It came to me that night like a flashback, but it was of memories I didn’t have, memories I’m not even sure she had. The way she’d left the village one morning, another little girl the same age as me, taking a trip to the nearby town with her parents. I knew that in my waking memory I could not even remember what she looked like then, but as I sank deeper into the dream the scene became coloured in and more detailled, putting her in a light-blue dress and plaited hair, smiling happily as their cart rattled away into the valley.
The dream skipped ahead.
“What’s that noise?” Lilac asked, in a squeaky six-year old voice.
“Probably just thunder,” said her father.
“But the sky’s-“
My heart raced faster and faster, I knew what was coming next. The eyes of my dream ascended to the top of the cliff, where stones rumbled and clattered together, gathering momentum, picking up bigger rocks, crashing and leaping and falling, falling ever downwards to where a rickety old cart rolled along, unsuspecting…
The shock nearly woke me, I could feel my sweat and my rapid breathing. But my eyes did not open; still I saw Lilac emerge from the wreckage of shattered stone and splintered wood, tearing ineffectually at it, crying tears of rage and tears of sadness for a loss she did not fully understand.
After hours, sleep overtook her, and once she awoke again, she no longer cried. I knew that those tears had been her last, and in all her life since that day she had never cried again. She simply looked around her with her vacant eyes, and as if she had not even noticed the rubble that buried her family, and walked off into the forest and down the valley.
What flashed next before my eyes was more horrifying in its incoherence than the rockfall had been in its graphic detail. I remember only feelings, imagery. Fear and the calm beyond fear. Determination. Anguish. Blood, bones, tearing flesh. Darkness.
And then my first real memory of the girl. Her return to the village after four weeks in the wilderness. The search had been long since called off, the rubble shifted and her parents buried. Though they’d not found Lilac’s body, everyone assumed the worst, and heavy snowfall all but confirmed it. And yet, one day, out of the woods she came.
Her dress was in tattered, the brown colour of dried blood. That same colour coated her hands and her arms, while fresher and redder blood was painted on her face like some macabre horror incarnated as lipstick.
“Demon child,” they called her. “Monster.” The boys, even the adults. Even my mother. They all looked at her and could only see the blood and the blank staring eyes. Was it only me that could see the kindness locked up inside her, still surviving somewhere despite her ordeal?
Certainly, in my dream, I was the only one. Maybe there were others that I don’t remember, we were both so little. But it was me, a six-year-old girl, who took her in.
I dreamt of the outhouse where she had to live, after my mother said Lilac wasn’t allowed in the house for fear of bringing bad luck upon our family. Of the blankets and hot stews I took her, keeping her warm through the long winter. Of the day nearly two years later, when she uttered her first word since the accident. “Hungry.” But it was a start. I dreamt of the school that wouldn’t teach her, and of all the lessons I tried to pass on to her. Of the first time I saw her still-vacant eyes framed by an honest smile.
With a rush of emotion I dreamt of the day she left the village. There’d been thefts from the village shops, and though all the kids knew it was Jason, the adults blamed the Demon Child. My mother packed food for her, the one and only nice gesture she ever performed for the girl, and then Lilac was gone, a confused teenage girl sent out into the snow to meet whatever fate had in store for her. I recalled my angry tears when I found out, my rushing after her, following the footsteps even as new snowfall covered them. The howls of the wolves, the panic, the chase, tripping onto frozen ground, the hungry beast towering over me, the sudden solemn knowledge that I was going to die… And then Lilac, sharpened stick thrust through the wolf’s throat, blood pouring down on me–
At last the dream shoved me from its grasp. My heart pounded and I gasped for air, throat so tight I couldn’t fill my lungs properly. I let minutes pass until my breathing slowed, and reached across to Lilac, needing some vague reassurance that she was still there. She murmured and rolled over in her sleep, leaving me staring at the ceiling as dawn broke and the conjured memories receded for another day.