What Lies Beneath?

By Megan O’Neill (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

It certainly was nothing like the giant manor she had grown up in, but shelter was shelter. It was a safe haven after running from unseen enemies for 27 hours with no sleep.

It was a small, one roomed shack that had long ago been abandoned, tucked into a patch of close knit trees. In front of it was a small clearing, the first Arella and her battered companion had come across in days. The makeshift door was made from planks of wood, slapped and sloppily nailed together. The hut was in the form of an arch one would find in a church. The entire thing looked like it could be knocked over from a strong gust of wind.

Inside, pelts of long dead animals covered the walls, which only aided in making the room feel that much hotter in the blistering southern sun. There was a wooden table near the entrance, with a small chair beside it. A forgotten mattress lay in the corner of the shack, which Noam immediately declared was Arella’s. The exhausted woman tried to refuse, but when he plopped himself down in the unstable chair, she nodded and collapsed onto the dusty cot.

***

Arella’s eyes opened to find Noam’s form peering down at her.

“Noam! Goodness, you frighten me!” She let out a shaky laugh, trying to calm her heartbeat.

“Sorry Miss Arella,” he said as she propped herself up against her elbows, “but it’s about time we started walkin’ again.”

“It’s night already? Did you get any sleep? Noam!” She cried out when he shook his head, “you were supposed to wake me up! You need your sleep much more than I do.”

“But you looked so peaceful layin’ there, Miss Arella. I ain’t never seen you look that peaceful since we left the farm.” Noam argued, shifting back as she swung her legs off the bed.

Arella took a moment to stretch, then peered at his face through the dimness. She reached up and scrubbed at a patch of dirt on his face before speaking. “Noam, I have told you over and over not to call me ‘Miss’ or ‘Lady’. You know it annoys me. Now more than ever since we’re not on the farm. I don’t want to hear it, alright?”

Noam nodded, defeated. She gave him a bright smile before walking to the table. “We are probably going to need some food of sorts for the road. I’ll go out and take a look while you take a nap.”

“Pardon me, ma’am, but a lady of your standing shouldn’t sink to the level of a slave,” Noam said in a quiet voice. “Let me do it.”

“Sir, if you think that I am afraid to get my hands dirty, then you are sadly mistaken. Besides,” here she paused to give him a stern look, “you need to get some more energy before we leave. Don’t worry, I won’t go very far.” She whisked out the door after that, leaving no room for an argument.

During her search in the twilight, Arella thanked her Lord for the trousers she had stolen from her brother’s room.

But it’s not like he will miss them that much, right? He has so many pairs of them. Although, I guess I should have said goodbye to him…

Abruptly, a yell cut through Arella’s guilty thoughts. Her eyes widened as she thought of what that yell could mean.

Arella darted though the trees, running as fast as her legs could carry her. She tore into clearing, realizing in a second that the door to the shack was crooked. The lady ran to the doorway, breathing heavily as she screeched to a stop.

A shaky sigh escaped her lips as she gave a relieved smile. Noam was standing right there, looking a bit rumpled, but alright.

“Noam! Thank goodness, I thought I heard a yell! Are you alright?” Arella asked taking a few tottering steps towards the man.

“Miss… Arella,” he gasped out. “Leave. Run. Quickly.”

“What? Noam what are you say-,” before she could finish, Noam dropped to the ground. Behind his fallen form was a strange man, and in her friend’s back was a knife.

“Noam!” Arella jerked awake, arms failing as she struggled to get up from the old mattress.

“Miss Arella?! What’s wrong?” A deep voice bellowed out, followed by the sound of wood scraping against wood.

The woman stood in place, swaying. It was a dream, all just a dream. Arella’s hands came up to cover her face, fingers creating small gaps for her unfocused eyes to stare through. When she felt large hands on her shoulder, Arella forced her eyes to focus in on Noam’s dirty shirt. Then she raised them to his black eyes.

“Oh Noam. Everything is fine now. However I think we should leave right now.” She spoke softly, like raising her voice would shatter something.

“But, Miss Arella…,” Noam started, but quickly silenced himself when he felt his lady grab his forearm. When he looked at her, he saw frantic, pleading eyes. He made a split decision, and nodded.

In silence, he packed their meager belongings, along with a fresh rabbit. The thought struck her that he must’ve gone out to get that while she slept. Arella smiled, thinking it was without a doubt something he would do.

She pulled her hood up as he stood in the doorway, scanning the area. After she tucked in all of her blond curls, Noam stepped outside, leading her towards the opposite side of the clearing.

When they got to the edge of the wood, Noam turned around to stare down at her. “You sure ‘bout this, Miss Arella?”

“Of course, Noam,” she answered with a dismissive wave of her hand, “and don’t call me ‘Miss’ anymore! You’re not anyone’s slave, and we’re both wanted. Therefore, we are equal, right?”

Noam nodded, and spun to begin the hike. Arella let out a squeak as something zipped by his face, embedding itself into the bark of a tree behind him. The two stared at the silver dagger for a second before Noam turned slowly, searching the forest for the knives handler.

“How lucky you are not to have taken an extra step,” a voice cackled out, an instant before its owner came into view. The man was pasty white and holding three more identical blades in between his fingers. The man kept talking, inching closer. Noam would retort every now and again, but Arella knew she had to do something. She breathed deeply, before whirling around.

She was not going to let this end like her dream.

***

Noam hated this situation. It wouldn’t be possible to get Miss Arella and himself out of here. The man was constantly flinging insults at him, making it hard to concentrate. He was only a few steps away now.

“Miss Arella, you need to get away from–,”

Before he could finish, there was a blur ahead of him. He swiftly became conscious of the fact his shirt was splattered in blood, and Miss Arella was in front of him.

For an awful moment, the world froze. Then the man slumped, and she stumbled back into Noam’s arms. Paralyzed, he watched as his gentle lady dropped the bloody dagger he could have sworn was in the tree behind him.

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