Val breathes in for a moment, regaining his usual demeanor. I let him take as long as he needs, knowing what it’s like to face your fears.
Still, I can’t help but want to ask him what his greatest fear is.
I know mine is losing my family.
We start moving again and I don’t know how much time passes, but soon, I can feel the wear and tear of our journey falling on me.
Val is five steps ahead of me, moving swiftly. I try to keep up, but I stumble, fall, and bruise my hands against the ground. I feel like crying now. I’m tired, too tired to continue. My energy levels are spent. I just want to go home, to see my mother and father again, to feel the warm comfort of my house . . .
I think he’s left me, forgotten about me in his fervor to get to the Circle before anyone else. But then I feel his hands on mine, pulling me up to face him. I look into his eyes, and for one of the first times, I don’t flinch.
“Selyn,” he says, his voice gentle. I look up in surprise. “We’re almost there, Selyn. It’s just a little bit further. We can make it.”
I can’t. I can’t.
“Think about your family, Selyn.” He keeps saying my name — as a sort of stimulant. “I promised I’d get you home to them — and I will — but we need to finish this. Stick with me, Selyn.”
I nod numbly and take a shaky step forward. My legs are all wobbly. Val does not let go of my hand as he leads me through the trees. The moonlight falls through the branches and leaves and makes patterns on the ground; tree roots and gnarls seemingly pop out of nowhere; a light breeze snakes itself through the wood, whispering of danger. . . .
~ J. Dominique