Payton decided to take an evening stroll through the quiet nearby forest, as she did very often when something pressing was on her mind. Colorful fluorescent mushrooms illuminated the forest floor as nature’s gargantuan lamps along with the patches of moonlight which peeked through the trees-limbs. With this soft white and pink light working together, there was no need for a lantern. Payton’s stroll was rather quiet except for the thoughts buzzing through her head until she heard the sound of something being dragged across the forest floor.
“So many to be fixed. So many! Why they do? Why they do?” Payton heard a haggard voice lament. Her curiosity got the best of her so she cautiously made her way toward the sound of the distraught voice to see what it was that needed to be fixed. However, Payton jumped out of her skin and yelped when she immediately came across several bodies with missing limbs, and severed heads scattered all around on blood-soaked soil. One of the arms even had chunks bitten off by some ravenous animal. She also noticed a merchant’s cart that looked to be looted. Payton’s eyes darted around the forest to make sure no one heard her scream and that whatever had gotten to these wasn’t about to come after her. Among the bodies was a silver haired banshee dressed in a ghostly-white gown with a needle and thread in her hand. Her eyes glowed yellow and her skin matched the moonlight. The banshee’s head shot up at the sound of Payton’s shout.
“Who’s there?” the gaunt voice cried out, “Who shouts? Show yourself! I no hurt you.” Payton remained hidden behind the tree, but the banshee eventually caught sight of her and pointed a bony finger at her. “You there! You no dead, are you? No ghost I see?” Payton furrowed her eyebrows.
“Umm, no. Not dead.” The banshee grinned, showing a mouth full of yellow teeth upon hearing Payton’s response. Before Payton could say or do anything else, the banshee approached her and grabbed Payton with a cold, bony hand.
“Good. So many bodies to be fixed. Can’t bury dead with missing parts, no can do! Bury dead whole always! You help! Yes yes, you help!” Payton submissively walked with the banshee, not daring to say no to a spirit of the dead. The banshee stopped beside a body with a missing arm.
“You want me to find his arm then sew it back to his body,” Payton had to take several deep breaths to calm down her roiling stomach. If she was going to be a nurse, she knew she would need a stomach of steel.
The banshee giggled. “Smart missy, she is! Very smart missy indeed!”
Payton began her search of this missing arm without further questioning. She gingerly picked up the nearest arm about ten feet away and handed it to the ancient woman. After the banshee examined the arm for a few seconds, she frowned and slapped Payton with the arm.
“This not his arm, dumb troll! Find the right arm!”
The startled Payton nearly tripped over herself as she scrambled away to find the correct arm. This time, she examined every arm thoroughly until she was confident with the second arm she picked up. After the banshee took a moment to examine the limb, she grinned.
“Much better, missy! Much better! Now go sew arm!” She handed Payton a needle and some thread.
Payton fought to recall what she had read about sutures and put the information to work on the arm. Her hands trembled as she worked the needle through the stiff muscles. Payton had to concentrate on steadying her hands to prevent her expensive dinner from coming back up.
“Did you see who did this? Shouldn’t we inform the authorities about this? From the empty merchant cart, it seems like this was a merchant robbery, although it seems like they were looking for something specific. Maybe that’s why they didn’t take the whole cart.” Payton commented. Payton found that small talk was helping her stomach the grotesque task by offering a distraction of sorts.
“What authorities gonna do? They useless.” Payton huffed with irritation, knowing she was sadly right. By the time one went to the authorities with a crime, by the time they got to it, more often than not, the criminal would be long gone along with any evidence. It was a broken system that the people of Liadon have been lobbying the King and Queen to change for some time now.
“Then how does one fight back against such injustice when those that are supposed to protect society can’t or won’t? I just don’t understand how someone could become so cold as to be capable of something like this.” Payton forced down a sob. The banshee paused her work to look up at Payton.
“The right thing” she replied. “That all we can do against wrong. We do right when they do wrong.” Even when surrounded by evil, never give up on good, Payton could hear her mother’s famous saying echoing in her mind. They continued to sew the body parts back together in silence, stitching back their dignity along with their limbs. “I go find their families. They must bury their dead. Many thanks for good deed. No let evil change your heart, missy.” The banshee’s words lingered in the air as she disappeared into the fog. She got up, brushed herself off, and made her way back home for some much-needed rest and an important discussion with Lawrence.
When Payton arrived home, Lawrence ran up and gave her a tight hug.
“What took you so long!? I was getting worried!” Lawrence grabbed Payton by the shoulders. “Don’t scare me like that again!”
Payton placed an arm on his shoulder and giggled. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting, Dad, but I’m fine,” she teased. Payton figured it was best not tell him about the encounter with the banshee. “Sit down, there’s something I want to discuss with you.”
They both sauntered to the faded red sofa and collapsed onto its semi-plush cushions. Lawrence eyed Payton with concern as he sensed some apprehension. He longed to press her to come out with it but thought it best to let his sister speak when she was ready.
“So,” Payton began. She worked to be delicate “The new job opportunity would pay at least three times more than what I’m getting paid now, and I’ll be truly getting my foot in the door with nursing as I’ll be working closely with the nurse in the company.” Payton paused. She hadn’t realized how great the opportunity sounded until she repeated it out loud.
“What’s the name of the company?” Lawrence asked.
Payton looked up to the ceiling as if the answer to his question was written up there. “She did say that the department I’ll be working for is called the Brass Hearts. I’ll be relocating to Zaphyr.”
Lawrence frowned and looked down at his hands. “That’s a long ways away. We’d have to move there and I don’t want to leave my apprenticeship.”
Payton nodded, but she quickly grew to hate the idea of turning the offer down. “I understand. In that case, I suppose I could work there and use my leave to visit you. Once your apprenticeship is over, maybe we could both move to Zaphyr and you could find a paying job at a repair shop there. Perhaps by then I’ll be promoted to one of the nurses. Until then, I’ll write to you and send you back money for rent and everything you need.”
Payton could tell that Lawrence didn’t approve, but the fact was she had already made her decision. She took Lawrence’s hands into her own and forced him to make eye-contact.
“I know life has been beyond difficult in every aspect since Mom and Dad died. But I really believe this would be our best chance for a better life for us both. I’d be able to take care of you and…”
Lawrence tore his hands away from hers and scowled. “You don’t get it, do you? I hate how you feel like you need to take care of me! You’re my sister for griffin’s sake, not Mom! Go, do what you need to do for yourself, and don’t worry about me!”
Lawrence’s sudden outburst left Payton speechless for a moment. When Lawrence started to leave she managed to find words again.
“Lawrence!” she called. “I can see why you don’t like this situation, I don’t like it either. But facts are facts. I get paid, you don’t. That’s nothing that you or I can help.”
Lawrence turned to face his sister. “I’ll start getting paid in two years, Payton. Those two years will go by in no time. How long will you be working in Zaphyr? Probably for the rest of your life, which spirits willing, will pale in comparison to two years. So stop thinking like a mother and make this decision with you in mind. Not just me.”
“All right then, I’m sorry for caring,” Payton replied.
Lawrence softened took a couple steps toward Payton. “No listen, I’m sorry I snapped at you, all right? I just want you to get out of this habit of thinking only about me. Perhaps the law doesn’t see it yet, but I’m old enough to be able to handle myself. As soon as I have my own income coming in, I want you to feel comfortable letting me go.”
“It still won’t be for two years,” Payton reminded.
“Right, so of course, I would appreciate some help for the remaining two years. But my point is that if you decide not to take this job, don’t let me be the reason.”
Payton tore her eyes from his and nodded her head. “Right, of course, Lawrence. I… I’ll be taking the job.”
Lawrence gave his sister and sorrowful smile. “Good. But man am I going to miss you.” They shared a long, heartfelt embrace.
“I’m going to miss you too,” she whispered. “I’ll be leaving for Zaphyr on Saturday on a one-way train ride to an interesting future.”