Chapter 11, part two – Coming around again
After that, time started flying by rapidly.
Nikola and Selene were naturally curious, and, now that we’d decided about each other that we weren’t a threat, they started following me around. Still from a safe distance, of course. But ever since that first tone on the wooden xylophone, they seemed to realize that there was something that they were missing out on. A world which had been locked away from them. I wanted to open that world, share it with them. It was my siblings’ old world- the world of children. Something that every child was supposed to know.
I cleared the living quarters by shoving the boxes against the walls, creating a large open space. With a white stone that I found lying around in the backyard, I drew a line of rough squares on the ground, like we’d done so many times as children.
‘What is that?’ Nikola said from the open bedroom door, pointing towards the squares. His eyes were sparkling curiously, and I could see Selene clutching unto his trousers, staring at the same spot.
‘That, Nikola,’ I said, finishing the drawing, ‘is called Hopscotch. It’s a game.’
‘A game? What does “game” mean?’
‘It’s a way of playing with other people. You think up a game and compete against each other, and the person who does best, is the winner. Look, here’s how it goes…’
I threw the tiny rock on the tiles, and before I knew it I’d changed back into a child in my mind, competing for first place at hopscotch with my brothers. It had been a favourite pastime of ours, although none of us had actually been any good at it-
I looked down and sighed, an amused smile on my lips. I’d placed my foot on the tile with the rock, making me lose the game.
‘You’re not allowed to hit the tile with the rock?’ Nikola guessed, showing how quick-minded he was. ‘Can I try?’
His eagerness surprised me, but it was also strangely satisfying. I nodded and stepped aside, after which he picked up the rock and gave it a try. With swift, precise jumps he hopped across the field, turned, and hopped back again.
‘Hey, you won! Not bad!’
‘I did?’ he reacted, with his mouth partly open from surprise. ‘I won the game?’
‘Yes,’ I winked, and then decided to sugar him up a little bit. ‘You’re really good at this! Are you sure you’ve never played before?’
His face fell. With a blank expression in his eyes, he looked down at the hopscotch tiles.
‘We’ve always been in basements. There were no games there.’
My previous grin disappeared from my face as it was replaced by a frown. I wanted to ask him about their past. But it was still too early for that. Nikola still didn’t trust me. Not enough, at least.
When nightfall wasn’t far away, I briefly left the house to make a trip to the nearest convenience store. I bought food, carbonated drinks and three sleeping bags that were on sale. This was the biggest test. Would they still be there when I got back? Or would they have vanished through the window, like last time? Part of me hoped that they would stay. They reminded me of my brothers and sisters, so much that I couldn’t help comparing them. Nikola’s protective nature was the same as Ivan’s. His eyes had started to shine when I told him he’d won the game, in the same way that Ciel’s eyes shone when he wanted to challenge me to something. Selene’s quiet behaviour reminded me of Tori, always calm and collected.
Fate’s a funny thing, really. To think that the four of them would ever come back to me, and in that way, of all things.
They were still there.
‘Look, look, Selene,’ I heard from the living quarters, as I turned the key inside the lock. ‘You throw the rock like this, see? And now you have to jump on every tile but that one. Can you do it? I can!’
Nikola froze when I stepped inside, but that didn’t take away the pure cuteness of the scene in front of me. Selene had finally emerged from the bedroom, and was now trying her hardest to walk down the hopscotch tiles. But the steps were too big for her, causing her to fall down and get up at every tile.
‘I’ve brought food and drinks,’ I said, watching Nikola relax as soon as he noticed it was me. ‘And some sleeping bags. You two do sleep, don’t you?’
He nodded slightly.
‘I’ll put them in the bedroom… well, it used to be a bedroom.’
Nikola looked at me curiously. ‘Do you live here?’
‘Used to. It’s not exactly liveable anymore.’
Soon, night had completely fallen and I watched from the crates in the living room as Nikola brought his little sister to bed. She wore a thin babydoll underneath the child’s suit, and didn’t complain as her brother helped her get into the sleeping bag. His eyes were aimed at the door, at me, but they had lost most of their hostility and merely seemed ready go close and go to sleep now.
I decided to risk it and slowly walked inside, gazing down on the two of them. ‘Are you all right like that? I could try and find a mattress from somewhere.’
‘We always sleep on the floor,’ he merely responded, sliding out of his jacket and pants and placing them on the desk next to him.
‘Always? You’ve never slept in a bed?’
The small details he gave about his life kept shocking me. Had they really been in basements all that time? Hiding from sight, sleeping on the cold, hard floor? What kind of a life was that?
I shook my head, as baffled by the two children as I’d been for the last thirteen hours, and flipped the light switch off.
‘Raven?’ Nikola’s voice sounded, pulling me away from my thoughts. ‘Can I ask a question?’
‘Sure. What is it?’
‘The big room… it smells like you. And like others similar to you. Why is that?’
His question threw me off balance and got me to start doubting myself again. I couldn’t smell anything in there, other than dust. But I know what he meant. In that room, a lot of blood had been spilled. Our blood. My blood, almost. And yet that had been years ago. Any trace of it had to have disappeared by now.
They were children, but at the same time… they weren’t.
But strangely… I didn’t care.
‘I used to live here,’ I finally admitted. ‘With my siblings. But that’s a long time ago.’
‘We were attacked by v…’ I started, and then quickly cut into my sentence.
‘By evil creatures.’
That was wrong. I could see it in his eyes as his face fell into a hurt expression. Smart as he was, Nikola knew what I was talking about. I wanted to take my words back, but I didn’t know what to say instead.
‘The evil creatures… do you hate all of them?’
I remembered the scene of a few months ago, where a conversation with Yurick had taken a similar course. My hatred had been clouding everything else back then. Even after I’d taken my revenge, I’d just gotten lost because of the lack of something to hate… but wasn’t that wrong in the first place? If you thought about it, my fixation on hatred and revenge had just been a way of running away from everything. Running away from that incident from fourteen years ago, so that I wouldn’t have to accept it…
Wasn’t it about time that I did?
‘No,’ I said, kneeling down so I could look Nikola in the eyes. ‘I don’t hate them. Not anymore.’
Slowly, his eyes lost the sadness in them and a small smile appeared on his face.
‘Will you teach us another game tomorrow?’
And I did.
I’ve been sitting in the darkness
But the sunlight’s creeping in
Slowly, day by day, I gained a little more of the children’s trust. With every game that they learned, their behaviour became a little more natural. With every discovery that Selene made, her eyes started to sparkle more and Nikola rose in pride at every game he mastered.
Now the ice is slowly melting
In my soul and in my skin
With every passing day, I felt my own mental wall, that I’d put up to protect myself from my childhood memories, disappear. With every game, I connected more with the two who resembled my siblings so much. I noticed the birthmarks on Selene’s skin, the way Nikola squinted his eyes when he was concentrating on something. The way both of them seemed to be able to communicate with each other without needing words, just like the five of us had been able to.
All the good times, my friend
Are coming around again
With every passing hour, I opened my heart to them more. And I loved every minute of it.
I been thinking reminiscing
Of better nights and better days
And for the first time in years, I allowed myself to feel again. I felt the childish thrill of competition, the surge of victory shooting through me when I won. I allowed myself to enjoy the outside sun with a smile that had been locked away for fourteen years.
It was incredible. Like those two, I’d missed out on so much. I realized that now.
Hiding in a refuge
Of memories I’ve made
I got a feeling within
It’s coming around again
We’ve been so long waiting
For the all-time high
We got a damn good reason
To put your troubles aside
And all your winter sorrows- hang ’em out to dry
Throw it away, gotta throw it away
All the colorful days, my friend
Are coming around again
Before I knew it, a full week had passed. I’d stayed in the house with them all that time, only going out to buy food and drinks. It was a temporary situation, I knew we couldn’t keep going like this for long. And yet, I felt… happy. At peace. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
‘Raven, what is that?’ I heard from the living quarters on the eighth day. I walked over and found Nikola and Selene practically glued to the door, their eyes aimed at the sky.
‘Look, there’s white things falling down from up there,’ Nikola said, pointing upward. He was no longer tense around me, and only cast an occasional glance when I was near his sister. I felt happy, knowing I’d gotten him to trust me so much in such a short time. Maybe it had been destined to be?
‘That’s called snow,’ I explained, casting a look outside. ‘That is what happens when it rains while the temperatures are really low. The water freezes into a crystal-pattern, and that’s what it then looks like.’
‘What’s it for?’ Nikola asked, his eyes following the white spots that were twirling down.
‘Nothing, really. It just happens. You can have great fun playing with it, though.’
‘You can play with it?’ he said, his eyes getting a now very familiar sparkle. ‘How?’
‘I’ll let you figure that out by yourself,’ I winked. He didn’t react to my challenge, and instead let his eyes slide over the neglected back yard. I’d only let them play on the porch a little before, where I was sure no-one could see them. They’d never actually gone into the back yard before, and I could see that he was curious.
‘And that hole with water in it? What’s that for? And the stones? And that horse and boat on springs?’
I laughed at his enthusiasm. ‘Nikola, do you want to go outside?’
He turned around, suddenly nervous. I could see him stepping away from the door, and gesturing for Selene to do the same. His large, orange eyes went from the door, to Selene, and back again.
‘You’ll be safe as long as no-one sees you,’ I reassured him. ‘The people living in the other houses are too far away to look inside this garden, too. What do you say?’
He silently hesitated for a few more seconds, before making up his mind and nodding. I gave him a comforting smile and grabbed the key out of my pocket, turning it in the lock. The door swayed open, allowing the cold, begin-winter air to come drifting in.
The two children didn’t waste any time in going outside. Nikola went first and Selene followed, shoving aside the fresh snowfall with her tiny hands. I had to remember to get her gloves from somewhere. And a warmer coat for Nikola, too.
‘Look, look! It’s all white!’
With much enthusiasm, they continued their exploration of the garden. I followed, a smile on my face. It really was a whole new world for them to explore- and for me, too.
I only took my eyes off the two of them for a second, but when I looked back, they’d already disappeared around the corner. Our childhood birthday presents were still there. They were old and rusted and the horse had already lost one of its hind legs, but they were still there. Just the sight of them filled me with nostalgia.
Selene seemed to be really interested. Ignoring the cold snow and the rubble on the ground, she steadily made her way towards the toys, only stopping when she was a mere inch away from the horse. Her tiny finger came up and pointed at the metal contraption, and I instantly understood what she was saying.
‘That’s a toy, too. I’ll need to lift her up and put her on top before she can play with it, though.’
Nikola frowned, but also seemed just as curious as Selene. It would probably be all right.
‘Can I pick up your sister, Nikola?’
‘… All right. But be careful.’
I nodded and carefully placed my hands around Selene’s tiny frame, lifting her from the ground. She felt surprisingly soft. I hadn’t noticed her smell before- a sweet, baby-like fragrance that smelled really familiar.
‘Ready? Here we go.’
I put her down on the horse and wrapped her fingers around the handle, proceeding to push the horse back and forth.
It didn’t take long for her to figure out what she was supposed to do. Soon, I could take a step back as she started rocking back and forth by herself, a huge grin on her face. Nikola, first watching nervously, relaxed visibly when he saw her smile and let his gaze wander over to the old ship, that was still unmanned.
There was no hesitation from him, this time. With firm steps, he walked over to the ship and climbed on, clasping the handles to make sure he couldn’t fall off. Nikola then placed his feet on the sides and sat down, unsure of what to do next.
That didn’t last long, however. He took one glace as his sister and imitated her, rocking the ship back and forth. His confused expression soon got shoved aside by a look of pure joy as he realized the game. And for the first time, I heard him laugh- a sweet, boy-like laugh that made the corners of my mouth curl up just from the sound alone.
‘This is amazing! Look, Selene, look!’ he shouted at the top of his lungs, making the ship bounce back and forth faster and faster. Suddenly I remembered that the spring underneath was almost eighteen years old.
‘Nikola, be careful! Don’t go so fast, it’ll break-!’
He turned his head to look at me, and in doing so his hand slipped from the handle. Nikola promptly lost his balance and got launched off the pirate ship, and head-first into the snow.
‘Nikola!’ I yelled in shock. ‘Are you all right?!’
I left Selene as she was and dashed to his aid, not noticing he’d already gotten up from the ground… with a freshly made snowball in hand.
The snowball was launched at me before I realized what was going on and hit me full in the stomach, knocking me back a few feet. I looked at Nikola, dumbfounded.
‘Ah, so that’s what you use snow for,’ he said, in a cocky tone that matched the look on his face perfectly. This boy was going to grow up with a major attitude, that was for sure. But I couldn’t let him get away with this. My mouth wrapped into a devilish smile. I quickly ducked and scooped up two fists full of snow, launching it at the boy in front of me.
Bull’s eye! Nikola got knocked back just as hard as me and fell down, disappearing from sight for a second.
‘That’ll teach you to ambush the Queen of Snowball Fights!’ I teased. ‘Now get ready to be turned into a snow-cone!’
‘Not if I turn you into a snow-cone first!’ he replied, already having jumped back up with the next snowball in hand. I gladly accepted his challenge and soon we were both launching snowballs to each other as hard as we could. Nikola’s boyish laugh sounded loud and clear above it all.
Just after I’d launched a flurry of snowballs to the other side, I could feel little bits of snow hitting my legs. Selene had dismounted her horse and joined in on the fun, obviously siding with her brother.
‘Hey! Two against one is not fair. C’mere, you!’
I swiftly turned around and grabbed the toddler, swooping her up into the air until she was high above my head. My fingers tickled her sides and as I swung her around up high, I heard her giggle for the first time. The sun’s rays made her hair light up like it was a blazing fire, and the word “angel” once again appeared in my mind.
‘Oh, you think that’s funny, little rascal?’ I laughed, continuing to tickle her in her sides. She let out another high-pitched giggle, showing off her tiny fangs.
‘You both have no manners. I’ll have to teach you before you get too old, don’t you think?’
I got someone waiting for me
It’s been not long since we met
I smiled at Nikola and proceeded to put his sister down, when it happened. Just before she was back on the ground, she looked up at me with her big, orange eyes. Her tiny hand caressed my cheek as she looked up at me with eyes full of trust, and spoke her first word in eight days.
One word. Just that. One tiny word.
But it had the biggest impact I’d felt in my whole life. As I looked upon Selene’s delicate face, I could feel waves of emotions surging through my body, all trying to get the upper hand. Confusion, shock. Happiness, surprise at the discovery that she could speak.
But the strongest, the absolute strongest, was love.
Mama. She’d called me mommy.
Before I knew it, tears had started to form in the corner of my eyes. I scooped Selene back into my arms, keeping her tight to my chest as I allowed the tears to run free.
And I may not be your salvation, but I’ll offer nonetheless
‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m not your mommy. But… if you have a real mommy out there somewhere, I’ll do whatever I can to find her.’
And if like me you want to take that chance
I diverted my gaze back to Nikola, who had been noticeably silent. He looked at me, pleading, in a way that I’d never seen him look before.
‘I will, Nikola. I promise.’
It’s coming around again…
He dashed towards me and threw his tiny body against mine, hugging me in an embrace that completely took me by surprise. I put my arm around him just like I’d done with his sister, placing him close to my heart.
I loved these children.
‘Thank you,’ Nikola whispered into my ear. ‘Thank you, Raven. Thank you…’
Coming around again – Simon Webbe