Lie Beside Me Still
By Michala Tyann
Some shall be pardoned and some shall be punished – Shakespeare
Bare feet pounded into deep copper-colored mud as she ran. A hole of the wet, grimy soil vacuumed Elizabeth in slowing her down. She braced for the fall seeing the tree in front of her a moment too late before slamming her forehead against the trunk. Her forehead scraped down the bark leaving pain and blood in its wake. She fell hard but still looked behind her. She couldn’t see or hear them but she had given up on miracles and wishes a long time ago. He was coming for her. He would lead them to her. She shook her head and tried to fix her vision which was overrun by sparks of light even behind her eyelids. As she rubbed mud on her forehead to stop the blood she tried to gain her balance but fell to the side when she picked up a noise behind her.
Elizabeth pushed herself off the ground. Her long dress tangled around her legs and she fell back down; her knees taking the mud this time. Without a thought she shoved off and up again and made it to her feet. Looking behind her while attempting to get unstuck, a flicker of light caught her eyes. “No.” She whimpered. Her eyes closed instinctively and she almost fell back to her knees as was expected of her. “No. Not anymore.” She screamed inside her head the opposite of the mantra sucking her back towards the void. I am not the child of Rad. I am not the servant of Rad. I will not be his vessel. The words strengthened her and she started running again.
The deepening darkness swallowed her the farther into the forest she moved. Darkness no longer scared her though. Elizabeth’s only terror was behind her. She looked back and knew even though she didn’t see them, they were making their way closer to her. Her chest grew thick and the air refused to move out of her lungs as fast as she needed. She was forced to slow but cursed her body for betraying her at this moment. She wasn’t surprised seeing as how her body had been doing that exact thing for however long she’d suffered at their hands. At the very moment her mind conjured them she heard sounds again behind her. Her head turned and she saw, or thought she saw, white. They found me. Her feet continued to jam into the mud but she picked up speed.
A sound of something swinging through the air caught her a second before Elizabeth felt the hard whack against her back. With a pained grunt and a terrified cry she fell face first into the mud.
“The child of Rad deserves punishment.” The voice was one of calm threat. “Say your prayers and I’ll forgive you this treachery child.”
Elizabeth almost began her prayers as she was already on her knees again. She didn’t attempt to turn around though. If she did, she would cave to the commands not of the woman behind her but of the ritual so deeply ingrained in her. Gritting her teeth she spoke with a shrill voice. “I am not the child of Rad. I am not the servant of Rad. I will not…” A second whop to her shoulder stopped her from finishing the chant she had been saying secretly for weeks now.
“How dare you to disobey me.”
Another blow to her back caused Elizabeth to fall and she cried out. Tears fell from her face which lay sideways, her cheek in the mud. She raised her face and looked ahead. The forest appeared deep and far with no visible clearing near. As she swallowed, she tasted blood from having bit her tongue. A burdening sigh erupted from her throat.
“I can see your spirit battling you. Embrace the truth child of Rad. Come back and you will be loved once again.”
Elizabeth struggled but was somehow able to turn on her back. She looked up at the woman in the long dress. She knew the dress was crimson but in the dark of the woods it looked black. Black as her soul. She almost said it aloud and knew it would probably mean her demise. “I can’t go Gemma.” Just calling the woman who stood over her that made her stomach turn. It only reminded her of the name they had given her. Emerald. “They will hurt me if I go back there.”
“It is only temporary pain child. Be strong for Rad and you will prosper unto the end.”
Gemma’s words were almost pleading and Elizabeth knew the woman was only thinking of herself. It was she who would be punished if Elizabeth escaped. The precious stone would likely lose her position and her name, reduced to probably some name of a metal instead of jewel. It was that pleading that encouraged Elizabeth; aided in her understanding. “If I go back will you plead my case before the daughters?” Like hell would she ever go back there. Elizabeth would rather die but she had to make the crazed woman believe it.
Gemma nodded one curt nod and a minute smile of potential peace crossed her lips before she returned stoic. “Of course I will child. Together we will plead your case. I’ll even get on my knees beside you as we speak our prayers to Rad.” She smiled.
Elizabeth recognized it as a smile of bitterness and victory. She wanted to throw spit into the woman’s face but instead she closed her eyes, sighed a fake involuntary act of submission and remorse. “I’m badly bruised Mother Gemma. I don’t think I can stand up. Will you give me a moment?” The ritualistic words tasted vile on her lips.
Gemme shook her head. “You must return now if you are to have a chance before the council.”
“I grieve to ask your assistance, Gemma.” Elizabeth reached out her hand for the woman’s help. “Please.” She looked down, guilt-stricken.
Gemma didn’t offer her hand immediately but stood back with hesitation.
“I am a child of Rad.” The words tore inside her. “I am a servant of Rad.” She fought not to vomit. She looked up and saw Gemma. The woman raised her shoulders, straightened her back with anxiousness. Elizabeth knew she had to say it. “I am a vessel…of Rad.” The ache in her heart and the duel voice inside her head screamed. She reached out for Gemma’s hand again. Every ounce of her being fought against looking at the bat in Gemma’s hand. It would give her away instantly, she knew this. She did not weaken her resolve but tried her best to look distraught and frail. “I’m so very ashamed of myself.”
Gemma took a step forward and clutched the waiting hand. “You are forgiven by me, child and I’m certain the daughters will forgive as well. We are all weak at times.”
Elizabeth allowed herself to be pulled upwards. She swayed sideways, no acting needed, and then fell into Gemma’s chest. She hugged the stiff body. “I am not worthy of your actions tonight.” Gemma let go of Elizabeth’s hand and hugged her back. With that single action Elizabeth reached down and grabbed the bat, shoved herself off the woman, raised it, and swung as hard as she possibly could. She worried it wouldn’t be enough but the bat cracked against Gemma’s head and sent the woman sailing to the side and back. She didn’t wait but cried out and crashed the bat against the woman’s head twice more.
Crying, for fear and relief, she turned and began running again deeper into the forest. Elizabeth didn’t know how long she ran but finally came to a path in the woods and started running on it. Twice she stopped to breathe. The third time she stopped she looked behind her. There was no sound and no evidence of Gemma. Running again, she looked over her, watched the full moon above and said a prayer to the man Jesus who she learned about when she was younger. As she prayed to the moon and still ran Elizabeth ran smack dead into a tree.
Maybe it was exhaustion or maybe it was the pain but her body refused to work with her. She screamed at it to rise, told her feet to move, but it didn’t. She could do nothing but lay there and stare at the moon. Clearing her throat hurt her lungs and she tried swallowing but couldn’t. Dehydrated, hungry, aching, and alone, Elizabeth began whimpering. “I am not the child of Rad. I am not the servant of Rad. I am not a vessel for Rad.” The words repeated over and over. She found her eyes growing heavy and she let them close.
A sound somewhere nearby caused a small jolt of adrenaline but it was only enough to get her eyes to open again. “Please, no.” Gemma had found her. Maybe it was Rad who found her. She briefly wondered what he would do with her. Would he finally use her as a vessel she’d recited and promised before the council and before the daughters for so many years? “I am not a vessel for him.” Elizabeth decided at that moment she would never again say his name. She didn’t care how painful the consequences were. Tears welled in her eyes. Someone was coming for her. They would take her back and…she couldn’t bear to think of what would happen.
The sound came closer. She fought again but moving was no longer an option for her at all. Feet kicked at her head. The punishments begin even now.
“Oh my God.”
A shrill scream erupted above her as a body fell on top of Elizabeth. She closed her eyes and heard, from a far-away place, someone asking if she was okay. She couldn’t talk. It was just too much. Just let me die. Let me go and find the peace I’ve begged for, for so long. She reached for the darkness behind her eyelids, found it, and clung to it.