This story is by Alison Bankroft and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“The world has no place for you,” he said, “It has no place for us.”
Lilac looked into the steely eyes of her father and nodded. Her father was wise, having wisdom Lilac knew she wouldn’t have until years to come. These were his words to her every day.
“They took your mother from us,” he said, “and that’s why we live here in the Circle.” And then he would stare at her with eyes colder still, and say, “Never leave the Circle, Lilac. I will not lose you to those who have succumbed.”
His face softened and he smiled some. It was a tired smile, but a smile nonetheless. “See to it that the milking is done.” Lilac nodded once and hurried off.
Lilac was nearly full grown, a nice budding youth of a woman. Her build was solid and lean.
She and her father ate what was needed from their small farm, but they stored anything they could for the Winter, when times were the hardest of all. Lilac loved the Winter, because of the wonders it would bring, but she also feared it. It was so dangerously cold and barren.
But it was Summer now and Winter was several months away. Lilac pushed her way into the shed that housed their two milking goats, grateful that there were seasons.
“Here’s the milk,” Lilac said placing the small pail of liquid cream on the table before her father. He was in the kitchen and had been tinkering with one of the tools they used for their little garden. He looked up and his brows perked.
“That was fast,” he said and looked at her. “You’re getting better.” His words made Lilac proud. He softly sighed afterwards. “I remember when we had the cow and there was more milk than this.”
Lilac nodded thoughtfully. Their cow had mysteriously vanished one night and no matter how Lilac’s father had searched for it, it was never found.
Lilac slid into the seat before her father as he got back to his tinkering, still in thought. Slowly, a thought emerged and from that thought, a question.
“Who made the Circle?” she asked.
Her father sighed, and without pausing answered, “I did.”
Lilac’s eyes grew wide. “You?”
“It does not matter.”
Her father paused and looked her right into the eyes.
“It does not matter.”
She fell silent and looked into her lap. She heard her father sigh again as he resumed his tinkering. The Circle… built around their farm as protection against the Succumbed… So many questions had welled within her, yet she knew better than to try and get them answered. Finally, she released them with an inward sigh and looked up with a smile.
“Can we eat stew for dinner?” she asked.
Lilac’s father grinned, still at his tinkering, as he said, “When don’t we eat it?”
“Well can I make it?”
“Sure you can.”
Lilac’s eyes twinkled as she got from her seat. “I’ll go get water from the Pond.”
“Be careful going there Lilac,” her father said after her. “And remember to stay inside the Circle.”
“I will Papa,” she told him looking over her shoulder as she went through the front door.
The Pond was just beyond a small grove of deciduous trees west of their house and supplied them with the water for their basic necessities.
At first it was her father who went to fetch water there, but when Lilac became old enough, she took her father’s place. Only a small part of it, the part within the Circle, could be used. It wasn’t very far and the trip there was made every few days.
Lilac made it to the pond’s shore and looked over its glassy, mirror-like surface. The obscure waters never rippled, and the black twisted trees surrounding it were always still.
As Lilac dipped the pails into the pond she thought about when her father would let her start cleansing the water as he did.
Water from the Pond was boiled for several hours with special herbs added to make it potable. Her father had told her that the Succumbed had poisoned it, and though some of it was inside the Circle, it was all the same body and not to be trusted.
Lilac hummed a tune as she worked, the waters never rippling as she did. And because they didn’t, she didn’t see it coming.
She was filling her second pail when something thick and slimy shot from the water and wrapped around her wrist.
She stared for a hesitant second, shocked and still with fear, before she willed her mind to break free of her fright. She pulled away from the slime that held her, a black stain left on her skin, and scrambled away from the bank.
More slimy wet tentacles sprouted from the waters, yearning to grab her flesh again, but she had gotten far from their grasp. Lilac ran and ran, looking back over her shoulder only once to see the broken figure of a body standing at the shore of the black waters, watching her escape.
Lilac ran for her father in broken sobs and streaming tears. But he didn’t come to her. He should have been cleaning the manure from the goat stables. He should have been plucking tender weeds from the garden. He should have been repairing the hole in the roof as he had been doing for the last week.
But he wasn’t.
Lilac ran through their eerily quiet farm, her sobs the only sounds breaking the silence, and rushed into their little cottage. She blindly ran for the kitchen, fear driven and hysteric. Her father still hadn’t come for her.
She slipped and crashed to the floor. Her feet hit something warm and slick with a gooey, coagulated gel and she scrambled away from it. The next moment, a piercing, terror-edged scream tore from her throat.
There, on the floor, lay her father, eyes staring wide and lifeless and that horrendous black slime of the Pond bubbling from his mouth, flowing down his cheeks and spreading across the floor.
Lilac awoke with a start. It was dawn now and her small meager campfire had long since died out. She sighed and closed her eyes at the dream.
It had been forty years since it happened. Forty long hard years since she had found her father lying on the floor, murdered by the Darkness of the Succumbed. She tried to never think of it, never, but every night she was haunted by that dreadful day.
She rose from her bare camp, collected what little belongings she had, and began back on the Road.
After her father had been taken from her, Lilac found that with him, the Circle had been taken too. Their farm was ripped apart piece by piece, day by day, until there was nothing but Lilac left. She fled, before the Dark could take her too, leaving with nothing but the clothes she wore.
She thought she would have died. She wanted to die, but she knew she couldn’t allow herself. Her father hadn’t allowed her too. He had built the Circle to help him protect her until he could not.
Maybe it was too soon or maybe he knew the Succumbed would eventually claim his soul, but either way he wanted her to live and see her flourish. In the years she spent surviving on her own, she clung to these facts and allowed them to nourish her.
Slowly, she became stronger and gained a steady awareness of herself and her environments. She learned that the Succumbed had no power over her. She was marked and had lived, and they feared it.
Eventually, she discovered a way to banish the darkness, freeing the soul it tormented and allowing the person to become as they once were.
The first she freed were the very first humans she had ever encountered besides her father, the very first humans to walk the earth again. From then, she traveled the Road, banishing all darkness that dared to face her and slowly picking away the grasp Darkness had of the world.
Those she freed feared her, even if she never meant them any harm. They locked up their children and closed their doors when she visited the small villages they had begun to build.
She understood; she was of the darkness they had been captive by. Though she used her dark gift for good, she did not belong. It was sad, but she knew not to be ungrateful.
Fate had given her many things… Agelessness. Immunity. Power… Yes, it created a Champion, a weapon to defeat what it had borne unto the world…
And yet, of all the gifts it had given her, Fate had stripped her of everything she cherished. Her father. Companionship. Love… It had given, but also, without consent, had taken that which was priceless and left her to rage and challenge against the lonely dark.