Written by Terrestris Veritas
She felt her foot snag in a root and lost control of her balance, falling forward to a jerking stop as the ground stayed where it was and a grip on her arm hauled her upright. The grip remained on her arm, firm but not without force. She looked up fearfully, seeing the gloved hand and crisp uniform, following along until she saw the stern, scarred face. He gazed at her with savage eyes that peeped out from underneath a shiny, leather cap.
He addressed her curtly, “Why were you running child?”
“I was chasing a rabbit,” she mumbled to her shoes.
“Speak up, and look me in the eye when you talk. There’s a good girl. Now, repeat what you just said.”
“I was chasing a rabbit.”
“Well you shouldn’t do that,” he said shortly. “Many people have important jobs to do around here and you wouldn’t want to get in their way now, would you?”
“No,” she said dejectedly, making sure to look him in the eye.
“Good. Now,” he continued talking as he led her back to the house. “I’m sure your mother would like you inside before it gets dark. No matter what, you must stay inside at night. The men here are on watch and could mistake you for someone else. And they do nasty things to people they don’t know in the dark.” He chuckled to himself as he opened the side door, still gripping her arm.
Samantha woke to the sound of someone calling her. Blinking rapidly, she looked around, straining to hear the voice again. The house creaked eerily. She gripped her bed sheets tightly. It was never quiet in this old, draughty house. And the noise made her skin crawl. Usually, Samantha slept in her mother’s room, but currently she was unwell with the baby and needed to rest alone. Having laid down again to sleep, she thought of her little brother. Samantha thought to herself: Why was he making mother so unwell? I hope she gets better soon. Her mother was the only nice person here, apart from the old maid who had made her bed for her. But no-one seemed to understand that her mother’s husband, the sergeant, was not her father.
She sat bolt upright. The voice had come from her left, near the window. Swinging her legs out of bed, she slipped on her shoes and stood up, smoothing down her nightdress.
“Samantha,” the voice whispered.
The house creaked loudly, and she jumped from the noise, almost knocking her stack of unpacked books. She walked to the window, pressing her hand against it to look out, shivering from the cold.
A small ball of orange light hovered just outside the window. “Samantha, follow us.” The voice was insistent.
“You want me to come with you? But come where?” Samantha was curious, but still cold.
“Outside Samantha. Come and play.”
Outside was warmer somehow, Samantha thought, turning away from the soft mist. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she looked around for the light. It bobbed into view, pulsing slightly. She chased after it, as it led her away from the house and up a slight hill. She kept a close eye on the ground so as to not fall over once more. Sometimes she’d think she had lost the ball of light but it would always reappear, whispering her name softly. It was just like one of her stories, she thought.
She didn’t know how long she followed that light, but eventually she came to a clearing of sorts. She heard a strange noise that sounded like water, and the air smelt funny too. But all that was driven away when she saw what she had been led to. Some distance away from her, she saw lots of balls of light – more like wisps in the mist. They were many colours including purple, yellow, blue, green and red. They zoomed overhead, chasing each other and laughing softly. And then they directed their attention to her.
“Come and play with us Samantha,” they chorused. “Come play with us.” They almost sounded like they were begging, again pulsing softly.
Samantha smiled. “Okay.”
“Sergeant, the girl has not yet been found.” The corporal stood stiffly, cap in hand and eyes front. Years of discipline could not disguise the slight tremble.
The Sergeant took a long drag on his cigarette, blew the smoke out in rings and considered the man in front of him. “How long has the little one been missing now?” he said slowly, dragging out the sentence as if he found the topic distasteful.
“Since… since your wife went to wake her sir. About five hours ago.” The corporal tried his best to hide his stutter.
He waved a hand in a mild gesture. “In my childhood, my sister would disappear for days on end, especially when she was around Samantha’s age. Indeed, I used to do the same. My parents never thought anything of it – they were guilty of the same thing. Sadly, my wife does not share my reasoning that this behaviour is simply a part of growing up. She worked herself up so much that she had to be sedated. She is not able to cope, and I do not want my child or wife at risk of further ill-health. That is why the brat must be found. Understand?” He raised an eyebrow at the shivering man.
The corporal saluted. “Yes-sir!”
“Of course corporal,” the Sergeant added with a wry smile, “I wouldn’t worry unduly if she were to not be found for some time. You say there was a slight incident yesterday with a guard?”
“Yes-sir. The guard on watch took exception to the girl’s game. He caught her as she tripped and escorted her back indoors. It was heard that he believed the child was distracting him and warned her, yet again as it is, not to go out after dark. He also hinted that he may have intimidated the girl.”
“Let him be. If he did truly scare her, she’ll come back when she gets hungry. ‘Tis the way with children, corporal.” The Sergeant took another long drag and murmured, “Had she been raised with my strict hand, such a thing would not occur, for she would know the punishment. And punished she shall be.” He declared to the corporal, “All should know, understand and receive the consequences of their actions.” He winked at the suddenly pale man. “Not a bad way to live, eh?”
The corporal was saved in answering by another uniformed man rushing in. Heaving for breath he saluted and removed his cap. “Sir!”
“Private.” The Sergeant acknowledged him. “Your report?” There was a moment of silence apart from the private’s heavy breathing. “Come on man, spit it out!”
The private flinched. He seemed to be steeling himself. “Sir. Not ten minutes ago the patrol boats from along the coast radioed the barracks. They were attempting to trail the runaways from two days ago. But they spotted something else…” At this, the private hesitated.
The Sergeant stubbed out his cigarette with a hiss and stood up from behind his desk. “Private, tell me what you have come to tell me or there will be consequences.” There was another pause as the private and corporal exchanged looks. “Out with it, private!”
The private blanched. Gathering himself together hurriedly, he garbled through the words. “They saw something on the rocks, at the base of the cliffs. Riding closer, it was clearly a body. They thought it was one of the fugitives at first, sir, but then they saw the night-gown…” He trailed off, not daring to say more.
The Sergeant remained staring at the private, mouth open in disbelief. Slowly he sank back into his chair and for a moment stared at his papers, as if at a loss. With a weak wave of his hand he dismissed the other men. They left the room as quickly as possible. It was quiet in the corridor beyond, so silent that they easily heard the clink of a bottle against a glass from the Sergeant’s room.
The haunting image of a girl driven to her death on the rocks is saddening, to say the least. But Terrestris Veritas’ words dig deep in his short fiction. We love how he’s created such a wonderful setting with Samantha and the ghostly spirits of the house. Perhaps she’s not dead though, and merely wandered into Wonderland as Alice’s doppelgänger. We can only hope. If you enjoyed Terra’s work, please feel free to leave a like or comment, or perhaps read some of his other work including, “For Loved Ones” and “Diaries of the Gods”.
Featured Image CC // Derek Bruff