Yorkshire, North of England
FIRST COMES A BOY FROM nowhere. That’s how it goes wrong.
Before he comes, there’s a house on the moors and a family inside it: mother and father, son and daughter. All of them new to the village, or so people say. The family’s only been around since the boy was toddling, the girl even smaller. The family’s not generations old, settled here long ago, like the rest. But they fit so well that people most often forget it.
The Earnshaws? They’re a strange lot, and new in these parts, but they’re ours.
Nice, people call them. People don’t know what nice is.
But the boy from nowhere doesn’t fit. He looks like he doesn’t fit: brown, thin, speaking a language no one knows. He brings nowhere along with him into the house. Memories of nowhere. Skin from nowhere, and language from nowhere. Reminders that nowhere is actually somewhere. Turns out, big unknown’s got people in it.
Turns out, you can run to the end of the world and it’ll still find you. The thing you’re running from.
Now the family’s a mother and father, son and daughter, and a boy. Longer he’s there, the more the nice peels right off the family. The mother dies. Then the father dies. And there’s just a son, a daughter, and a boy. The son’s angry about it. The son’s vicious. He beats the boy, tries to thrash the nowhere out of him.
And the daughter …
Well. I thought she loved the boy. That’s my own fool fault.
I walk. Creaking floorboards. Thud of boots on flagstones. Kitchen’s never silent, never empty. The hearth’s crackling. Cheery noise. Cooking knives are out, fresh-sharpened. My fingers twitch.
Maybe you don’t know what tale we’re in. But I do.
There’s a boy from nowhere. Best he goes back to nowhere. Back where he belongs.
I pick up one knife and walk out the door. Walk down to the gate. Sky’s turning gray for a storm. Someone’s calling my name.
I don’t look back.
* * *
It’s good I forgot to thieve a gun when I ran. A gun’s a temptation to killing.
No. The knife’s enough.
The road here’s narrow. Just a dirt track, cutting through gorse. No trees for cover. Still, I crouch low. Hope the gorse swallows the shape of me.
Light’s fading. I walked a night, rain-drenched. Snatched seconds of sleep under tree cover, coat over my head. Walked a day. My feet ache. It feels good to be on the ground, finally not moving. Can’t do it for long though, or I’ll stiffen up. I think I’ve done about thirty miles. I haven’t kept track. Haven’t looked at milestones, though I’ve passed some. Haven’t read fingerposts. I left home before I knew where I wanted to go. Away was enough.
A horse and cart pass by. There’s a farmhand riding, bundled up in a smock. Broad hat tugged low over his eyes. He’s whistling. He doesn’t see me.
I let him go.
I’m good at being patient. Ground’s wet under me, the way peat is always wet. I can feel the cold seeping through my breeches. But I don’t move. I know how to hunt. I’m good at it.
Normally I hunt animals. But people aren’t so different.
The sky is bleeding purple when a man walks up the dirt road. His hobnailed shoes thud heavily. He looks tired. Must be a day laborer from one of the farms nearby, heading on home.
I tense up. Waiting.
I don’t have to do what I’m going to do.
I won’t suffer for it, if I let the man go and keep on walking. I won’t die out here. My coat is shabby, but it’s decent enough. A castoff but a good one, strong wool, the kind that stays sturdy even when the wind goes knife-cold. My boots are decent. You need quality boots when you work hard, work outdoors. And me, I’m not allowed indoors anymore. Not often, anyway.
But I’ve got no food.
I know hunger. We’re old enemies. That ancient dog’s been biting at my heels for years. He’s got sharp teeth, cold eyes. Once he’s set on you, you can’t shake him. So my belly’s full of spite right now, and anger’ll keep it going for a few days, but it won’t be enough. Eventually, a man’s got to eat. And if a man doesn’t have food, he needs coin to get it.
So I wait. When the stranger’s walked by me, I rear up. Get behind him, fast. He’s got a sickle. I snatch it from him. Wrap my arm round his throat and show him the knife. He goes still. Easy as that, I’ve got my prey.
“Boy, I don’t want any trouble,” he says. He’s breathing fast.
“Don’t call me boy,” I tell him. “Don’t call me anything. Keep your mouth shut and give me all the coin you’ve got.”
It takes him a moment to realize I’m not pinning his hands and won’t gut him if he moves. Then he fumbles in his pockets. Hands me a knotted-up kerchief. I get it open. Inside there’s just some pennies. Dull copper.
It’s pitiful little. But I take it.
“The rest,” I say.
“There’s no more,” he replies.
“I know there’s more.”
I say it low and steady. I say it like I’m certain. And sure enough, he shudders, and swallows, and says, “My shoe. In my left shoe. Have pity on me and leave me at least that.”
I’ve got no pity, but reaching for his shoe will get me a kick to the skull. So I grunt agreement and let him go.
Some thanks I get for my kindness: he wheels round to punch me in the head. Grabs for my knife. It flies off. I duck and slam my fist into his belly. He gives a groan and stumbles back. I kick him hard in the leg. Kick him again until he tumbles and goes down. I hold the sickle to his throat.
His eyes are fearful.
“Take them both off,” I say to him. “Both shoes. Now.”
He doesn’t move. I press the sickle down harder.
It draws blood, I can smell it. His breathing changes.
“Go on,” I say, and lift the sickle away.
He scrambles up. Shoes off. I gesture at him to get back. He does.
I reach in. Snatch up the coin in the left shoe. Might be more in his stockings, but I don’t ask him to take those off. I pocket the coppers, then pick up the shoes too.
“I’m keeping these,” I say, and step back.
It’ll take him time to get help, barefoot. The ground’s cold. Sinks here, and goes stone-sharp there. I’ll be long gone before he finds help.
“They’re my only shoes.”
“A pity,” I say. “If you hadn’t tried to fight, you’d still have them.”
“Fiend,” he spits out.
“I am,” I confirm. “A fiend from hell itself, and if you speak of me to anyone when dawn comes, you tell them so. Go to the church and ask God to protect you from me, or I’ll come for you in your nightmares.”
I watch his face. He’s bleeding from his neck—the cut’s not deep, but it bleeds hard. Must hurt. He stares at me, trembling.
Maybe he sees me properly now. Maybe he knows he should be thanking me for letting him live. It’s good I don’t have a gun. Good I don’t have the temptation. Because I’m angry, vicious angry. Not at this man. But I’d kill him anyway. I’d do it.
I wait him out. One breath. Two.
He stays quiet.
“Good,” I say.
A knife’s better than a sickle. So I lean down and grab it where it fell. My hands are too full. Weapons, shoes. I’m not letting any of it go. I tuck the knife away and turn.
I start walking again. I don’t go fast. I don’t turn back either. But I’d hear if he followed. He doesn’t.
Moon’s rising. I slip off the dirt road. The grass is high here. Good enough to sleep in. But I won’t sleep. Can’t. And I don’t try.
What do you think of it? What I did to him? I never know when you’ll be moral. Maybe you’re angry. Maybe you want to scold me for being cruel.
I wasn’t cruel, Cathy. But you were.
It was all you. It’s always you.
Cathy. The only reason I hurt the man is because of you. Because you said what you said, and did what you did. Because I left and had nothing to take with me. So if it’s anyone’s fault, Cathy, then it’s yours. I’ve always been a villain, but you leashed me for a while.
Now you’ve set me free.
SICK AND FEVERISH, I DREAMED. The grass rustled around me. The heather sang like church bells. The moon was large, so large above me I was afraid it would fall from the sky and crush me.
I had run and run, shouting for him. I’d been trying to explain, to say, Heathcliff, I didn’t mean it! You don’t understand! Oh, you fool, you fool, come back!—but I couldn’t find him, and I had gone too far in the pouring rain to go back home. My skirts were so heavy I stumbled and fell. My heart felt like a stone, too cold to beat even as my body burned.
There was a ghost following me. Her feet were backward and didn’t touch the earth, because ghosts cannot walk on soil. I was lying on my side where I’d fallen, so I could see only her feet, gliding on nothing. Her feet were a brown like dusk, the soles painted red as blood or sunsets.
It wasn’t the first time I had seen a ghost, so I was not as shocked as I might have been. Of course, worldly gentlemen will say ghosts are not real, and usually I would lie and say I believe them. But when one is gliding toward you on feet turned backward, you can’t lie even to yourself.
She said something to me. Later, perhaps, I’ll forget this.
Cathy, she said. My Cathy. My baby.
I could not cry, because the fever was too hot in me already.
Ma, I said. Why? I don’t know. The fever was speaking for me. Ma, please.
She leaned down.
I saw cloth, pouring like milk or moonlight. And through it, I saw my own face looking back at me.
I squeezed my eyes tight shut, terrified.
Maybe the dream ended.
Someone found me and lifted me up. And after that—oh, I forget. I don’t know. I don’t.
Wake up. Wake up.
Copyright © 2022 by Natasha Suri