the girl in the hole

Short Stories / Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

She had never been so cold before, in all her eight, short years of living. She couldn’t really wrap her head around the mind-freezing coldness that started to nestle itself into her very bones. The numbness was not all that uncomfortable, though, she almost liked the sleepiness of her feet, the tickling.

It was so cold, her body kept her awake in the small hours of morning when the fog that used to be her breath came out in stutters and her muscles were contracting so violently, she was shaking on the cold floor. Sometimes, she thought she saw her mother, leaning across her in a shadowy embrace. She would have loved having her here, had it not been for the coldness seeping from her bones into her heart and from there stretching up into her brain until there was nothing else that she could think of except for how cold she was.

She never thought that it would happen like this, that mother who promised to come get her when it was all over, would come here of all the places. In a small cave, maybe made for bears to hibernate, maybe made by men thousands of years ago, to live in. But she was no bear and she was no man; she was a small girl shivering in the cold.

The leather satchel strapped across her shoulder, digging into her neck, held two things; one shark tooth, polished and gleaming, and one piece of bread. She had kept it for so long already, it had gone mouldy and hard but she still did not allow herself to eat it. Mother always used to say that you never knew when things would get worse. She tried to open the satchel to feel the smooth surface of the shark tooth again but her fingers were so numb and useless, she couldn’t pry apart the two ropes holding the satchel closed.

She looked up at the ceiling again.

She liked to think of the Time When Everything Was Good, Even She.

The time when father used to come home from a day out in the woods, if they were lucky he’d have a hare in his hands, skinned already. If they were extra lucky, it was a small deer. Mother would help him prepare it and the kitchen would become so warm, almost steamy from all the hot water used for rinsing the animal and her sister would trample down the wooden stairs and the violet hues of dusk would sweep the living room clear of dirt and only leave it looking like home. And they would sit together for dinner, all four of them, and it would be so very warm and she would be wearing a jumper or maybe two, the ones that Nana made for them when she was here and not there. And she would eat the beans that mother tended to in her gardens and father’s meat and she would be so very happy if it could ever be like that again.

She knew, of course, that it couldn’t. And she also knew, deep down, in a place hidden so far inside her heart, she could almost not even remember herself where she locked it  – that it was all her fault.

Because she let the wild men in.


“No.” She said it decidedly. The wild men must have found her. She heard voices, quick and menacing and words that she didn’t know. “No.” She said it again. She would not go with them. She’d promised mother not to move. The voices grew louder. Light was coming from somewhere far away, as if a sun had suddenly gone on.

“Is she dead?” She understood that. Her eyelids fluttered. There were three men in the cave. Fear seized her whole body.

“NO.” When the man closest to her rested his finger on her bare skin underneath the scarf to feel for her pulse, she screamed. He backed away.

“She’s not, Hamzir.”

“We’ll have to take her on the sled, then.”

“No,” she whispered.

“There’s no space… We could strap the leather bags onto Frinu’s back, I suppose.”

“No,” she whispered.

“Or I carry her on my back.” This was a new voice, a younger one.

“No,” she whispered.

“What are you talking, girl?” Suddenly, all of them were looking at her.

“I promised mother not to leave.”

“If you stay here you’ll die of the wraiths inhabiting this place, if not from hypothermia first”, said the man who’d wanted to feel her pulse earlier. His face was so covered with beard that she couldn’t make out what he looked like.

“I promised.” They almost couldn’t hear her.

“Hamzir, come here boy. Get her out of this hole and then we’ll sort it out in the light of day. These caves of rebirth frighten the living daylight out of me. Come on, now, get her up.” And a boy, she couldn’t make him out all that well because he was blocking the small hole to the outside world with his body, reached out his arms to cup her whole figure into his arms and he lifted her up effortlessly, as if she were a feather.

“No,” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said.

And she let him because the dread in her stomach was tying itself into knots of knots.

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