It was a hollow victory. One which kept her mind busy for days; mulling, thinking, over thinking, whispering each word uttered again and again till the sound of them became a chant. A song arranged by her and her alone; tuneless and dry, quiet as ashes. An invisible whirlwind floating about, filling her ears; dazzling her eyes.
I will not go back. This she promised herself. Though even as she uttered the words or thought the thought she knew she lied. She saw her boots reentering that wet forest, weaving certain steps through the trees till she reached the clearing where the sun managed to stretch through a canopy dripping damp and alive with voices only that few hours each day. And there she would find him. Wrapped round and round with white binding cloth; eyes wide open, heart beating slow and steady, covered mouth dark where he’d worked at that cloth. Oh so sharp teeth attempting to bite his way through; though he’d never manage it. Oh no, not even himself could bite his way through a binding cloth sung into place with her songchant; for Mama Ruby’s words echoed still in her ears.
So Eliza smiled to herself, despite the hollow feel of the victory. Despite the damp cold touching her fingertips as she kneaded bread all that warm morning, setting it to rise. Despite icy tickles along her spine or occasional whispers, barely audible during that quiet moment or two when the wind stilled and her own heart synced with her breath and she could see beyond.
And when she finally did reenter the forest. When her footsteps echoed through cloth bound ears and he strained, wild eyed to stare at her, how surprising it felt: for the hollowness suddenly filled and overflowed.
Dark hair a glisten with sun she nudged him with one boot, chin tilted, voice soft,
“Are you going to be nice now?”
And the cloth brightened red as he bit his tongue and nodded.