Annabelle was born into the winter flowers of lands where the first frost came before the trees could transform into the golden reds of fall. Like a sudden blast the winter would descend upon the hills and trees. The ice would cling tight to anything exposed to its fierce power. Whiteness unimaginable would descend and, for five months, cloud the visions and tracks of both man and beast.
The sons and daughters of this land were a fierce and hearty people. A ruggedness, bred from years of frostbite and burning cold, flowed through their blood. A redness which could show, occasionally, through the paleness of their skin. Though pale and tall, they possessed an innate beauty which none can fully describe. To those travelers who have dared to travel that far north, they return with stories of enchanters and magicians. Giant men and ladies, so heavily clothed and yet lithe. When they walked it was said they stepped so lightly they tread on the tops of snow banks.
Their eyes were of deep brown, and their hair black. Their bodies spoke of being bred from the hard, dark land.
Among the workers of this land there was a child named Annabelle. Of a loving family, she was naturally sensitive to the thoughts of others, especially to her dear mother whom she loved with the depth and faith of a child. Of the same beauty as her mother, she possessed keen eyes and full lips, a walk of courage, and speech of the warm southern winds.
Though curiosity had led her to fall out of more than one tree, discouragement was to her as distant as the sun during the winter months.
Annabelle saw the wonders of nature, beheld the beauty of the sky, the earth, and the waves. So terrified of the sand and wave yet they drew her toward them in awe. As a moth to the flame she longed ever to hear the crash, feel the sun bright on her face, and to dance in the waves. As she grew, so did the longing to see what she had never seen. The ends of the oceans, spilling into the depths of nothing, and to ride the foam over the edge, downward, to an endless fall cloaked in black.
She would sit and read by candle of the adventures of seafarers, of ships, mutinies, alliances, and hangings. Stories that captured the attention of her wide thoughts and dreams were her constant companion. Her mother strove to teach her the ways of nature; of its cruelty, and its kindness, but she was steadfast in her abandon. Always yearning for love and adoration, both of which her mother gave in copious amounts.
She loved her mother with all the depths of emotion, and her mother filled the hole that her father left, unattended, in her heart. He was filling his with drink and laughter of friends. Rarely near his family except when he slept, he was a hard worker and left before the sun showed pink rays through the trees. His return was noticed only by the door clanging shut, and the stumbling steps down the hall to end in a second door ringing closed. He loved his family, but he felt he should never show affection, the world was to suffer more than his family, and he must not show weakness.
Annabelle respected her father and showed this whenever he made an appearance. He would grunt a hello and cast hard, unyielding eyes on her. She would look at his boots, caked in soil, and respond quietly. He had only hugged her once in her whole life. But she understood why and she turned her focus to her warm mother, always there to tend to her.
As age cast its shadow on her mother, so did foul sickness.
When Annabelle stood nearly as tall as she, fits would take her mother into cold chills and hot sweats. Coughing would rack her body and sleep left her wracked with exhaustion.
Her father seemed not to care. Only when he came home at night would he stop and stand in the doorway of Annabelle's room. A hunch was seen in his back, and his boots no longer tread steadily in the hall. Bleary eyed he would stare as his wife, soaking the sheets of her bed with sweat. All of the doctors had left with no more knowledge of her ailment than they began with.
As he stood in her doorway, Annabelle would imagine how great of a man had changed. The uneven trudge of his boots was the only signal that he had left the doorway. Her mind would wander to the past, and after the great tragedy of her life, in the past her thoughts would stay.
She slept on the floor next to her mother for many nights. Constantly awakened by her mother's moans. She would wet her mothers head in the sweats. She would tuck one of her blankets around her mother's frail body in the chills.
Sometimes her mother would speak, and tell her short, but winding stories of people and places she had never heard of. Annabelle would listen; intent, but her mother never finished a story. Weariness would overcome her and she would slip into a tortured sleep.
The final evening of her mother's sickness Annabelle sat, wetting her mother's brow, listening to a story of a girl lost in the woods.
Her descriptions were intricate and meticulous. Finally, Annabelle asked;
"Mother, is this story true?"
Her mother's eyes opened, and light sprang from her dark eyes. She looked at Annabelle.
"Don't ever stop chasing, Annabelle."
"Chasing what mother?"
Before she could respond, her mother's eyes closed. A deep peaceful sleep had eased her pains. Her chest rose and fell deeply. Annabelle tucked the blankets around her and blew out the solitary candle.
When Annabelle rose, her father was sitting on her bed, grasping onto her mother. She rose from her makeshift bed.
Then she saw his eyes. She had never looked directly into his eyes for this long. What she found there was sadness and abandon. Blackness encroached and his pupils were not visible. Only dark eyes and bright tears.
Then she looked at her mother. So pale in the morning light. Peaceful she looked, but a sadness hung on her face.
Then she knew that her mother had died. As Annabelle slept next to her, the spirit of death had whisked her mother into oblivion.
The sadness that was to cling to her for eternity dug its ugly talons into Annabelle's heart. She walked endlessly in the woods of her childhood. Remembering the breezy summers of gathering roots in the forest, her mother guiding her hand across stream and hill. The sun warm on her dark hair. Now dark, the world held no warmth. The bitterness she felt did not end at her cabin door. It extended, seemingly endless, through field and trees, for she could not find its end.
For her life, the flames of her mother's funeral pyre would haunt her soul and ignite a burning desire for warmth. For comfort. For sweet oblivion.
She would continue her search, until she found Oblivion or Death. For these she strove her whole life. Her wanderings would be touched by the bitterness of loss, the anger of injustice, and the hunger for love to fill the hole in her heart.
Though her wanderings would be confusing, chaotic, impulsive, and dully motivated, her search would be constant, and relentless.
That night at the funeral supper, she hovered, feeling not at all herself, far from the fire. She cradled the green blanket that had wrapped her dying mother. It smelled faintly now of lavender and rosemary, her mother's favorite flower and herb.
The fire's warmth had melted a large ring of snow, and streams of water were sent trickling downhill. The cold away from the fire froze the water midstream, droplets of ice clung to the group like sap clings to skin.
Wrapped in the blanket Annabelle sat, secluded from the family that had come on short notice and down long roads. Her mother had been loved. She felt no empathy toward anyone, none had known her mother like she.
And none would mourn her mother more.
A crusty and bent old woman walked slowly toward Annabelle, her shadow casting more darkness around Annabelle as she sat, cradled in her blanket.
The grandmother sat on the log that Annabelle occupied, and looked at her.
"You were in the spring of your childhood when last I saw you, hello child" Her grandmother said,
Annabelle did not at first respond.
Her grandmother continued.
"Your mother was a gifted woman, by your age she knew the ways of the stream, how it bent and flowed. She knew every rock, and every cove."
Annabelle looked her in the eye, and a deep blackness she saw in them. A chasm a fathom deep, enveloping Annabelle's attention.
"I, too, know the stream." Said Annabelle.
Her grandmother laughed, mockingly, but not in an arrogant way. As veteran of long battles would laugh at a farm boy who spent his nights protecting the flock who boasted of his heroism.
"My dear, you know of this world, that is all."
Annabelle had longed for more than this pointless festival of a life she had, especially now. Her reason for waking was gone. She had loved her mother, and still did, but the insatiable want to see what no one else had, drove her to a question.
"What more is there?"
"Much, much more." Her grandmother answered vaguely. "But my dear, the night is very dark, so I must answer your question another time, but this I need say before I depart." Her grandmother leaned closer, placing her hand on Annabelle's knee. "You have survived a great test in your life, but you must endure another. In as many years as you have seen, you will be tested again."
And she was gone. Annabelle was alone with her questions.
As Annabelle slept, on the floor of her room, she lay in the same bed her mother had. The door opened, and Annabelle's mother entered. She didn't walk, or float, she simply was at the side of Annabelle's bed. She didn't speak, Annabelle watched as she sat on the edge of the bed.
"Annabelle, you must trust yourself, no one else."
"I trust you mother." Annabelle whispered. She was afraid the dream would end. Wanted simply to exists, here, with her mother at her bedside. She would wake up, but she didn't want to leave.
Her mother smiled. A full, healthy smile.
"I will be here Annabelle, my sweet child; I only left once, never more."
And it was over. Annabelle was squinting in the daylight. She closed her eyes. Grasping at the fleeting memory of her dream. But it diminished. The colors faded. The memory floated away leaving only outlines in Annabelle's mind.
Little did she know, her life was dictated by a stream that flowed long before she was born, she was destined to follow its winding course.
She rose, packed her clothes, leaving any she didn't need, and left. She would never return to the house she was born.