“I don’t know you. You were never in the trees before,” Seriah observed as the skittering shadow clung to the sagging branch far above her.
“Oh, daughter, I was in the trees long before you were born. Before the Summers began. I have come to claim what is mine.”
The young woman furrowed her brow under her long blond hair. “And what is yours?”
“Everything.” The voice savored the word, tasting its every letter, licking its tongue across the syllables and sucking the marrow from its vowels.
Because the sun had fled, Seriah could not see the creature well. It seemed to change size and shape even as she peered at it, refusing to admit any truth into its sinews, no solidness into its skin.
Her dress kept wrapping around her knees and tugging her away, though. It proved distracting.
“Oh, daughter, your clothing appears problematic,” the shadow purred. “I can help you, if you wish.”
Seriah shook her head. “How would you do that?” she laughed.
“By killing it, of course.”
The smile froze on her lips and faded into a sad upside-down V. “It’s a dress,” she doubted.
“Of course it is. But it was given to you from Another. And anything He touches lives with His pollution, a little. They serve Him as slaves, mindless and unquestioning. And it is always a gift to free a slave, even if that freedom comes from death.”
She looked down at her green, green dress, wrapping around her, pulling at her, tugging her away from the new shadow. She remembered when her father had given her the dress. It had belonged to her mother, long before Seriah was born. “I would not have it die. It has served me so well.” She smoothed the fabric at her hip. “Besides, I never knew it was alive.” What would mother say if she returned a dead dress?
“Daughter, daughter,” the shadow sighed, “How will you ever learn?”
Seriah blinked. Did this creature think her simple?
Well, perhaps she was. And if she was, she must remedy that.
“Come, precious one. I will lead you to a better place, where you are able to know things you never knew. Things about the past.” The shape, feline now, crouched and leaped to the branches of another tree.
Seriah did not notice the trunk shudder when the thing landed on its branch. She did not know how the roots shivered in fear, telling all the grandchildren leaves to flee, flee the beast. But then again, Seriah never thought much about the lives of other things.
She looked around the dark garden. Mother Sun had fled the sky. Usually that meant it was time for dancing or sleep, but this night felt like neither.
She followed the new one, this strange shadow of a friend. Perhaps he would tell her good things to know. Perhaps he would make it so she were not simple.
This is the fifth chapter of Summers’ End.