Its shining eyes have found me. The beast hunches in the frozen state of a predator deciding how best to capture and kill. What are my options?
If I run it will pursue me.
If I scream I'll alert the Wasters who live here.
If I stay here I will surely become its midnight snack.
I need to find my bearings. Moonlight discovers vast walls covered in shelves of enormous books. The beast slinks out of the corner into a patch of bright floor from the giant window above me. I'm against the wall under a huge sill and press my body flat, desperate to blend into the velvety wallcovering, but the creature vibrates with hunger.
It slinks closer, gray fur bristling in the rectangle of moonlight bathing the floor. I'm shaking and still at once, unable to move or think. Glassy eyes pull me in. The purring fills the room as jaws open, inches from me now.
I crouch and cover my head. What will it be like to be ripped into shreds? Much more painful than a beheading, I imagine. Who will try to save me when I'm not even recognizable? It will be too late then anyway.
The beast looms over me, savoring the kill. This must be the part to relish later, when it licks its chops and contemplates the meal—me. My green blood will spatter and then pool on this moonlit floor.
The great wet nose presses even closer. The curled tunnels take a powerful sniff and suddenly there's space around me again.
It's backed away and sneezed in a quake and bang that echoes across the room. I cower from the loudness. If the beast doesn't eat me, the Wasters will.
The shadow hovers for a moment and then turns quickly away, disgusted. I've been rejected in the best way possible.
I will never be embarrassed by my scent again.
Gathering my breathing, I search the great room. The shelves tell me I'm in a library, but the metallic tables look more like the ones in Cord's lab at school. Cord, how I wish he were here with me. I want to sink into him instead of navigating this hell hole.
"Focus, Fuch," he would tell me. He's the voice of reason as usual. I've got to hang right to the bedroom so I begin tiptoeing across the floor when a familiar sight illuminated by the moon catches my eye.
Clustered in a niche between the shelves are the images of the Saints we revere in church smiling down on me. The comfort of home washes over.
I want to touch one so I climb up on the massive shelf to get closer. Grooves in the wooden surface allow me to shimmy my way up until I'm on the third shelf, level with the replicas.
These are so lifelike compared to the rustic ones displayed at church. When we reach middle school, they say we're old enough to know how the Saints died for us, how God chose a perfect specimen from each tribe and did not behead it but took the whole body with him and preserved it in an ancient place. That lost chamber is called the Herbarium and no one's been able to find it for as long as our oldest tribe member in the Grove, fifty-year-old Pearl, has been alive.
I reach and press my hand against the glass barrier that separates the fabric images from me. These replicas are so life like; they even have intricate veins running through like our blood vessels. The roots are dried perfectly, too perfectly. And that's when a horror worse than being eaten alive reaches me. I scream despite the danger. And recoil from the images that are not images at all.
These are the pressed and mummified bodies of the actual Saints of our tribes.
I am in the Herbarium. And God is not God but a Waster.
It's all I can do not to jump off that shelf. Shaking, I climb down the slick surface and run, bearing right until my legs ache, until the echo of my scream is replaced by another sound. A whoosh like waves along the river shore fills the space I've entered.
A massive form goes up and down with the sound, a swell of pale fabric covering the gigantic bed of the Waster. I follow the snoring to its epicenter; the pillow of the enemy is here, and within it the soil I need to save Mom and Mr. S. And then get the hell out of this labyrinth of terror.
I climb again this time, intent on my task. Get up, get soil in box, get down and run like the wind. But when I reach under the pillow case of this great snoring predator, I find no soil. Instead the way is closed. There are a few prickly sticks coming out of the fabric and I pull one. A feather unfurls.
So they sleep on feathers instead of soil? How do they gain nutrients? I collect a couple more and snap the plumes shut in my little treasure box, then prepare to descend this monster's bed.
It's too far to jump, so I millimeter myself down the long, white blanket stretching to the floor. I'm almost down when a jolt of power overcomes me. The blanket heaves me with it and I hang on for my life. Thunder rumbles in words I don't understand. The monster with the hand of god bruises me as it plucks my body free of the fabric and studies me with giant eyes I could swim in.
I'm swayed back and forth in this hand in a seasick motion as a piercing light takes over. The Waster has turned on a lamp and is heading back the way I came. He—the gruff nature of the beast tells me it's male—has taken me back into the Herbarium.
On a table in the center of the room, he forces me onto a sheet of paper and then delicately arranges my limbs. He reaches for a pin as large as a pick ax, pinching one from within the jar next to me. The weapon is raised high as the hand holds my locks out of the way of my wrist. I'm to be mummified like the Saints, to be pressed flat for all time.
I shut my eyes and pray my crucifixion will be quick.
A metallic ping fills the Herbarium and the Waster thunders at the dropped pin. His enormous head disappears and the table jostles in an exploding earthquake as I'm shifted off the paper. The Waster must have bumped his head trying to get that pin because he shouts in pain.
I sit up and prepare to jump off the table. But something grabs me by the neck, a great gray blur that's all too familiar. I've no time to fight the beast that let me go only to save me for later. As its steely jaws open, I prepare to be ripped open by saying a prayer to God.
Please God, do you hear me? There are so many things I want: please let my death be quick; please save Mom, please free Cord, please save Mr. S and even Lemon; please save them all, because I love them, I can't imagine life without them; if I'm to die, please don't let it be in vain, let me help them by praying that their lives be spared before I go.
Soon I realize the pain I expected isn't happening. The fangs hold me carefully as I dangle along for a wild ride across the floor and out of the Herbarium. I can hear the Waster screaming at the beast for taking me—his next collected tribes member—away.
We fly through a long hall. The creature stops at a door and lets me down gently, then backs away. We exchange a look. The silvery eyes wink back and the head bows. It reaches a gray paw to open a door for creatures our size. I nod my gratitude and plunge into the night.
The sun rising behind the Grove tells me which way to go, and I don't look back at the great wall of shadow between our worlds.
YOU ARE READING
The Grove is a Wattpad Featured Story. Fifteen-year-old Fuchsia speaks like an average teen navigating the usual drama, but her community of tribes called The Grove is an even more terrifying place to be than the halls of high school. The two major...