BaneBy: H.M. Ward
That day lingered at the back of Kahli’s mind like a nightmare. The memories and emotions bled together, making every terrorizing moment painfully clear. Kahli and her mother were not half way through the crystalized trees when the first ray of light burst forth. Icy pines jutted up out of the ground forming towering spires. Kahli remembered everything: The crisp scent of the morning air, the sunlight on her face, her mother’s voice—even and urgent—telling her to stay hidden. Every piece of information was stored with acute detail in her mind.
Making their way down the icy slope of the mountain had taken longer than expected that day. It was nearly ten years ago now. She was barely seven. Just after they’d entered the woods, Kahli’s mother turned sharply. Instinctively, she grabbed her daughter’s hand, and searched the landscape behind them. Her heart stopped. The Trackers were too close. If she didn’t do something, they would both be captured. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled.
Her grip on Kahli’s small hand tightened. Leaning closer to her daughter, she whispered in her ear, “Run.”
Kahli blinked, shaking her head. It felt like she was stuck in a dream and time had stopped. Her mind couldn’t comprehend what her mother did. What she said. This couldn’t be real. But it was. Mom ran directly toward the Trackers, leaving her behind. Ignoring the terror that rushed through her tiny body, Kahli turned and sprinted in the opposite direction. The pounding of her heart echoed in her ears as she sucked in the frigid air. Cold, dry wind whipped her small cheeks. Kahli’s spiked shoes cut deep into the glittering snow, but there was no foot print, only tiny holes left by the spikes. They would soon be covered with the powdery snow that blew through the air like dust.
Kahli ran until the stitch in her side felt like it was going to burst. Her legs screamed in protest, burning, begging her to stop, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. Sucking in huge gasps, Kahli ignored the needles pinching her lungs and fled. She didn’t look back. There were no sounds other than the thumping of her heart and the howl of wind ripping through the iced trees. She didn’t know what her mother heard, but she knew without a doubt that there was danger behind her, and that her mother had run straight into it.
Kahli stumbled, forcing her feet to continue. The brightness of the frozen trees shone in her eyes like a thousand suns, blinding her.
They should have passed through these woods earlier. It was her fault they were here now, trying to escape from creatures that couldn’t be outrun. Her heart hammered harder, her small body filled to the brim with fear, shaking as she ran. The ski mask that covered her face to protect her from the wind made it difficult to see. She’d nearly collided with a tree because it didn’t fit quite right. The worn wool was too large for her small head. Kahli untied her hood and tore off the mask. She decided it was better than slamming into one of the ancient aspens. Breathless, she shoved the mask in her pocket. Fiery red hair streamed behind her as she fled.
Nearing the edge of the woods, Kahli slowed. A sound carried through the trees to her left. Jerking her head towards the noise, Kahli saw her mother rush through a thicket of briars, shattering them into tiny fragments as she thrashed her way through.
Breathless, Mother reached for Kahli, and shoved her into the frozen thicket. The branches gave way without shattering, concealing the small child. Leaning down, Mother breathed so hard that Kahli could barely understand her.
“Stay in there. Don’t come out.” She put her finger on her lips, and backed away from her daughter’s frightened green eyes and small round face.
Mother was within reach when the Trackers burst into the clearing. A large man with a thick coat that barely concealed his round belly, huffed, saying, “Thought you could escape, did you?” He wore white like we did, so he could blend into the landscape. The man moved towards Mother, who stood utterly still. The dark-haired man examined her, sliding his eyes up and down her thin frame. Her fingers fisted at her sides, ready to fight. The man’s narrow eyes ignored the gesture. Stubble lined his jowls, as if he hadn’t shaved for days. He scratched his chin like he’d forgotten something.
A boy appeared next to him. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old. His gangly frame seemed too tall for his thin body. He was like the other man—pale with dark hair. Stepping into the clearing, he stopped behind the man. The boy appeared frail, but Kahli knew he wasn’t. That boy was a Tracker, a vampire, like the fat man. She could sense it. Mother taught her long ago how to distinguish a vampire. The telltale sign was an uncontrollable prickling of the skin on the back of her neck. Nothing made it ease. It was a reaction to the vampire’s unnatural state.
Kahli pressed her face to the cold ground, trying not to breathe. She didn’t know what they were doing. Tears stung the corners of her eyes as terror coursed through her veins, but she remained hidden.
Mother held her chin up high, “I evaded you long enough.” She’d lost her mask. Wisps of dark hair blew gently away from her face.