Just a few things before the story; one, if there's something آپ don't like about it, please tell me! I want it to be as good as it can be. ^-^ Just please tell me in a respectful way, please. I would appreciate that. Thank you.
Also, this story will be a little (well, مزید than a little) bloody and violent, and there may be some cussing later on. Just a warning.
That being said, I hope آپ like it!
Gnarled branches. Green leaves grew from them—green leaves spotted with yellows and reds. They rustled dryly, talking of the upcoming season of autumn.
Below the canopy of trees and foliage, a boy slowly awoke to find himself lying on the ground, something sharp digging into his back. His left cheekbone and forehead throbbed with a dull pain, and when he rolled over and sat up to regain his bearings, a sharp twinge shot along his stomach, from his left side to his navel. He winced and looked around, noticing as he did another pain in the back of his neck.
He was in a forest, that was for sure, but how large it was and how close he was to the edge of it he couldn’t tell. From the darkness surrounding him, however, he could guess that he was deep inside, near the دل of the forest.
He pushed himself to his feet and stood, albeit a bit shakily. Dark spots fluttered before his eyes. He shook his head to clear it, then took a careful step forward.
He needed to get out of the forest. That’s what it felt like, at least. There was something important he needed to do out there; he just couldn’t quite remember what it was.
He stopped at that thought.
He couldn’t remember why he needed to get out of the forest.
He couldn’t remember why he was in the forest in the first place.
He couldn’t remember how his face and stomach and neck had gotten hurt.
He couldn’t even remember who he was.
He stood there for a moment, blinking and letting the shock of this sink in. He didn’t have a name, a past, a purpose. He was just here, in the forest, alone and not having the slightest idea of what he was supposed to do next.
Get out of the forest, something told him. There was something آپ needed to do out there. Find out what it was and carry it through. Go on.
Numbly, he forced himself to take a step forward.
As he did so, his foot made contact with something soft, and he tripped, stumbled, and fell to the forest floor. He rolled over to see what he had tripped over and gasped in horror.
It was a dead body—the body of a young man, even a boy, not quite to adulthood and yet still not a child. The boy had been decapitated and mutilated, and the cloying stench of rotten flesh rose off of it. One maimed, bloodied hand grasped something in a claw-like grasp—something small, the color of sand.
He reached over and, shuddering, pried it out from the dead boy’s clutch.
It was a box—wooden and square and simple. It had flowers carved into the top—a basic design, done plainly and honestly—with a small, steel lock holding it closed. Even though he knew it wouldn’t, he tried to open it.
The lid stayed firmly in place.
He sighed and began walking again, manipulating his way through briars and brambles and undergrowth and long, hanging branches. It took a long time—and hour, half an hour?—but eventually he could see pale light seeping out between the trees and knew he was nearing the edge. He ran the last few yards and burst out into the sunshine.
He was in a narrow, grassy strip of land and ran alongside a dusty dirt road. The گھاس was sparkling with dew, and the sun was rising over the east horizon. گلابی and pale yellow fingers spread across the sky, and a black bird wheeled about in the air above his head. It was earlier than he had thought.
The bird swooped down and landed in the middle of the road. It was a crow, he knew, یا perhaps a raven; he couldn’t tell. It looked at him, small black head cocked, eyes intelligent and curious, then gave a caw and took off, soaring back up into the sky.
He looked after it. Crow, he thought to himself. Something about the word sounded familar, as if it were something he heard often. It was an irritating thought, as he felt he could almost place it, but whenever he came close, it slipped away, always just out of reach. He took a few steps into the road and squinted up at the sky, where the بانگ was now just a dark speck on the horizon.
“’Ello,” someone کہا behind him.
He jumped and spun around. A tall, scruffy, lank man stood there, carrying a رائفل and a small metal water bottle. Two bloodhounds stood behind him, sniffing at the road and at the man’s heels. The dogs were thin and scrawny, but their فر, سمور shone and their eyes were clear.
“Oh. Hello,” he said. It came out in a whisper, hoarse and quiet. He could tell he hadn’t used it in a long time. He cleared his throat and tried again.
“Hello.” His voice was still hoarse, but audible. The man nodded and gave him a smile.
“Never seen ye ‘round here. Ye live in these parts?”
He shook his head.
“Where are ye from, then?”
He stared up at the man. Just another سوال he couldn’t answer. Where was he from? He couldn’t say for sure, and he didn’t want to lie, and yet here this man stood, looking down at him, waiting for an answer.
He pointed up into the forest, in the direction he had come from. “Up there.”
“In the forest?”
“Yes. I…my father built a کیبن about a mile from the edge of it—the other edge, I mean, opposite from this one. I’ve lived there most of my life.”
“What are ye doing all the way down here? That’s at least a day’s walk, probably more, I would say. When’s the last time ye ate? Drank? Have ye slept lately?” The man peered down at his face, looking genuinely concerned.
“I…I haven’t eaten for a while,” he said, choosing not to answer the man’s first question. He didn’t really know why he was lying. Somehow the truth just didn’t seem believable.
“Well, come on then,” the man said. “We’ve got plenty at my house—plenty to eat and drink, and we’ve got a guest room. مزید of a closet than anythin’, but it’ll have to do. That is,” the man interrupted himself thoughtfully, “if ye’ll come.”
He nodded. “If it’s alright.”
“Wouldn’t have invited ye if it weren’t,” the man said, starting off down the road. “What’s yer name, anyhow?”
He hurried after the man, still holding the box tightly. The man looked down at him expectantly. He stared at the ground. His name. What was his name? Such a simple سوال it was, and yet he had no clue how to answer it.
He thought back to the bird, how familiar that word had been. Crow. Why did that word ring a bell? he wondered. Crow…crow.
“Crow,” he repeated, thoughtfully.
“Crow? Yer name’s Crow?”
He looked up, surprised. Could that be his name? It felt right, at least. And he needed a name. بانگ would suffice, at least for now.
“Yes,” he said. “My name’s Crow.”
“That’s quite the unusual name,” the man said. “I’m Jonathan. Live right down the road a little ways, I do. Small, honest cabin, مزید of a shack, really, but it’s nice and cozy and keeps out the cold in the win’ertime. Not quite big enough for me, my wife, my children, and my hounds, so Poplar and Cedar here,” he nodded to the bloodhounds, “have to sleep outside, on the porch. Can’t say they really like that arrangement, and I can’t say I really do meself, but my wife insists. Don’t really think she wanted to get ‘em in the first place…”
As Jonathan droned on, بانگ again studied the box in his hand. He noticed a stain on the lid that he hadn’t seen before—a crimson stain, the color of rust. Dried blood, he realized. Shuddering, he wiped it off.
“What’ve ye got there?” Jonathan asked.
بانگ looked up, startled. “A box. Found it in the woods.”
“Ah.” Jonathan whistled and called Poplar, who was investigating a rabbit carcass at the edge of the road. Poplar gave it one last sniff, then trotted over.
“Crow,” Jonathan said, turning back to him. بانگ looked up.
“Can I ask ye something?”
مزید questions, بانگ thought. Out loud he said, “Yes. Of course.”
“Ye ever seen anything…strange out there?”
Crow’s brow creased. “Strange?”
“Yea…strange. The Fair Folk, Crow. Skinwalkers, vampyrs, griffins and phoenix and wendigo. Unhuman-type folk.”
“I…uh…can’t say I ever have,” بانگ said. “Why?”
“Nothin’. Just rumors and the like. People say there’s things in the forest, evil, mischievous fellows. Put up protection ‘round their houses, ye know. Horseshoes hangin’ over doorways, crosses all over their property. Had a baby carried away before, ye know. Fair Folk swapped him out with one o’ their own kind. A changeling. Ugly little spriggan spawn, ye know. Died in a week. Human baby never showed up again. So now everyone’s مزید careful ‘bout them unhuman-folk, ‘specially the Fair Folk. Them’s the worst. Wicked little creatures, them is.
“Ah,” Jonathan said, nodded at a small row of cabins lining the side of the road. “Here’s me shack now. C’mon, now, Crow, and my wife’ll take good care o’ ye—wash ye up and give ye some food and a place to sleep. Ye look like ye could use it.”
Jonathan turned into the yard of one of the houses and thumped up onto the porch, بانگ trailing behind him. Jonathan knocked loudly on the door.
After a moment the door swung open, revealing a woman wearing a long, گلابی checkered dress and her golden-brown hair pinned up in a bun. She had an hourglass figure and a round, pretty face that lit up when she saw Jonathan.
“’Ello, Dina,” Jonathan said.
“You’re back,” Dina said, still beaming. She seemed to not have noticed بانگ standing there with his head bowed, as she went on talking. “Your hunting expeditions never do last long, do they?”
Jonathan smiled and shrugged. “Never long enough to catch much, that’s fer sure.”
Dina smiled and embraced him, then pulled away, one hand resting on his shoulder. “You didn’t get anything this time, did you?”
Jonathan stepped back and swept an arm at Crow. “I got this.”
“Oh!” Dina looked a bit shocked, and she took a step backwards, towards the front door. She blinked, then repeated herself. “Oh. Oh, hello.”
بانگ looked up at her. “Hello.”
Dina took a few steps towards him—a bit cautiously, it seemed to Crow. “And who are you?”
بانگ looked back down. He felt out-of-place and uncomfortable, shy. “Crow.”
“His name’s Crow, Dina,” Jonathan interrupted. “This here’s me wife, Crow,” he continued. “Dina Carlson. Dina, could ye fix him somethin’? I’ll take him to the washing room, so he can clean himself up a bit.”
Dina nodded and stepped inside, holding the door open until Jonathan and بانگ had entered. Then she let it سوئنگ, جھول closed with a bang and set about in the kitchen, taking out pots and pans and various ingredients.
“What would آپ like, Crow?”
“Pardon?” بانگ looked up.
“What would آپ like to eat?”
“Um…just ٹوسٹ is fine, ma’am, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“It’s not. Jonathan, get the children up, will you? It’s eight-thirty already. Crow, the washing room is just down the hall and to the right. The basin is filled up, but it might be a bit chilly; I’ll heat it up for آپ if you’d like.”
بانگ nodded. “Alright. Thank you, ma’am.” He almost winced. The words sounded too polite, too formal for this household. He gave a slight nod of his head and ducked out into the hall, following Dina’s directions until he reached the washing room.
He stepped inside and closed the door, then surveyed the room. It was small, claustrophobic, almost, with the basin for him to wash in, a mirror hanging on the دیوار to his right, and a small white cabinet which, بانگ assumed, was filled with soap, sponges, combs, and other such appliances. He opened it, found that he was correct, and picked out a bar of soap. Then he turned and glanced at himself in the mirror. His eyes widened in surprise, and he took a step back, bumping into the wall.
Two large bruises, both the size of a small fist, were blooming on his cheekbone and forehead, purple and green and black. His skin was deathly pale, almost white, and he had dark circles under each eye, as if someone had smeared his face with charcoal. His hair, straight and black, was oily and filthy, his face covered with grime and dirt and his lips chapped. He understood now why Dina had looked so shocked when she first had seen him.
He looked like a wild animal.
بانگ blinked at his reflection, then shook his head and turned away, pulling his شرٹ, قمیض up over his head for his bath. The shirt, he noticed, was tattered, and also had a considerable amount of dirt coating it. بانگ dipped it into the water and scrubbed at it with the soap, then hung it on the cabinet door to dry.
As he did so, he felt the sharp twinge stab through his stomach again, worse this time. He gasped from the pain and looked down.
A long scar stretched across his abdomen, in the same place the pain had shot through; from the side to the center of his stomach. He stared at it, feeling this was important, feeling like he should know what had happened, how he had gotten such a wound.
The feeling gave him the sensation of being empty and blank, as if someone had hollowed him out and then left him alone, to figure out how to best go about things.
And he was going to, he decided. He was going to figure it out, figure everything out—who he was, what had happened to him, why he couldn’t remember anything. He was going to figure it out.
بانگ crossed his arms over his chest, shivering, and tightened his grip on the box.
It did little to comfort him.