This story is by J. M. Gill and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The New England forest, no longer clothed in green vestments of summer, adorned itself with the majestic colors of gold, crimson, amber, and royal purple. Wind rattled tree branches forcing their withered leaves to depart from them. A blood stained ransom note and photograph in hand, I ran towards the center of the forest. A million thoughts raced through my mind. How could he still be alive? How could he just walk out on us? How could he let us live a lie? I looked at the photograph again. Looks of terror in their eyes, Luke and my father stood side by side, gagged and with their hands tied behind their backs. Dark haired and gray eyed, my father didn’t look a day older than the day he disappeared ten years ago. I noticed some blood trickled down Luke’s forehead and sped up my pace. I had to get to the giant oak before Mark hurt them or worse… killed them.
Mark grabbed me from behind, slammed me hard against a tree, and then he tied me to the trunk. He pulled out a needle and held it up in front of my eyes. “If I can’t have you, nobody else will.”
“Where are Luke and my dad?” I asked, straining against the rope.
Mark laughed wickedly, taking pleasure in my apprehension. “Oh… them?” He smirked, “I have them in the lab. I’m going to inject you with Ashen Fever virus, and then I am going to finish them off.”
“No Mark. Let them go!” I struggled against the binds of the rope, feeling a raw burn deep in my wrists.
“It’s too late Aurora. This is the last fall you and your precious little family will ever see.”
I felt the needle piercing through my skin and it’s content emerging from it. “I have other business to take care of. See you later, Aurora.”
As late afternoon turned into night, goosebumps erupted across my skin. I shivered as the autumn chill reached my bones. As my body temperature dropped, I wondered if I would make it through the night. Would I ever see my family or Sage again? My thoughts shifted to Sage and the moments that led to this point.
Sage and I walked through the forest hand in hand. The trees’ leaves showed premature color change. I reached up, pulled a yellow leaf off a low branch, swirled around, and said. “The first leaf of fall!”
His gray eyes met my brown eyes and held a gaze for a moment. He smiled and pulled me closer. Warmth and tenderness in his voice, Sage said, “Ever since that fall day three years ago when I first saw you in the forest, your dark hair tousling in the wind, I have fallen more and more in love with you.”
Sage knelt down on one knee, pulled from his pocket a small pumpkin shaped transparent glass box with diamond sparkling through it.
Surprised, I gasped.
As he opened the glass box, he pierced his finger on a sharp edge.
Silver fluid gushed from his skin.
I had heard about mutants before but I had never believed in them. I remembered my uncle’s silly stories about my father and his gray mutant eyes. My father and others had survived the Great Ashen Fever Outbreak of 2030 by mutating. Legend has it that mutants, in their pre-mutant human forms, had a variation in their genetic code that triggered them to mutate rather than die in response to the ashen fever virus. According to folklore, mutants were immortal, experienced years of dormancy, possessed special powers and manifested silver blood and eyes. My father laughed off my uncle’s tall tales, and said, “Don’t be gullible, Aurora.” But, there I was in the presence of a real mutant.
Shocked and hurt, I said, “Sage, how could you keep this from me?”
Sage stood again, and the pumpkin shaped box slipped from his hand and fell to the ground shattering into pieces. Sage looked at me and answered, “I was afraid that you wouldn’t love me like this… that you would see me as a monster. For decades, mutants have been hated and frowned upon by society. I felt conflicted about whether to live an eternity of unrequited love or tell you how I felt. I kept my feeling from you for a whole year, but I couldn’t stop myself from falling for you.”
“How could you lie to the woman that you so-call loved?” I replied in outrage.
Sage knelt down, reached up for my hands, and said, “Aurora, I do love you. That’s the truth!”
Turning my back towards Sage, I moved my hands before he could touch them, and abandoned the forest. Sage followed a few paces behind me. In silence, we approached the pumpkin decorated doorstep of my house.
With pleading eyes, he said “I’m so sorry and I understand if you never forgive me. I’ll never stop loving you.”
“Please leave!” I closed the door in his face and collapsed to the floor with tears streaming down my face. How could mutants be real? How could my father and Sage lie to me? My ex-boyfriend had lied to me before, but this was different… far worse. It felt like I had been awakened from a pumpkin coached fairy tale dream to find my reality shattered on the cold forest ground.
Three long weeks passed. All signs of Sage’s existence at the lab had disappeared like a magic act. Mark, the team management supervisor of the lab, called me to his office.
Mark sat behind his desk with his eyes focused on the screen. “Sit down. There’s something I need to tell you.”
He glanced up. I looked into his forest colored eyes.
He paused and then blurted it out. “Aurora, I still love you and I want us back together. We can go away to Costa Rica and live our dreams.”
Shock washed over my face. “Mark, I can’t! You know I would never leave my brother.”
His eyes widening, Mark replied, “Why not? Luke won’t be a minor in a couple of months!” He paused and looked into my eyes. “That’s not it.. you’ve fallen for Sage.”
I shrugged and replied, “Well, it’s been five years! I’ve changed. My feelings have changed.”
“You’re going to regret this!” His face flushed with outrage and disgust.
Mark got up, walked out the door, and slammed it behind him.
I couldn’t lie to Mark about how I felt, but I never imagined he would take matters this far. When we broke up, we both knew he wasn’t right for me but we had agreed that one day we might try again. We had been apart for two years before I had given Sage a chance. Mark had witnessed Sage and I fall in love. How could he think my feelings hadn’t changed? My thoughts turned to happy moments with Sage and I drifted off into sleep.
“Good morning honey! I thought you’d be a goner by now,” said Mark as he approached me.
I heard the thud of two bodies colliding and saw Mark fall to the ground.
“Are you okay, Aurora?” Sage glanced at me with concern.
My heart skipped a beat. Sage and Mark rolled on the ground throwing blows at each other until Mark lost consciousness. Sage untied me and brought me to my feet. He touched my forehead with his cool hands. “You’re burning up. I need to get you to my house where we can try to bring this fever down.”
“Luke and my dad…” My stomach dropped at the thought of Mark’s intended fate for them.
Sage replied, “Oh, don’t worry about them. I broke them out of the lab last night and took them to my house… they’re okay. We were so worried about you. The only thing I could think to do was follow Mark and he led me here.”
We walked a distance, then I looked back to where Mark had been lying and he was gone. “Where is he? Do you think he’s gone for good?”
“I’m not sure… I heard footstep behind us a few minutes ago. He may still be nearby tracking us.” Sage hurried our pace.
When we reached the end of the forest, my vision blurred and I collapsed into Sage’s arms. He held me tightly and I closed my eyes. His lips touched mine; overwhelming me with his love to the point that all the colors of this forest would come up dull and flat in comparison to a painting of the intensity of our love. He laid me to rest on a pile of golden and ruby colored leaves. Weakness consumed my body and my eyes blurred.
Sage’s fingertips caressed my face. “Aurora, I will never stop loving you.”
Ten years later. I opened my eyes. A familiar pair of gray eyes peered into mine.