Here’s an excerpt from a short story I started writing for a contest … and never finished 🙁 I’d like to continue it, but I can’t decide now if I want to finish it as a short story or keep going and make it a novel.
Aria walked as quickly as she could over the colorful leaves that blanketed the forest floor. Her confidence in her steps had grown over the past three days, but she still stumbled. A white cat walked directly in front of her. His head raised slightly every now and then as he picked up the scents of the forest on the breeze. He tried to keep his attention focused forward as his ears flicked this way and that.
They had been walking all morning in the tense silence of urgency; each lost in their thoughts. They were lost.
The path came to a fork. The cat stopped and turned around.
Aria faltered and waved her hands out to her sides to steady herself. “Ah, stop doing that! Or at least remember to give me a warning.”
“Sorry,” his voice said gently in her mind, “I keep forgetting. This is new for me, too.”
Aria watched herself bring her arms back to her sides and straighten. She looked every bit as travel worn and exhausted as she felt. Her brown trousers were ripped and dirty. Her stained blue shirt now missed a sleeve, thanks to the creatures that found her in the forest. Her exposed arm revealed a lithe frame, and jagged scratches down her tanned skin. The brim of her faded leather hat, pulled down to cover her eyes, was also torn.
“I can’t remember which way to go from here,” the cat continued, still looking at her.
Aria breathed in deeply as another gust of wind brought the crisp scent of dying leaves to her.
“Close your eyes,” she whispered. She preferred speaking out loud, even though she learned she could project her thoughts to his mind.
Aria’s site vanished. She plunged into the familiar darkness she had known since birth. She breathed in the dirt and decay of autumn and felt the wind against her bare arm and cheeks. She listened. Site is only one of the senses. She had learned quickly how well she could hear and touch without it. More than she ever allowed others to realize. She seemed to be more aware of the earth than others.
“The fork to the right goes deeper into the forest,” she concluded.
Light broke into her trance, the cat had swung his head to the right to see. He cocked his head. Aria swayed again and sat down hard.
“How do you know?” his voice asked in her mind.
Aria clenched her teeth on an angry remark about breaking her concentration with his distracting site. It had only been three days since he had saved her from the attack in the woods. Three days of the mind meld that neither of them understood. She could not blame him for forgetting.
“The way the earth smells, and how the wind sounds as it passes from the left to the right.” She shrugged. She did not know how to explain the things she felt. “It sounds strong from the left, like it is more open, and then dies quickly to the right, like there is more to contain it. Should we be trying to get to an open road or staying deeper into the woods?”
The cat, who seemed to prefer not to tell her his name or anything at all about himself, walked in a small circle sniffing the air. “I agree about the path direction.”
“Please tell me you have more to say than that. I have never been this far from my home, which isn’t saying much I know, but surely you’ve traveled. What should we do?”
The cat looked to the left. “I think at this point the best way to find this Tower is to see if we can find maps. Actually, we need to find someone willing to help us.”
“What! Are you out of your mind?”
“It’s either that, or we stay lost; and as we try to find our own way to The Great Wizard, he dies!”
Aria breathed out a heavy sigh. “Fine.”
The cat walked on to the right. Aria adjusted the makeshift carrier she had weaved for the potion she carried under her shirt, then followed.
Though her seemingly impossible task mostly filled her mind, there were times when she became overwhelmed with wonder. She had not allowed herself to ask the cat the myriad of questions that flowed through her mind. She knew colors existed, but did not know one from the other. She had never needed to know the difference. The sun felt warm on her skin as she worked her weaving at her home, but she did not know how bright it could be. She could tell when night came by the change in the heat of the air, before her mother would call her in for dinner. What did a rainbow look like? A storm? The ocean? What about other people? She now knew what she looked like, and she could guess by what her mother told her and descriptions she could hear that others were similar in some ways, but very different in others. She did not even have a full idea of what the cat looked like, just the occasional white legs when he looked down or back or his tale when he shifted his gaze around to her.
The path wound lazily about the forest for another quarter of an hour before it reached an almost immediate thinning of the trees. The late afternoon sun dominated the sky. They walked towards the setting sun. Aria searched through her memories of stories and the little education she had been taught. This meant they were journeying west. The Tower where The Great Wizard lived stood in that direction—somewhere.
Aria’s stomach growled. The berries and occasional small animals the cat killed did not sustain her. She had left her home in a panic and ran as fast as she could into the forest. She had not dared to go back to search for food to bring with her. She had simply allowed the earth to guide her as she tripped and groped her way deeper into what she hoped was safety.