A woman’s sharp intake of breath drowned out the sound of the rain thrashing against the walls and windows of the rundown house on the outskirts of town. The leafless branches of trees surrounding them scraped across the boarded windows and the shrill cry of the wind howled through the cracks in the floorboards.
She reached out, searching in the dark. Her fingers ghosted over the sheets, clutching her husband’s frame, and shaking him out of his slumber.
“Graeme!” she called, her voice sounded over the downpour, “Wake up!”
Graeme, grunted and rolled away from her. The sheets beneath him stained with sweat. The woman called his name again; louder this time as a roar of thunder echoed from the heavens.
“What, Ayana?” he groaned, pulling the blankets higher over his head, hoping to fall back into the arms of sleep. Hugging the blankets closer as Ayana struggled with him – needing him to pay attention. Finally snapping, Graeme sat up; his hair mattered against his forehead, “What do you want, Ayana?!”
Lightening broke in through the cracks of the boarded windows and, for seconds, illuminated the fear on Ayana’s face. An infant shrieked from the open chest of drawers.
A bolt of lightning jolted across the curtain of night; it hadn’t started raining, yet. You were thankful for that as you clutched at the hands of the dark silhouette beside you – both of you laughed, slipping occasionally as you made your way to the top of the hill. Each bolt of lightning, striking closer and closer to the earth, illuminated the worn path between the tiny fields of wheat that housed your family’s income.
“I’ve got something to show you,” the silhouette beside you hesitated, clasping your hands in his as he lead you closer to the fringe of the woods that nestled at the top of the hill.
You waited for the rest to tumble from his lips, yet it never came. “Well? Show me, don’t tell me Samael!” You grinned, pushing against him.
The smiling face you’d seen at your window, the sound of laughter you’d heard walking through the wheat fields, had died and was buried into the worried lines of his face.
“You have to promise not to scream…”
The rain had started to fall when you stepped foot beyond the fronds barricading the trees behind a wall of green. It was falling harder now; the pitter-patter echoing painfully in your ears, sloshing the mossy floor beneath your feet into mud.
The woods held no light, it was impossible to think you were accompanied by another. You weren’t even sure if Samael was still leading you through the throng of endless low hanging branches and slimy leaves that clung to your bare arms. The unrelenting rain pounded down around you, shrouding out the sound of your breathing, your footsteps – let alone any other noises. You began to panic.
A clearing in the canopy above allowed for seconds of sight as lightning struck, illuminating the broad shouldered figure meters beyond your reach. The trees surrounding you began to march forward, pressing into you as a roll of thunder from the heavens above gripped your heart and shook it with terror.
“Samael,” you screamed, twigs pulled at your hair and scraped against your scalp, holding you in place out of fear. “Can’t we just go back?”
You’d stopped moving, you could feel Samael’s eyes on you as your breath heaved from your lungs and your head spun. Reaching out, you clutched at the sponge-like moss covering the tree trunk; wishing to return your warm bed and dreaming this all away. Samael’s eyes, illuminated once more by the lightning breaking through the canopy of leaves, flat; so different from the spark twinkling behind his irises when he’d coaxed you out of your window and into the night. It’d been almost midnight when you’d snuck-out – your parents’ sleeping just a room away – but it had to be closer to sunrise now.
“Ayana” His voice oozed through your mind like warm honey, melting away your insecurities. You looked up into his face as another streak of lightening blistered into the clearing, highlighting the shadows gnarled Samael’s face into a horrifying sneer. The seconds of light seemed to linger, illuminating his dull emotion hiding behind his eyes, leaving you incoherent, and a little intimidated.
“We have to go,” Samael grabbed your wrist and, almost instantly, a cold shock coursed down your arm. Left speechless by the abnormal numbness in your arm, you followed after him as your mind wandered to every recollection of touch between the two of you. His broad shoulders obscuring the light, if any, from your line of sight. Your footsteps through the mud, squelched louder than the rain and for a fleeting moment you wondered how you would even begin to explain to your parents the mud stains on your only pair of good jeans, let alone being out past midnight without either of their consent.
Bushes rustled to the left of you causing Samael to stop in his tracks, and strain to hear. You held Samael’s arm closer, your nails piercing his skin, yet he never flinched. The echoes of thunder ricocheting off the clouds closing in around them was interrupted by your blood-curdling scream as you witnessed a group of three men fight their way through the dense greenery. Each man, as dark as the night sky and as lean as the trees behind them; their faces marred by irregular scars and paint. Samael’s hand slapped across your mouth before looking around him, as if there were more men that would follow the three standing before you.
Samael slowly lowered his hand from your lips before raising a finger to his lips, signalling for you to keep your mouth shut. You watch him furtively glance around himself before he locked eyes on you again. The spark dancing behind his eyes was back, more captivating than ever. You felt your knees began to tremble as a heart-breaking smile graced itself onto the lips of the man before you. After locking eyes with him for what felt like agonising years of burdened lust, you breathed a quiet sigh of relief and watched him turn away, as he spoke in a tongue similar to those made up in the playgrounds of primary schools.
You watched as the men began to pace around the tiny clearing, circling like a pack of starving hyenas. Whipping your head around; trying to keep each of the men in your line of sight, yet trying to avoid their devilish eyes. Each man, in turn, glared at your hands – at the contact you and Samael shared. One of the men, the one pacing behind you snarled and bit at Samael’s shoulder blades. Flinching at the man’s harsh bark, you inched closer to the safety beacon beside you, only to have it mirror your movements and inch away. As the men pulled apart the fronds, leading the opposite way they had approached, Samael shook of your grip and in return gripped your wrist just as painfully tight as he started to drag you down the path – he was putting on a show for the men, you thought. Samael’s whole stature changed; his back ramrod straight, his muscles tensed.
You, less graceful than the broad-shouldered young man in front of you, fell through a thick veil of green before abruptly stopping in a sodden clearing that had been hidden for decades. The tiny clearing filled with fire pits and raised platform hiding a woman’s frail body catching your eyes, cold hands gripped at your sides before snatching you away from Samael’s side. Too terrified to scream, too terrified to kick and try to wriggle out of the strangers’ constricting grasp. Lit from the fire pits disappeared as the makeshift blindfold covered your eyes, it was only when the freezing tip of steel bit into your skin through the sleeve against the crook of your elbow.
“Samael!” you screamed against the sounds of thunder, thrashing from side to side “What’s going on?” Hands curled around your limbs like serpents, restricting your movements. Your heart calmed as you felt his hands cup your cheeks, his breath against your lips.
“Hush, Ayana,” he cooed, stroking your face calmly, “You’re going to help her, you going to help me.”
‘You’re what she needs’ a voice echoed through your blank mind, your body still thrashing in the arms of men for the desperate bid of freedom, Samael sighed, stepping away from you and letting his hands drop from your face.
“Let me go, Samael!” you screeched, your voice piercing the ears of the men beside you. Their grips loosened.
“Ayana,” he whispered from above you, “I’m sorry…”
“Ayana…” She’d heard her name whispered like so before – as he woke her in the middle of the night, for every year in the past on that same day. But now his words were falling past her ears, like smoke evading capture, and faded into nothingness as her child’s shrill cry silenced her weak beating heart.