• ** This story was partially inspired by the song 'This Is Exile.'

    This world is ours and we will not stand still
    Vociferating hypocrites shall whisper every last word **

    I remain still. Perfectly still, taking in the sounds of the vast, seemingly empty forest. Black-blonde strands of hair weave through the thin branches and leaves of the tree behind me, tugging at my scalp. I will myself into relaxation. But I'm not alone, and I can't relax. The animals aren't my only company in this forbidden wilderness. Surrounded by maybe a few scattered, leafless trees and diluted bushes covered in a thin sheet of snow, the area I'd chosen to rest doesn't exactly provide the best cover.

    Curiosity urges me on despite the growing apprehension in my chest, and I take a few cautious steps forward. I snap a few twigs, the sound of wounded leaves beneath my bare feet explosions. Who am I kidding? I can't walk through the woods soundlessly like I'd pictured in my mind. Not like the Outsiders can.

    Years ago, before I was born, a rule abandoning all criminals to the dangerous forests of the village came to be. It didn't seem like such a bad idea at first. A murderer, rapist and burglar-free environment? We'd barely enough supplies as it was, and many people complained about feeding the criminals when they could barely provide for themselves. No one objected, not like it would matter. Sure, there were the occasional rioters, people against the passing of laws, but it all came to no avail. Our leaders were usually pretty consistent with their ideas about the best ways to govern the village.

    Everything eventually got out of hand. This result seemed inevitable. Not only were the murderers, rapists and burglars thrown out of town, but so were the minor offenders. After the hardcore criminals came the protesters, the beggars, those with too sharp a tongue; even a hungry child digging around in garbage cans for their next meal was subject to exile. Then, the useless people, the ones with deformities or the elderly folks who required more work than they could account for. Everyone was at risk for expulsion.

    This, of course, caused an uproar. Families were torn apart, blood was shed between guards and once loyal citizens. To fight meant either death or expulsion, the fighting useless.

    Now, almost twenty years since the passing of the law and the citizens of Paxland, a Latin name meaning 'land of peace', regard their banished loved ones with no more than a sneer and a noise made in utter disgust. No one likes Outsiders. They are thought to be evil, underprivileged individuals who deserve a life of hardship for their criminal actions against the village and it's leaders.

    Another crunch echos out from beneath my toes, and I know I've been detected.

    I hold my breath and stiffen my body out against a nearby tree, providing me with little cover from the vast wild before me. The chipped bark digs into my skin through the tear in the shirt my mother wove for me, that'd been cut by wire on my way in. Or out.

    Going into Outsiders' land is forbidden. Usually punishable by death or expulsion from the village, people avoid the wilderness. If you were going to dwell side by side with the Outsider's, then why not become one yourself? Most people who go against the leaders and travel into the forest are distraught family members, missing their loved ones. While these occurrences are rare, the consequences are drastic. No one likes a traitor.

    An eight foot high, barbed wire fence separates Paxland from the Outsiders. When someone is exiled, they are thrown over the top by a couple heavy men with strong arms; usually they nick an arm or a leg on the way over.

    For a long while, the fence was under high maintenance. Every stripped piece of wire was replaced and held together firmly for years. A couple months ago, however, as winter began to edge it's way over the village, laziness made it's a way into the system of workers responsible for the fence, leaving it pretty much unattended to.

    For a week I pondered a way to get through the fence, to see it for myself. To see if maybe, just maybe, I could fit in for once. Surely my knowledge of berries and herbs should be of use to the Outsiders. Maybe they could teach me to hunt, to provide for my family in ways other than harvesting.

    It was about three weeks ago, through a break in the fence, low to the ground where the strip of barbed wire, blanketed in snow, had recoiled up against the rest, that I pulled my small frame easily through the tiny space. I've been visiting the Outsiders' land ever since.

    My wanting to fit in isn't the only reason, however. There exists an undying will to explore and discover something new, something fresh and not mind-numbing like lessons in school or lectures from my parents, deep in my heart.

    I guess my curiosity stemmed from a long, challenging discussion we had in class quite some time ago. The teacher of all the children in their eighth year, Miss Naquam, was lecturing us about Outsiders and how we could avoid becoming one. Every year goes through this lecture, so none of it was news, really. However, at the end, a boy named Quentin, with pale skin, big eyes and strawberry hair, gifted Miss Naquam a fairly difficult question. It got everyone wondering, everyone's adrenaline pumping.

    Did the Outsiders have children?

    The answer was simple enough, but I couldn't help but feel it was rather twisted.

    Of course they did. The Outsiders were selfish criminals; what'd they care if they brought a few unwanted children into the world?

    Then a girl, Sierra, asked what happened to those children. They are, after all, innocent, right?

    Miss Naquam proceeded to tell her that they aren't.

    This sparked an argument amongst everyone. I kept quiet, however, thinking about the child Outsiders. It'd never crossed my mind before. When I thought the word Outsiders, I pictured a rough looking, tatted and terrifying adult, maybe six feet high, around three hundred or so pounds. Not an innocent, blue-eyed baby brought into the world by careless parents. It didn't seem right.

    Of course, I stayed quiet. I don't do well in heated arguments, though I tend to get myself into them pretty often, I almost always lose. Besides, no one would have listened to me anyway. I don't fit in very well, being the 'weird berry girl' living on the outskirts of town, never coming outside except for assisting my mother in her garden. I would have brought up a point that would be immediately shot down by both Miss Naquam and the students.

    A low growl, I assume it is an animal though it sounds eerily human, erupts from a nearby bush, snapping me out of my reverie and causing me to jump and stumble backwards. I squint my eyes, trying to make out something, anything, through the thinning leaves of the bush. I manage to make out a shape, something low to the ground with a hunched back. It shifts about in the bush, and I can no longer make out the figure.

    "Okay, okay. I'm leaving."

    Another growling noise. This time it is obvious the perpetrator isn't actually an animal, rather a person, doing a poor impression of one. I fight the urge to stay, to let my temper get the better of me. Fighting with an Outsider, I know, will only bring forth trouble. Besides, who knows what sort of criminal has taken cover in the bushes? A shiver shoots up my spine at the thought, a knot twisting in my stomach.

    I leave the way I came without protest.