“Run”––I am jostled awake by quivering hands gripping my shoulder and her bittersweet vocalizations. Heavy eyelids and downcast lashes flutter open. The forceful trembling brings me to consciousness and my eyes meet her own: deep brown and slick with tears that begin to trickle down her sunken cheeks. I push her off of me and look down at my knees––bruised and scraped––before brushing off the withered, tawny leaves that had settled onto them.
“But where will we go?” This question plagues my psyche as roaring megaphones and sharp sirens pierce my ears like hordes of arrows. Although we seem to be in a forest, the sounds of birdsong aren’t audible. There might be birds chirping right now, but I would have no way of knowing. With little certainty, I am left to my own devices to connect the dots as I pull up my sleeve to wipe away the sleep from the corners of my eyes.
“I––I don’t know yet.” Her hushed whisper commands my attention as she staggers upright onto her feet. A scrawny hand extends down to me. I grab onto it as she pulls me up, inhaling sharply while stumbling back into a shrub from the weight.
I grumble under my breath and I think she hears. Although she gives no verbal indication, her scowl tells all. I bend down at the knee to pick up the flaxen burlap sack that we brought with us. My eyes peer into the opening of the bag. It’s filled to the top with dozens of precious stones and jewels. They glint under the sunshine that peeks through the tree canopy, beaming brilliant shades of ruby, emerald, and sapphire. In fact, they very well could be authentic rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. But right now, it doesn’t matter what exactly they are; we have them in our possession.
“Please hurry, they will catch up to us soon!” I snap out of my entranced state as she beckons me forward. My sore feet carry my small frame as I trail behind her. The weight of the bag, clutched against my chest, makes it difficult to breathe. I trip over pebbles and feel my clothes catch on stray branches as I struggle to push forward with the sack blocking my vision. If I had time, it would be so much easier to use my pocket knife to wrestle my dress free.
I turn my head to look behind me and wince at the sight of the search party in the distance. They were still far from us, but I couldn’t help but notice that they had closed a fair amount of distance between us. Amplified voices shout our names into the woods.
I attempt to swallow my fear. I need to be strong. If not for myself, then for her. It’s my fault that we are in this situation in the first place.
“Rrrrrip”––The sound fabric being torn by the untame limbs sprouting out from tree trunks ripples into the air. Obscenities slip from my lips as piles of jewels spill onto the forest floor. My ravenous hands reach down to retrieve some of them, but this proves to be futile. Reluctantly, I ditch the sack and the handful of gems before sprinting to catch up to her.
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