There she was. Her feet were blistered by the fiery pavement, but the miles she had traveled felt like inches. She had shoes at one time, but who had stolen them was a lost memory. Perhaps she had traded them for water. Perhaps they had not been stolen after all. Still, she knew she had a great way to travel, and all she could think of was the little she had left that could be stolen.
The hunger that gripped her was the kind you read about in fairytales. It was the insatiable kind of hunger that provoked witches to shove children into ovens and wolves to eat grandmothers. She knew she couldn't go on much farther without having something; maybe not enough to nourish her but just enough to keep her thoughts from cannibalism or self harm.
When she saw the camp in the distance and the otherworldly light of the fire, she confused herself with someone who would be accepted there. Before she knew it, she was standing in the midst of the tents with the people staring at her, some of them with the kind of ravenous hunger she sought to quench, but of a different sort.
She offered work to them, a few hours of labor for just a few morsels of food and possibly, if they could spare it, some scraps with which to fashion shoes. Before she knew it, she was coming to, everything around her a blur. The blood was dripping down her legs and the pain hurt so much it was almost as though she couldn't even feel it. She didn't remember what happened, only one of them touching her hair and her recoiling in disgust. But she knew. She knew that she had nothing left that could be stolen now.
She knew she had to get up, but she feared what the shadows hid in her already clouded vision. She had to run, but was worried she would fall either from pain, injuries, hunger, or all three. She knew the road was no longer an option. She was wild now. So, she crawled. Every twenty feet or so she stopped to lay down, unsure if this was for physical reasons or just because it felt good to have the safe ground against her body.
A dog passed. He paused for a moment and their eyes met. Once upon a time this would have delighted her, but now she felt only the pangs of hunger. As her hand raised, she suddenly remembered one of the bodies that had crushed her hours before smelled of burnt wood and ash. Striking the dog was like a gasping last breath. The brief moment of relief she felt as he ran away to safety quickly turned to thoughts of the distance.
Getting to her feet, the steps she took were heavy. She started counting them but then found herself unable to even quantify the energy she expended in simple terms like numbers. The blood had dried now and every time she moved she could feel it cracking on her skin. She wondered how far back the camp was. She could no longer see the firelight.
Suddenly, the air was punctuated by an ambience of brightness. It was a mystifying kind of air with periodic breezes that carried with them not just a scent but a feeling. At first, she shuddered in the wake of an emotion she couldn't classify. She could feel herself trembling but something in this air pleaded with her to keep going.
When she found herself standing at the riverbed, she didn't quite know how to interact with the water. She just stood there in still contrast to the gentle current. Finally, the sensation overcame her. Thirsty. She knelt in the water, watching tiny streams of the current turn pink as they carried away what the camp dwellers had painted on her. She cupped her hands and brought them to her face again and again. She noticed tiny fish swimming a short distance away and it was almost as though they were sacrificing themselves to her sustenance.
Days in the light were dreamlike. There was no concept of how many of them passed, endless time. On one of the nameless days a figure appeared from the shadow of the forest. Either he said nothing or she wasn't paying attention. But he held out a pair of shoes.
"No thank you," she said. "My feet don't hurt anymore."