Sacrifice and Exodus

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Text and Design Copyright Š 2018 by Tara DuNaier All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America First Printing January 2018 Old Library Press, 2018 Old Library Press Plattekill Avenue New Paltz, NY 12561

Sacrifice and Exodus a veiled shadow zine

by Tara DuNaier

ith a shaky breath, Kefira stepped over the rocks along the edge of her grandmother’s garden and onto the black dirt of the forest floor. Her boots sunk into the soil between the trees. Three steps into the forest, she froze. She was only three steps in, but the darkness was already closing around her. She could feel the ache in her throat growing—the pressure on her chest tightening, the ice spreading through her veins. She squeezed her eyes shut and inhaled, trying to hold back and exhale slowly. It was too slow and she gasped, sucking down air. She shut her eyes and tried again, only to fail once more. She took a deep breath and held it like her therapist taught her to—but now it felt like she was drowning, and her eyes flew open. She was still in the forest, but all the sunlight was gone. The darkness rose up and choked her, wrapping itself around her mouth and nose and suffocating her. Her hand dove into the pocket of her jeans and searched until it found the wolf, her fingers clutching the wooden token and clinging to it for her life. 7

With her thumbnail in the groove of the wolf’s mouth and her other fingers curled under his stomach, she managed to count her exhale. Three more deep breaths and her chest loosened—the darkness subsided. She opened her eyes, and she could see the outline of the trees and the ivy crawling up their trunks. She let out a big breath and her hand relaxed, easing up on her wooden wolf. “What are you doing back here?” She spun and stumbled backwards, tripping over a root and crashing to the ground. She scrambled away from the figure, but he didn’t advance; he stayed between two trees where the shadows painted him too dark to see. She slowed and stood up, keeping her eyes on him. Kefira’s hand tightened around the wolf, and she set her shoulders. “Who are you?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly. The man stepped forward, and she stepped back. The darkness dissipated from his face, and she could see he wasn’t much older than her, and he was furious. “What are you doing here?” he snarled, taking another step towards her. Panic started to rise in her again, and her thumb found the wolf’s mouth. “What do you mean?” “I told you to never come back,” he growled, and a strange feeling swept through her. It was a pull at the back of her mind—a knock on a door she didn’t know how to open. Her heart picked up, and her stomach twisted as she stared at him, uncomprehending. “You told me…?” she drifted off, jiggling the doorknob in her head and trying to find the right key. “To never come back!” he repeated, rushing towards


“I told you to never come back.”


her. She jumped and he stopped short, catching the fear in her bronze eyes. “You can’t be here,” he explained, softening his voice and letting the anger fade from his face. “Not now, not ever. I told you that.” “You told me that,” she repeated, nodding faintly. The words tickled her ears, and she was sure she had the right key now—she just had to put it in the lock and turn it. “Yes. When I gave you that—” he reached out to point at her pocket, where her hand was in a fist around the wolf. She hadn’t taken it out or said anything about it, and there was no way he could know what she was holding unless he already knew she had it. “I told you not to come back, and you swore you wouldn’t—” he continued, but the door was opening and she didn’t hear another word he said. She had been six years old the last time she was in that forest, and now that the door was open, she remembered it perfectly. She had woken up on the forest floor with no idea of how she got there. There was a boy looking down at her, strangely dressed in shorts made of animal skin and a spread of fur on his shoulders. He had looked barely ten, with wide, panicked eyes the color of the woods around them. Now he was close enough she could recognize the light browns ringed with deep green in his eyes, and she saw that he’d traded the fur coat and skin shorts for softer pants and a necklace of animal teeth. Each tooth was a canine and was separated with bark and bits of stone that caught at the dusting of hair on his chest every time he breathed. His hair had grown out too, still cut short on the sides but long down the middle onto his back. “Alo?” she asked quietly, although she was sure it was him.


Something changed in his face when she said his name, and he nodded quickly. He looked a little different but the urgency and unusual clothing was the same, and she knew without a doubt that every one of her dreams had really happened. The forest was real and he was real, and her childhood kidnapping was real. “We need to get you out of here,” he rushed, reaching out for her hand. She took his and nodded, but then he froze. His head twitched and she watched his eyes fill with fear. “No—there’s no time—they know. We need to get you somewhere safe.” His hand tightened around hers and he pulled her into the darkness. When the strange boy had seen her open her eyes he grabbed her arm, pulling on it hard and urging her to sit up. After she did, the world swam in front of her. “Who are you? What’s going on?” she asked, reaching out to steady herself. He took her hand and shook his head. “There’s no time to explain, we need to go! It’s not safe here!” He pulled and helped her stand. The moment she was up he took off, dragging her into the trees. She stumbled after him. A few times he looked behind him and then past her, as if he was checking for someone else. She tripped over a root and he caught her, righting her quickly and taking off even faster. “Hurry up!” he urged. Right when her lungs started to burn he stopped short and she ran into his back. He bent down, still holding her hand, and started digging into the dirt. She looked around them, and it seemed like the darkness was closing in. She felt her chest tighten—it was getting harder to


breathe. Suddenly, he was holding a rope and when he pulled it a wooden door hidden in the ground swung open. He pushed her down it before she could protest and jumped in behind her. She landed roughly on her back and watched the door close above them, shutting out the rest of the world. With the entrance now locked, they were in total darkness. There was a rustle and then a snap and then light—pricking on a few candles and flaring at his fingertips. He finished lighting them and shook the match out, turning to her. She sat up and looked around. They were inside some sort of hollow in the ground, with dirt and stone walls, no bigger than a large closet. There were candles set on short blocks of wood on the ground, and the entire hole smelled like wet lavender. The boy crouched next to her and in the candlelight his eyes were softer than they had been above ground, but they were still worried. “I’m Alo,” he told her, “You’re safe in here. Do you remember how you got here?” he asked. She paused, and then shook her head. “No. Where is here?” He nodded at her answer, sitting on the ground. His hands were small and his voice still high, but when he spoke his tone was serious. “You’re in the forest. You were kidnapped. They tried to sacrifice you.” Her nose scrunched, and if he wasn’t so worried she might have thought he was playing. “They?” “Do you know what’s in this forest?” he asked, the flames catching in his eyes. She shook her head, the tight feeling from before rising again. “There’s us, and then there’s—“ “Us?” she asked. “Who’s us?” He paused. “…Me and my family.” She caught his hesitance. “What are you guys?” she asked, her mind 12

“Do you know what’s in this forest?”


wandering to all the monsters underneath her bed her mother had sworn weren’t real. He opened his mouth, and then snapped it shut, shaking his head. “I can’t tell you. I promised.” “Promised who?” she pressed. “My dad,” he mumbled. “Why did he say you can’t tell me?” He looked away from her, shrugging. “What else is in the forest?” she tried instead. He frowned, staring at his hands for a long time. “The Others,” he finally mumbled. “Who are the Others?” she asked, but he didn’t answer. “…The Others took me for sacrifice?” He looked up at her sharply, distress clear on his small face. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah. They were gonna kill you. But I found you first.” She gulped down air, staring at him. “Why were they gonna kill me?” He shrugged, looking down again. “Why did you save me?” His hands twisted together. “My dad told me to. He said we couldn’t let them kill you.” “Why not?” He shrugged again and answered. “He said you were special. He said—” Alo halted. “What?” she pushed, leaning forward. “What did he say?” He shook his head quickly. “He said I can’t tell you why. She didn’t want you to know.” “She? Who didn’t want me to know? Just tell me!” her little voice rose with frustration. 14

He shook his head again, looking a little scared. “She, my dad’s friend—but I can’t tell you why. I’m sorry. I can’t. I’m not allowed to.” She was about to ask another question when he got up and went back to the trap door. “We need to get you out of here,” he said. She shook her head, shrinking in on herself suddenly as the frustration left and fear returned. “I don’t want to leave,” she said. “Aren’t the Others out there? I’m scared. I don’t want them to kill me.” He looked back at her, and then reached under his fur shawl. He pulled a necklace over his head and started fumbling with the rope. When he got it undone, he pulled something off of it and walked back over to her. Crouching, he pushed something into her hand. She held it up and squinted, managing to see it was a wolf just a little smaller than her palm. Her little fingers smoothed over the wood planes of its head. There was a notch for the mouth and there were thin legs, carved as if it was running. “My dad’s friend gave that to me,” he said. “Right after I learned about the Others. She made it and she told me that it would protect me, and it would keep me safe whenever I was scared.” Kefira looked at him and nodded, clutching the wolf tightly. “Now it will keep you safe,” he said softly, before standing up. She followed him, her thumb fitting into the notch in the mouth and her fear starting to recede. He pulled her down into the same damp hole as before, and this time he had to bend so his head didn’t hit the door when he closed it. She sat down and waited for him to light the candles, pulling the wolf out of her pocket and running her fingers over it as she took a deep breath.


“Now it will keep you safe,”


He blew out the match when he was done and sat across from her, setting his heels in front of him and resting his arms on his knees. Her heart beat slowed and she looked up, meeting his dark eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, her hands dropping to her lap. He shook his head, her apology too late to matter. “Why did you come back, are you trying to get yourself killed?” His voice was angry, but soft. Her lips twisted into a scowl. “I didn’t know if it was real anymore.” “So you came back to test it?” “My therapist said I should come back. He thought it might help me get over it.” “Get over it by getting killed?” She shrugged, looking down to the wolf. “I kept dreaming about the forest—I didn’t know if I was really ever here or not. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I didn’t remember what happened.” “How long have you been seeing your therapist?” he asked, leaning forward. “Only a few months. I was seeing someone else before—but she had to move. She suggested him instead.” Alo nodded. “I think the Others have been trying to get you to come back,” he said. “It’s not your fault.” “Why now?” she asked, looking back up. “It’s been so long.” His eyes wandered while he thought. “Me?” he finally suggested. “Me and my dad took a trip. We’ve been gone a while. We just got back—sooner than we thought we would. They were trying to get you back while we weren’t here.” “Why won’t they just let it go?” She shook her head, 17

some hair falling forward off her shoulder. He glanced from the floor to her, and then back to the floor. He shrugged. “The Others don’t like losing.” He paused. “They really won’t like losing twice.” Her eyebrows came together, and she frowned. “Is that really it?” she asked. “I remember now…you said I was special?” He looked back at her sharply. “I also said I can’t tell you why.” “Alo,” she argued, “they tricked me into coming back here and I’d probably already be dead if you didn’t find me again—tell me why they keep trying to kill me!” He shook his head and stood, turning away. “I can’t—“ “They want to kill me!” she cried. “Just drop it!” he barked, rounding on her. Kefira pulled back, shrinking in front of him. He closed his eyes and his jaw worked. He sighed, and then relaxed. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at her softly. “But I can’t tell you. It’s better if you don’t know,” he added. “All that matters is they’re not going to kill you—I won’t let them, okay?” She nodded, swallowing and tightening her hand around the wolf. He motioned to her fist, trying to smile. “Still works?” She followed his gaze and nodded. She opened her palm so he could see it, smoothing a finger across its body. “Yeah, it still works.” She looked back up at him, and he met her eyes. “Thank you,” she added softly. He shrugged, his eyes darting away again. “…My grandma saw it, a few years ago. Before she died. She seemed to recognize it—she asked if she could


hold it.” He raised an eyebrow, not quite looking at her. “Did she give it to you? It’s just—she seemed really fond of it. But she didn’t say anything, just smiled at me and gave it back.” He didn’t answer, so she kept talking. “You said your dad’s friend gave it to you, right? It was my grandma, wasn’t it?” He nodded, finally, and she nodded, too, as another piece of the dark puzzle clicked into place. “I always wondered why she was so worried about the forest behind her house, but absolutely refused to move. Makes sense, I guess. Is she—was she…like you?” Alo shook his head, scratching his cheek. “But she knew, right?” Kefira asked. He nodded, dropping his hand. “Why?” The moment she asked, the earth around them started to tremble. He looked up sharply, watching the door vibrate against its lock. He looked back down to Kefira, his eyes dark. “We need to get you out of the forest.” “I thought you said we were safe here—” she protested, sitting up and slipping the wolf back in her pocket. “We are,” he agreed, “But we’re trapped. If the Others find us, we’ll never make it out of here alive.” Alo’s head snapped up again, and then he looked over to her. “My dad’s coming—he’s going to help us. Come on,” he motioned towards the door. She nodded quickly, her hands shaking as she stood. The ground was still shuddering around them and her heart began to match the hammering beat as she moved forward.


She reached him and he nodded, offering a small smile. “We’re going to get you out. You’re going to be okay.” She nodded and stepped into the hands he offered, letting him boost her up and climbing out of the hole. She straightened and saw his father arrive—a slightly taller and slightly darker version of Alo. She acknowledged his father, who received the motion with a kind smile, and she turned back to where Alo was shutting and covering the door with dirt. Alo’s father headed off as soon as his son finished, leading them off over a fallen log and through a pair of trees. Over another log and they took off at a run—Alo grabbed Kefira’s hand tightly and pulled her in front of him, pushing her ahead. The trembling under their feet seemed to grow with every step, until it came to such a crescendo that Kefira lost her footing and would have hit the ground if Alo hadn’t caught her around the waist. He straightened her, and then the shaking stopped; the three of them froze. Alo and his father both turned to a sound Kefira couldn’t hear, and she followed them to find the outline of what could only be an Other between the trees. She felt Alo’s grip on her tighten. A low growl rumbled from him and his father, before they exchanged a glance and his father nodded. Alo seized Kefira and took off, pulling her through the trees as his father launched forward towards the figure. There was a snarl and the sound of bodies hitting dirt, but there was no time to look as they fled. Moving through the forest Kefira was all but blind—trees appearing out of the darkness right in front of her—but Alo pulled her around their trunks and under the branches. The sounds of his


father and the Other were far behind them when Alo skidded to a stop and Kefira crashed into his back. He turned sharply and pushed her away—she spun at the sight of an Other and started running back until Alo dragged her to the right. Something ran through the trees next to them and Kefira jumped, but Alo kept running. There was movement in the shadows before them: one of the Others arrived and then Alo’s father launched from the trees and tackled it. Kefira tripped through the space it had just been in and Alo pushed her farther. She ducked under a branch, and then there was one of the Others right in front of her—she leapt to the side, but it grabbed her and wrenched her backwards. Alo lunged, and they all hit the ground—Kefira slammed against the earth and struggled to breathe. She heard a snarl and the sick sound of bones crunching and she scrambled away from it. She pushed off the ground and shoved down the pain in her chest. She could hear Alo and the Other but there was only darkness around her; only the faintest outline of trees visible. “Run!” Alo’s voice sounded from the shadows, furious and strangled. She hesitated, searching the darkness for him. She could see nothing, but there was a thundering growl and a grunt, and then his voice came again, louder and angrier than before. “Go!” Kefira ran, hands in front of her as she sprinted between the trees. Her lungs burned and she kept knocking rocks and roots, but she pushed on. There was a loud snap behind her that echoed off the trees and a resounding whine, which


morphed into a yowl that pushed her to run faster. Finally, the trees in front of her became visible. Light seeped in between the branches above, and she raced forward with a new hope fueling her fire. She could just see the outline of a house; she could just manage the image of the world outside the forest. Kefira fell from the trees into her grandmother’s yard. She caught herself and vaulted over the rocks lining the garden, crushing a patch of lavender before reaching the grass. She raced across the yard, bursting through the gate into the driveway. At the street she tripped to a stop, turning and looking back at the forest. The afternoon sun cast shadows across the yard and garden, but no light reached the trees. The forest remained a mass of shadow. A howl from the trees broke through the silence before her. Her hand dug into her pocket and wrapped tightly around the wolf. Kefira turned and ran.



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