t wasn’t the sign that tipped her off, brazen though it was. “Danger: Unsecured Area. Clearance Required.” Didn’t leave much to the imagination. No, it wasn’t the sign, or the rough ending of the road, the pavement disintegrating and curling up under her toes with the crunch of rubber and stone. It wasn’t the rusted barb wire fence that dipped and dropped along the ruined concrete until it disappeared into the brush, its faulty gate hanging broken, a weak sentinel as the last line of defense.
It was the smell.
They smelled different, you see. Not the sweet, tangy salt with which Ava was familiar. No delicate, floral scents here, at the end of the burnt-out road and desolate wild. The pine from the trees was unfamiliar, but not unknown. But this smell; this was something else entirely.
This was the Ares.
It was… deeper, somehow. Muskier, Ava thought, without really knowing what that meant. It was a rich, earthy scent that coiled up her nose and set her at ease at a time she should have been wired. Part of their supposed charm, perhaps. Designed to entice what is forbidden to them.
She thought, inanely, and somewhat hysterically, of a book she had read as a child, something handed down to her from her mother’s mother’s mother. A book of loss and hope, in which strange otherworldly creatures lured their prey through beauty and scent and song. But the Ari were no supernatural wonders. They were flesh and bone, not so different from Ava herself, but a world apart from her nonetheless.
Shifting the rough cloth bag over her shoulders, she contemplated her choices. She could continue on her current path into the Outlands and track down the Ares. They might kill her on sight, but it was a risk worth taking at this point. She was already a wanted woman back home, and she didn’t have anything to lose. Magda was gone, and with her, her only friend and ally.
If she didn’t go forwards, then she would have to go back, to Boston, to the Center. And tell them what? Sorry guys, I was kidding with all that conspiracy theory stuff. I’m totally back on board now, no questions asked. If only she hadn’t proudly, and publicly, told the Director to go to hell. When the older woman had advised Ava that pigs would fly before she let her walk free out the door with the Center’s secrets, Ava looked out the window. Any minute now…
Going back would be the sane option, Ava knew, but it was inconceivable. She couldn’t ignore the truth. She couldn’t ignore the centuries-buried secret that would topple the balance of her government, her country, her world. She couldn’t ignore what was right in front of her.
As the Ares stepped from the tree line and aimed its gun at her head, she wondered, How did I get here?
Stay tuned for further installments of “Womyn” by guest contributor Fayth Trunweigh