The True MeaningbyMagicMouse©
This is my submission for the 2012 Winter Holidays Story Contest. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Small feet in big boots plodded miserably along roadside, the frozen earth crunching with each step, carrying a small, shivering body through the cold Washington winter night. The stars glimmered in the night sky, untouched by clouds or lights, but the figure's head hung low to the chest as it trudged on hopelessly in the moonless night. As the night wears on, the figure's shoulders slump and the feet begin to drag. Out of the distance, and pair of lights approached the figure from behind, illuminating the path ahead. One gloved, shaking hand slowly came out from underneath the figure's arms and extended towards the road, thumb pointed up.
As the car flew by, Leah pulled her shivering hand back under her arms and walked on. The freezing wind lashed against her freckled face, and she had lost feeling in her nose and feet. Should have stayed the night in Spokane, she thought. Should have just found some warm corner and curled up for the night. Instead, she had walked on. Now, hours later, she stumbled forward along I-90 in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night.
A tear rolled down her cheek as she remembered what night it was. The liquid felt like fire compared to the cold air, searing a path down her round face. Leah felt the shame roll over her once again, and she felt sick to her stomach. Her legs felt like lead weights, and she fought to keep her eyes open. I just need to rest, she told herself, but also knew what that would mean.
In the darkness, Leah spotted a rock by the road with a large, flat surface facing her, inviting her to lean against it and sleep. I have to keep going, she reminded herself. But her body refused to listen, and she leaned against the stone. Leah blinked her eyes once, taking one last mental image of the road behind her before fading away into the darkness.
She woke to heat on her face. It was so intense that she was sure it was searing her. Tears again flowed down her face as she realized where she was. The eternal flames. Her hands and feet burned, and her muscles all ached terribly. Leah tried to speak but her throat was too dry, and she didn't dare open her eyes for fear of the horrors that awaited her in the depths of hell. Leah prayed through her tears. She prayed for forgiveness, for mercy, for her eternal soul.
A loud slam to her left startled her, and Leah's eyes popped open instinctively. The moment she did a bright light blinded her, and Leah screamed in terror. "Easy," whispered a sweet, feminine voice next to her. "Just relax. You're going to be fine."
"Am I in hell?" Leah squeaked in a soft southern accent.
"What?" the voice asked in surprise. Leah felt a gentle touch on her shoulder, and all of the pain, all of the guilt, all of the suffering of the last year seemed ever so slightly less intense.
"Are you an angel?"
"You're crazy, aren't you?" the voice sighed. "You should probably open your eyes."
"But the light-"
"Is gone," the voice cut her off. Slowly, timidly, Leah cracked open one eye. What she saw stunned her.
"Not hell, but I can see how you could make that mistake," the voice chuckled. Both of Leah's eyes opened fully and she looked around. She was sitting in the passenger seat of an obviously expensive car, clearly more expensive than any car she had been in before. The heat was from an air vent directly in front of her, blowing with full force into her face. "And no, I'm not an angel. Well, sort of, but not in the way you meant. Probably."
Leah looked over to the driver's seat, and saw what she thought very well could have been an angel. She had sharp, angular features, as though sculpted from stone. Set upon a long, thin neck was a narrow, angular jaw. Her cheeks were shallow, but the prominent cheek bones sat high, just below her brown eyes. Those eyes, Leah thought. Soft and round and a deep, dark shade of brown, they held her spellbound.
The woman's face moved, and Leah's eyes trailed down her long, narrow nose to its slightly upturned tip. Her eyes lingered for a moment at the small, adorable tip of the woman's nose, wondering what it might feel like against her skin. The woman's face twitched again, and Leah's eyes were drawn at last to her mouth. The soft pink lips, full and luscious, called to her, and she felt desperate to answer with her own.
Leah caught herself and clamped her eyes shut. She whispered a brief prayer, and bit down hard on her tongue. The pain was nearly unbearable, but she only bit harder. Finally, she detected the faintest taste of metal in her mouth, and she released the pressure. Leah said another prayer, and reached into one of her pockets to retrieve a small rag. She raised it to her mouth and pressed it to her tongue.
"What the hell are you doing?" The words startled Leah, who had completely forgotten that she was not alone.
"I'm sorry, I forgot you were here," Leah blushed, stuffing the rag back into her pocket.
"You forgot I was in my car?" the woman said, arching her eyebrows in disbelief.
"Yes, I... I'm sorry to bother you," she stumbled, and reached for the door. Before she could open it, though, the woman seized her hand.
"Whoa, where are you goi... what the fuck?" she gasped as she noticed a bit of blood trickle out of the corner of Leah's mouth.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," Leah said pleadingly, and tried to pull free to no avail. "Please, ma'am, I'm so..."
"You did that to yourself, didn't you?" the woman said, as though she was speaking to herself. Gently, she reached up and took hold of Leah's chin. Cocking her head to the side, she carefully turned Leah's head to one side, then the other. Leah's first instinct was to recoil from her, but when the woman touched her face she melted into the soft warmth of her flesh. Her muscles, sore from constant exertion, began to relax for the first time she could remember, and she fell back to sleep.
"Oh, great," the woman sighed.
When Leah awoke, her whole body was sore. She tried to move, but her arms and legs were stiff and ached terribly. Instead, she just lay still and tried to breathe. There was a rush of cold air as the car door next to her opened and she tried to move away from the cold, wincing as the chill stung her cheeks. Leah felt the seat belt release her, and a pair of arms forced their way beneath her body. Too weak to put up any noticeable resistance, Leah was lifted from the seat and into the cold. She started to shiver, but felt a soft warm object to one side and tried to curl up against it. Leah could feel powerful arms holding her, and heard the car door slam shut. She was carried through the air, and wrapped her arms around the soft, comforting presence holding her.
Suddenly she was no longer cold, and the air smelled stale and stuffy instead of crisp and clean. Leah felt herself being lowered onto a soft surface, and the warm presence tried to pull away. Panicking, Leah clung to the object with the last of her strength. She felt her body begin to lift off of the padded surface, and her strength began to fail.
"No!" she cried desperately, pleadingly. "No! I'm sorry! Please, no!"
"Shh," said a soft, kind voice. "Take it easy. I'm not going anywhere, kid."
Leah's eyes opened, and she saw the woman from the car. Her mind snapped back to reality, and Leah saw that she was in a small, cheap motel room. The car's headlights shone through the window, filling the room with light. Her own arms were wrapped around the woman's body, and a part of her screamed to never let go. Leah exhaled and relaxed as she was again lowered down onto the bed, softening her grip on the woman.
"You are going to let go of me eventually, right?"
Leah's eyes popped open, and she released the woman. Realizing what she had done, she closed her eyes and whispered a short prayer. Again, she tried to slip her tongue between her teeth, but before she could a pair of powerful hands grasped her chin and the back of her head, forcing her jaw to stay closed.
"Oh, no," the woman said calmly. "None of that." Slowly, Leah's eyes opened, and she gazed into the woman's face. Her large, soft brown eyes were full of worry, and her jaw was clenched nervously. "Now, I'm going to let go of your jaw, but only if you promise not to hurt yourself. Okay?"
"Oom-hey," Leah said through a closed mouth, and the woman released her.
"Sorry. I just can't have you hurting yourself... um... what was your name again?"
"Leah. Leah Brody," she whispered as she fought back tears.
"That's a good name," the woman said quietly as she stroked Leah's dirty blonde hair.
"My daddy said it means 'weary'."
"It also means 'Ruler'," the woman smiled.
"It's from the Bible," Leah muttered.
"Jacob's first wife. Yes, I know."
"What's your name?" Leah asked, looking up at her. The woman hesitated, as if unsure of whether she could trust Leah.
"Call me 'Mel'," she answered.
"Mel? As in Melissa?"
"Sure," Mel answered, somewhat cryptically. Confused, Leah cocked her head and started to speak, but Mel didn't let her. "Here, if you're going to rest, you need to take off some of these clothes." She reached down and started to remove Leah's coat. Nervously, the younger woman sat up, and the old, worn overcoat slipped off of her.
Beneath it, Leah wore a blue sweater, covered with holes and tears. Mel pulled this over Leah's head, too, and she was left with only a thin, sleeveless white shirt. At least, it was white at one point. It was now stained brown by more than a year of sweat and dirt. A tear above her breasts revealed a small scar on the right side of her chest. Mel grasped the bottom of the shirt and started to lift. Panicking, Leah grabbed the hem of the shirt and held it down.
"No!" she shouted in surprise. "Wait, I'm not wearing anything underneath it."
"Yeah, I know," Mel laughed. Leah looked surprised, and she explained. "Kid, that shirt is thin enough that I can tell that those freckles go past your neckline." Leah blushed, and Mel again tried to lift the shirt. "Besides, it's nothing I haven't seen before."
"No!" Leah squealed again, and forced the shirt down. The fabric slipped from Mel's grasp, and jerked downward. The thin material gave way, and the tear above her breast spread around the whole of the shirt. The bottom part of the now destroyed shirt slid down Leah's body, revealing firm, round, pert breasts and small brown nipples. Leah shrieked in terror and dove off the other side of the bed with surprising agility. She fell with a crash off the side of the bed, out of Mel's sight.
"Oh," was all the stunned Mel could say.
"Stay back!" Leah cried from behind the bed.
"Fine," Mel sighed, and reached for the drawers behind her. She opened the top one and pulled out a large, olive green sweater. "Here, put this on," she said, tossing across the bed. She giggled quietly as a hand reached up from behind the mattress and pulled the sweater down. A moment later, Leah poked her head up and slowly lifted herself back onto the bed. The sweater was much too large for the small girl, and ran down almost to her knees.
"Now what?" she said, her voice shaking.
"Now, you take off the pants."
"Look, you want to clean up, or not?" Mel asked with a bit of amusement.
"I guess you could shower like that, but I would prefer you didn't wear my sweater in there."
"Let's start with the shoes," Mel smiled as she stood and walked around the bed. She bent over and grasped Leah's feet before she could pull them away. "Gotta work on those reflexes, kid," she laughed. As Mel began to unlace one of the large boots, she noticed that they were not just big, but much too large for a woman Leah's size. She squeezed the boots, and heard a muffled crumpling.
"Gahh!" Leah cried in pain, trying to pull her foot away.
"What the hell?" Mel said, looking up at her briefly before pulling the boot free. As it came off, crumpled newspaper fell out. Some of the paper was stained dark brown and red, and when Mel looked at Leah's foot, she understood. Her foot was covered in sores and blisters, and was cut in several places. She had been using the paper as insulation against the clod. "How long have you been walking with this in your shoes?"
"Butte? As in Montana?" Leah nodded. "You walked here from Butte?"
"No. I got a ride over the Rocky Mountains from a trucker."
"You hitch-hiked from Butte?"
"From Butte to Spokane. I walked most of the rest of the way."
"From where, Spokane?" Mel asked.
"No, from Boston," Leah answered casually.
"Boston!?" Mel cried, completely floored. "You walked... from Boston?"
"Yes, ma'am," Leah said meekly.
"Oo-rah," Mel grunted, pulling the other boot off. "That's quite a hike. How long?"
"One year, exactly," she said, looking away and blushing.
"How old are you, kid?" Mel asked, stopping what she was doing and sitting on the foot of the bed. She had just realized something.
"I'm 20 in a few months," she said, shame starting to creep into her face.
"So, you left home when you were 18, huh? You're parents kick you out after high school?"
"No," was the only answer she got back before Leah climbed off the bed and hobbled into the bathroom.
Leah yawned and stretched her arms, immediately regretting it. He body was still sore, but she felt much better after the first good night's sleep in a year. She was wearing Mel's sweater and a pair of her shorts, which didn't actually come down below the end of the sweater. Leah looked over at the small couch on the other side of the room. By the time she had finished her shower the night before, Mel was asleep on it. Now, however, there was nothing on the couch but a meticulously folded green blanket and an olive T-shirt.
Leah heard a noise in the bathroom, and slipped out of bed to see what it was. She crept up to the door to the bathroom, and put her ear to the door. She heard nothing, and so Leah slowly cracked open the door.
Mel's back was turned, and she was standing in front of the sink, a small bag set on the rim. She wore only a black sports bra and sweatpants, and her skin glistened with sweat. The muscles on her back were well toned, and as she moved they rippled beneath her skin. Leah felt a heat between her thighs, but she could not tear her eyes away from the sight before her long enough to chastise herself.
Mel retrieved a bottle of water from her bag and poured its contents into the sink. "Bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm," she whispered, just barely loud enough for Leah to hear. Her eyes bulged at the words, and she covered her mouth with her hands. Opening the bottle, Mel poured a small amount of water into the sink basin. She dipped her hands in the water and washed her right hand up to the wrist. Her hands dipped into the water again, and she again rubbed her right hand with the left. She did this a third time, then repeated it with the left hand.
Taking some of the water into her mouth, she rubbed her teeth with her finger, and repeated this twice more. She continued, cleaning her nostrils, washing her face and her arms, always three times. Once again, she dipped her hands into the water. This time she brought her hands to her face, passing them up over her head. Placing her index fingers in her ears, Mel used her thumbs to clean the back of her ear lobes.
Finally, she passed her hands along the back of her neck. As she did so, Leah noticed a tattoo on her bicep. It was an eagle, perched atop a globe. The globe and eagle were set in front of something, and Leah recognized it as an anchor. She had seen that same tattoo before.
Opening her eyes, Mel removed her boots and socks. She dipped her hands into the water, and washed her right foot, rubbing between the toes, up to her ankle. This was also repeated twice more before doing the same to the left. "Lā ʾilāha ʾillà l-Lāh, Muḥammadun rasūlu l-Lāh."
Mel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Allāhu 'akbar" she began, and turned towards the door. Leah squealed and stumbled backwards, tripping over her own feet and falling to the floor.
"No, wait!" she cried.
"Oh, crap," Mel sighed. She tried to help Leah up, but the young woman scrambled away from her and wedged herself into the corner of the room. "If you're gonna run away, you should at least remember to run towards the door, not away from it," Mel frowned, shaking her head.
"Don't hurt me, please!" Leah begged miserably, tears welling in her eyes.
"Wouldn't dream of it, kid," Mel assured her calmly, squatting down a few feet in front of Leah.
"You said your name was Melissa!"
"No, you said my name was Melissa," Mel calmly corrected her. "I said you could call me Mel. And you can. It's short for Melek. Melek Sedik," she explained with a slight bow.
"You're an Arab?" Leah whispered, as if she was afraid someone would overhear.
"Hey," Mel said, pretending to take offense. "Them's fightin' words, kid. I'm Turkish. Big difference."
"Were speaking Arabic? Yeah, I know. Daily prayer is always in Arabic."
"You're a...?" Leah trailed off.
"Then why aren't you wearing a... umm... what are those big black gown-things that cover your whole body?"
"Burqa?" Leah nodded timidly. "Why don't you?"
"It's not part of my religion."
"Me, too," Mel smiled.
"I don't understand..." Leah sighed.
"I know, kid." Mel tried to put a hand on Leah's shoulder, but she jerked away reflexively. In doing so, she knocked aside a small metal cross strung tightly around her neck. Mel noticed that beneath the cross, Leah's skin had begun to take on a slight green color. Curious, she reached out and pushed the cross fully out of the way. Leah looked down as she did so, and they both saw a small, faint green cross on her skin.
"Oh," Leah said quietly, staring down at the mark.
"Wait, wait!" Mel cried, clasping her hands onto Leah's shoulders. "It's not what it looks like!"
"It's-" Leah began, but Mel quickly cut her off.
"No!" she yelped. "It not stigmata! And it's not the mark of the beast, or the mark of Cain, or anybody else!" she said, desperately trying to head off the hysteria she knew was coming. "In fact, it's from Jesus!"
"What?" Leah replied, cocking her head to one side.
"It's the mark of Christ!" Mel insisted. "He's telling you that he loves you, and that you're a good person, and... and... and that you should in no way bite your tongue or anything!" Leah blinked a few times, trying to make sense of what Mel had just said. They stared silently at each other for a few moments.
"It's oxidation," Leah finally said, as though she were trying to explain it to a small child. "The solutes in my sweat react with the metallic copper in the bronze to form a green pigment. The pigment rubs off on my skin, and turns it green."
Mel stared back dumbly at her.
"You're weird..." Leah whispered.
"This is a really depressing place," Leah moaned from the passenger seat of Mel's car as she stared out the window glumly.
"Everything is so grey and dreary."
"That's 'cause you're looking at the sky," Mel laughed. "First rule of living in the Northwest: look at the ground, not the clouds."
"The ground. The grass, the trees, the flowers. They're green now, and they'll be green in July."
"Well, I guess the trees and things are fine, but look at the sky! Is it always like this?"
"No," Mel shrugged. "For a few weeks in the summer, the sun comes out. Most years." Leah looked at her in horror. "I'm joking, kid. Man, you gotta relax."