Life’s Grip

She had contracted the vile disease. Unbidden fever’s with blackening limbs heralded her imminent demise. Strewn upon her cot, shivering despite the summers unrelenting heat, she drew shallow breaths; even the draft from the slightly ajar window offered little respite. The young girl of 15 - too young to be a nurse - knew it would not be long; her family, who lay strewn about the room on their own spartan beds, covered mercifully with soiled sheets so as not to haunt with soulless eyes, a reminder of that disheartening truth.

Turning her head, she reached for the pitcher on her night stand. A fanciful notion, considering she had drunk the last two days prior; her hand hardly shifted, too weak to comply. Chapped lips turned to a painful smile; for her stoic nature refused to show her suffering to the unfortunate person destined to find her remains.

Although she was as dry as the pitcher, a tear graced her cheek, as her lids closed. One final prayer, the last vestige of hope to strengthen her grin.

Her family awaits.

A faint sound of glass chimes in heavy wind stirred her from trudging through thick fog. Wetness touched her lips. Deluded, she thought herself. Gripped so tightly by death itself, her god was giving her succour. Or maybe she had found her afterlife, and she would awake to her family’s laughter and smiles. But she couldn’t open her eyes. Everything ached. She found her way back into the fog, lost once again.

That sound, wind chimes, soft and sweet. Something small, hard and round pressed to her lips; parting them and swallowing a conscious effort, the small nut made its way down her barren throat. A small victory. More water found her mouth, and she was grateful. Her body now numb, her senses dead, she slipped back into unconsciousness.

Heart burning, she grabbed at her chest. Her heart fluttered a strange rhythm, untamed. She felt a clawing in her, a vicious talon gripping her heart. As it squeezed her body spasmed in uncontrollable lurches. Pressure pushed her down, a rough textured hand pressing forehead and chest, urging stillness. Fighting her vigorous movements, pressing her flush against the cot. She knew not how long the fitting lasted.

Surprised that her body had not been torn asunder by the internal assault, she felt the bed jolt, and the legs scrape against the floorboards. Her saviour shifting the bed. Still unable to open her eyes, unable to move a muscle, she tried to thank them. Mumbles marked her intent. The rough hand gripped hers in response. She fell asleep in the suns warmth, the wind blowing through the now adjacent window. Fresh crisp air fortifying her. She succumbed to sleep.

Writhing. Not her limbs. It was as though worms wriggled beneath her skin. Shifting, as though fleeing from her center. From her chest, from the claw which still gripped her raw heart. It squeezed, and her heart pumped. Uncomfortable but not painful.

The worms were different though. Just as the claw had wrenched her insides onset, these worms assaulted her body, but slowly. Needles prickling under her skin.

Her eyes flickered open, and she looked down expecting to see her torment. Witness these parasites invading her body. She was naked upon the bed. Very little light from a waning moon came through the window. Unable to make out her bodies invaders she looked about instead. Her side table was within reach, the pitcher and a cup rest on it. She reached for it, and was surprised when her hand complied. There was water in her cup; greedily she consumed it. Her mind was a blur. Little sparks of her diseased confinement returned to her and she looked about for her hero. But they were not to be found. She sniffed and instantly regretted; her family in various states of decay around her. She wretched, the water coming back up as quickly is it had gone down. The worms wriggled violently. The claw squeezed. She passed out.

She awoke feeling euphoric. Sun shone through the window, warming every inch of her naked body. The worms moved still, a wiggle now away from her chest; her shoulders and waist now baring the brunt of the uncomfortable movements. Eyes open, she looked down to survey her body. She let out a groan of shock. Between her breasts was a solid brown lump protruding slightly out. This was the source of the worms, or vines as she now termed them. She could see dark roots from the seed fading into her chest, squeezing at her heart. Needling stopped where the tendrils were, but she could feel them slowly making there way further out.

She screamed. Rasped more like. Enough sound to attract attention. Her saviour raced through the door.

He… at least she suspected a he, stood 7 foot tall brushing the ceiling. His skin brown and rough, solid bark. A head of leaves protruding from an oaken face.

Her screaming continued. She sat up and pushed herself as far back as possible on her cot. Strength having returned from the rays of sun hitting her skin.

Putting his arms out, as though calming an incensed animal, he backed away slowly from the girl. She continued screaming.

He let her; waiting for her to accustom herself with the situation.

Opening his mouth slowly so as not to startle, he introduced himself, with a voice like chiming glass, “I’m Clifford, or Cliff, I’m a treant.”

She began to scream again.

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