Romania when everything was wild
I stopped at the edge of the woods and every part of me said to turn around, but I slipped into the graveyard and placed flowers on Violeta’s grave. I collapsed on it and guilt washed over me. My empty hand shook when something touched it. “Violeta,” I called out, but it was only a leaf.
I calmed myself down and stared at my hand. The same one that let go before she ran into the street at the same time a drunk driver drove his car down the narrow street. I needed to get back to the woods. The woods provide me the escape and peace I needed. There were no children to haunt me, no one to blame me, and no reason to think about starting a new life. Nothing could hurt me there and I could linger forever in a numb state.
I gripped the knife I always carried. It felt reassuring when it caused my hand to bleed. The blood dripped on to the path and I saw a bear’s tracks and followed them deeper into the woods. Bears were common in the Carpathian Mountains, but it was always better to be behind one than surprised by an attack.
I heard a girl’s voice. Maybe I was losing my mind. I knew it would come to this; I would go crazy before any physical aliment did me in.
The voice again. With no plan, I followed it sure it was not real. In a clearing, a girl about twelve years old was holding a gun, the bear stood at the edge of the clearing pacing back and forth accessing the situation and in a chair, a man slept. Something was wrong.
The bear saw the girl and then me. I was closer, so it took the easy target and lumbered toward me. My knife looked small, but I didn’t back up. I never do. I had nothing to lose. The bear grunted, and I saw that part of an arrow stuck out of its side. A hunter hit it once, the bear was in pain making it deadly. It came closer.
“Run away,” I yelled at the girl, but she stood in place.
The bear lumbered toward me and raised his paw to swing a fatal blow just as a sharp sound filled my ears and something hit the tree behind me. Pieces of bark rained down on me. The bear ran back into the woods.
“You could have killed me?” I yelled at her. I glanced at the man on the chair. He didn’t move. When I looked closer, I saw that part of the man’s face was white. I then knew he was dead.
I needed to get out of here, but the girl kept the gun pointed at me. Did she aim for the bear or me?
“You shot at me?”
She didn’t answer. The presence of the dead man made the whole campsite look like a scene out of a horror movie.
I walked closer. “I’m Elena. What’s your name?’
“Ana.” She lowered the gun an inch.
“Him?” I pointed at the dead man.
“Okay.” I wanted to leave. I could run, she probably would miss if she shot at me.
“He’s just sleeping.”
“Forever.” Bluntness is a flaw of mine.
“No.” She lowered the gun some more.
I backed up. She noticed. “Why are you in the woods?”
“I’m looking for my missing daughter.” I lied.
“I can help you?”
“No.” I’m not a good person.
I didn’t want to deal with any of this. I resorted to lies. “Maybe, you can help me look for my daughter.” I lied. It was easier the more you did it. “We’ll come back for your father.” I stopped.
“I’m not stupid. I know he’s dead.” Ana began sobbing.
“He spied on his neighbors and they found out.”
I got chills. He had been one of THEM, Securitate, the secret police. They were feared once, but now some people sought out anyone who spied for them to take out their revenge.
Ana wiped her eyes, but a few tears still made it down her cheeks. They fell onto the ground before she could speak. “They beat him up really bad. We hid here, but he died.”
“Where’s your mother?”
“She’s dead too.” She wiped her eyes then lowered the gun all the way.
I hesitated to ask how afraid of the answer. Everyone knew sadness here.
“Am I a bad person like my father?” Ana asked.
“No, you’re not. Don’t ever think that.” But what I planned to do made me a bad person.
Ana dropped the gun and before I could change my mind, she was at my side.
When we reached the town, I led her to the police station. We passed a church with a tall bell tower that loomed over the town. Four gargoyles sat on top of it and stared out in every direction. It looked like they could jump down at any minute and reign terror on the town. They sent chills through me. When the church bell clanged, both of us let out a scream and hurried inside the station, a policewoman sat Ana down and stared at me, I motioned toward the bathroom but walked straight out the door. I stopped outside and looked back, Ana looked in my direction, I saw the tears on her cheek glistening under the bright lights. I froze, then took a deep breath and walked toward the woods.
Part of me wanted to help her, I did, but I couldn’t. In the woods, I couldn’t sleep, everything seemed too quiet like nature was mad at me. I was mad at me.
I wanted to forget, I really did, but every time I looked at my hand, I saw a tiny hand letting go of it. No therapy or medicine will erase the memory or ease the pain. I once held an ax above my hand ready to cut it off, but I couldn’t even do it. I wanted to disappear and never see a child and to never feel that pain again. Ana changed all that. She made me feel things that I avoided. My heart could be broken, that was a pain I never wanted to feel again, but I worried about what would happen to her. She was all alone. I needed to get away, go deeper into the woods or even to the mountains and disappear forever or I would do something dangerous like going back for her.
A low bark broke the silence. I froze and watched as a red fox strolled by and fell over. I pulled my knife out, but it wasn’t here to attack. I looked closer and saw its leg was caught in some kind of trap. The rusty thing didn’t close all the way, but at any minute, it could slam shut and cut off the fox’s paw.
I slowly approached, it let me. With the back of my knife, I pried it open, and the fox sprung free. I watched with tears in my eyes. Shortly afterward, I saw two sets of small eyes join it in the distance. They faded into the darkness. How did it know to come to me for help? Somehow, I thought Violeta led it here. Big tears ran down my cheeks and I struggled to fall asleep, but I was unable to get rid of the image of Ana crying.
A week later, I looked at the walls inside Orphanage Number Three and was surprised by the lack of color. Inside, they led me to a room door where I could watch Ana from a window without interrupting the others. It was lunchtime. She sat alone and didn’t touch her food.
“Why is she alone?”
“She prefers it. We tried to help her.”
I heard smaller children in another room. I struggled to breathe and turned to leave.
“By the way, she wants to talk to you. She always asks for the tough woman who found her.”
Before I could run out, the door opened.
Ana reached out for me and I let her hug me.
“To help find your daughter. The one that is missing.”
I stepped backward. “I.” I turned away. My mouth opened, but no words came out. Ana remained quiet waiting for an answer and I cleared my throat before telling the truth. “I know where she is, she’s buried in the cemetery.”
“What? Since when?”
“When she was small, I let go of her hand and she was hit by a car.” I hid my eyes with my trembling hands.
“You lied to get me here.” She stormed around the room. “I’m sorry about your daughter, but.” She stopped and banged on the door. “Let me out.”
“Ana, I’m sorry.”
The door opened and banged shut leaving me alone in the empty room.. My hand shook as the memories of Violeta came back.
I ran to the woods like I always did. It was always my escape. I couldn’t hurt anyone or be hurt there. Near my shelter, I saw a small body. One of the fox’s kits died. It was crazy to think the mother brought it here hoping I could save it. I couldn’t. Maybe I couldn’t save Violeta either, but there was still hope for Ana.
I returned to the orphanage and the same worker let me in. In the small room, I told Ana to get her stuff. I was ready to fight anyone who tried to stop me. She came out with just one small bag and a smile. I held out my knife as we walked right out the door. Nobody tried to stop us. They didn’t dare. In normal times this wouldn’t have worked, but these weren’t normal times. In fact, everything was wild.
When we walked away, I looked down and saw that Ana grasped my hand. I made sure I wouldn’t let it go.
About the Author:
William Falo lives in the USA . He studied wildlife in college and was a volunteer fireman. His work has appeared in Vamp Cat Magazine, Fictive Dream, Litro Magazine, Vaughan Street Doubles, and other literary journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He can be found on Twitter @williamfalo and on Instagram @writerwilliamfalo