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The Companion: A gift waiting in the darkness

Original story by Anneli Marceles

She could hear the light gust of wind against her window but it was the soft caress on her skin that awoke her.

‘Was that a dream or was that real?’ she silently asked herself.

It was hard for her to shake the feeling that she was being watched, when she suddenly realized she was dreaming about him again. She sat up to gaze out her window and saw the sun beginning to rise on the horizon. As she laid back down, staring up at the ceiling observing the shapes and creatures the light peaking through the blinders was creating, she couldn’t help to think that it has already been two full moons since he departed. She sat up knowing she had a long day ahead of her and it would be prudent of her to start her day. It wasn’t like she could fall back asleep anyway after what just happened.

“What did just happen?” She whispered to herself. But as quickly as the thoughts started to rush into her mind, she brushed them aside knowing it wouldn't help to allow her mind to spiral.

Mother always said, ‘Any habit you allow to take space in your mind will inevitably take control of your life.’

‘It's been hard enough to get out of bed since her beloved companions’ departure, anyway.’ She thought to herself.

She started to move quietly so as to not awaken anyone, for she was sure Father wouldn't be as merciful this time around if she woke him up early again.

The floor was ice cold as she reached for her robe, lit her candle and moved quietly down the halls, watching the light flicker distorting her shadow along the walls beside her. These shapes differed from those she saw on her ceiling. Unable to shake the feeling, she asked herself quietly, ‘Could it be that he is watching me?’, her eyes darting back and forth as she made her way down the windowless hall. Aside from the bedrooms, there were no windows throughout the rest of the home, making the interior feel as though in perpetual darkness. She couldn’t help but to feel as though someone or something was waiting for her at the turn of every corner.

She entered the washroom, and gasped as she looked up, startled by her own reflection in the mirror. Her face, unrecognizable, seemingly changed overnight from a round fuller face to more of a heart shape, her eyebrows almost completely vanished and her eyes darker than she remembered them ever being. Dropping the candle holder into the sink beneath her, she touched her face, noticing her once smooth skin having patchy white and brown feather-like hair coming out of her skin.

“Nooo,’ she cried ‘I am being punished! This is all my fault!” she exclaimed.

She dropped to her knees, sobbing into her hands. Suddenly, she heard a noise coming from down the hall and knew she had awoken Father. Last thing she needed was for him to see her like this. She assured him that she got rid of the problem and he would never forgive her if he knew she had betrayed him, again.

She heard the shuffling of his feet coming down the hall, as she moved quickly to hide behind the door. Father burst through the door, seething, he called out for her. “I know you're here woman,” she heard him say through his teeth. “I better not hear you again.” He said sharply as he slammed the door.

Waiting until the shuffling faded into the darkness, she let out a quiet sigh of relief, hardly breathing. Laying down on the cold hard floor, she thought back to the strange sequence of events that led to this moment.

Two Full moons ago, she had to say goodbye to her most beloved companion.

He came to her after Mother passed, when she needed consolation the most. She was beside herself with grief and then he appeared as if a ghost in the shadow, a gift waiting in the darkness.

Perched on her bedroom window sill, one evening, he was suddenly there. She hadn't even heard him appear, yet there he was, gazing at her. She stopped crying, sensing someone or something was staring at her from her window. She slowly lifted her head up to meet his gaze, perplexed that she wasn't more afraid. And then as if he could hear her thoughts, he opened his majestic wings and glided right down to her. Unbecoming of a wild beast, he curled up to her, nudging his little head into her chest. She could hardly believe it, yet she felt a familiarity that she couldn't explain and welcomed his unexplainable affection towards her. Crying even harder into his little body. She could feel her heart tearing apart, and didn't know how she could ever feel anything other than agonizing pain. He then looked up at her, staring into her eyes, it almost seemed like he drew her in with his stare and for an instance she felt that she could hear him saying that she wouldn't be alone and so she named him, Solace.

For many, many moons, Solace was her only companion. The Only one she trusted and confided in. The only one she felt safe with. It didn't take long, however, for Father to take notice. Father was never the same after Mother passed. He was angry, heartbroken, bitter and wanted more than anything to find something with which he could place his fury, anything that would take the pain away. It hurt him deeply that his daughter did not find consolation with him and had instead found a trusted companion, something he didn’t have, even if it was with an Owl. The anger started to fester and grow until one day Father had had enough.

He cursed Solace and blamed him for all that had happened. He said he was the bad omen that had taken Mother and forced his daughter to take him to the slaughter house on the other side of the barn to be “done” with him, as he said. She couldn't do it, she hated herself for getting so attached to this wild savage beast yet she couldn't understand what her inextricable connection to him was.

She knew she had to do something, she couldn't bear to hurt Father again. It was after all, her fault that they are in the position they are in. She had forgotten to help Mother with repairing a wall in the barn. It was supposed to be a simple fix, one Mother and I could do while father tended to the lay of the land. But Mother, being accustomed to my forgetfulness, went ahead without me. None of us could have known the wall was as unstable as it had been. When the wall caved in on Mother, she blamed herself and although father did not come out and say it she saw it in his eyes that he blamed her as well.

Solace reminded her that there was still good in the world. That not all was lost and that if we stayed faithful to our hearts, a light at the end of the tunnel would appear to us. Solace was that light at the end of the tunnel for her. “How could I ever harm him, when I love him so?”, she asked herself and so she decided to hide him in the forest, taking many turns and hoping he could not find his way back.

She hid him in the barn that day and left after Father was asleep, checking in on him quietly and then sneaking out through the back entrance. Their farm was deep in the mountains surrounded by a lush forest with many peaks and valleys, it was easy to get lost. She was never allowed to wander farther than the horse’s stables, yet what Father didn’t know is she knew the forest like the back of her hand. Solace screeched at her the entire way, almost as if pleading with her to change her mind. But it was too late, there was no going back and there was nothing she could do if she wanted to save Solace from Father’s fury.

She finally turned into an open area suitable for Solace to fly free. She spoke to Solace, cried with him. He gently caressed her face with his, stared into her eyes one last time and as if knowing what he needed to do, spread his wings and flew away. She felt her throat tighten as she held herself back from calling out to him. The hot tears flowing down her cheeks. She could hardly believe she would have to go on without him. As she turned around to leave, she heard a loud shriek and knew it was him saying goodbye. Allowing the moon to light her way, she found her way back to the farm sneaking back into bed, crying inconsolably, feeling more alone than she ever did.

As she laid on the cold, hard floor, remembering Solace, remembering her beloved companion, a single tear rolled down the side of her face unto the floor. Still confused as to what was happening to her, she thought she heard a shriek coming from outside. She laid still, half expecting for Solace to come and save her from this horrid nightmare she was living in. She heard the time ticking away on their grandfather clock, when she suddenly became acutely aware of a deep sharp pain developing in her belly. It was growing, quickly. As if a fire was coursing through her veins, it shot up her spine down her arms and legs like hot lava. She screamed in agony, unable to control her body’s convulsions.

Bewildered, confused and afraid she gazed down at her arms and legs and couldn't believe she was transforming before her eyes. “I must be dreaming still,” she said in disbelief. “This can't be happening. What is happening to me?” She screamed but she didn't hear herself speak the words, instead she heard a loud shriek.

Suddenly she was floating or so it seemed, until she looked down where her legs should be dangling and saw white and brown plumage and sharp talons; where her arms once were, she saw majestic white feathered wings flapping in the wind. She wasn't floating, she was flying. In that moment her fear turned into awe and she was no longer afraid. She flew out the washroom, straight to her fathers window where she found him sobbing. Staring at him through his window, she wanted to say goodbye but couldn’t. He sensed her and looked up, confused yet curious. Instinctively she flew to his side, she knew he was hurting and she wanted nothing more than to be there with him, for him.

Looking into his eyes, he became overcome with emotion and with a child-like curiosity started caressing the owl. Unsure of what was happening, Father felt an unexplainable link to this owl and found himself the companion he never would have admitted he was missing. She was never found or seen again, not in human form at least and Father would have been torn apart if not for his animal companion. There was something in this animal’s eyes that made him feel at home with it. He blamed himself for having driven his daughter away, but he somehow felt comforted with this creatures’ presence. He knew that with it by his side, everything would be okay.

For Solace had become her.

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