SHE WAS BEING followed.
Even though she had tried so hard to escape, it was obvious that she hadn't been successful.
The quietness just before dawn was unnerving. No one was about at this hour and it terrified her. Yet, she wouldn't stop running. The minute her feet stopped, so would her life.
The woods were a maze: Scraggly trees, dried leaves strewn about, bushes sprouting up in unexpected places. She kept running until her lungs hurt and her feet hurt. One of her shoes was missing, and her sock had torn to reveal her toes. Still, she didn't stop, even though her partially covered foot was now bleeding.
Eventually, her stomach knotted tight, constricting the air. She fell on her knees, gasping, and darted her eyes all about her. Just once, she turned to look back. Nothing. Not even a sound except for her own breathing. She should feel safe, but her gut told her she was wrong. She had to move again.
Using a branch from a fallen tree, she pushed herself up, then let out a cry as something clamped around her ankle. Sharp teeth pierced her skin, then grazed her bone.
She let out a scream as blood gushed from the open wound.
* * * *
KIARA SOMERI TRIED to ignore the constant snickering behind her. She already hated school; Shanaya's presence made it unbearable.
Her arch-rival was at it again. Instead of listening to the History lesson droned on by Ms. Tivani, Shanaya was gossiping with her nitwit friends, Rami and Veena.
"Ugh, those boots with those jeans? Yuck!"
Kiara bit the inside of her cheek. It must be Rami who said that. She must feel self-entitled to pass comments on style as she was a self-proclaimed fashionista.
"That personality with that face?" Veena giggled. "Has she even heard of makeup?"
"She's going for au naturel," Shanaya said a little loud so she could be heard by Kiara, "More like, oh no not for your skin type."
More snickering. More ridiculous gossip. More distraction. Not that she wanted to pay attention in History class anyway. Kiara felt she would pick any career that would steer her far away from boring subjects that she was forced to study.
"As this is your last year of High School, I think it is important that we learn our history." Ms. Tivani gave a beaming smile at everyone, her green eyes sparkling as she watched every student. Her short curly hair, hairband and maxi dress with a black jacket, made her look more like a hippie than a teacher.
She rubbed her hands together slowly as she spoke, "Many of us will venture out of our little town, and into big cities. But before you do, don't forget where you came from. We must know our roots."
Kiara sat up straight. Behind her, the snickering stopped.
"HarbourOne City was once a little town called Yamara. A tribe had settled there and they began building houses. Soon enough, they caught the eyes of the wolves that roamed in the wild."
Kiara turned her head to see Shanaya looking at her. She turned away and clasped her hands in front of her.
"One brave girl decided to stand up against the wolves." Ms. Tivani spoke as if she was narrating a drama. “It wasn’t an easy task, but this brave twelve-year-old girl decided she couldn’t stand by and watch the people in the village be mauled to death. Her name was Amara.”
Kiara looked sideways and saw Shanaya looking at her too. Her face had paled, her small mouth seeming smaller as she bit her lip. Her blue eyes were wide and darting around the classroom in fear, as if expecting to be attacked at the mere mention of the girl’s name.
Kiara felt the same way. She wished Ms. Tivani would just stop talking about the so-called hero of the town. If only she knew the truth. But she didn’t, just like the rest of the people in town who revered Amara as if she were a God. Kiara wanted to raise her hand, tell the teacher how wrong she was. But the consequences of it would affect her life. No one would believe her. And what if someone outside heard her words? She would be punished for her blasphemous statements and she would have to pay with her life.
“If it wasn’t for Amara,” Ms. Tivani continued, blissfully unaware of the lies she was spewing, “this town would not exist. It would be a hunting ground for wolves.”
Kiara heard a small gasp, then a moan that only she could hear because she was seated in front of Rami.
“Shut up,” Veena hissed.
Rami replied with another tiny moan. Kiara glanced back and saw her shaking as Ms. Tivani paid a tribute to Amara.
“Can you imagine, being twelve and facing such terror?” The teacher scoffed. “None of you would ever understand how it felt to begin a life in another place, trying to thrive in the wild. You all are too dependent on your smartphones and social media. Amara had guts. She stood up for her people, she...”
Rami was shaking so violently, her desk shook.
“Stop it! None of it is true!” Kiara uttered the words aloud and then choked on her shock.
Around her, she heard gasps. There was whispering.
“Is she crazy?”
“Is she seriously insulting Amara?”
“She’s going to get into so much trouble.”
Kiara stared wide-eyed at Ms. Tivani whose eyes were blazing. She raised her hands and screamed, “All of you, shush!”
Kiara turned to Shanaya who looked mortified. She shook her head, her blue eyes registering her reluctance to agree with her, much less support her outburst.
“Kiara! Stand up!” Ms. Tivani took a step forward as if part of her expected her student to show more impudence.
Kiara rose slowly, her cheeks warming, sweat running down her neck. She opened her mouth to explain herself when there was a vibrating thud on the window next to her.
Kiara turned, a cry caught in her throat as she saw a pair of bloody palms on the window of the ground floor classroom.
The palms slipped, squealing against the glass, leaving a trail of blood, revealing a girl. Her face bloodied, her hair matted with more blood. There were deep cuts on her cheeks.
“Help…me…” she fell, disappearing from view.
Kiara froze, sure she was hallucinating. When the screams behind her grew loud, she let out a shaky cry, barely audible even to her.