“Freak!” A voice shouted. The names only continued as I made my way down the hall. Weirdo, creep, scarecrow and the one that hit closest to home; witch. All things that I’d heard before, my smile stayed plastered onto my face through every insult. This probably only made them think I was stranger than they initially thought. But that wasn’t my fault. Willow had always said ‘kill them with kindness’. My attempt at being nice only landed me in further trouble, so now I just smiled. It was the most ‘kindness’ I could muster after years of trying. Yet that didn’t make much difference either, people in Mortalis were very cruel. I made my way through the school halls tuning out whatever words were being shouted at me. Just wanting to get home, I picked up my pace. It wasn’t long before I made it past the entrance gates and was on my way home.
My house wasn’t far from the school. Ten minutes give or take with the shortcut I used. Said shortcut was through an alleyway, which of course was probably idiotic to a sane person. In my eyes, nowhere felt safe so it didn’t make much difference to me. As I walked through the door I didn’t bother calling out to my mother. She probably wasn’t home and if she was, she wouldn’t answer me anyway. For four years my days had consisted of the same monotonous tasks; school, home, homework, dinner, bed. Not wanting to disturb my routine, I carried on with those tasks till the sun disappeared from the sky.
It was late in the evening before my mother returned, I was in the kitchen getting dinner ready for us both. My efforts proved to be in vain as she walked in and I saw her carrying a box of food. Placing the box on the table she continued past me and up to her bedroom. We hadn’t exchanged a word to each other. As soon as my emotions began getting the better of me the lights flickered, and the kitchen appliances began to malfunction. I shook away my feelings so everything settled down. Instead of dwelling on the past, I dished up the pasta I had made, ate and then got into bed. That night my dreams were once again plagued with the same scenes from four years ago.
Willows’ scream pierced the stillness that hung in the night sky, its volume enough to burst my eardrums. A figure obscured in black held her against her will attempting to drag her away. From our mother, father and away from me. I stood behind a large oak tree watching the horror unfold though I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. It appeared my movements were restricted, even so I desperately tried to reach her. Though my willpower somehow managed to draw her attention and her eyes met mine, I couldn’t decipher what emotion flared in them. Fear was dominant, but there was something else. For a moment she stilled and reciprocated my gesture. We reached for each other yet we both knew our hands would never meet.
When I woke the sun was peeping from the horizon, it was early but I got out of bed anyway. Perspiration felt heavy on my skin so I went into the washroom to shower. I flicked on the lights which only sputtered before blowing out. Frustrated, I ran my hand through my hair, I knew it was the dream that caused me to feel so unsettled. Using the time to reduce my heart rate, I found an extra bulb downstairs and replaced the one in the washroom with it. Showered and dressed, I went downstairs and sat at the kitchen island with a piece of toast waiting for my mother to wake up. The slight thuds coming from above alerted me when she did rise, I listened to her wander about getting ready for work. When she came down her eyes never met mine. I had finished my toast but lingered in the kitchen, as I always did, hoping that something might change today. Perhaps I would get a smile? A glance? Some sort of acknowledgement that I was still here? Sometimes I feared that without it I would disappear. Instead she only grabbed a breakfast bar and was out the door. I shrugged, well today was a failure but I always had tomorrow, I thought.
Putting the dishes away I left for school. As I walked, memories of my life before four years ago haunted me. A time where my father was still here, my sister was still here and my mother was happy. That was before Willow disappeared. More accurately, she was taken. At times believing she was still even alive was difficult, but believing otherwise was impossible. The same thing couldn’t be said about anyone else. Being an adventurous child, I had pestered her weeks before to take me to Reine Forest of where I had read wild tales of magical beings and adventure. Also being a rather clueless child I had believed those tales and wanted to see them for myself, it had taken Willow a while to finally agree.
That day she did, so after school I had rushed home and waited patiently at the door for her to arrive. I had harassed her up and down the house until we left, wandering about in the forest was magical for me. My eyes were wide as I tried to take in everything I saw all at once. We’d walked until we came across a vast meadow with no ending in sight. It was as if it disappeared off into some unknown territory, I wanted to go further to see if the meadow ended but as soon as my curiosity came, it vanished. Wanting instead to rediscover the unusual flowers I had spotted back the way we came, I retreated, leaving my sister alone. By the time my senses returned it was too late, feeling a sense of urgency I rushed back to the meadow only to find the scene I now replayed every night in my dreams. To make matters worse, all I saw in my dream was all I remembered of that night, though I’m certain more happened. Despite my being there, I hadn’t been able to help in any way. Not even after she was gone, my memory went missing with her so I was useless to the authorities as well. I had failed her in every way.
Caught up in my thoughts it took a moment before a familiar ominous feeling caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand. I felt as if someone was watching me. Trying to not look obvious I risked a glance behind me and saw a figure wearing a dark cloak, the hood covered most of their face. Dark cloak was walking at a casual pace; anyone else may not have noticed however because of my frequent ‘hunches’ I was alerted to a presence. Maybe I was overthinking it, but when the figure followed me through the alleyway I normally took to school I was sure. Picking up my pace, I tried to lose my shadow. The moment I stepped out of the alleyway, my brisk steps morphed into a panicked run. I could hear the footsteps of the stranger increase just as mine did, I was not too far from the school building and as silly as it sounded getting there would make me feel more safe.
Much as I tried I couldn’t seem to lose the stranger, so when the opportunity arose I hid. Risking a peek I spotted my shadow following the route I had just come from, when I was nowhere to be seen the figure stopped and looked around. Though how they would see anything with that cloak covering them up I wasn’t entirely sure. Trying to stay as still and quiet as I could I waited for dark cloak to give up, thankfully I didn’t wait long before the figure turned back. Relief coursed through my body releasing the tension that had kept my body still, recovering my serenity I stood and travelled the short distance to my school.
My shadow was never far from my mind throughout the entire school day. I wondered who it might be and what they could possibly want. The thought of having a stalker rankled but I doubted I was of that much interest to anyone. It could be one of the people at school, trying to scare me. Pity, because what they didn’t know was that I was always scared. On the way back home I continued asking questions that would never be answered, which is when the feeling returned. This time I knew exactly what it meant, regardless I still glanced back finding the sight I had faced this morning. Dark cloak was trailing me, this time the stranger was closer. Likely because they didn’t want to lose me the second time. Apprehension hastened my steps as I drew closer to home, what I would do when I arrived was still a mystery. Would the stranger follow me inside? Or just watch? There was no time to wonder about it, I would have to deal with it when it came.
When I reached the driveway that led to my house I paused. Now what? Do I keep walking so the stranger didn’t know where I lived? But that wouldn’t get me anywhere, depending on how long dark cloak was willing to follow eventually I would have to come back here. Even my mother would worry if I didn’t return. So I had no choice. As I checked again I saw that the stranger was leaning against a lamppost across the street. My eyes darted to my door and back to the stranger. I debated whether I would make it to my door before dark cloak got to me if they decided to pursue.
Throwing caution to the wind, I ran. I thought I would make it and I almost did. The furthest I got was inside my house but as I turned to close the door there the figure was preventing me locking them out. Dark cloak was fast. Still I tried to push against the door in vain. The stranger was also strong. Seeing that I was losing leverage quickly I changed tactics, instead running into the kitchen to grab a weapon. Not being able to use said weapon was where the dilemma was. Searching the room frantically I grabbed the first threatening thing I saw, a knife, then I faced the door knowing the intruder would follow me.
As predicted dark cloak tracked me into the kitchen, and now my shadow stood before me with the hood of the cloak still hiding the strangers’ face. Before I had even formed the questions hanging on my tongue my shadow removed the hood. Any feasible thought fled. Put simply, he was exquisite. More so because he looked like me, I had never seen anyone in Mortalis that looked remotely close to me. His skin was a warm fawn, a few shades lighter than mine. A toned body showed his athletic ability and proved further that he was stronger than me, so fighting him wouldn’t be an option. His hair was short and impossibly black.
His eyes however were his most alluring feature. Shining brightly with a rich lavender colour that begged you to bare your soul. I had never seen anyone with eyes like that. At present they reflected a coldness that made be flinch. My grip on the knife I held wavered.
“Would you put that away? I am not here to hurt you. Besides, it’s useless against me, I could turn it against you in a second.”
As if to prove a point he did exactly that, next thing I knew I was standing in front of him knifeless with a rather ridiculous expression on my face. Shaking my head I rapidly retreated.
“Who are you? What do you want?” The obvious questions.
“I’m here to take you to the land of fairies.” He deadpanned. My irritation overwhelmed my fear so I rolled me eyes. As well as breaking into my house, he also happened to be sarcastic. Just my luck.
“Not fairies per se but something to that extent. Either way we need to leave.”
And demanding, the list goes on. He reached towards me and I backed further away, scrambling behind me I reached for a second knife, though I knew this wouldn’t affect him in any way, it made me feel better. He gave a pointed glance at the knife I now had aiming at him and let out a frustrated breath.
“Haven’t we been through this already?” he said as he stared at me incredulously, as if I were foolish to think he’d hurt me. In my head I scoffed, I was not the one deluded here.
“If I wanted to kill you, you would have never seen my face.”
“Is that supposed to inspire confidence?”
Seeing the unconvinced look on my face, he sighed.
“There is more to your life than you know, don’t you want to find out about your ‘hunches’?”
“How do you know about that?” I asked, letting my surprise get the better of me.
“I’ve been watching you for a while Anya.”
“How do you know my name?”
I gave him a disbelieving look. “And all this is somehow meant to convince me to come with you?”
He paused apparently beginning to understand my dilemma. A stranger follows you around only to break into your house, claims he has been watching you and asks you to follow him to some unknown destination. This offer may be appealing to others however I didn’t relish in being watched nor did I willingly throw myself into situations that have unknown consequences.
“I admit I haven’t inspired much confidence, but my point remains valid does it not?”
“And you’re going tell me? What my hunches are about?” I asked.
“Of course not.”
Still wary, but willing to trust him for the time being, I placed my knife back onto the counter. Close enough that I could grab it if I needed to. He’d had several opportunities to end my life since he’d walked in and with his demonstration earlier I didn’t doubt he could do it with ease. However, I still remain skeptical about going away with him on a whim.
“You seem concerned.” He stated.
“Right now all I’m concerned about is my mother coming home to find you standing in her kitchen.”
A tiny flash of emotion crossed his face, he almost seemed amused.
“Fine, I’ll give you three days. You should have decided by then. I’ll be back.”
With that he walked out as easily as he had come in, cloak firmly back in place. My body instantly relaxed the moment he left, I sat at the kitchen island and waited for my mother to arrive. The butterflies in my stomach wouldn’t allow me to eat so I just fidgeted, thinking about what he had said, I realised he hadn’t even told me his name. It felt like just minutes as I sat there pondering the words of a stranger but in reality it must have been a few hours. Only when the light in the kitchen caused me to squint did I noticed I had been sitting in the dark. My mother gave me a strange look but otherwise didn’t comment on my unusual behaviour. Before she headed up to her room I called out to her, this was strange for both her and I. She stiffened at the bottom of the stairs, her back to me.
“Do you think Willow is still alive?”
This was not the question I had intended to ask, I had wanted to ask something that might help me come to a decision. Something that would give me a reason to go with the stranger, a reason to want to find out what was happening to me or to remain not-so-blissfully ignorant. Rather than a question that gave me that, I was asking one I already knew the answer to.
My mothers’ voice held no emotion. It was so cold it made me shiver. I didn’t give up though, now that she had said at least two words to me I wanted to try talking to her.
“Talk to me.” I said quietly. “I’m your daughter, you can tell me. I miss her too.”
Before I finished my sentence I knew I had said something wrong, I could feel the wall crash down between us blocking me out. The next thing she said made me feel deserted.
“I don’t have any children.”
I found my reason.
The next three days seemed to hurry by, as if the universe itself were waiting on my decision. Despite my conversation with my mother, if you could call it that, I was still unsure about the strangers’ offer. Whether it was his visit that triggered it or my general increase in anxiety that caused it, the strange occurrences that usually happened around me were more frequent and on a larger scale. On one occasion I had walked into the school dining area and the entire hall had blacked out, the lights only returning as I left, predictably this did nothing for my reputation at school. Furthermore, when I strolled past a tall building I watched as the lights in every window went off one by one. Decidedly the worst incident was when I walked beside the road and the truck lost its power which caused the driver to lose control and collide into several other vehicles. The strangers’ offer was becoming more appealing by the second.
Apart from the increase in strange occurrences the three days he’d given me to decide weren’t all that different. In fact they seemed more tedious than ever, before he turned up and since Willow went missing my life had been empty. Grudgingly, I had to admit that for the first time in a long time I felt a sense of excitement.
With my deadline fast approaching I came to the realisation that I had already made up my mind. Yes, there were risks involved however comparing it to what my life was like now the decision seemed obvious. So when he stood before me on the third day, with the same question in his eyes I answered easily.
“Away with the fairies we go.”
Contrary to what I believed, he actually had a car as opposed to disappearing and reappearing at will, which is what I had originally assumed, that was the kind of impression he gave. He stopped at the side of the road at a random point near the edge of Reine Forest. Stepping out, I took that as my signal to follow him. When he didn’t lock the car I saw that he’d left the keys in the ignition so I paused looking at the back of his cloak questioningly. He must have sensed that I was no longer following because he turned around and faced me.
I glanced back at the car. “Aren’t you going to need those?” I asked gesturing towards the keys. He only shrugged.
“Not where we’re going.”
Not giving me a chance to reply he carried on walking into the darkness of the forest, after a moment I followed. As we were moving steadily through the forest, snapping at branches and swatting away bugs I thought about the dreams of my sister and the night she vanished. Maybe coming back here would help me remember, I hadn’t been back since she disappeared. My thoughts were interrupted when dark cloak paused and slightly changed direction. Grasping the fact that his name was still a mystery to me I decided to ask him when I wasn’t worried about getting lost in the forest and being eaten by insects. There was barely any light here and I could just about make out the shape of his form before me, even so, I tried to stay close enough to be able to do just that. How he was navigating this death trap so easily was lost on me.
Just when I thought that maybe we actually had gotten lost we broke into a meadow, the same one my sister and I had discovered, the one that looked like it had no end. My heart was beating at hyper speed, the chances of this being a coincidence were slim; I looked to the guy in the cloak once again feeling fear rise up.
“How do you know about this place?”
“This is the way to the rest of Aldonia.” He said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. I ignored his evidently wild imagination claiming this meadow led to another world and concentrated on my questions.
“Do you know what happened to Willow?” I asked, panic rising further every second. I came to the conclusion he must be related to my sisters’ disappearance. Showing up like this, wearing what the person in my dream wore and bringing me to where she was taken were all clues.
Again, he gave me a look that meant he thought I was the crazy one in this situation.
“Who’s Willow?” He let out a sigh of frustration. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. The faster we move the faster we can be rid of each other and you can find your friend.”
“What did you do to her?” I yelled.
“Are you deaf? I said I don’t know who she is!”
For a second I was baffled, surely I couldn’t be wrong, he had to be the person I’d seen in my dreams. It was far-fetched and perhaps impossible but all the signs seemed to point to one thing, I didn’t have any other clues. I had thought the cloak was a coincidence yet the meadow was harder to ignore. Nevertheless, if he was, why would he go to all this trouble to get me to some illusionary world? Was he trying to gain my trust? Did he even have to? Making it out of this forest on my own in the dark was an impossible feat, surely he knew that. Though I’d done it the night Willow went missing I had no memory of that. And since he clearly knew the forest much better than I did I was sure he would have found me anyway.
“Have you finished? Can we go now?” he asked impatiently.
“You have no idea who Willow is?”
“For the last time, no. Why would I?”
“Because you’re the man in the cloak?” I had intended to say that with confidence but the way he’d acted so far had doubts growing inside my head. It ended up as a question instead of a statement. The look on his face increased my doubt even more.
“Where we’re going every other person has a cloak, they are popular.”
So now I felt stupid, but it wasn’t as if I knew anything about where we were going. He continued walking across the meadow and didn’t wait for me to catch up. Remembering that I couldn’t keep referring to him as black cloak, my shadow or the stranger I finally asked him what his name was.
Hours must have passed and the meadow didn’t seem to be getting any shorter, sighing I glanced ahead at Alec who seemed to now have a dark aura surrounding him. Maybe I’d annoyed him one too many times.
“Are we there yet?”
I winced noting that I’d probably asked one of the most infuriating questions in the history of the planet. Surprisingly he hadn’t given up on me yet, looking back I had been quite an annoyance so far. As it were he didn’t answer me anyway so I just continued following him like a lost puppy. Twenty more minutes and I was getting anxious, the meadow still looked like it had no end and if possible looked even longer than before. Logic was beginning to take root and deciding that I’d followed a complete stranger into the woods, which I had no idea how to get out of and the man ended up being completely mad. Brilliant.
Upon hearing those words my hope returned only to be dashed when I saw where ‘here’ was. Still in the middle of the meadow with no end or exit in sight. My heart sank.
“Where exactly is here?”
Instead of replying Alec reached into his cloak pocket and pulled out a diamond crystal, I was stunned, it looked like real diamond. If the sun was out it would be glittering wildly, he then lifted the crystal and held it in the air in front of him as if there was an invisible slot for it. As he laid his hand flat against it and I was amazed that it didn’t fall, the diamond gave the impression of floating in midair but there seemed to be an invisible barrier that kept the crystal in place. The barrier had no resistance as I waved my hand across where it should be. So I turned my attention back to Alec. Captivated, I watched as the diamond glowed, golden lines formed linear patterns around the crystal. Once it finished it glowed more brightly for a second then disappeared. Alec removed his crystal from the invisible barrier, burying it within his cloak, he stepped forward and…vanished.
Dumbstruck, I stood frozen not knowing what happened and where he went. This only lasted for a second because his head suddenly popped up in thin air and he was scowling at me.
“Today would be good.”
His head then ceased to exist. Fascinated I stuck my hand out again and watched in awe as it too disappeared behind the invisible barrier. No longer satisfied with this preliminary form of exploration I decided I had to follow Alec through the barrier. Now or never, this was where I made the decision that could completely change my life, how it would do so, I had no idea. I closed my eyes and followed him into the unknown.