The two ran, hand-in-hand, as the lights began to fade behind them. Their backs glowed as their shadows cast among the reedgrass in front of them.
Silence. The groans of the town had faded. The blaring car horns were lost in the sound of the dry grass grazing their legs as they ran. For miles, all that could be seen was reedgrass as tall as their hips or shoulders, stretching across the hills.
Ava and Anna bounded towards the trunk with the beat of their footsteps cheering and motivating as drums. As they finally reached the roots of the tree, they collapsed to the ground. There, they lay panting; chests rising and falling, until their breath evened out and matched the serenity of the beautiful world around them.
“Let’s keep going!” Ava’s eyes beamed up at her older sister in expectation and hope. She was far too young to understand that life had so little to bring; her mind was just too full of hope and adventure.
Ava often dreamt of holding Anna’s hand as they ran through the hills. But instead of stopping at their tree, they continued to run. Past the dunes and the signs that lead them back home, through the fence that had entrapped them for so long, and to the edge of the world, wherever their feet would allow them to go.
Sometimes Ava would dream of a huge lake, with fish and lily pads, and the promise of change.
In darker times, she would dream of a long road, cracked and battered, and no matter how far the two of them walked, the road always led them back home.
“We can’t.” Anna said, running her fingers through Ava’s curly red hair. She began to hum Ava’s favorite lullaby, the same one their mother would rock them to sleep with.
“Don’t be stupid” Anna mumbled. Tears began to pool under her eyes as she spoke. “You need to understand that there’s nothing out there for us, Ava. If you ran, I wouldn’t follow you. I know you’re curious, but when you grow up you’ll understand. All we have left is each other. There’s nothing out there.”
The silence became unbearably deafening, and Ava decided to run. However it was no longer in spite of what had restricted her, it was the security of knowing that Anna would indeed be running behind her as she went. She heard Anna screaming her name as she chased her up and down the valleys, and to the wooden fence they had never dared to cross.
Ava waited for Anna to come, and by the time she caught up, she was sobbing. Her ragged green dress was stained with dirt and splattered in tears.
“If you go, I’m not following you Ava.”
“Come on!” Ava bent over and climbed through the space between the wooden planks. She didn’t turn around as she kept walking, in hopes that Anna had jumped the fence and would soon clench her hand as they walked together.
She had walked about a mile until she saw the edge of the trees. They seemed to call her name as the occasional breeze came and went, and ruffled the branches in a dance of expectation.
She had never seen woods like these. When she began to immerse herself in the trees, for the first time ever she felt scared. The leaves and branches beneath her cracked as she stepped, while she watched many more leaves fall from the towering trees above.
The darkness of dusk crept, and began to fill the woods with dim moonlight. Ava started to hear more; a frog croaking, a twig breaking, an owl calling. She saw a deer grazing by a dogwood tree in front of her, and as she took another step forward, the deer cocked it’s head and stared at her.
The sound of the shot was deafening. Her ears rang as the woods spun around her, and she watched the deer dash away; dancing between the trees as if on stage.
She hadn’t seen the hunter, he had been aiming for the doe that escaped death.
She collapsed to the ground and watched the stars and trees that hovered above her twist and spin like a merry-go-round. She clasped her hands to her stomach and felt her blood begin to pool around her.
She closed her eyes and pictured herself floating in the lake she so often dreamed of. She imagined Anna floating next to her, humming their mother’s lullaby and reaching for her hand.
“Let’s keep going” Ava whispered, and the world fell silent.