery blue, and his hands rough and well-worked.

"Eliza?" he whispered. "No, it can't be."

Tears pricked the back of Eliza's eyes, but she could not fight them. They spilled over her cheeks. She was oblivious to the rest of the world, all eyes on the man in front of her.

"I'm home," she whispered back.

May 26, 2021 15:51

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.