Guardian Angel

The air is hot.

Camille’s already in bed, but she can’t sleep. Mum has allowed her to read a little in bed as long as she doesn’t fret too much.

*

Louise is tidying up. She pulls the lunchbox from the schoolbag, takes out the empty cake wrappers, throws them away and puts the box on the kitchen table so that she won’t forget about filling it tomorrow morning. She then goes around the apartment and collects the scattered clothes, puts them in the washing machine, and programs the laundry for five AM. Then she takes the schoolbag and carries it to Camille’s room.

Her daughter has just fallen asleep. Louise gently removes The illustrated Little Red Riding Hood from her inert hands and puts it back on the shelf with the others. She still has things to do. She goes back to the living room, does some home accounting, then goes to her room, undresses, and lies down, naked, on her bed.

*

Camille walks on the dirt road in the forest. Above, in the sky, the moon is full, and she can see almost like in daylight. She knows she’s on her way home from school, because she has her pretty shoes, her vest, and her schoolbag on her back. In reality, there is no forest on the way to school, and she never goes back home alone. But now there is, and she does. She is happy.

The leaves are making noises above her. It’s the tree branches swaying. They hide the moon a little, so she can’t see as well as before. She must be careful. There are roots. She stumbles, but she doesn’t fall.

Very far away at the end of the path there is light. Camille knows that this where her house is. She wants to go home. It’s not so warm any more. If she had her coat on she wouldn’t be cold. Camille stumbles again. Now the noises are coming from the ground. They sound like paws on dead leaves. And whispers.

Behind a tree trunk, Camille thinks she sees a beast with two blinking red eyes.

But that’s not true. It’s not a beast.

It’s a lot of beasts. It’s a lot of wolves.

*

Camille whimpers in her bed.

Louise keeps on sleeping, naked, sweaty, on the bed sheets.

*

Camille is running. She hears the wolves running behind her. If she stops, they’ll catch her.

She can’t see the light anymore. She can’t see the path. She is running as fast as she can. She doesn’t have her schoolbag anymore. She’s lost her vest. She’s lost one of her shoes. Her feet hurt.

But she’s still running, out of breath. Tears are streaming from her eyes, because of the branches hitting her, and also she’s scared. She hears paws and growls behind her. She feels that they are getting closer. She shouldn’t, but she turns her head to look behind.

Camille can’t see the root. Her foot gets caught in it. She twists her ankle and she falls and she rolls in the moss and she screams. When she stops, she sees the wolves approaching. They don’t run any more. She can’t get up again. She backs up on her elbows, her shoulders against a tree trunk. She shakes her head, she cries, she says no.

The wolves get closer. They’re big wolves, with big teeth. Their tongues stick out. They look like they’re laughing. The biggest one moves in. Camille screams.

*

Camille is fidgeting in her bed. She wails, but her mother doesn’t wake up.

Louise is in her room, curled up on her side, sound asleep. Through the slits in the the shutters, moonbeams create dappled shadows on her glistening skin.

*

Something has jumped out from behind Camille onto the wolf.

No, not something. Somebody.

Camille can barely make out the wolves’ eyes and their black shapes, but she can see it’s a lady who just jumped, because she’s wearing a dress. It’s a black dress. And torn too. The lady’s mum is going to scold her.

But the lady doesn’t seem to mind. She walks over and Camille hears a snap, then the lady lifts something and bends a knee and drops the thing and there’s another snap. It was the wolf. It’s on the ground now and it’s not moving.

Another wolf jumps at the lady but she grabs it and she throws it against a tree. It yelps and then it falls down and then it goes away yelping.

Then all the other wolves attack the lady. They’re going to claw her, and bite her, and she’s going to die. Camille wants to help her but she’s a little girl and she’s afraid of the big wolves with the red eyes and big teeth.

Now it’s just a big heap of wolves, growling and biting and scratching, and Camille can’t even see the lady anymore.

Then a hand comes out of the heap and grabs a wolf’s head and pulls it hard, and the wolf jerks, and then falls. Then the hands grabs another wolf by the leg, and pull it in, and there’s a yelp. Then another one. Camille can see a bit of the lady now, because her black dress is almost all torn and you can see the whiter skin on her back. She has a lot of scratches and bites and blood.

At the end all the wolves are lying around, and they don’t move, and the lady is crouched in the middle. Then she gets up and turns to face Camille. She has blood on the front of her too, but that doesn’t scare Camille, because it’s the blood of the wolves. The lady is not bad. Her eyes are not red.

The lady is looking behind Camille.

Camille turns and sees the path again, the city light. She can even see the light of her house.

She turns back to the lady but the lady is gone. The wolves are gone too. Camille can go home. She gets up. Her angle doesn’t hurt any more. She sets off toward the path and home.

*

In her room, Louise has opened her eyes. She’s on her stomach. The morning finally brings a little freshness, and Louise knows she should cover herself, but she has the good sense not to cover herself with the sheet, or even turn over on her back.

Instead, she gets up. More exactly, she feels the ground first with one foot, then with the other, then lifts herself up, wincing.

Once up, and without turning on the light, she walks to the corridor then into her daughter’s room.

From the silent darkness, Louise watches Camille. Once she is sure that her daughter’s sleep has become undisturbed, she goes into the kitchen, still naked, to prepare lunch. From her shoulders down to her lower back, the wounds are slowly healing. Do not scratch your back.

It’s not always claws or bite wounds, but it’s the same every night. Go to sleep no later than one hour after Camille, because then the Dream starts. Run and run to find Camille in time. Fight and defeat all that threatens her daughter. No matter how big or how many they are, or how long it takes. Once she fought a giant stone golem a whole night long.

Louise has long forgotten when it happened for the first time. She has no idea who – or what – is after her daughter, and why. She cannot tell why her daughter never recognizes her in the Dream. She doesn’t know how long it will go on, night after night.

All she knows, all that matters, is that there’s no way she’s going to ever give up. Every night she will protect her daughter relentlessly, and every morning when she wakes up the marks of her fights will be on her body, then slowly fade away.

At least she has come to understand that if she sleeps with any clothes on, the clothes too will suffer the marks of the Dream… But they will not heal, fast or slow.

The wounds have closed completely as she enters the shower to get rid of the last traces of blood. When she comes out, her back is immaculate. She puts on a bathrobe and then goes to wake Camille.

“Sleep well?”

“I had a dream …”

“…Tell me.”

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