Stem8 min read

Stem8 min read

The little girl walked down the dirt road slowly, holding the last thing her protector had given her. Her jet black hair hung limply, despite the strong wind gusts that stirred leaves and raised little dervishes made of dust. She did not seem to see the bleak landscape around her. Her brown eyes stayed always focused on the thing in her hand. She clutched it tightly to remember him by.

A storm brewed nearby, malevolently. Cracks of thunder broke the silence from time to time. Each thunderclap engendered the same reaction in the solitary little girl. She clutched at her dress with her free hand. Her lips pursed and she squeezed her eyes shut momentarily. Then her lips moved.

“Master, protect me. Keep me safe. Show me the way. Give me strength.”

Off to the sides of the dusty road on which the girl walked, bodies littered the landscape. They lay in the creek. They hung across the fences on either side of her. They were scattered like flotsam and jetsam across the fields surrounding the road. Some, not yet surrendered to the inevitability of their own impending deaths, struggled and moaned. A few cried for their mothers, lovers or friends. The little girl heard one man crying for water.

“A mercy,” he begged. “Water for my lips before I go to the next life.” His voice was strong until the last two words, when it faded to a croak. He grimaced and closed his eyes.

The girl shivered, for she knew the power that came from words on the lips of the dying. She clutched the thing in her hand more tightly and averted her eyes from the destruction all around her. Then, despite herself, the girl looked at the man who had begged for water. Three arrows protruded from his stomach and another from his groin. He looked back at her for a moment and his hand reached out. Then his eyes closed. The hand fell. He spoke no more.

The girl’s lips moved again. “Give him peace.” Her hands rolled the stem. It had perhaps been some flowering thing at one time, but now it was only a ghost of what it had been. It had a stalk. A single damaged flower petal clung stubbornly to the top of the stem. The petal was half pink and half black. Like the litter of human beings scattered around the walking girl, the stem was a dying thing.

She closed her eyes and continued walking, trusting her feet to keep her on the road.

The wind gusted, roaring in from the north. The air around her grew cold. She shivered and made a sign of some sort against her chest. Her white dress swirled around her ankles as dirty dust rose in spirals around her. The pillars of dust rose high into the air, dwarfing the girl.

Fat, gray rain clouds scudded in the sky, moving rapidly over her head. At the edges of the fields around her, trees began to bend and groan as a merciless wind pulled at them, swaying even the strongest and oldest of them from top to bottom. The forest came alive with loud shivers of protest, joining in the cacophony of those whose lives leaked out into the soil around them. The dance of the wind and the forest trees grew frenetic.

She continued walking, trying to ignore the increasing sense of foreboding. As the air grew colder and the noises of the storm grew louder the voices of the dying were eaten by the wind. The sky turned from grey to black and rain began to fall. At first only a few fat drops came down, but those were soon joined by an endless multitude of brothers and sisters from the heavens. An army of battering drops grew larger and colder until they changed from water to ice.

Liquid began to pool in the ditches on both sides of the girl. In minutes, the channels became rushing streams. Soon, almost mercifully, the dying men in the fields began to drown in the deluge. In the falling hail, few of them had enough energy or fight left to do anything but let go of the world.

Her white dress clinging to her body now, the little girl tried not to watch the injured men as they succumbed. She tried not to think about how many souls were being claimed but failed. She saw the man who had been begging for water pull himself upright against a fence for a few seconds. Then his eyes rolled back in his head. He fell into the thing he had been begging for and it drowned him. The girl wondered if he managed to swallow any water to assuage his thirst before he died.

The rain continued falling. The ditches began to overflow. Soon the road was no longer a road. The two streams on either side of her joined forces and rose until the water was pulling on the bottom of the her dress. It threatened to pull her feet out from under her each time she took a step.

Soon, bodies were floating by, brushing against her feet. The hail stung her skin. As it grew in size it began to more than sting. Her pale skin soon became mottled with red splotches. All the world turned to water. Stumbling now in the wind and the current, the girl began to despair. Unbalanced, she fell with a splash that went unheard by any ears but her own.

As she fell a corpse brushed against her. She flailed, in a panic and rose quickly, but only by the greatest effort. The girl found herself barely able to stand against the fury of the storm. Mud stained her dress now, and her black hair was disheveled. She coughed dirty water from her mouth and trembled. The water pulled at her yet again. Angrily, like a hungry beggar.

The hail grew even larger, and it began to rip her skin. It battered her and when it hit her in the head, the pain made her dizzy. She began to panic.

“Save me,” she begged, and looked up into the sky.

Lightning flashed. It blinded her. The thunder clap came almost immediately. She felt it resonate powerfully in her chest. Then something unexpected happened. The stem in her hand quivered. She felt the movement and flinched. Her hand went numb and opened of its own accord.

With the single half-dead petal still clinging to it, the stem fell through the rain towards the water flowing past and around her feet. She grabbed desperately and failed to snatch it. Her mouth fell open in a silent scream of despair as she thought of the dead man who had given it to her, promising her that he would always protect her from harm.

“I will bring you another flower when I return,” he’d said. Only he hadn’t returned. She had waited until the food ran out. Then she went looking. She had found him dead in the forest, a large wound in his back. He’d caught a rabbit, which she’d eaten through her sobs. Her master was also holding another stem in his dead hand. The petals of its flower were crushed. She’d left it with him.

After a time with his body, she had started walking.

The only people she’d seen since finding her dead master had also been dead or dying. In a daze, she had looted the bodies, walked and prayed. She was not sure how many days and nights had passed.

The stem disappeared into the water and she thrust her hand downward again, plunging it into the frothy, muddy maelstrom. Her hand made contact with something hard. It felt like a large piece of wood. She realized that something was happening under the water. Something was growing down there.

The ground beneath her trembled. She felt her body rising and her mouth opened. The water receded and she realized that the ground was pushing itself higher. In the center of the rapidly growing hill, the stem had anchored itself the to the ground. As she watched it grew thicker and thicker. The single pink and black petal grew as well. Its color changed and become more radiant as the black faded away and the pink grew vibrant. New pink petals began to sprout from the top.

In moments the plant had grown to twice the height of the girl. Soon it towered over her and the petals formed a protective pink umbrella that the now massive hail simply bounced off and fell to the ground in a circle around the canopy. The girl entered the safety of the shelter. She clung to the stem of the now massive plant and watched the storm wash the wicked world away.

Time passed, and the sun returned. The girl stood. Tears fell from her eyes as she thought of her dead master and his promise to keep her safe. She kissed the stem, and prayed a prayer of thanks for her safety, then continued on her journey.

Also published on Medium.

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