She was moving. She could feel the gentle bumps of the old road below her as the vehicle she was in moved quickly. It shook, moving from side to side and slowly rocking her back into reality.
Rose blearily opened her eyes, and then jolted. Pain greeted her coldly and her entire body ached. She was wrapped in a large, thin blanket, the world was too bright for her and filled with dots for several seconds.
"Daddy... she's awake!" chirped a happy voice right next to her, although Rose was only able to make out part of what was said.
When her vision cleared, Rose noticed that she was in the backseat of a car. Her tail rested on her lap, and her wings were curled up and tucked behind her. The tips of them smashed awkwardly against the ceiling, and she instantly felt discomfort with them so tightly squeezed together. Because of their bulkiness, Rose was also precariously balanced on the edge of her seat.
Slowly, she turned her head to find a young girl seated next to her with untamed, wild, dark hair, deep brown skin, and sparkling green eyes. The girl beamed at Rose with such unrivaled joy and fascination that she couldn't bring herself to look any longer than necessary. It was such a stark contrast to the reception Rose had previously received that it was unnerving.
"Well, that's good," rumbled a deep voice in front.
Rose dragged her eyes warily toward the older man who was driving the SUV. He was a mirror image of the young girl, although his eyes were the warm color of chestnuts. He caught her gaze in the mirror and Rose saw the corners of his own crinkle as he smiled.
"You know, young girls like you shouldn't be sleeping on the side of the highway."
Why are you not running away from me, or chasing me? Rose wondered. He must have seen her tail and her wings. He must have noticed how her nails had lengthened and sharpened into black claws. He had to have seen the unnatural red glow in her eyes.
"So, where's your home, little lady?" he asked. "I'll take you there."
Rose immediately felt a gripping fear take hold of her at the mention of going back to that place. Her hands clenched tightly into fists and her face twisted, her bottom lip quivering.
The man didn't seem to notice and continued, "Although, I was on my way to the police station with you, if you would prefer I take you there. Little lady like you shouldn't be out on her own."
"Wh-which police station?" The question barely managed to crawl painfully out of Rose, but she pressed on, "I-I mean... which town?"
"Harrington, of course!"
The small girl giggled and exclaimed with a wide smile, "That's where we live! We just came back from visiting Baba 'n Papa."
The girl started to chatter merrily about her grandparents with Rose only vaguely listening. The runaway child's mind was elsewhere, her thoughts rapidly filtering through her options.
Two towns over, and away from her hometown. The fear slowly drained away, as an overwhelming sense of relief wrapped itself around her like a warm blanket. However, the idea of being near any other adult with a gun... no, near anyone with some form of weapon was not a pleasant one. The adrenaline and terror returned as quickly as it came, causing her to stiffen and shift closer toward the car door. She tried to keep her composure even as to not give anything away, but it was a struggle.
"Here," Rose managed, her voice cracking like splintering ice. "Please, drop me off here."
The man's eyes widened, and he looked ready to protest, however, an unreadable look replaced the spark in his eyes. It was almost as if his questions and concerns were quelled by a veil of fog as he watched her, staring at her as if through a wall of mist. The hazy glaze in his eyes was profoundly disturbing to see. His entire posture slackened for a moment before seemingly returning to normal.
He smiled at her, his eyes still clouded. The man didn't even seem to be looking at Rose anymore, but rather, through her.
"Right away, little lady."
The man pulled up over on the side of the road and Rose scrambled to get out of the car. She stumbled but didn't hesitate. Once she was out of the car, the man pulled back onto the road and drove on without a second's hesitation. She watched the car drive off into the distance, a subtle tremor in her legs made her hesitate walking away. Her mind screamed at her to keep moving—to crawl away if she had to—but her body vehemently protested as exhaustion heavily seeped into her bones.
Now where to?
There wasn't really any place that came to mind for the girl. All her life, she had grown up in the small, hidden-away town of Sherry. It was a quiet, warm, and hearty town that was Rose's very definition of normal. It was where everyone knew everyone. It was the kind of place where you could walk over to your neighbors and join them for a pleasant dinner, the kind where the elderly liked to sit out on porches and tell stories to all who would listen. The kind of place that Rose always thought was safe.
She never, ever expected that those once kind people could turn so cruel and violent on her in a second.
It was supposed to have been a lovely birthday. They were going to go out for lunch after Church. Upon the end of mass, when everyone from the town was let out and mingled about, it happened, though.
Rose was on fire.
Not visibly, but on the inside. Every inch of her was filled with hot lava that rushed through her veins. She cried out and collapsed to the ground, screaming and squirming as the pain seared through her senses like white fire purging her blood. The adults had rushed over to her along with several children, all watching with wild eyes as the young girl before them convulsed like prey to possession.
Within a few grueling seconds that stretched on into hours in Rose's mind, the pain was gone... and a tail, claws, horns, and wings emerged instead.
There was dead silence in the Churchyard. A horrible, bone-chilling silence that ate away at Rose as she shakily stood up and examined what had become of her.
She wasn't sure what happened next, it was all a blur to her. One of the women screamed and fainted, children cried out, and then chaos unfolded. Before she knew it, Rose was sprinting away from the mob that had formed, scarcely escaping with her life.
Even now, after having had time to calm down, she couldn't believe it.
Was she a demon? A possessed child? A monster?
Or was she something else?
She didn't know. She desperately, oh, so desperately, wanted to, though. She needed to know why and what was exactly happening to her. But how?
Though more importantly, what did she do now?
The girl had nowhere to go. She knew no one outside of her town, and given their reaction to her appearance, she wouldn't even dare to return there. She could already hear the shotguns firing at her again, but this time she would be close enough they wouldn't miss.
Unintentionally, Rose wrapped her arms around herself and her wings stretched out. She was tired, hungry... and at an utter loss for what to do.
That man and his daughter didn't seem to mind my appearance. Maybe... maybe there are others who won't, too? Maybe... maybe I can... I can find them, and—
A stab of anxiety dug into her at the thought of encountering another person.
She couldn't. She couldn't bring herself to even consider going into another town and risk being caught and hunted down again. Rose slowly lowered to the ground and curled up on herself.
I hate this. I hate this tail. I hate these claws. I hate these stupid wings!
Rose glared hatefully at her claws, tears pricking her eyes and fear making her stomach churn. As the disgust and hatred became so overwhelming, she dug those hideous claws into her disgusting wings. She ripped at them, shredding the thin flesh, blood gushing out as she continued in her crazed quest to rid herself of them.
If I didn't have these, I could go home! Rose thought to herself in panic.
The pain made her stomach heave and she shuddered violently. She looked in horror at what she had done to her wings as cold tears streamed down her face... a half-choked sob escaped her. She lowered her bloodied hands into her lap, bowing her head from the weight of her entire world crumbling around her.
Rose wasn't certain how long she stayed there for, her mind refusing to get over the fact that her entire hometown tried to hunt her down like a rabid dog, and that only seconds ago, she tried to rip off her own wings. Her mind couldn't even process the reality that she had wings.
In what felt like the blink of an eye, the sun was starting to set behind her. The sudden smell of mint and tea leaves entered her nostrils, and Rose's head snapped up from resting on her knees.
In front of her, peering down at her, was a gentleman...
Or so was her first thought.
He was dressed neatly in a dark suit that reminded Rose of a butler on one of those fancy shows on the television she used to watch. His coat tails waved in the breeze, and he had on a bright red scarf that was tucked into his white shirt. He was taller than any man Rose had ever seen, and—oddly enough—he wore a pitch-black cloak with the hood up, the cloak cascading down to the small of his back.
His expression was unreadable because a large white mask covered his entire face. There was a permanent, rather disturbing smile engraved in it, and two large black slits where the eyes should be, although Rose was uncertain if there were any real eyes behind it at all.
The gentleman reached out a white, gloved hand to Rose. "My dear, your wings are in tatters. Such pretty things should be treated with care."