JADE

by Courtney Bollinger


LJ let her hand dangle over the edge of the slab as she stretched out lazily in front of the Taekwondo dojo. She yawned and let the warmth of the sun fill her small body as she relaxed on the cool, smooth stone. She gently pulled herself up and hopped off the slab, bending over on the gravel to examine a scab on her knee. Biting her lip, she looked around and plucked at it, as her long red-brown hair fell over her bandanna and into her pale face. She leaned against the slab and continued to work on the scab, glancing up occasionally to make sure the old Taekwondo master wasn't looking her direction. Fortunately, he was inside, teaching class, so LJ felt there was nothing to worry about. After a few more minutes of work, the scab reluctantly came off, and LJ poked at the soft, white skin beneath it. Her yellow-green eyes opened wide as the small indention in her skin where the scab was filled with a dark red liquid. She felt a slight sting, and then the blood began to trickle down her leg.

She jumped up, hair flying, and burst into the dojo. Dodging the green belts, who were currently having class, she went up to the sensei and showed off her knee, after which she looked up and asked innocently, "Ken I have a tissiyew?"

The students in class stopped their exercises and laughed at the six-year old's inquiry. The Taekwondo master (whose name was Sookani, but most just called him 'sir') smiled warmly at the girl he'd adopted only a year ago, and called one of his helpers over to watch the class while he went to get a washcloth and a Band-Aid for LJ's knee. While he was gone, LJ looked at the class with her wide, yellow-green eyes, grinning childishly and stooping to re-examine her knee. The students smiled back, commenting on how cute she looked. Mr. Sookani returned, and lowered himself to LJ's height.

"Now," he said as he began to wash the place where the blood had spilled, "LJ no pick scab. Scab help heal LJ; LJ leave alone."

LJ nodded and stared with keen interest as Mr. Sookani finished cleaning up the blood and carefully laid a Band-Aid across the injured spot.

"T'anks, sir," LJ said, rubbing the Band-Aid with one finger. Mr. Sookani smiled again, and gathered up the small girl in his arms. LJ giggled and kissed him on the cheek, feeling safe in his strong arms. She loved the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, and the way his eyes were aglow with an inner laughter. Mr. Sookani released her and she said, before skipping off,

"I'm gonna go play now, 'kay, sir?"

He stood and nodded, watching LJ prance out the door before returning to his class.

* * *

"Ah.." LJ said, as she leaned against the nicely grooved tree directly behind the dojo. It was an oak tree, even older than Mr. Sookani. She shimmied up the trunk and climbed out on one of the strong, solid limbs, peering out between the bright green leaves into the light of day. LJ loved trees, and Mr. Sookani had encouraged this love all the way. He told her that trees were one of the first things on the planet, the keepers of life. He said that the spirits of great peoples lived within the trees, protecting all they knew.

This was why LJ felt just as safe in the leafy branches of the trees as she did in Mr. Sookani's protective arms. The pendant around her neck glowed a soft green, just as a light rain began to fall. LJ climbed down from the tree to dance in the rain, laughing and splashing in the tiny puddles the droplets made. When the rain had ceased, she took one last spirited jump, back onto her slab.

Giggling, she spread her arms out on the cool stone and just lay there for a few seconds. She then hopped up once more and wandered aimlessly about the area surrounding the dojo. The air tasted wet and misty from the rain, and all around her had taken on a deep green hue. The streets glistened as she walked upon them, and she looked at this transformed world with wide eyes. LJ trotted down a line of shops, glancing in the windows to see the bright displays and proudly reading the words frosted onto the glass. The pet shop held fluffy kittens and irresistible dogs, the music store displayed freshly polished drum sets and guitars, and the candy shop seemed to come alive with amazing colors. LJ floated back to the music shop, staring into the window at a particular flute. The owner of the store had told her that he had actually found that flute around here, and cleaned it up. Now it was of his prize pieces of merchandise. LJ felt it was made for her, but she knew it was much too expensive.

Biting her lip, she peered around the corner of the building, into the blackness of the alley. She took an involuntary step backwards. Mr. Sookani had always warned her away from alleys, saying that 'alley much too dangerous for little girl.' So, she naturally had a certain fear of these dark, neglected places, but that fear also sparked a certain curiosity. LJ took a hesitant step forward, knowing she was doing something she had been told time and again not to do. A fleeting feeling of guilt passed over her for disobeying her guardian, but it was still, only fleeting. After all, she was only human, and six years old at that. Reassuring herself of this, she took another step forward, until at last the darkness seemed to swallow her. A shaft of light brightened the alley a little bit, but that was all. She saw a Dumpster against one brick wall, surrounded by a cluster of trash cans. As she walked further down the alley, her muscles began to relax themselves and she calmed slightly. There was nothing to be afraid of here. This was what she told her tiny self over and over, as her footsteps echoed off the silent brick walls. She stopped briefly, noticing that her hand held her pendant in a death grip. Feeling silly, she released her pendant and felt deathly chill when she saw the blood red glow it was emanating.

Something was not right here.

The six-year old gulped, and almost turned away from the dark alley to go back into the safe light, but something pulled her deeper into the darkness. Mindlessly, she followed whatever was controlling her, heart pounding in her chest. She blinked, her eyes having fully adjusted to the blackness, and prodded on. A scratching noise alerted her and she whirled, eyes wide and searching. Her breath was coming in short, ragged gasps now, as fear worked its way up her spine. Something told her to run then, run as fast as she possibly could. And so she did. Unfortunately, however, she was running deeper into the alley.

* * *

Shadows danced on the bricks, enhanced by the dim light of day. LJ flattened herself against the wall, her pendant's deep red glow almost enveloping her now. Cold sweat poured down her cheeks and arms, and she felt weak and frightened.

"Hello, little warrior." A voice greeted, grinding into her mind. She gasped, and felt tears of fright begin to sting her eyes.

"Afraid, little warrior? Hmph. As it should be. One year you have stayed on this planet, this... Earth. You don't remember your home, do you?" the voice said, dark, cruel, and mocking. LJ breathed heavily, the bandanna around her head now soaked with sweat.

"Noo.. Of course you don't. How could you? Your.. mother.. erased your memory. Wait, you don't remember that, either, do you? Poor little warrior. Nobody loves you. And soon you're going to die." A claw reached from the darkness then, grasping at her face. Tears threatened to release themselves from her eyes, but she swallowed hard and choked them back.

"Lemme alone!" she tried to yell, but it came out a mere squeak.

"Oh, dear, dear, little warrior.. You don't know what you're up against." The voice, still mocking, invaded her thoughts, and she could not block it out. The clawed hand stroked her cheek, stopping at her scar in the shape of a sword hilt.

"Do you know what that is, little warrior? That is a sign of your birth." The claw dug into her flesh, and she began to bleed. Still, she did not cry.

"No tears? You are brave indeed, little warrior. Such a brave little six year old." The voice hardened from scornful mocking to deep contempt, and the claw drew back, LJ's blood dripping from the tips of its nails.

"Go 'way," LJ said, her six year old voice sounding absurd against this obviously giant entity.

"Now, why would I want to do that? You should have disobeyed your guardian, little warrior. You should have listened." The clawed hand reached forward again, grasping her arm tightly, so tightly the girl feared it might pop. The pain was intense, flowing from everywhere on her arm. She did not cry. The hand let go of her arm, and a dark chuckle came forth.

"Oh, little warrior.. Do you think I am going to kill you?"

LJ nodded.

The chuckle resounded again, and LJ cringed at the sound.

"No, I will not kill you, at least, not yet. But know this, little warrior. We are watching you." The claw came forward one last time, running in a jagged direction down the lower part of her right leg. Blood sputtered from the wound, forming a small puddle at LJ's feet. She did not cry.

"Go 'way, now!" LJ insisted, but still her voice resembled that of a mouse.

"And what can you do, little warrior? You're nothing but a.. a child! A toddler!"

"I no like bad voice! Leave!" LJ answered, refusing to let fear become her. She held up her pendant to the darkness, and it glowed fiercely.

"So... You have the pendant? And what makes you think you can use it, little warrior?"

"Leave now, bad voice." LJ said, and suddenly the red glow switched to green. The clawed hand retreated, and the voice seemed less mocking.

"Think you're tough, do you, little warrior? Fearless, are you? Well, I have other things to do now.. but remember, little warrior. We are watching you."

Two clawed hands came forth and clutched her, throwing her out of the alley and onto the still wet pavement. She did not cry. Instead, she stood, and ran, to the safe branches of her tree. Scrambling up into it, she looked out onto the world and the rain began to fall softly. And then, she cried.


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Jade, 16 May 1997