There was a rustle from the forest — the slightest sound of a stealthy hunter.
“Let’s talk about this over dinner,” Eli said.
The figure of a small girl clutching a knife in one hand emerged from between the trees. Her hands were covered in blood as the other hand held the bitter remains of a rabbit.
Eli smiled. “Hello, Kanna. Say hello to our new friend.”
She glared at the stranger, not once breaking eye contact with him even when she walked past her brother, dropping the rabbit in front of him in the process. She stood before Zed, he towered over her, yet this unfazed her. She extended her arm, holding the blood stained knife to his neck. The knife was freshly sharpened, already drawing blood from his neck — one wrong move would result in fatal damage.
“What do what want?” She asked, her voice did not shake, nor show any emotion. It was almost a monotonous tone.
“Kill me, I dare you,” Zed laughed. “Put me out of my perpetual misery.”
“Kanna, you brought a lovely meal. Now, let’s sit and eat.”
There was a moment where the Earth stood still, no one spoke, no breeze passed them, not even an animal stirred, as both Kanna and Zed stared at each other.
“Children,” Eli said. His voice was soft but it was enough to make Kanna finally withdraw her knife from Zed’s throat.
She spun around to face Eli exposing a sweet smile. “Would I ever kill a defenceless animal?” she asked while picking up the rabbit.
Much like his feelings towards Eli, Kanna also made Zed feel uneasy. She showed no emotion to him, yet changed that in an instant when she spoke to Eli. He knew that she was not only capable of killing him but she was ready to. There would be no tears if he died in that moment and certainly not from her.
Zed felt sweat trickle down on his back, he let out a shaky breath. As he glanced over to Kanna, he saw that she did not share the same sentiment on the event. She leaned back on a tree skinning the rabbit whilst humming a jaunty tune.
“Zed,” Eli called out, “take a seat.” He was so polite, plastering a grin on his face as if Zed was an ordinary dinner guest.
A small knife coming from Kanna’s direction passed Zed, landing on a tree behind him.
What’s her problem? He thought, however before he could voice his qualms she spoke: “before you get pissy, I don’t miss a shot. So maybe next time I won’t be so nice. If you wanna avoid testing that then I suggest you start listening.”
Zed obeyed sitting on a rock near the camp.
Eli had the same smile on his face, “now, isn’t this nice?”
“Fucking lovely,” Zed said.
“Do I need to get the firewood as well?” Kanna asked.
“I don’t mind but then you need to keep our guest company. But we can’t expect him to do it.”
“Is the dog unable to do that?”
Eli’s expression changed. “Kanna, it’s manners. He has a name.”
“I’m bad with names. The name I gave him suits him perfectly.”
“Don’t be rude. I’m getting sick of your attitude.”
“People like him just want to hurt us.” She began to shake. “I can’t lose you.” It was like a quiet plea, so small like a child’s voice.
“Some people need our help, Kanna. We can’t be like those other people. Kindness and compassion can be much harder but it will free us. I promise. Don’t hold onto fear and anger.”
Kanna wiped her face before walking to Zed. “I won’t apologise but I will offer to clean your neck.”
It was a small wound on his neck, compared to other injuries this was so minuscule that he forgot it was there. He knew it was a gesture rather than a necessity, but it still made him want to laugh. The idea of someone showing him a weakness to him, made him want to scream that he was the monster she thought he was.
Instead he grumbled an agreement. Eli left for the firewood, leaving the two to simmer in a thick silence. Eli sat on the ground, looking upwards as Kanna dabbed a rag with alcohol over the cut.
He hissed, “no need for that shit.”
“If I’m doing this then I’m doing it properly.”
He just grunted in response, he would much rather she left it but it was better to get this done quick. It did not take long, ensuring that someone does not die over something small was a basic need in dire times.
“All done,” she exclaimed. “You took it like a trooper.” Kanna joked as she slapped his back while passing him.
He cringed from this force. She did not intend it to be hard but his back sore, some pain from his encounter with Eli but mainly scratches from before he arrived.
Kanna noticed the discomfort. “Take off your shirt.”
He remained still as he searched her expression to see if she was being serious.
“Are you worried for a girl to see you naked? I guarantee you that I will be less than impressed.”
“Darling, I’m sure you can’t wait to see me naked. Would you like me to take off my trousers while I’m at it?”
She glanced down. “I’m not interested in anything so small. Shirt off is fine.”
Zed removed his shirt to reveal bruises along his back, splotches of black and purple painted his back. There were some scratches on his back, the blood from these were dried from these and thankfully, they were not deep. They would not scar like the many marks which trailed to his waistband.
Kanna once again cleaned these wounds and applied an ointment to his back as a thousand theories on how the torments he endured raced through her mind.
“I fell. It’s not a big deal.” Referring to some of the bruises.
“And the scratches?”
“I was hiding in some bushes, didn’t realise how prickly it was.”
“Those are years in the making.”
“They hit you a lot.”
Kanna continued to apply the thick cream, tracing the lines of his scars, some ran to his torso which she followed. She stared at two large gashes on his chest. Eli looked away from Kanna, clearly embarrassed, he was not used to anyone staring at him like this for so long, especially a girl. As he mustered up the nerve to look at her, he noticed that she was not going to cry or feel pity for him, like he was used to. Instead she was filled with a rage directed at those responsible.
Trying to extinguish that anger, even slightly, Zed muttered, “hey, my eyes are up here.” As he held his shirt to his chest.
“Sorry for staring. That was tactless.”
Zed was surprised about the apology, when he was ready to respond Eli came barrelling in. It was obvious to both of them that it was Eli as he was singing a pop song loudly and out of tune. “Seeing you to like that, makes it look like you’re a couple.”
Kanna’s face twisted. “Gross, bro. That’s not funny.”
The quickness of her response hurt Zed, not from any love harboured but from exposing so much of himself, only for people to still be disgusted by him. “What about me? I don’t like you much either.”
She poked his side. “Wanna tell me what’s wrong with me, bastard? You’d be lucky to get a girl as sophisticated and loving as me.”
Zed did not want to pout or deal with them for any longer, he had his own reasons for travelling. His freedom required him to leave.
“Bitch,” Zed scoffed.
Before Zed could start the dramatic exit he planned, Kanna ran past him into the forest but not before her hand hit his back. His back stung as he watched her disappear into the night.