The healthy side of the village rings with color and light. Cobblestones line the quaint houses made of oak and pale rocks are clean and swept free of dirt and manure from passing animals. Here the air seems sweet as if the baker on the corner let his sweets perfume the air until it tastes like candy.
The houses Serilda passes only get grander as the road winds further into the center of town. While the outer ring is full of merchants and artisans practicing their craft, these intricate houses have several levels and crystalline windows holding pieces of colored glass, letting a rainbow cascade onto the floors.
She turns at the harsh sound of her screamed name as an anvil of dread drops to the bottom of her stomach. Two young boys are running toward Serilda, blood gushing free from a pair of wounds down their arms. They look like claw marks, dug so deep that her mind places the image of a bone in her head no matter how much she blinks to clear it. The fellows that are carrying these injuries can’t be much older than ten years old, but the way their tears stream from their eyes gives them a much younger appearance.
“Yes?” Serilda swallows, her throat desert dry. The fortitude she holds disappears as the boys stop in front of her. She knows exactly what they will ask of her. And Serilda knows she will do it, regardless of the consequences.
“There was a Kocil in the woods, and we tried to pet it!” The young boy on the right howls.
Serilda smiles tensely, bending down to their height. “And how did that go?”
“Not so well.” The one on the left locks his pleading eyes onto hers.
Serilda glances down to see his nails digging into his skin, in much more pain than he lets on.
“Would you please help us?”
“Of course.” The healer puts her hand over the gash in the first boy's arm. It heals under her delicate touch, stitching skin and tissue together as it emits a soft glow. The wound heals, the only remnant of the spell is a slight discoloration of the skin, just a few shades darker than the original. She moves onto the next boy, his wound being replaced by a pale white skin, quite a bit lighter than his.
They both grin and examine their arms, the memory of pain gone instantaneously. “Thank you, Healer Serilda.”
She smiles kindly in return and stands up to her full height, only then taking in the sight of the villagers. The people the healer was blind to have paused their bustling and haggling to stare at her performance. Serilda knows it isn’t her or her healing powers that make them so curious, it’s the wound. It makes them freeze every time, no matter how many times they see it. These people are privileged and sheltered for more than one reason but primarily for one specific, prominent reason. Because of Serilda’s supposed healing power, these people haven’t had to face their own mistakes. They don’t have to wear their own scars. Serilda hasn’t helped in that regard. Seeing them suffer was too much for her poor heart, so she accepted what they offered and let them continue to hide from learning to grow. In a way, she is more of a coward than them.
Serilda turns, walking away from the staring crowd and toward the town center once more. Their stares feel like sharp knives against her soft skin as she opens the door to the building in the very center of the pristine town square. Inside is darkness.
Serilda takes a deep breath and moves forward, stepping over invisible obstacles that only one with practiced feet like herself could avoid. The black around the healer threatens to consume her, covering her like a thick dust and suffocating all light. She inhales it into her lungs and coughs, choking on the darkness. It’s too much.
Serilda shoves her hand toward the wall, twists a handle, and opens a door that leads into murk and despair. The darkness is almost preferable to what she sees on the other side of the building.
This town is a stark contrast to the shimmering splendor of the opposite side. A regret fills her gut as Serilda takes in uneven cobblestones and garbage piled up against the side of mildewy siding.
“Out of the way!” The healer falls back against the door as a man with unruly hair and a large gash down his forearm pushes her. He runs toward the one area that isn’t covered in filth, the hospital. A line of people a mile long bursts from the haphazard frame of the brown building and into the streets. The line is full of mothers clutching crying babies to their chests as they turn various shades of green. Blood is as abundant here as sunlight was on the other side, gushing from scrapes and gashes onto the sidewalks and buildings.
It’s here where Serilda comes every so often to ground herself to reality. She is no healer.
A boy five feet away from Serilda dry heaves until a lackluster meal he had is thrown against the wall of the building she just left. He turns his eyes toward her and dawns a weak smile over pale features.
“Hello.” She blinks tears from her eyes as she bends down to pat his back. He throws up again. Serilda places her hand on his arm to steady him, her hand coming away damp with blood.
“I’ll stop running now.” She whispers to the pandemonium, a not-so-silent promise.
The healer smiles. “I have a feeling significantly fewer people will suffer because of my appearance.”
The boy turns to Serilda, pressing into her arms so she can cradle him. She rocks him slowly back and forth until she notices the claw marks on his arm that are the cause of the crimson fluid, the skin a few shades dark than his. Serilda chokes on a sob.
“Be brave, young man,” She whispers as his eyelids grow heavy and he drifts off, to sleep and then beyond. “You shoulder much more than I ever will.”
He nods and she clutches his body as it goes limp like a rag doll, chaos exploding around her.
She is no healer. She is simply a coward.
She could have said no to the money, valued the lives of those who had nothing equally with those who promised her everything. But as she stands here, as weak and frail as the body in my arms, she comes face to face with terror she has not only created but become. He shared the burden of others, and Serilda simply feels pity for herself.
“Ma’am?” She opens her eyes to see a young lady in a long dress in front of her. “All abled body personal is required to help out the wounded.”
The healer nods and sets the body to the side, forcing step after step until she is in the building, staring at those she’s damaged so horribly, but they will never know. They can’t ever know.
"Coward," a voice whispers to her.
"I know," she whispers back, taking one step to right the wrongs she has committed.