“Do you hear it?”
“Come closer… What about now?”
“I know you’re a dryad.”
“Am I?” The little girl laughs, but the wind carries it away. “We’re here.”
“The forest? I’ve searched this a hundred times. He’s not here.”
“But you’ve never searched with me.”
Ariel’s black eyes sparkle, and her mouth curls into an impish grin. She grabbed my hand.
“Why does it look different?”
“First tell me.”
I stand still, and the world seems to move without me. Literally. It’s as though I’m standing on a platform as the world bends and twists around me. Slowly and subtly, but it’s still moving. It’s like staring into a prism. My head starts to spin.
“What… what’s happening?”
I grab my head and bend over. Ariel still has a tight hold on my wrist.
“What do you mean?” She tilts her head.
“It’s…” I look up, and everything’s still. But, something is different. “Why do the woods… look like that? What is that?”
It looks like a reflection, but we’re not a part of it. We’re staring at two different parts of the woods. Identical yet separate, staring back at one another.
What are you doing, Jenna?
I blink my eyes because it still feels like the world is spinning, like my vision is doubling from a hard hit to the head.
Where did you find this book? What is all this? Candles? Feathers? Wait…
“What is that?” I look at Ariel who is smiling with her teeth this time. They look strange because they’re all the same size, and there’s way more of them than there should be. But it’s less jarring than the black eyes. She looks like one of the black-eyed children from myths.
No, Jenna! No! He’s gone! Don’t you get that? He’s not coming back. And… and this is dangerous! You should not be doing this!
“A wrinkle? What does that mean?”
“Come on!” This time she digs her nails into my arm and tugs me, but I’m not moving. Actually, I’m scared.
“Where are we going? Tell me.”
“You wanted to find your brother.” Her smile fades.
“Yes, but…” My heart is pounding. “What… where?”
The first rule of this book is that you cannot trust the spirits! And you’re not strong enough, Jenna. You’re not smart enough. I’m sorry.
“Hurry! Hurry!” She tugs me with both of her hands. Her nails draw blood. “It will close, and then we will have to wait for someone to come get us!”
“I thought I was smart enough,” I mutter.
“Smart enough? Silly! Everyone wants to meet him. Everyone tries to find him, but he doesn’t allow everyone to find him. You’re smarter than smart enough!”
“No.” I jerk my arm away and turn around, but it looks different. It looks… I swing my head back to the other direction. It looks exactly like this way. Going forward, going back, it’s mirrored! It was the same path either way I looked! Ariel giggles.
“A wrinkle in space, silly.”
“Stop calling me silly.” I’m feeling dangerously dizzy, and my heart continues to rattle in my chest. “I’m…” I continue to swing my head back and forth, but I forget which was the original direction. Still, I doubt that Ariel could carry me even if I do collapse. “I’m not moving.”
“You don’t know about wrinkles? Huh. You’re sillier than I thought.”
“I only… studied enough to… find… to what I needed to find my brother.”
Ariel tilts her head. The world begins spinning for me again. I make the mistake of thinking that looking up will give me some sort of clarity.
Jenna don’t. Please just don’t… I don’t want to lose you too.
“You said you would take me to my brother.”
“Yes, and you agreed to come with me.”
“He’s in… a wrinkle?”
“Will it be like this when I go in there? Will I get dizzy? Can you lead us both back out?”
Ariel laughs, and it’s shrill like the jeering laugh of a spoilt little girl.
“What?” I manage to find her face. “Why are you laughing?”
“You never said anything about bringing you back.”
“What! But! That’s implied!”
“Implied?” Ariel tilts her head with that impish grin.
“Yes! Of course we have to… come back.” The path begins to grow more narrow. “Then the deals off.”
“No. Deal’s not off. You agreed to come with me. We don’t break agreements in this world.”
I can’t argue. I don’t know what world this is, but I’m beginning to understand the old wive’s tale of my town about not going into the woods because you might never come out.
“It’s not like I signed a contract in blood.”
Ariel laughed. “You’re so funny. And pretty. They will all be so pleased with me that I found you.”
“But I found you.”
Ariel smiles again, but it’s less devilish than before. I squeeze my eyes shut and rub them hard.
“You’d best hurry if you want to see your brother before he gets you.”
“Gets me? Who?”
“Yes, why do you think we bring humans into our world. We like them. Some of them.”
“Us? Who is us? And who is this he you keep talking about?”
“Who? Who is that?”
I’m still too dizzy to take in the full brunt of her words, but stomach is still twisting up to my mouth. I think I may throw up.
What could they have liked about Robert? I remember him as such an annoying kid. I loved him though. He never laid a finger on that book, so how did he get here. How did they steal him without breaking one of their rules? I trusted too much in the fact that this world follows its rules strictly. But I guess you can always outsmart someone who’s stupid.
But what could they like about me!
“Why did you listen to me at all? Why bring me here?”
“You like to dance.”
“Yes? What does that–”
“You dance very well. He’s seen you.”
“I don’t even know how to dance! I just taught myself, and… only when I’m by myself… in… in these woods.”
Ariel isn’t as earnest as before, even with the path closing. She looks calm, calmer than she had been even when she’d first appeared to me, three days after I’d summoned… something. I don’t even know! I’d just wanted something, anything to help me.
Wow. How could I have been that stupid.
“Will you come, Jenna? Or will you wait?”
“How did you get Robby? What about him? What’s special about him?”
Ariel is silent, and I can’t tell where she’s looking with those black eyes.
“What happens if you leave me?”
“At the wrinkle?”
“Right here! What will happen! Will I be back home?”
Ariel smiles. “You’re stubborn. He will like that.”
“Of course he will. He’s going to love me, and that’s just great. Before long I’ll shrink to half my size, and my eyes will turn black.”
Ariel tilts her head, still smiling. They clearly have not been introduced to the wonderful ways of sarcasm in whatever world this is.
I swallow hard and squeeze my eyes shut. The world is spinning again. I open my eyes just for an instant and fall to my knees.
“Will I go home, Ariel?”
“No. Only ariels can bridge the wrinkles.”
“So I’m stuck here?”
“Only until he finds you.”
“Are you going to tell him where I am?”
“Don’t you want me to?”
“Not really.” I open and close my eyes quickly, but it’s no use. I fall back onto the ground. I feel like I’m spinning with the world this time. Ariel’s shrill laugh pierces my ears. I cover my ears
“But if I don’t, you’ll die.”
My nose is running, but I’m not about to uncover my ears. It runs all the way to my mouth. I taste blood.
The wind is what’s spinning us. I hadn’t even realized that it had stopped altogether while in the “wrinkle,” but now it’s roaring.
“Where’s Robby?” I whisper.
“With the others.” There’s sympathy in her voice. She reminds me so much of a child, though I don’t know what she is.
“The lost ones.”
“But… Robby wasn’t lost.”
Was he? No. He had a home. He had me and Ben. And he… he was only fifteen. But he was sad. Spirits took advantage of the weak. The sad, the lonely, the sick, the tired. Is that what they meant? But we took him to the doctor, and wasn’t he taking his medicine? Why was he so sad? Or was he just tired from school? I can’t remember. My head hurts.
Oxygen isn’t making it to my brain. Ariel had been right. I will die soon.
I feel her touch my upper lip.
“What does it feel like?” she whispers. “To bleed.”
“It… usually it hurts.”
“What does it feel like ‘to hurt?'” There’s a genuine curiosity in her voice, like that of a child’s, and it’s terrifying.
My mouth is dry, and my head is throbbing. I can barely breathe.
“I’m sorry that you didn’t get to see your brother,” Ariel says sadly. “You should have come with me.”
I try to form a question, but I forget. And the words won’t form! I try to open my eyes, but they feel swollen and I… I can’t see.
I’m falling. Somehow I’ve slipped. I’m no longer in the wrinkle, no longer with Ariel. I can feel her presence gone. And I’m falling. It swallows me. I don’t know what exactly it is, but it’s cold and tingly against my skin. Too thick to be water, but it’s like I’m sinking into jelly or quicksand. I can only envision one word. Darkness.
I’m asleep, but it’s one of those sleeps that I’m aware of. I’m moving. No… someone is carrying me. Light burns behind my eyes.
I crack them open and see the snowy ground moving beneath me. It’s too bright, reflecting the light of the sun.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to turn, but my body feels asleep.
The blood in my veins is too thick. I moan at the attempt to curl my fingers.
I hear something. Soft laughter.
I try to open my eyes again, but the sun blinds them. I turn away towards the snow again. It’s not as bright this time. I can see the feet of someone walking.
The person carrying me.
My mind perks up enough to wake my ears, and I hear it now. The forest. The quiet rustle of something. Steady breathing.
My red dress is gone. The one Ariel had told me to put on. The one that I liked to dance in.
For him! But who… who–
“White looks better on you.”
I blink several times and stare at the white lacy designs. My heart is pounding again, almost as loudly as his footsteps. I turn my gaze upward and see golden eyes.
“Almost didn’t get to you in time. It doesn’t take long for humans to dissipate without their little framework of space and time.”
I try to say something, but my throat is closed. No sound will escape.
“In this land, inferiors cannot speak unless given permission.”
I guess humans are inferior to whatever he is. He grins, revealing very white, normal human looking teeth. I’m relieved.
“Like this form? Yes, it seems to be one my humans prefer.”
It certainly isn’t a bad form. Dark hair that turns gold at the tips where it curls away from his face. A very defined face. But still, he wasn’t Ben.
“My Ariel, as you call it, tells me your stubborn.”
He continues to grin and stops walking. I look around. We’re in the forest, but something is different. Everything looks–
“What do you say we make a deal.”
His Ariel probably didn’t forget to mention that I’m silly.
This time when I go to open my mouth, the words find their way out.
“No, I don’t think I’m smart enough to make another deal just yet.”
“Well I always make deals with my subjects. It creates a difference between servitude and service.”
“You mean an illusion? False hope?”
His smile fades. “You’re very feisty towards someone who just saved your life.”
The exhaustion sweeps over me, and I can feel that I’m no longer free to talk. His eyes are curved, almost elvish looking. Maybe he is an elf. His ears look a little pointed. But shapeshifting? His golden eyes examine me, but I can’t read the expression from them. He settles them on my eyes, and I’m not afraid to stare back. His smile returns.
“My deals involve freedom, Seraphine.” He raises an eyebrow at my confusion. “Your new name. I have the ability to put you back exactly at the point in time where you departed… if you follow through with your side of the deal. You’re not very good at that, are you?”
I can talk again.
“What do you want?”
“For you to dance.” He begins walking again.
I don’t get it. I don’t think my dance is that good. Actually, it’s terrible. That’s why I only dance in the woods. Alone. But I’m learning how even that was a mistake.
My hands start sweating. He glances down at them, then back at whatever path he’s following, wearing something of a smirk.
He knows I’m too rash to be wise, too stubborn to follow blindly, and the only time I’m good at lying is when I’m pretending not to be scared. He will keep me here forever. Or until he tires of me.
“Tell me your deal, and I’ll tell you what I’ll agree to.”
“That’s part of it.” He smiled. “But you don’t have much of a say. I make a deal, and you either agree or you don’t. Respond too quickly, and you won’t hear the full deal. Refuse to respond, and I make a decision for you.”
“Don’t leave much room even for false hope, do you,” I mutter. I feel the blood rise to my face. I think my words might make him angry or shock him, but he smiles. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Somehow I’ve done it. I’ve managed to get myself trapped in a fairy tale. It’s always the people who don’t want to be there or don’t have enough power to escape that manage to accomplish these great feats, isn’t it?
(Photo: Hernan Sanchez)