“If you could even begin to comprehend where I’ve come from, you would be terrified of me.”
I took in the grey-haired woman in front of me. All in greens and browns she was dressed, but wore a cloak of ox blood red. Her hair was entwined with holly berries; a crown of red above a wrinkled face.
“You should go back to town,” she said to me.
“They sent me to gather the water this year.”
“You?” she laughed. “You are too young.”
I drew myself up to my full height. But even so I was noticeably short for my sixteen years.
“They said she would be here to lead me into the woods to the water. The last girl.”
“And what makes you think that I am not she?”
“Because that was five years ago and you’re too…”
“Old? The woods change you.” She stepped back into the shadows of the trees. “Are you coming or not?”
I looked back at the town for a moment and clenched my jaw before following the woman.
“They lie when they say it holds the power to give eternal youth, you know,” she said when we reached a spring surrounded by dried and ashen vegetation.
“Then why do we come?”
“Because the years we lose, they gain,” she said with nonchalance as she filled the bucket I had brought with water and started walking away.
“And you will leave me here, to your fate?”
She looked back. “If it means that I could see my son one more time before I die, yes.”
On the elected day I, too, entwined berries in my greying hair and ambled to the edge of the woods I would at last be permitted to leave.
A young girl already stood waiting.