The forest grows dense around Meah as she moves away from the village. She climbs uphill, moving high into the surrounding mountains. Her clothes and basket catch on low branches and thick bushes.
There hasn’t been much human interaction in this area. No clear paths made. But Meah knows her way. A sharper incline forces her to use her hands to maintain balance. She grabs large rocks embedded in the earth to pull herself forward, carefully balancing her basket on her arm to prevent anything from falling out or breaking
She makes her way around a minor cliff, using the rock wall as a guide. She forces her way through thick bushes and emerges into a clearing above the cliff. Thick berry bushes surround a pond filled with beautiful white fish.
Meah places her basket next to a bush covered with large red berries and walks to the edge of the cliff. She can see the village far below and Foula Valley stretching beyond. The valley is bright green from the rains and clusters of wildflowers add delicate splashes of color.
Farther out in the valley, the Garen River cuts through the mountains. Meah can barely make out other villages in the distance. She gazes at the mountains surrounding the valley. They are too high for her to see what lies beyond.
Meah has spent her whole life in the valley. The farthest she’s ever been from Oula Village is a larger village located on the river. She went with Mircien a short time after he parents died. He thought it would help take her mind off her sorrow. It worked, but only because there had been travelers in the village from beyond the valley. She tried to visualize the lands beyond the hills, based on what she heard from travelers and wondered if she would ever see great mountains that touch the sky, vast seas that continue into the horizon for eternity, or fantastic creatures she only imagined in dreams.
The smell of wildflowers surrounds her as a warm breeze rises from the valley. She smiles and returns to her basket. She sits next to the still water of the pond and pulls out the smaller basket. Removing the cloth and placing it on her lap, she collects the red berries. She fills a third of the basket before moving to another bush with blue berries. She fills the rest of the basket from a bush with purple berries immediately next to the pond.
A strong wind blows across the clearing and the cloth in her lap is thrown into the pond. Meah tries to grab it, knocking her basket to the ground and spilling the berries she’s collected. The cloth lands at the center of the pond and slowly sinks beneath the clear water. She tries to reach it, but it’s too far away.
The white fish slowly investigate their new companion, some nibbling at the edges of the cloth. As Meah strains to reach it, they scatter, hiding beneath small ledges and plants hanging into and under the water.
Two larger fish swim lazily to the center of the pond and swim in slow circles around the white cloth.
Meah watches the large fish curiously. She has been to the clearing and pond many times before, but this is the first time she’s seen them. They seem almost too large for the pond.
The fish change their pattern and swim organized, intertwining circles. Meah watches silently. A strange feeling fills her and she leans closer to the water. The shapes of the fish stretch and the pond darkens until she can no longer see the bottom.
A small light grows from the center of the darkness and soon fills the pond, making it hard to distinguish the elongated forms of the fish. Shadows move across the light and Meah recognizes the shapes. They are the shadows from her dream only now they are moving in similar circles to the fish, curving and intertwining. Meah tries to follow their movements, but there are too many and they are moving faster and faster.
The shadows stop. The stillness of the pond makes her feel as if she’s staring through a window. A drop in the water creates waves radiating from the center out to the edge of the pond. As each ripple moves over a shadow, it vanishes, except for one.
Fear rises inside of Meah and her heart pounds loudly in her chest. The figure left in the pond is the shadow that had the bloody symbol above its head. Its black eyes stare up at her. The water changes to the color of blood and the figure moves across the pond towards Meah. She wants to move away, but her body refuses to move.
At the edge of the pond, the shadow reaches a hand out towards the still surface. A bloody hand emerges from the water and reaches for Meah. She screams and manages to throw herself back. A form crawls from the bloody water and continues reaching for her, using its other hand to pull itself across the ground.
Meah tries to escape, but the thick bushes surrounding the clearing stop her moving too far. A trail of red follows the figure as it moves closer to her. Its hand grabs Meah’s leg and pulls her roughly towards it. Meah screams and kicks at the figure with her free leg. It moves its head out of the way and slowly rises, keeping Meah’s other leg firmly gripped in its hand.
The figure leans over and reaches for Meah’s throat with its free hand. She closes her eyes, waiting for the hand to close around her throat.