I didn’t give my daughter a name when she was born. They told me not to. They said it would make it harder.
She was born crying. Fighting. Loud and heard. They let me hold her, and she was beautiful. Her eyes looked so much like mine, and I held her so closely.
Then they took her away.
You see, there’s a cradle in the forest. I saw it once before when I was chosen as the Giver. It was made a beautiful oak wood and it swung so sweetly in the wind. The leaves above it created a gentle shade. I was fourteen when I chosen. They handed me a little baby boy and told me walk into the woods.
“Don’t look back when you leave. Don’t wander from the path,” the elders said.
The boy was Mrs. Carry’s. She screamed and cried when they took him away so much that they had to tie her to her bed.
He was born in the morning, so the sun was just entering the sky as I set into the trees. I heard soft singing and the little boy in my arms smiled. I remembered thinking he was so cute. As I traveled further into the woods, the light seemed to fade away and trees became so tall. The singing turned into whispers. I was afraid, and the little boy began to cry. I rocked him in my arms and started to sing. My mother also said I had such a beautiful voice.
And then I saw the cradle. It was in the middle of a clearing, where a soft light fell around it. I set the little boy down in the cradle, and he stopped crying. I stood there for a little bit, rocking the cradle. The wind was gentle, and the sun was warm.
I felt so safe there.
And then in a blink of an eye, everything changed. The air became cold, and a shiver ran up my spine. Shadows formed at the edges of the clearing, shifting towards me. The baby began to cry.
I saw something creep from the trees.
“So, you’ve brought me a gift?” It asked.
I was frozen in fear. Its voice sounded so strange.
“Something to keep us satisfied?” I could hear an echo of a thousand voices.
It wasn’t human. I took the tiniest step back as the baby cried and cried. In the shadows I saw a glint of light. And another and another, as rows of teeth opened up.
I screamed. I turned and ran back into the woods, and the baby’s cries turned into screams. I looked back as I entered the tree line. All I could see was some dark creature hovering over the cradle as it slowly reached in.
I was in tears when I returned to the village. My mother ran up to me. I thought she was going to check if I was okay. Instead she asked, “Did you leave the baby in the cradle?”
I nodded. The elders sighed in relief, while my mother hugged me close. “Our village will be safe. It just requires a bit of sacrifice.”
My daughter was born an hour before midnight. As they took her from my arms, my mother sat next to me.
“It’s okay, Fye,” She took my hand, “Just think how beautiful your next will be.”
I watched the doors swing shut behind the elders. They were taking my daughter to young Mathias. He was only 12 and had been chosen as the Giver.
“Our family only has girls, you know,” my mother was saying, “Your great grandma had a daughter. Your grandma had a daughter. I had a daughter.”
“Two daughters,” I corrected her.
My mother sighed heavily, “No, Fye, just one. The first doesn’t belong to you. They belong to the trees.”
The tradition had been in place as long as anyone could remember. But there were stories. Campfire stories that the elders would tell. They told the story about how generations ago the beast in the forest would wreak havoc on our village. How this little offering had saved us. It was such a small price to pay, they would say.
I remember Elder McCalaigh telling me, “It’s a great honor to help protect the village.”
A great honor. I felt no honor as they took my daughter away from me. I felt sick to my stomach.
My mother began to talk about the day I was born. How she had been so happy to have a child she could keep. How she refused to let me go for so long. I felt my insides twisting. She went on to tell me she was so glad that I had contributed to the protection of the village. That everyone will revere me as a hero. All I could think about was that little boy screaming and crying as I ran away from him.
I stood. My mother tried to convince me to lay down. To rest. I refused. She grabbed my hand. “Fye, please. Let her go.”
I pulled my hand away.
I left Elder Maine’s house. There were people standing about, watching the trees. Mathias was nowhere to be seen. He must have already entered. Someone approached me, asking if I was okay. They were cautious.
They had told me when I became pregnant that some women can’t handle the loss of their first born. That it would be difficult. I knew they would do anything to protect the tradition. I edged forward and stood next to some of the elders.
“I want to see Mathias return,” I said.
The moon was nearly full above me. My heart was beating so fast in my chest I thought it would break out.
And then I started running. I sprinted towards the trees.
I heard people yelling behind me, telling someone to stop me. The adrenaline coursing through my veins wouldn’t let me stop. I broke through the tree line and just kept going. The trees were tall and looming over me, when I nearly ran into Mathias.
He looked up at me in surprise.
“Is she in the cradle?” I asked him. He nodded.
I ran past him and towards the clearing. I could already see the shadows looming towards it. I could hear my baby crying. I exited the tree line breathing heavily.
“I remember you,” a voice said.
“Stay away from her,” I told it. The shadow hovered over the cradle. It reached down and started to rock it.
“She’s mine now.”
“Back away from my daughter.”
The creature towered over me, its teeth shimmering in the moonlight. “You dare break the agreement of generations?” There was that echoing again.
I lunged for the cradle, yanking my daughter out and holding her close.
The creature snarled, “Fine, you’ve made your choice. And now your village will pay.”
I wasn’t scared. Not in the slightest. Not even as the beast stood over me with its long limbs and open mouth. I looked down at my baby girl and her beautiful brown eyes.
Amelia. Yes, her name is Amelia.
I looked up at the beast and it shrank back. Because even it knew that you never underestimate a mother’s love.