Another day had come, and the same as the last, she hardly slept. If she dreamed of anything, she didn't remember it. She hurried through her daily gardening and household chores in hopes she'd have better luck with today's nap. She skipped eating again, drinking only a small sip of water. As long as she could, she'd hold off the old woman's return. There was an excitement to her footsteps, despite what she told herself. She knew it was only a dream and, like all other dreams, meant nothing at all. Still, she couldn't help herself from hoping yesterday's dream visitor would return again. She was very curious about this other monster that looked so much like herself. Her excitement worked against her. Falling asleep, despite how tired she was, was difficult today. Her hunger protested her too. She laid perfectly still. It'll come in time, she thought, My weakness will win over everything else. Closing her eyes, she tried picturing the other monster again. The person's dark hair and dark eyes, a little darker than her own, but of the same color. Matching skin tones, a light olive shade. A little taller, with hair a bit shorter. Soft skin, only slightly rough in places. She felt her own hands, lacing them together. The texture of the skin, soft with hardened patched on the palm from working outside. She undid them and ran her left fingers down the palm of her right hand, etching over the lines that marked her. She couldn't recall if the other monster's hands were like that. The old woman's hands had no marks, only solid ridges and bumps harder than her knuckles. She'd never paid much attention to such details before now, as the old woman had told her long ago every odd detail about her was her curse for being a monster. They held no value. She was ugly, and so was that other monster. Yet, she couldn't help herself. As much as the old woman told her that her appearance was disgusting, when she thought of what that other monster looked like, she only saw beauty. Perhaps, she mused, it's because I'm a monster too. Her thoughts began to fade as she started drifting to sleep. Before she could completely wander back into her dreams, the noise started up. The beast in the maze was screeching again. She kept her eyes closed shut. Why is it calling now? It's not night...someone must be in the maze again... She had never actually seen anyone who had come into the old woman's labyrinth trap. Not alive, at least. The old woman often brought the bloodied bones to the home when she'd make her returns after the cupboard was emptied. The only people she ever saw were the old woman and people like the old woman who she occasionally brought with her. It was a rare occurrence, but every so often, another blue skinned, red eyed being would come into their house and poke at her. The old woman got great joy out of watching her be toyed with like that. Picked up and swung from side to side, tossed around as they mocked her appearance...she could hear their words in her head. "Look at the filthy thing...soft and squishy...how do you keep her? I could squish her into a mess...how about we eat her?" She turned over and opened her eyes as the beast's howling grew louder. The noise was so loud it shook the house. She muttered under her breath. "How close is it? It's never been like this before..." The house shook even more as the beast shrieked louder. She covered her ears in pain and hid under the small space between her bed and the stone floor. The shaking continued on for a while. Her heart pounded in her ears. She wondered if the old woman had grown bored with her and sent the beast to kill her. That didn't seem quite right. She was certain the old woman wanted to see her die in person. Someone had to be right outside the stone wall of the garden. No one had ever gotten that close before. Even at night, the beast never came that close to the wall when it wandered about. The noise stopped. She uncovered her ears but did not move from underneath the bed. A door opened. She pushed herself as far back against the wall as possible to hide from who or whatever had entered the home. Light footsteps moved slowly across the kitchen. Other doors were opened and closed. Then the footsteps were outside the bedroom door. She couldn't see very much of who opened it, but the person who came in was wearing leather shoes and cloth pants. The old woman never wore such things, her clothes being made mostly of plants. The feet were also too small to be anyone of the kind of people the old woman was. These were small like her own, with none of the loud clanking that came with skin made of stone. Cautiously, she slid over to get a better view of the stranger in the house. The person was turned around, but she recognized the hair. It was like the stranger in her dream. Maybe it's not...What if that's what all of my kind of monster looks like? She edged herself closer, a little less afraid than before. Surely, this person wouldn't harm her. Even if they tried, she'd stand a better chance of defending herself than with the others who'd come into the house. The person walked over to the closet, allowing her to get a view of them from the side. The face was still obscured, but the rest of the profile was clear. This person did indeed appear to be taller than her, with similar skin and hair. Like the stranger in the dream, the body shape was a bit different. There weren't very many curved areas, and the chest was very flat compared to her own. She wasn't sure what kind of monster this was, or if this one was of the same kind as herself. All she knew about other monsters like herself were the few details the old woman had told her about soft flesh that bleeds and fragile, small bodies. Perhaps the rest of the form varied beyond those details. The other monster likely knew the answers to her questions. She had to ask. She needed to know what she was. Quickly, she pulled herself out from under the bed. The other monster immediately faced her, holding out a dagger towards her. Within seconds of looking at her, the other monster sighed and put the blade away. "Oh, you're a human...I thought you were that mountain hag." "Mountain hag? What's that?" She asked. "The old witch, the one made of stone. She threw me down here for touching some plants. Ridiculous. Did she put you down here too?" The person showed her neither fear nor malice. The way the other monster approached her was full of familiarity. She was perplexed by this reaction. How can this person be so at ease around me? We've never met before. Is it because we're the same? She stood up slowly. "I've been here since as long as I can remember, but I wasn't born here." "So, she stole you. I've heard stories about monsters stealing children, but I never thought they were real." "What do you mean by monster? Aren't you a monster?" She asked. "Monster? How could I be a monster? I'm a completely ordinary human. No fangs or anything." The person gave her a confused look. "Do you...not know what you are?" "I am a monster. She told me so. My mother was a monster who came and stole vines from her mountain. She traded me in exchange for herself, and keeps me here so others don't have to suffer my ugly existence.." It was strange for her to hear those words coming from herself. She'd been told that story hundreds of times, but never once told anyone else. "You're not a monster, and neither was your mother. The monster is the one who's put us down here. No one owns the mountain." The other person offered her their hand. "Come with me. We'll find a way out of here together. You don't need to stay down here. She has no right to keep you." "I...I can't. I belong to her. I can't leave this place." Her dreams ran through her mind. The endless puzzle she would be trapped in forever...Even if she could get over the wall, she knew the old woman would never let her out. There was no point to it. "But you don't have to leave yet. The beast can't come within these walls. It's as forbidden from coming in as I am from leaving." "It can't get in here, huh? That explains why it didn't jump over that wall. But what do you mean that you can't leave? Is there a spell on you?" "I don't think it's on me. It's the garden. If I try to climb the walls, the plants pull me back down." She looked away. "Not that it matters. No one ever gets away from the beast for long on the other side. I don't know if there really is a way out at all." "But there must be. She took me through a path in the mountain to get here. And she comes into this place too, right? How does she get in?" The person moved uncomfortably close to her. She stepped back from them. The person quickly moved back as well. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get so close." "It's alright." "No, truly, I'm sorry for being so impolite. I didn't exactly have the best upbringing. Please forgive my manners." The person bowed. "I haven't properly introduced myself either. My name is Aleix. I come from a little village in the middle of nowhere of importance that never created anything of value, and I never plan on returning. That is to say, there's nothing particularly interesting about me beyond the bad luck that landed me in here. And you are?" "My name is..." She had to think for a moment. The old woman rarely used her name at all. Speaking of names at all was discouraged. The name came to her in a hazy cloud, and she almost wasn't certain it was her own. "Lucrecia. I already told you, I have always lived here, but I wasn't born here. All I've ever seen is within the walls of the garden and the parts of the maze I've glimpsed at over the wall. You're the first person like myself I've ever spoken to, actually." "All this time...you've been alone here with that hideous creature and that monster outside? I'm so sorry." Those words filled her with confusion and happiness. For the old woman to be called hideous instead of herself, that seemed unreal. She wondered if she was still dreaming. "Please, come with me. I'm sure there's another way. If we can't go over the walls...there must be something else...or a way to undo her spell." "But why would you help me? You just met me." "So? You're a prisoner here too, aren't you? Let's go. I promise I won't leave you behind. We can help each other. Trust me, two is better than one if you're trying to solve a puzzle, or in staying safe." The person smiled at her. The smile was kind and warm, a strangeness to her. The only smiles she had known before were ones of mocking. She had never been taught what that kind of smile meant, but she felt it instantly. "Come with me." She looked around at the stone walls that enclosed her in the room, and the window that overlooked another wall. The tiny prison that had been her world was losing its grip of fear. Her gaze shifted to the eyes of the person before her. Like that smile, there was a gentle, safeness in it. A warmth she could feel inside without physical contact. The feeling almost burned, but in a different way than when the old woman snatched her up. The sensation was more like sinking deep into the hot bath until completely submerged. She couldn't contain nor escape it, and she didn't want to. If she left the walls, the safety of her prison would be lost to her. The old woman would surely kill her if she caught her. "Do you...swear...that you will not abandon me?" Her timid voice cracked. The person smiled and extended their hand once again. "I swear." Her hand shook as she took theirs. The path she was about to take could end up being one filled with regret. Staying still, she knew, offered her nothing at all. The warm of their hand matched the dream. She could feel the lines of their palm against hers, and the mixture of rough and soft patches. Whatever may happen, she never wanted to forget that warmth.
Three | TOC