On Gallows Hill
On Gallows Hill
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
~T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
I woke in the night to a dreadful humming noise, intense as a kicked hornets' nest. My breath caught in my throat like dust and I could hear my heart thundering in my chest. The room was black as pitch, but I knew beyond a doubt that someone was standing at the foot of my bed. I yanked the covers over my head, every hair on my body instantly standing on end.
Seconds ticked by like centuries. My breath grew shallow beneath the heavy fabric. I exhaled slowly, startled, scared, and even a little frustrated at having been woken when I had school in the morning. I peeked from beneath my blanket, expecting icy fingers to reach in and graze my toes.
A little girl stood there, a vision of transparent light in the darkness. The outline of her spirit was etched softly against the night, all statically charged edges of gold and blue light. Though her aura was that of a child, her dark, burdened eyes rested upon me with the greatest measure of sorrow I had ever seen on anyone, dead or alive. I took a deep breath and lowered the sheet further, revealing my face.
I took in her clothing, trying to gauge where - and when - she was from. A black, threadbare dress hung from her skeletal frame. Her white undershirt was filthy at the collar. I could not smell her, but I imagined she had not been bathed in months. Dark, dirtysmears ran in fingerprint patterns down and across her face. Her fingers were black and swollen with what could only be the disfigurement of frostbite. She held up her hands and reached for me, begging to be picked up. On her tiny wrists were thick, blackened bruises among tears of ragged skin.
My whole body trembled when she glided around the bed toward my head. She stood, staring down at me, and her enormous black eyes were as deep as chasms, hovering above pale blue lips that were grimly pressed together.
Though I was thoroughly terrified, I knew the routine all too well at this point. I had wanted to remain in hiding inside the fortress of my comforter, lulling my mind back to sleep by telling it the same old words: It's just a dream. It's just a dream. But I knew that she would not just disappear and leave me alone. I am almost never alone.
I hadn't ever been the one to speak first. I always waited until I couldn't take it anymore and eventually I'd lash out at the spirits who came to me. Sometimes it made them go away, and that's all I had ever wanted from them. But something in this little girl's eyes made me feel really awful for her. I swallowed the lump in my throat and whispered, "What do you want?"
I watched, transfixed, as her face contorted and the great black maw of her mouth opened as if she would speak. "I'm hungry," she whispered suddenly. And, with the slightest English lilt to her voice, "I want my mother."
In a mere instant, the pitiful sound of her voice produced a thick, dry lump in my throat. How was it possible that a child like this could be lost without her mother, hungry and cold, between two worlds?
My body shook involuntarily. "I don't know where your mother is," I choked out. "What is your name?" I looked away, terrified, but I knew that no matter how angry, fearful or sad I was, I had to get past this. It was now or never.
The ringing of her voice abruptly brought me back. "My name is Dorothy. Those men took my mother away to the witch gaol." The little girl pointed out the window and began to sob. She put her face into her filthy, ravaged hands. Then she leaned over me, her black eyes just inches from mine, pleading, and that was w