Last night, I snuck away from my island with my burlap bag and sailed to Xerxes, the most infamous island in our archipelago nation. Legend has it that no young woman came out of Xerxes alive, and I preferred to wind up there than die at my father’s hand.
Earlier that night, my mother and I sat around our dinner pot of roasted fowl and fungi. My father dragged a cauldron of broth from behind the bushes, and everyone held their noses. He then ordered me to transfer it into a separate cauldron. I hesitated, both of confusion and fear. He always had that effect on people.
The next thing I knew, I felt an unmistakable flash of my skin burning. Dad had pulled out the ladle from the boiling soup and hurled it at me. No one said a word of protest. We all knew better. My mother didn’t flinch. If not for her silence in such times, he’d have killed her long ago.
On the boat, my thoughts kept returning to my mother. What if my father had punished her, in whatever gruesome way, over my disappearance? Could this be our last dinner together?
I wished my father were dead. At least my poor mother would find relief.
The boat capsized in the lagoon, so I snatched my bag and swam to shore. When I got there, I dragged my bag across the sand, shivering the whole time, leaving a damp trail behind me.
I looked for a place to dry myself but all I could see was a dense forest looming behind a line of boulders. I’d have to scale them to make my way to the forest.. As I climbed, I saw that the rocks were adorned with a row of symbols, of combinations of arrows and circles, a language I didn’t know. Then, I saw an opening, leading inside one of the rocks. Around this opening are smaller, jagged rocks pointing towards the hole, like sharks’ teeth. I paused, knowing I’d have to climb into the cave.
The yellow lights inside reminded me of a candlelight vigil. I edged closer and closer, tears streaming down my cheeks. Did I want to die? I had second thoughts, but it was too late to go back. Why must I erase my memory of my father by dying in the wilderness?
I stumbled at the entrance, and the stony ground smacked my face. My nose bled, so I pinched it hard to stop the flow. Already, my legs ached. My body had taken a real beating, forcing me to slow down. So much for running away from home.
Leaning with my body weight, I squeezed the water from my bag and glanced at the corridor in front of me. Mirrors, mirrors everywhere. To the left and right. Curved, bent, and dented. They glinted in the yellow ambience. At the end of the corridor was a right-turning passageway to somewhere unknown. I stayed put.
When I had regained strength, I crawled toward the turn. The mirrors reflected distorted versions of me and my bag. In one mirror, I was beneath the bag, and in another, the bag was an oversized bust. A voice said, “Keep moving. Don’t look into the mirrors.”
I stopped. The lights extinguished themselves and the mirrors collapsed. I curled up and cushioned my head with my bag, but the shards of flying glass cut into my arms and my lower legs. I gritted my teeth, determined not to scream. Attracting attention was dangerous.
Silence. Rays of moonlight shone into the cave. I got up and limped toward the corner. A wooden door, ajar.
I nudged it. “Mother?”
Her body lay supine on the floor. Her chest was still, not rising or falling, and her skin was blue. I threw myself upon her. Before I could sob, she sunk fangs into my flesh. I thrashed my bag around her in an effort to keep her away, but blood oozed from my new wounds. I shoved her hard and realized this wasn’t my mother at all. It was a trap, designed to play my loyalties against me. Upon this realization, I dashed toward the cave exit, alternating between slipping on bits of broken glass and regaining balance, until at last I thrust my body through the exit. I darted into the woods and stayed there until my real mother came for me.