The previous chapter, “Long Shadows” can be found here.
Sadie slipped down the stairs the next morning to find it was Wednesday, not Tuesday. Her parents had let her sleep an entire day. Neither her mother nor father spoke to her about what happened, but there were pancakes for breakfast on a school day.
She went through the school day as if she was in a dream. She had run-ins with Kobolds, but up until this point the portal to the world of the Faeran felt far away. She had hear stories of the evilness that crept from the portal, but her encounter with the entity was the first time she had witnessed something so different and so much stronger than herself. She walked the hallways like a ghost, for surely she was one. Sadie replayed the events of the days before in her head, and each time the result was the same. She should be dead.
Yet she still needed to deal with a math test and a missed lab report. As she walked around each corner of the school Sadie was scared she would find another entity sitting there in wait. She found she held her breath in as she went through each door, as she could still feel the entity’s arms as they snaked around the door frame and came towards her. To have to sit in a chair all day in class was to be forced to have to replay the scene again and again in her mind with no relief, and with each repetition it felt as if she could see the entity in ever starker relief.
As Sadie got off the bus she immediately felt the presence of magic. Her stomach clenched and she stopped. Other students that seemed entirely unaware, streamed past her.
As she tried to breathe again she felt a slight difference. This was not the thick, unending dark mists of the entity. This felt like the darkness of deep caves and tall pine trees. And she knew whatever it was, it called to her. The slight hill towards her home now stretched as tall as a mountain. Obstinate, Sadie set her feet still towards her house.
She took two steps before her shoe came untied and she tripped.
Sadie looked off towards where the path seemed to want her to go. There in the valley, by the swing set sat a dark form. It was the woman that had been whispered to be a witch.
The houses around her curved overhead to form a ravine with Sadie at the bottom and only one direction she could go.
As she walked towards the woman she had to keep blinking her eyes. One second the woman seemed in her forties and clad in a well-tailored green suit with long dark hair streaming down her waist. A moment later she appeared older, her face deeply lined and her suit rippled out in waves to look like robes. Sadie stared at the robes and found they were embroidered with lions that darted out of the folds, vines that twisted away from view and leaves that rippled with the woman’s movements. It was unclear where the woman stopped and the forest began.
“Who are you?” Sadie asked. Her voice quavered.
“The last humans who knew me called me Silva.” As the woman spoke, her lips moved but instead of the woman’s she hear, it seemed the woman twisted the wind near her ears into sounds. Her voice sounded like wind as it whistled through the branches.
“You had a visit from a Vdella,” Silva said. “Unfortunately for you little Human, a Vdella is not quite one thing, but a creature composed of many others. Many others that saw you.”
Sadie thought back to the mouth of the creature that loomed over her, which showed many different faces, all of them hungry.
“I can hide you from the Vdella.”
“…you can?” Sadie desperately wanted the world to feel safe again.
Silva held up a finger, “…but for a price.” The woman plucked a luminescent flower out of the folds of her robes.
The flower glowed with an inner light, its light blue petals pulsed like the arms of an octopus amongst invisible waves.
“What’s the cost?”
“You can’t take a person’s fate. It….,” Sadie wanted to say that the world did not work that way, fate was not a material thing that could be stolen, but the last few days had shown that she did not know how the world worked.
“It’s not fair,” were the words she settled on.
The woman laughed, harsh and cold like wind that howled through a mountain pass.
“The tree who has the most beautiful blossoms in the spring, only to be struck down before the summer also feels that life is not fair. But so it is.”
Sadie looked at the woman’s face, her features so sharp even as her face transformed older and younger and older again she seemed crafted under a master’s hand. Sadie could not decode the feeling behind Silva’s eyes; it seemed a mixture of amusement and pity.
Silva brought the flower closer to her. It spread out its petals to show hundreds of little seeds that gave off a soft glow. Sadie stared as one of the seeds rose up. It appeared like a little glowing octopus, with leaves that sort of moved like tenatacles.
“This is a way to keep your family safe. Right now there are likely Vdella pushing across the fold to find them.”
Sadie did not know what the fold was, but she was desperate to be free of the feeling that there was something dark and foreboding that lay in wait around every corner. She nodded, “I’ll do it.”
With that, the flower’s seed pushed itself, swimming through the air to her mouth.
“You must breathe in the seed.”
She breathed in, and swallowed the seed. Sadie could feel it tickle down her throat, and settle into her lungs. There she felt it expand. Her lungs felt stuck full with webbing. She found it hard to take a full breathe in.
Sadie clutched her chest and fell down to the ground. She felt heavy, heavier than she had ever felt in her life. Her hands dug into the dirt, her arms shaking.
She lifted her head to see Silva stand up and stand over her. She looked up into Silva’s eyes and there was only a blank coldness that stared back at her. Then she was gone.
The air around her slowly let up and she stumbled onto her feet. The world around her had righted itself, but even as the neighborhood had returned to normal, she suddenly felt like an intruder. She picked up her backpack and walked to the house.
As she closed the gate to her house the latch pinched her thumb. She rubbed her fingers, and was so concentrated on that she stumbled on the slightly raised stepping stone that she knew was always there. It felt like all of a sudden she was not attuned to the world around her. And she felt tired.
When she got inside Sadie heard her mother call from the kitchen. She said she was going upstairs to do homework. She fell into her bed. The rest of the day she could barely lift her head from the pillow.
Her mother came in to check on her since she did not come down for dinner. Rebecca leaned her hand against Sadie’s forehead.
“You’re burning up.”
Sadie could only cough back. Her voice had disappeared completely.
She slipped in and out of consciousness so much that she was not sure which was which. She would wake in the middle of the night to see the black webbing of the Vdella spill in through her bedroom window and spill over her bed, reaching towards her. It opened up its mouth and she stared into the dozens of hungry faces, all eager to eat her alive. She was sucked into the Vdella’s mouth, down, down, down. There was no pain, but only a deep blackness that never ended. She could not remember her name, nor her parents names.
She drifted here in this sea of unknowing. There was no time here, but only a faint murmur of the constant static at the core of all things. She felt as if she was a part of the static, so small she could slip through the tiniest spaces between things.
Out from that deepest blackness came hundreds of thousands of stars, but unlike the Earth’s sky where they would remain as you looked at them little, far away orbs, these expanded the more you looked at them. At first they were singular bright points, but as she stared at them, they began expanding, blooming like the largest petals, with foreign planets coming into view and smaller stars emerging, clasped along the solar systems like morning dew.
She realized she had a body again here when she felt a pang in her chest. She looked down to find the seed that had implanted itself in her chest had come unstuck and it unfolded into her hand. As she looked down, Sadie saw a path with similar flowers. She followed it a few steps to a pool in which there sat a whole world. She did not know how a whole world could come to reside inside a lake, but there it was, a whole world filled with foreign trees and unknown hills, unfurling and contracting like ripples in the water.
Sadie moved to the edge of the lake and held out the flower. It drifted down, but instead of ripples it created cracks in the water that revealed a path. Sadie stepped onto the path. The lake, and the blooming stars overhead disappeared. Here there was a forest at first light, and before her, a bridge. Overhead a lavender sky that faded into pink, and three moons that were strung one on top of the other.
She stepped onto the bridge. She could feel as the minutes pass the world around her lighten to reveal the bridge passed over a bubbling brook that emptied out into a pond with foreign flowers that blossomed on its waters.
She could feel someone behind her, and she turned excitedly, but as she turned the scene ripped apart. She saw her mother’s face over top of her, and her father in the background talking, but she could not understand his words.
When she slipped into blackness again there were no dreams.
She woke up a day later feeling tired, but at least coherent. Her room felt utterly mundane, and the Vdella felt safely outside.
After her sickness Sadie found she grew winded easily. Silva’s flower seemed still lodged, ever present, in her chest. She remembered times when she would spend all morning with her head to the ground, following the tracks of caterpillars. Times when her afternoons were filled with wading knee-deep in the nearby stream for crawfish. But to get rid of the Kobolds, the trees had been cut. The stream had dried to a trickle of murky run-off. There seemed little to pull her out of the house once she got home, and everything that felt safe being curled up in bed.
She could feel her mother’s concern on her back when she walked from the front door to her room. If Sadie made eye contact with her, Naomi would ask her to come and sit and talk. But Sadie did not want to talk. She did not want to address the fact the Vdella were real, and she did not want to say out loud that she was still scared of turning around every corner. That every night she struggled to sleep, because on the verge of unconsciousness the Vdella’s arms seemed to grow out of her bed and claw at her throat.
Neither could she tell her mother she had made a deal with a witch for her family’s safety, and there was now lodged a magical flower in her chest that she did not know how to get out.
So she did not. Sadie would quickly run from the front door to her room, and each day mumble something about a lot of homework to do. She also knew coming into the kitchen to grab a snack, so she began to get something from the vending machine at school before she left. Her room grew full of piles of Twinkie wrappers and spare KitKats. She knew throwing them away in the main kitchen would raise questions, so she would pack them up in her backpack and throw them away at school. She ate dinner quickly, and when she was still hungry Sadie would creep down at night to spoon tablespoons of cream cheese or Nutella into her mouth. The Nutella jar was the only thing she did not fear about the night. There in the weak light of the pantry was the only space she had enough room to cry.
She had never been picked first in sports, but somewhere Sadie found herself being picked second-to-last, then last, then always last. But somewhere as she faded into the background of her own life, Sadie found the fear at night lessened. Each new corner might not bring with it an unknown terror. Somewhere along the line, the Vdella and the witch faded into a nightmare she must have concocted. The Faere were contained to Manhattan, and she must have just hoped something more than mundane happened out in her town.
Sadie remembered a time when she had many friends, but that outgoing person seemed foreign to the self she saw now staring back in the mirror. More and more events she was excluded from. The friends that did stick around seemed to always need something from her. Rubie to share her chemistry notes, and Becca who lived nearby and needed her to often pick her up when she missed the bus. Sadie would pretend to miss the bus whenever Becca texted so her mom would take them. When she could drive, she would pick Becca up and drop her off at the front of the school before she parked, making Becca usually on time and her, always late.
Then there was Alice, who was their high school class President all four years, thanks to the speeches Sadie wrote, the flyers she designed, and the videos she shot. Sadie was well aware that she was being used, less of a friend and more a free personal butler, but taking their photos and existing on the outskirts seemed better than being alone.
When it came to apply to college, she found the fact that she had taken as many classes as Rubie to help her left her utterly unexceptional in any specific field. Plus, with dropping off Becca every day she found her first period grades were always a grade lower than her last. In helping Alice to become class President, Sadie found she herself had no accolades to her own name.
So, she went to community college while she worked for the city processing resident complaints. She only needed to talk to people rarely, for most just submitted the form online. Then, she had only need to contact the right agency, and the rest was out of her hands. Most would think of the idea of bureaucracy and paperwork as boring, but here in a windowless office in an office park, at the very least she felt safe. Her co-workers were all older, and they all had separate enough jobs that their interaction was constrained to chatter about the inconstant air conditioning in the summer and the tepid temperature of the coffee pot in the winter.
Sadie might not have been happy, but she was nevertheless content.