Serious Matters: The Little Girl with the Tulip
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Truth.
I stand on the astral, and the second I know where I am, I am moving. Forward. Long strides. Set jaw. Only fools would try to stop me.
I am as I always am on the astral-taller, leaner, long brown hair flowing behind me, long wisps of white fabric about my body and ankles, curling around my curves and legsâ€”and I move Â forward. Â Usually Â I am Â barefoot, Â but this time, I am wearing fighting boots. Iâ€™ve never worn them before, yet they fit well. I have a rope, a holster of some Â sorts, Â looped Â across Â my Â chest, Â and Â Iâ€™m Â vaguely aware of a bow and arrow Â on Â my back as well as the weight of a sword. I am fierce. I am here to Â do battle, face to face, because if I turn my back, I will not be able to deflect the damage.
I stalk forward through a dark forest. Fists clenched. Iâ€™m not afraid of the darkness. It doesnâ€™t stop me. I know the path. I would know it blindfolded. Leaves and small, dead branches crunch beneath my feet. I Â am not intent on silence. I donâ€™t care who or what hears me coming.
I am not alone. My daughters walk with me. Shannon, my firstborn, Â to my right. Aislinn to the left. They are taller, fine Â young Amazons themselves Â in flowing white and sandals that tie and ties wind up their legs and disappear into their skirts. They are not armed, but they walk with purpose, flanking me. We three walk in perfect step Behind me, directly behind, where no one can see him from ahead, a healer follows with healing herbs and poi- sons. Heâ€™s quiet, never saying a Â word to let anyone know he is there. He hides himself in the guise of a Â monkey, swinging from the trees behind me sometimes, and other times, Â running to catch up. I donâ€™t look behind-I know heâ€™s safe.
There are others in the woods beside and behind me. Some Â coming Â out Â and Â lingering Â at Â a Â distance. Â Others bounding to catch up, Â watching Â out of curiosity. Â Some are mice and some are Amazons, Â but Â they are moving forward with me.
Something moves in the darkness Â ahead, something on this path. I stop abruptly, flailing my arms out to halt my daughters. Then…silence.
I hold my breath. Â Nothing Â moves Â around Â me. The creatures Â of Â these Â woods Â make Â no Â sound. Â Everything waits. Fear hangs in the air.
Then up ahead, out of the darkness, someone steps onto the path. Thereâ€™s an odd light in these woods. Al- most an amber glow like low fire light, though there are no fires, no torches, no stars. Â The glow seems to come from the forest itself, lighting the darkness so I Â can see my adversary.
A little girl. A little girl with a red-pink tulip.
Voices in the forest sigh their relief around me. They donâ€™t yet see the glaze in her eyes.
A dead girl with a tulip. Innocent and sweet, but sheâ€™s walked on the Â other side. I stare at her and she at me. This is the guise I knew her in, but she cannot hold this shape for long.
Something green sprouts from the toe of her shoe. A vine winding up her ankle and around her knee. I feel the forest watching her, confused, as another vine sprouts at her heel and another at the side Â of her other foot from inside her shoe. The vines spread and grow but she does not move. They simply grown, envelope her, grow bigger than Â her Â form, until she is nothing but hulking mass of swirling vine-like Â tentacles. The vines seem to writhe in place, never still. I can tell where the eyes are, where the mouth is. I want to back away but I donâ€™t.
Tentacles shoot out like long arms. One grabs Shannon, on my right, by the throat, keeping her quiet, choking her. The other grabs Aislinn, on my left, by the wrist and pulls her forward. Both girls dig in their heels and cry for me.
Shannon can barely breathe and is in more immediate danger. I snatch my sword from my back and bring it down hard on the tentacle. I expect to slice it in two but the Â tentacle Â is Â more Â resolute Â that Â Iâ€™d Â thought Â and Â it sprouts smaller tentacles that jut out and race Â alongside the larger tentacle up to Shannonâ€™sÂ throat and begin to envelope her.
With both hands on the hilt, I bring my blade down harder and sever the connection. Â The grip on Shannonâ€™s throat loosens, Â falls away, and she sits in the leaves and rubs at her wounds. The Woman of Vines and Tentacles screeches in pain as her limb withers. It dies at the spot where I cut it and the decay spreads all the way back to the source and it drops to the ground. She cannot regenerate it.
I raise the blade to the tentacle around Aislinnâ€™s wrist, but the tentacle grows thorns as thick as claws and shields the tentacle. I hack at it all the Â same, but nothing hap- pens. Aislinn is drawn closer and whenever I try to help her pull back, the claws stick into her delicate skin.
In one swiftÂ movement, Â I pull theÂ bow Â and arrow from my back, set the arrow, and let it sail into the tentacle at the shoulder of the Woman of Vines and Tentacles. The tentacle drops. The Â grip on Aislinn falls away, and she retreats to safer ground while examining her bruises.
The Â Woman Â of Â Vines Â and Â Tentacles Â is Â an Â angry, writhing green mass. I know the girl with the tulip is underneath somewhere, but for now, sheâ€™s been obliterated by Â tentacles Â of Â fear, Â of Â control, Â of Â holding Â onto, Â and holding things tightly in their place. Tentacles Â shoot out at me, a dozen or more, grabbing my ankles, wrists, arms, waist, neck-and squeezing. I hack through some with my sword. The girls grab sticks and strike with futility at the thorn-covered tentacles. Â I dig in my boots, Â kick at the vines that try to engulf me. It is tiresome work, but the temptation Â to Â flee Â is Â not Â even Â a Â consideration. Â If Â the Woman of Vines and Tentacles can keep me bound, she can take of my daughters.
I see the healer behind me in the trees, a monkey with healing herbs Â and poisons. I realize what knowledge he carries with him in his pouches and I hold out my hand for what he gives me. Itâ€™s a reminder that a motherâ€™s love can heal or poison-itâ€™s how itâ€™s used-and that some herbs can soothe or sear. Itâ€™s all in how itâ€™s used. Itâ€™s all in how itâ€™s used. Itâ€™s all in how itâ€™s used.
I dust the pouch of poison over the tentacles and they wither and fall away from me. She loses her hold. More tentacles shoot out at me, and Â they, too, wither in the dust.
â€œOur karma is done,â€ I shout to her. â€œI sever all remaining ties. You no longer have any hold on me, and I bind you from doing harm to me and mine!â€
I hold the remainder of the pouch in my right hand and aim it directly toward the mass of writhing vines. In the pouch is my love as a mother, my love for my children, Â and Â all Â the Â strength, Â desperation, Â and Â protection that comes with being a mother. Itâ€™s all in how itâ€™s used. It can strangle or it can nourish or it can protect or it can simply be.
Mine hits her squarely between the eyes and sinks into the mass of vines, dusting her tentacles and vines. They turn brown and wither and fade until there is nothing left, nothing at all. The decaying Â mass oozes to the ground and in its center stands the little girl with the tulip, stand- ing there alone in the dark, blinking.
I turn and head back out of the dark forest, the girls flanking me, the monkey following, the rest of the forest going about their business or trailing along.
At Â Â Â Â Â Â Â the edge of the forest, Â as I step back into the Light, Â I Â gaze Â through Â the Â long Â darkness Â Â Â Â Â Â Iâ€™ve Â walked through to whereÂ theÂ Â Â Â Â frightened Â Â Â Â Â little Â girlÂ stands. Â I whisper Â something Â to Â her. Â Sheâ€™ll Â hear Â it. Â She Â see Â the words before her, forming in air. Sheâ€™ll know.
The thing thatâ€™s enveloped her for so long will know, too.
The moment she hears these words, sees them in the air, the connection of my intent is made and the disconnection is made now and forevermore.
It is done.