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- Prompt: Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt above. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.
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Winner: "Feuillemort" by Kayla Adara Lee
I will wait for them at the edge of the glade that would have been promised to them had they come of age. My russet-and-white fur does not do well to hide against the branches of the old oaks, now laden with lacelike moss and bare of any floral trappings.
Abby’s eyes are the first to reach my gaze, large and green as the unrestrained fronds around us, ancient and sorrowful as a person who knows when their time has come. She is braver than any child her age should have to be, and holds her brother Jem’s hand tightly, drawing him closely to her. I remember playing with them in days long gone, the autumn leaves showering us in gold and red, and know that this is the last time I will ever see them.
But still, I draw up my hackles, contort my muzzle, and growl: “What is your purpose here?”
Jem cradles a fresh bruise just above his eyelid, black and blue blooming across his forehead. I grimace. Then my eyes reach the deep, red line across his neck, one he tries to hide by drawing up the collar of his turtleneck. I have to grit my teeth to choke back pained whines.
“We are here,” Abby says, her voice ringing out across the leafy clearing one last time. “To implore you to allow us passage into the land of the fey.”
My claws rasp across the bark.
“And why is that?” I ask, my voice on that fine edge between strength and trembling, the bow of a violin aimed with deadly precision.
“Because we are dead.” Abby states flatly. “Because we wish to repose peacefully underneath the stars and the pines we once called home, to let our spirits become entwined with that which has sheltered us for so many years.”
The damp, stale air hangs between us. Abby’s bright hair is in pigtails.
It is the hair of her mother, and her mother before her, all the way back to those who came before me. It was her great-great-grandmother who had found me and nursed me back to health, and it was then that I had decided to assume a shape honouring those fiery locks.
“You may pass.” My voice is hollow, devoid of all emotion.
It is such a shame that they will be the last of their line. There will be no more children for me to watch over, to grow fond of and to grant passage to this place. And it had all been the fault of a stranger to this place, one who had never known how important these children were. An outsider.
I had watched him mercilessly steal the lives from my wards, after charming and scheming his way back into the very home he had broken by leaving so long ago.
Abby passes me by without a glance above, and I swivel my head to see them go. Her muscles are tensed, her fists clenched, and something in my heart breaks to see them leave. The fey will treat them well, I know, far more than I ever could, but all my years of estrangement from my former home beyond the tree-line has granted me a suspicion that has festered for all the years I remained bound here.
The cold sun shines high above me, tingeing the edges of my fur silver. Or perhaps it already was greying with the weight of waiting here for cycles without end, to bear love and loss for the decades I have been a guardian of the glade.
The children disappear into the woods. It is done. And slowly, I fade away into the faint morning light without so much as a whimper, faint claw marks upon the bough I had stood upon being all that remained of me.