Vinesickness

She did not remember going into the forest. She didn’t remember the thick, unseasonal fog that swirled around her feet, or the strange sense that she needed to go, despite the dangers. She did not remember the night she was stung, and in truth the night would always be a mystery to her.

But she remembered the pain. She would always remember the pain. Aching and sharp and blinding, she just barely remembered stumbling out of the woods and collapsing at the edge of the fog.

She drifted in and out of wakefulness, not sure what was real or what was dreams. She heard voices, whispering above her in concerned tones. She heard rain on a wooden roof. She saw creatures made of light that sang to her in the fog, and she saw a figure reaching towards her.

The first time she opened her eyes she did not recognize the sparsely furnished room, or the man who sat in the only chair. She should know him, she thought dimly. He is important somehow.

When her eyes drifted shut she felt pain radiating from the sting and knew it would consume her. What had begun as a thorn in her ankle now spread, burrowing into her veins, growing in place of her blood. Someone was trying to comfort her. Something cool was placed on her forehead, but still the vines grew within her. They crept up her leg, vicelike in their grip, and when they reached her spine she screamed, a wordless, primal wail of agony.

Someone was trying to hold her, but she kicked and thrashed, unable to tell where the vines stopped and the world began. The pain became too much, and she sank into darkness once more.

Uncounted time passed as she drifted in and out of agony, only able to rest in the rare moments that the vines stopped their journey beneath her skin. Someone cried in her ear, but she did not see them. Someone reached for her hand, but she could not feel them.

The searing pain had dulled to a white-hot ache when her fever finally broke. It was quiet, and the room was dark. Her mouth was dry and her lips were cracked even as sweat ran down her scalp. She could not lift her head. She could not lift her arm of her leg or twitch her fingers, and a cold fear washed over her. She had not been lucid enough to understand the enormity of her plight. The vines had taken her. The trees had called her and the mist pulled her, and now the vines would constrict around her from the inside. A broken sob escaped her, and she fell into darkness willingly.

Flashes from her journey plagued her dreams. Faceless in the fog, the figure she did not remember called her into the woods, arms outstretched towards her. He assured her that she would make it through the pain and emerge stronger, and just as her fingers reached his, the scene would fade away. She drifted through an unfamiliar wood, hearing barely audible whispers and feeling the vines within her straining against her skin. She opened her eyes, the dream fleeing from her mind as a sliver of daylight broke through the curtains.

She moaned, and the man who sat with her rushed to her side. Her mind finally clear, she remembered him. She tried to say his name, to lift herself toward him, but her body did not obey. He murmured calming words in her ear, gently taking her hand. He told her, in a strange echo of the figure in her dream, that she would be alright. She tried to believe, though she knew no one truly survived the vines.

He lifted her like a thing made of glass, carefully and reverently. He gave her food and water, which the vines drank greedily. When he tried to rub ointment on her greening limbs, she screamed with the vines as the medicine tried to burn them out of her skin. He threw out the medicine that same night.

When she begged for a true glimpse of sunlight, he hesitated. It would strengthen the vines, he warned her, and they were already so near her heart. The vines rippled under her skin, straining towards the covered window. Weakly, she reached for his hand. He did not relent.

For many days and nights he resisted her pleas, and she grew pale, ashen, and withered even as the vines within her continued to grow. When he could bear her suffering no longer, he carried her gently into the garden as the sun began to rise.

He had bundled her in blankets to ward off the cold, but when the warm rays caressed her face she reached out her arms like a babe for its mother. Color returned to her as he watched, amazed, and neither noticed when the vines found their place in her chest.

He relinquished his battle against the vines that same day, realizing that somehow, the plant that choked and strangled had made a peaceful place for themselves within her. She spent her days in the sun, face upturned to the skies and toes curled into the dark soil.

She recovered slowly, basking in the sun for hours at a time. The vines inside her sank into her skin, but he still saw the green of them as they settled in her veins. She rarely spoke, and only went where he bid her, a shell of the person she was. But as he watched, she began to return to herself, in small bits, until the only sign she had been changed was the green tinge of her skin where her blood had once turned it blue.

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