You can never fully predict how a person will react to severe trauma.
Some people might become aggressive, some may develop delusions, some, like Clara, will try their best to always keep busy.
But not Gretchen, she just shut down completely.
First as a child she had been taken away from her biological family, then she had slowly lost almost all of her foster siblings.
“What’s the point in building relationships if everybody leaves?”, she thought as she lay in bed completely still, looking at the cracks in the ceiling, trying to recall the faces of all the people who were no longer part of her life, while each day passed her by exactly the same as the one before.
She would not speak, would not walk and wouldn’t eat; Mother would have to force feed her with a spoon.
At first Gretchen resisted, but after some time she realized that it was pointless, so she would just open her mouth and swallow whatever tasteless goo mother gave to her.
The only form of solace came from the books that Clara would read to Gretchen every evening: ancient volumes about the pagan Gods that walked among the mortals of Goll Island. Norman kept telling her that if she got better, one day they’d all go together to visit the temple. It would have been the perfect coming of age gift.
Gretchen still didn’t know if the shadows she had seen a few years prior were just a hallucination, but the idea that she might actually be connected to this mystical world gave her just enough hope to stay alive. But then, as Gretchen was approaching her seventeenth birthday even Norman left, breaking his promise.
She thought she’d get used to loss after it had happened so many times, she thought she wouldn’t be so upset and yet when he said goodbye, it hit her like a ton of bricks. It was as if someone had cut even deeper in an already infected, open wound that never had the chance to heal.
As the weeks passed, the feeling of anguish became worse. Gretchen completely lost control over her body: everything became blurry as her eyes moved in all directions without being able to focus on anything, her limbs violently shaking, she felt like she couldn’t breathe and that her heart was beating so fast that it would eventually explode.
The next day Mother bought three train tickets, determined to get Gretchen to the village’s hospital as soon as possible.
“Happy birthday dear”, muttered Mother caressing Gretchen’s head and adjusting the huge blanket that was wrapped around her.
The girl didn’t even flinch, she just stared at the train’s carpet, completely numb and exhausted.
“Maybe we should get something sweet to celebrate”, said Clara, who was sitting right in front of her.
“What a great idea,'' said Mother. ''I think a nice hot chocolate would make you feel a lot better. Clara, please keep an eye on her while I’m at the lounge” and she got up and walked away.
Gretchen wasn’t even listening. It was snowing outside and the sun was setting. They could tell that the train was approaching the forest.
All of a sudden the lights in the cabin started to flicker and shadows appeared on the walls, but Clara didn’t seem to notice them.
Gretchen heard a baritone voice, the same she had heard years ago.
“It’s time my child, we’ve been waiting for you” Gretchen looked around trying to find out where the voice was coming from.
“We have watched you survive great pain through the years and the time has come for the suffering to cease, for loss is part of the human condition, but it does not apply to gods. A god cannot die, a god never leaves, amid us you will find eternal companionship and unconditional love. Through us you will find guidance and protection, through us you will become the woman you were always meant to be.”
Gretchen felt a sense of warmth and reassurance that she had never experienced before, tears flooded her eyes as she had seen a glimpse of what her heart truly needed. She couldn’t explain why, but she sensed that she could trust the voice.
“The train will be stopping soon near the forest”, continued the voice, “you must get off at the next stop, we’ll guide you to the temple from there”.
Another voice, a human voice crackled through the speakers:”Ladies and gentleman the Margesh Express is arriving at Schmittmann Forest, next stop Schmittmann Forest”.
Gretchen’s heart was beating fast:”Clara, I’m going to the bathroom, I’ll be right back”.
Clara’s eyes widened as she rarely heard Gretchen speak: “I’m coming with you”.
“Oh no, I can take care of myself”.
But Clara insisted and she followed Gretchen to the nearest toilet.
The train slowed down, the girl needed to act fast:”Clara, there’s no toilet paper, could you go get me a tissue”. But Clara didn’t move: “I know what you’re doing Gretchen, I saw it in a vision”.
Clara pulled out a bundle from her purse:”Here, you’re going to need this to survive in the forest”.
The train came to a stop and the girls hugged each other: “Goodbye Clara”.
“We’ll meet again”, said Clara, “I saw it”.