Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
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by Kat Dysart

I ran, laughing at the sound of footsteps pattering close behind. Running freely and barefoot always brought laughter bubbling out of me. Unlike running my daily laps, I felt euphoria every time I ran down these dusty halls. I skidded on the rough, wooden floors, a board groaning beneath my slippered feet. Demon figures glared from grotesque knockers hung above my head. The doors themselves also glared with just their size and ornateness.

"Kira!" Woody laughed from behind. I could hear her close to me, though I didn't turn. I knew each squeak of the boards well enough to judge by after all. The wheezing-laughing quick breaths were almost to my neck when I spun around to face the older girl. Or maybe woman was the right word for her. Though she looked young, her flowing brown hair swept into a braid and her skirts long and colorful, she was older than most of us here.

Woody flinched a bit, either from my quick motion or the grin I gave her. Her composure came back quickly though and she eyed me as two other girls skipped up with perfectly-mirrored expressions of apprehension and excitement.

"Are we going through the door today?" one girl asked.

"Today we're going through the door?" the other mirrored right after. Twins--seemingly lacking in unique thoughts.

Woody placed her hands on her hips like a mother scolding her children. Her laughter disappeared as her reasonable demeanor took over. "But we don't know what's back there! I don't think we're allowed here at all."

I rolled my eyes at Woody, taking a step backwards toward the doors. If I turned around, they'd be within my reach. I'd never gotten this close to them before, but I could push them open. I could, anyway. Never mind if I should. Woody sent me another sharp glance.

"We've already explored this far. There'd be no point in quitting now. Besides, you wouldn't keep following if you didn't want to know what's back there," I said with an exaggerated sigh. We had started this whim of an adventure weeks ago and only now did my best friend object? Doors were meant to be opened, especially if they were at the end of a long maze. Woody might have been the oldest, but I was always boldest. That's why I was the unofficial leader ever since I was ten. I tucked strands of straw-like hair behind my ear and turned to face the door. The twins let out an 'oooh' as I touched the wood.

Closer… closer…

I ignored the whispers which were like a voice behind my ear or in my head. I heard them often enough and was no longer concerned that I was the only one that heard them. Since the first day I stumbled upon the labyrinth's entrance, I heard the wind whisper these things during dinner, during my dreams, when I stared at the doors before me.

* * *

It had been spring then and leaves were starting to sprout on the few trees outside. This adventure had been my fault and really, most things were. Woody was sitting outside, her sandals off to feel the warm grass between her toes.

"It's too hot!" I moaned, grabbing Woody's arm. She had looked up at me as I pulled. I kept pulling, but I couldn't drag my older friend to her feet. I wasn't really trying. A smile flitted over Woody's face.

"You're almost seventeen. Why are you such a child still?" she teased me and I pouted at those words. Woody shook her head at my boots and long shorts, short hair and large shirt--just like the boys wore. This made me childish apparently. Didn't Woody know I only acted like a kid around her? Didn't she know I was asking to be taken care of.

I let Woody's arm fall from my hand. Loosing a sigh, I ducked under the tree with her. The shade cooled my skin, but it didn't cool my spirit for very long.

"Let's go on an adventure!"

* * *

None of us expected the adventure to be so engrossing. I wasn't sorry though because in the darkness of these corridors, I could truly shine. Shine like the metal hinges and gold inlay that now stood before me.

They were like doors to a throne room. I'd seen picture books with castles and that's what these doors reminded me of, like they were meant to dwarf people in their presence. They didn't belong in the basement, but then, none of the labyrinth belonged. This was a communal home, or perhaps orphanage, or perhaps work camp. We who had been here our entire lives couldn't quite be sure what to call it except Camp Agnus.

Woody drew in a sharp breath, eyes on my hand. I could feel the grain of the wood beneath my fingers. The hall was dark and unlit except for the lanterns the twins carried. We used to carry only one lantern when we found the underground passageways, but the twins would argue and pull each other's pigtails over who got to carry it until we started stealing two. The risk of being caught was higher, but tonight I was happy for it. The farther into the labyrinth we explored, the farther underground we got, and the darker the halls became. The doors at the end of the maze were made of dark wood and if not for the light reflecting off the gold, they would be invisible.

I gave one door a light shove. Nothing. Twins stood on tip toe behind me to peer over opposite shoulders.

"Candy, Berry, hold the lights higher." I didn't bother to glance over my shoulder to each one as I called their names. They responded to whichever, not just their own--a unit really. That's what they were or how they'd been raised to see themselves. One, not two people.

With the lights shining clearer, I could make out the crack between the doors. No handles, so I was right in pushing. They were probably just stuck after so long without moving. We already figured we were the first in centuries to explore the area.

Without me needing to speak, Woody moved up next to me. In our heads, we counted down from three and pushed. The loud groan cascaded in echoes down the hall. Woody paused and threw a look of worry over her shoulder. No one would hear us this far away though. I was forced to relax against the door, unable to push it without her help. The half foot difference in our height made Woody the stronger of us, though our arms were both more like sticks than tree trunks. The twins behind us were even more of fleshy skeletons. Sometimes, they also got fed as a person.

Closer... Come closer.

I stepped on Woody's foot. Her head snapped back, braid smacking a curly-haired twin. Again, we counted down in our heads, eyes locked together rather than on the door. This time the door groaned for longer and our arms shook with the force, but we pushed through, kept pushing through until the crack widened enough for a head to pop through. I didn't hesitate, ducking my head inside.

Of course, it was even blacker inside than out, but smells drifted to me that were so very odd. At first it was just the smell of old fire, like smoke had become part of the walls themselves, but in another century. I could also smell wax, but it wasn't quite right, that smell. It wasn't the candle wax I was used to.

"B-Berry," I whispered and for a second, was afraid I never spoke. It felt like a thought, though my thoughts never hesitated quite like that. A small responsive sound from behind proved I'd spoken aloud.

"Give me your light." I held my hand behind me and a second later, warm metal pushed into my hand. Slowly, I pulled my head back from the door and pushed the lantern in instead. My head followed next.

The warm glow cast by the candle lantern did little to fight back the darkness and the wavering orange looked like it would soon lose. The ground was grey with a hint of red...and fuzzy. I wanted to poke it with my foot, but also feared it like a sleeping bear. The floor looked alive and dangerous. Instead, I held the lantern higher, trying to gauge how big the space beyond was. Rather than walls or ceiling, the light only briefly touched on what might be old metal pillars. All over the room were the pinpricks of twinkles. So much metal, more than I'd ever seen. I tried to stare into the center of it, ever expectant. I knew something was there and my longing for it tripled in force. Whatever was in this room, my heart needed and I could feel it. I would have stared inside forever if a sudden flick to my head didn't snap me out of it.

"Kira!" The sound was part plea, part whine. I jerked back from the door, head and lantern escaping the black hole beyond it. Woody shifted nervously from foot to foot, eyes desperate. Curiosity and fear were a potent mix in my friend. I shook my head.

"It's strange in there," I said. Berry reached for her lantern back, but I didn't notice her taking it from me.

"How's it strange?"

"What's strange about it?" the twins simultaneously asked. Woody looked at me just as expectant, but she also with more fear than the twins. We had a way of looking in each other's eyes and understanding just what the other was feeling. A lifetime together does that to people, so she probably understood how the doors pulled me to them. She also probably feared it.

"It's…" I struggled for words to express my thoughts. "It's just a feeling. Like this place is just too strange."

"Can we see it?" the twins asked. Of course the fearless, ever eager candy girls would want to see. I should have seen it coming, but didn't. The dark feeling overwhelmed me so suddenly it almost felt as if it didn't come from me at all. The doors, the room, the whatever hid beyond the pillars. All mine! Little twins that only followed didn't deserve to see inside because they didn't desire it. Oh, how I needed to see inside though. I needed this adventure enough to follow voices that constantly said 'come'.

"No!" I growled, moving back towards the door so my back pressed against it. It felt warm when there were only cold looks before me. I could almost feel the door encouraging me. The others backed away, though Woody reached out a hand before dropping it.

"You don't want to see it. It's not for you!" I turned suddenly, both hands grasping the edge of the door, about to fling it open. Woody let out a strangled yelp and grabbed my arms.

"Kira, don't!"

"I'm going inside!" The grip on my arms got tighter, yet they trembled. I thought I heard a sob, maybe. If I did, it wasn't a sob I knew. The twins cried, but never Woody, never my rock who was always there smiling.

"I'm afraid…" The words fell onto me, painfully, and my hands dropped from the door. My Woody. For all this desire to find something new beyond the door, I could not destroy my love for her. Her hands and my hands shook, each almost touching the other's in should be silence. But it wasn't silent. Now that our voices stopped echoing off the walls, a new sound emerged from underneath. It came from behind, quiet at first but growing in vigor.

"We're scared. We're scared too!" Sounds like a hundred hands beating the dust from doormats roared out from the room and I stumbled away. Woody pulled me further, then suddenly blackness darker than ever before swarmed up from the crack in the doors. We turned and ran, not looking back. The black cloud chased behind, emitting horrid squeaks along with the fluttering sound. At some point our light was halved, but I never looked back to see if we'd lost a twin. I just ran with all the fear inside of me.

Somehow, we made it to the entrance of the labyrinth. Usually, it took half a candle to make it to the doors, but our run back seemed to take only the time for a drop of hot wax to drip down the candle's length. Open sobs came from behind. We could see the light of the door. Quickly, with frantic hands, all of us tried to grab it at once. Woody reached it first with her long arms and pulled open the rotted wooden thing. We shoved through it together, somehow fitting, and moved into the lighter, but still dark space of the cellar. The twins slammed the door closed as Woody and I grabbed the planks that should have been nailed over the door, placing them in their usual way. We'd just finished hanging the frayed tapestry in front when we heard noises in the kitchen. Looks were exchanged, then we ran for the shelves.

I crouched under cans of fruit with names I could hardly spell and held my breath. Who would come to the kitchen at this time of night? Probably people like us. A bitter thought, really. I always thought we were unique night-time adventurers.

My thoughts snapped away as the door creaked open. I stared in horror as Augustine, the cook's assistant wandered in. The woman's back was hunched in its familiar shape and she wobbled as she walked, muttering nonsense under her breath. Even more than the cook, I feared her. Cook was a strict man, but fair. He was tall and proud looking, unlike this creature that followed behind him, hissing at children.

Augustine moved between the aisles, a clipboard grasped in one wrinkled hand as she stooped further to inspect the shelves. With a check-like swoosh of her pen, she moved on to the next aisle. I quickly realized what she was doing. Only the hunchback would do inventory at night just to see if anything had been stolen. It wasn't like the door didn't have a lock. Then again, even curly haired twins knew how to get past that.

She paused in her walk, pen stilling mid-check, and I tensed. The hunchback's eyes stared at something on the ground to the left. As I followed her gaze, I saw colored cloth sticking out from behind a stack of boxes. Breath caught in my throat and silently I screamed as if Woody could hear my thoughts.

"Lil' Roaches," Augustine screeched, pitching forward. "I got ya now!" She grabbed a handful of Woody's skirts and wrenched out the screaming girl. She hauled her up by the hair and raised a hand.

"Don't touch her!" I jumped out from my spot beneath the fruit and lunged for the hunchback. I grabbed her arm long enough to stall the slap. The twins modeled my example and dropped down from above, biting and scratching until Woody was able to escape.

We ran frenzied up the stairs and threw open the cellar door. The light blinded me momentarily and I bumped into something, ending up on my knees. I could hear the thump ka-thump of Augustine's steps right next to me, but I wasn't grabbed. Diving under the table, I made my way for the door. Now that my eyes were fully adjusted, I fixed a hopeful gaze on that door in time to see the hunchback dash out it. The heavy metal slammed shut, followed by a bolt clanking into place. My eyes widened.

One twin was already hanging off the door handle when I reached it. I shoved Candy away and grabbed the handle myself, shoving and pulling. It was no use. We were utterly trapped.

With nothing better to do, Woody and I sat in front of the door. The twins ran around the room, trying to find a way out. They had too much energy.

"Why'd you freak out like that, back at the door?" Woody asked me, quiet and almost in my ear. The frantic twins probably didn't hear.

"I don't know. I just lost it." Woody chewed her lip, looking like she wanted to say something. She didn't though, so I just added a "sorry," for good measure. We fell into silence again and it was just starting to stretch too far when a twin each dropped a candy bar in mine and Woody's laps. I couldn't help but smile.

I leaned my head on Woody's shoulder as I ate and she pet my hair. There was no avoiding trouble now. No one wanted a lashing or to clean the kitchen for a month. Even the twins started to see this as the likely outcome and sat down on either side of us. I even stopped thinking about the door behind us as we thought about the one in front. The one the cavalry would soon enter from to punish us.

I was just licking the chocolate from the wrapper when a click sounded. I shoved the offending thing underneath me and watched as the door swung open. The headmaster strode in first, hair still mussed from sleep. Cook and the hunchback followed close behind.

"These the brats I find in the cellar." Augustine pointed to us, grinning to show off her missing teeth. The headmaster fixed us with a stare. I was forced to look away, those silvery cold eyes too much. I don't know why everyone called him a headmaster since this was hardly a proper school, but it was probably because his eyes demanded that sort of respect.

"Were you stealing food?" The question was asked, but I didn't hear a question in it, like he'd already decided our answer. The wrapper under my butt burned.

"N-no sir," I said, trying to sound as strong as possible. The wrapper laughed at this. "We didn't come to steal." At least that wasn't an outright lie. I wasn't as good with those, so I'd rather twist the truth. Like Woody was twisting her hands in her lap. She should stop doing that. Didn't she know how suspicious it looked?

The headmaster's eyes pierced me so strongly that this time I couldn't look away. He reminded me of an old powerful wizard. There was no strength in his short frame, only in his eyes and stance. Would he turn me into a frog? No, that was too fairy tale. He'd likely lock us in a room for the rest of our lives if he found out what we did every night.

By now I was sweating, but our eyes were still locked. Finally, the headmaster found something satisfactory in my gaze. Just as he looked away, Cook grabbed a twin by the cheek and forcibly demanded the headmaster's attention.

"Perseus, this child has chocolate on its cheek." The headmaster stared as Cook wiped away the smudge of brown. Those silver eyes snapped back to me.

"I swear we only stole after we got caught! We were hungry waiting!" I yelped, words flowing out of me. I would have spilled more if Woody didn't flick my hand. My mouth snapped shut as my cheeks started to burn. Normally I was better about not confessing, but it was those silver eyes!

"If you weren't here to steal, then why?" the headmaster asked slowly. I gulped. I wasn't about to say it was because I longed for the other side of the ornate doors more than anything. After a minute of silence, he had Augustine show him where she found us. Besides three candy bars, no food was missing. The silver eyes caught on something in the back corner, something that had us shaking in our slippers. Bent nails lying on the ground. The headmaster ripped away the tapestry and gasped as a hastily placed board tumbled to the floor.

"Have you gone through this door?!" The headmaster's roar filled the cellar.

"W-well...you see--" Woody stammered.

"We just looked!" I pleaded. We didn't just look though and as the headmaster grabbed my wrist, I knew he guessed this. We were bodily dragged from the room. I expected to be punished, but even more than angry eyes staring at us, they were fearful. Did they know about the doors? Or the black cloud? I was too afraid to ask.

"How many times did you just look?" the headmaster asked. Cook sat behind him, looking intense but confused. He didn't look like he knew about the labyrinth, but I wasn't sure about the headmaster. I noticed that only those two sets of eyes were on us now. Hunchback must have hobbled away at some point. She probably wasn't interested unless there was someone to get in trouble. I stared at the door that led out of the kitchen as I thought. Cook smacked me on the back of my head suddenly. I snapped my eyes up to him. My only answer was a shrug.

"You don't know or you won't tell us?" Cook growled. I shrugged again. Woody was looking at the wall behind the adults. She'd leave the lying up to me since it always showed on her face more than mine. The twins sitting on the floor between us weren't even paying attention. Typical.

"This is really important. That labyrinth is forbidden!" And how was I supposed to know that if everyone acted like it didn't even exist? The headmaster reproved my lack of seriousness. "You four don't know what you could be getting into," Headmaster said, his voice still perfectly calm when his eyes were anything but.

"Do you?" I snapped back. Woody looked at me in surprise. "Do you really know what's in there or do you just want to find one more thing to take away from us?!" One of the headmaster's bushy white eyebrows quirked up. Cook looked about ready to hit me again, but Headmaster raised a hand, stopping him. A few seconds passed slowly.

"That's not what this is about. A place like the labyrinth is dangerous." He was being vague. 'Dangerous'. How was it more dangerous than the stairs leading to the old library that they locked up ages ago? There were holes in those stairs and one could only guess what horrors lay beyond the doors if rumors were to be trusted. I snorted.

"Take this seriously, child!" Suddenly, the headmaster's eyes locked onto Woody. "You're a smart girl. You know better than this. Someone who can read should be able to learn how dangerous this path is." Woody's eyes widened slightly and slowly, she gave a tiny nod. I stared at her intently. Was that understanding in her eyes? She knew something, read some hint in those words. No matter how I stared, wanting an explanation though, Woody's eyes avoided mine.

I stood up abruptly. "I'm going back to my room. There's nothing else to say," I hissed. I didn't look back. I could feel their eyes burning into me, but I walked right to that door and out it. They must have been too stunned to stop me.

Thoughts churned an ugly mess in my head as I stomped down the halls, eyes barely seeing. They were acting like the labyrinth had been sealed away for a reason, but they didn't say why. Could a situation get anymore suspicious? There must be an underground passage that led out of this place--something going past the iron gates that were always locked and guarded.

They didn't want us ever to go into the labyrinth. They didn't want me to see it and pretended that it was the beyond that they were afraid, not of me running away. If a world existed past Camp Agnus, I figured it must be wonderful place. All this 'it's dangerous, Kira!' irked me and I wished I hadn't run away when the black cloud appeared, just so I could prove that something amazing lurked beyond those doors. The momentary fear couldn't compare to the safety that surely lay beyond.

I slammed the door to my room shut and crawled into the bed that took up most of the small space. Mine and Woody's rooms were next to each other, connected by a thin wall. Normally, we stayed up most the night talking through the thin barrier about our adventures. I was still awake much later when I heard her knock on the wall, calling out to me. I pulled the old patchwork quilt from over my head.

"What did the headmaster mean? He hinted something to you," I said immediately. I could hear Woody's sigh, even through the wall.

"The library." I pressed my ear closer to the wall. Was I hearing that right? Wouldn't anyone that set foot in the library get eaten? A student way back before my time was said to have been murdered there, body parts chopped up and hidden in the shelves or something. Because of it, the library had to be closed to students. The twins had repeated over and over that they wanted to explore it, insisting that the rumors were only in place because there was something to hide—like books made of bone or a ghosty pal to befriend. Even more than me, the twins thought everything was an adventure or a conspiracy, never something to fear until they were face to face with it and screaming. And they screamed a lot.

"I'm going to go to the library tonight. Come with me," Woody continued when I said nothing. My eyes widened.

"I'm not going in there!" I exclaimed, voice rising shrilly. Ghosts were not to be messed with. Woody shushed me and I snapped my mouth shut. Talking after curfew was almost as forbidden as having another person in your room after lights out. "Don't go in there. There's a bad, bad aura to that place!"

"Don't be silly. You're scared of a library, but not a labyrinth in the basement?" I bit my lip, worried by Woody's words. The odd thing was, I hadn't always been afraid of the library. It was possibly when I first found the labyrinth that I became afraid. I was never afraid of the labyrinth though. Even at the scariest moments, fear lasted it's one second, so why did my companions just keep fearing?

"A-all right," I muttered. "I won't go with you, but tell me if you find something," I said finally.

"I will," Woody responded, her voice warmer now. "Good night, Kira. Dream well."

The door was in front of me again. But now it was fully opened, both doors flung wide to reveal blackness beyond. Metal pillars rose too high to be seen, placed oddly in a circle. Whatever lit the scene wasn't candle because it didn't flicker, but the reflections still twinkled at me from hundreds of chains draped between the pillars. As I stepped into the room, I could see it all clearly. The ground was lush carpet, like red-dyed fur. The thick dust should have made it soft, but the material squished between my bare toes. I realized I was in my nightgown, though I didn't remember changing before going to sleep. I didn't remember walking through the labyrinth either, or going to sleep at all.

Closer… The voice whispered in the air, or it was the air. I took a step further into the room.

Come closer to me. Another step. Closer! Chains shifted in the center of the circle and I saw for a brief second, a face. Unblemished skin and the darkest of eyes, then gone in an instant. Suddenly the ground was wetter, redder, liquid seeping up onto my feet. My heart sped faster, like the time Jeffory kissed me under the dead apple tree. I could almost feel wind caressing my cheek.

"I--" The words wanted to come out of me. I didn't know the words, but they were pulled out of my mouth anyway. "I love you!" I screamed. I thought I heard a light chuckle. I could feel the warmest gaze on me, rivaling the warmth beneath my feet.

"I know." The voice wasn't a whisper anymore. Now it was as real as I always knew it was. My knees gave out and I fell to the ground, tears streaming from my eyes.

* * *

I woke with a start, sweat turning my hair slimy like yellow seaweed. I kicked off my quilt, stumbling out of bed. There was a man inside that room, past the black ornate doors. I didn't stop to put on my shoes as I lurched out the door and to the one next to mine. Late morning light already spilled from the windows, telling me I'd missed breakfast. I knocked, then knocked again, louder. I was about to pound on the door when a hand grabbed my shoulder. I let out a frightened squeak and spun around. Woody stood behind me, startled and curious.

"Kira? What are you doing?" she asked. "You missed breakfast."

"We need to talk!" I exclaimed, not wasting any time. She was the person I always went to because she understood. She always did, always supported my crazy ideas. With a strange look, Woody invited me into her room and we sat on the bed. She didn't try to speak.

"There's someone in that room, the one at the end of the labyrinth!" I said, pleading earnestly with my eyes. Woody's brows furrowed.

"That's just silly--"

"It's not! I saw him just now!" The room went quiet, my loud words still ringing in our ears. Woody fidgeted, hands pulling at the frayed hem of the patchwork silk and cotton skirt she wore.

"Where?" Woody asked me. I hesitated, but still told the truth.

"In my dream. But it was real, I swear!" I believed it, but I knew what Woody would say. Sometimes, she was too reasonable.

"Kira…" I shot her a harsh look, begging for her not to continue the thought. This time I was right. My begging did little good though as Woody continued. "It's a dream. You need to grow up, accept this."

"No! Why do you keep saying that?" Woody's amber eyes flooded with warm sadness as she patted my hand.

"This adventure isn't doing you any good. I…" She hesitated. "I don't think we should go to the labyrinth anymore." Her hand curled around mine, jailing it. I spun so I was fully facing her, eyes wide.

"What?!" I snapped, voice full of accusation. Woody tried to grab my shoulders, but I pulled away, jumping up from the bed. "How can you say that?" Woody shrunk back slightly before grabbing something from the table by the bed. She shoved the heavy brown book into my hands.

"Kira, please. I stole this from the library last night. I haven't read it all, but read it, you'll understand." I stared at the book for a second. Didn't I ask Woody to share with me what she learned? But it wasn't supposed to lead to 'don't go in the labyrinth'. It should be more like, 'there's nothing to fear now'. Not go into the labyrinth? That's like saying don't chase your dreams.

Betrayal took hold--hurt, subdued, and energized me. How could Woody of all people crush my heart? I shook my head angrily, but took the book. Without another word, I stormed out of her room and into mine. I could vaguely hear Woody yell something about how I'd be punished for skipping out on my daily chore, but I didn't care.

I threw the book into a corner of my room and sulked until I heard children heading down for lunch in tiny packs. I was going to miss two meals today. There was a strict on time policy—be in the dining hall noon sharp or you won't get fed. I didn't feel like moving, but I could take the starvation. I had faith that my new love would save me from this soon.

Thinking about him and the labyrinth, I became curious about Woody's book. I fetched it and lay back down on my bed. The thing was old, thick, and had a leather strap holding it shut. At one point, it needed a key to open, but the strap had broken in two.

Hours passed as I read or tried to. The book was a journal of sorts, written by a previous headmaster. He sounded surely like a wizard and furthered my belief that the current headmaster also was. Every day there was an entry until I was nearly to the end of the book. Granted, I started about two-thirds of the way in. But suddenly, there was a more than week long gap between entries. I focused strongly on that page, certain it must be important.

"The school has been over... overtaken by a powerful monster..." I read slowly, finger trailing along with the words. I bit my lip as I scanned through more of the page. There were so many big words. It was truly a subpar education I'd gotten.

"...Student has released immortal puppet...t-tear?" I didn't even know what those words meant. I did know 'monster' though. A few entries later, I read that the library was closed and the book with the summoning spell burned. This incident proved without a doubt that magic was too much for children to handle. No longer would it be taught. An entry later, I nearly dropped the book in shock. The puppet-whatever-monster was locked in a room with powerful magical wards, a labyrinth then built around it, and the door hidden. I nearly tore the page in anger. That was my love they had locked in there! Who were they to say he was a monster? But I couldn't stop reading.

As I flipped through the rest of the pages, I could feel a headache growing. This puppeteer was apparently a seducer, one with mesmerizing powers. The book said this and that about him, but I couldn't understand a single word of it. Quickly frustrated by my poor reading skills as much as what the book said, my eyes started to droop before the last page and after a minute, I was sleeping with my face cradled in the book.

* * *

I stood on a cliff, overlooking the most wondrous thing. Water went on for miles, crashing and roiling against the rocks. The ocean's mist reached my face. Salt stung my eyes, but I didn't dare close them. I listened aptly to the roar, laughing.

"Do you like it?" A voice said suddenly from behind. I jumped, spinning to see a tall man behind me. His face was just as beautiful as in my previous dream and now I could see how long his hair was, like a cape, as if it had been growing unchecked for centuries.

"I do!" I exclaimed, taking a step toward him. Or I thought I moved toward him. He was still just as far away, calmly watching me with a warm smile on his face.

"I can show you this and more if you free me. We can see the entire world together." My heart raced. I almost flung myself in his arms right then. Something held me back though, something like a memory tickling my mind.

"This book... it said that Camp Agnus has been here for centuries and that it used to be a school for magic." This wasn't the part that bothered me. "It also said that the school was abandoned after a monster was loosed. You…?" The cool spray wet my back unpleasantly and I shook but only because of the cold I told myself.

His smile widened, showing off perfect teeth. Suddenly the distance between us shortened so that he was only a foot away. An elegant hand reached out to caress my cheek.

"Kira, do you trust a book you can barely read over me?" His voice purred as he ran his hand through my hair just like Woody always did. I was silent for a moment before I suddenly flung my arms around his neck.

"I don't think you're a monster! If you were one, you aren't anymore. Right?" He lightly chuckled at that. I felt a slight hesitation. The pages of the book flashed in my mind. All those warnings, but I didn't understand what there was to warn about. He would show me the world! Here he stood in front of me, pleasant as could be. This beautiful man was a monster? I took a deep breath. "I'll definitely free you!"

* * *

For the second time that day, I woke with a start, sweat dripping from my hair. I wasted no time in thinking about what had just happened. I felt it like a tug directly on my heart. Like my heart would explode out of me if I stayed in my room a second longer. Soon I was in the hall, walking through the evening light that just barely peeked through the hall window. My feet quickened into an outright run. Voices yelled at me, but I barely heard them, let alone understood.

"Kira! Where are you?"

Come to me

"Don't run!"


The kitchen jumped up in front of me soon, but not soon enough. The room was busy with pre-meal activity and I shoved past someone holding a pile of plates, ignoring the resulting crash. I had reached the cellar when Cook came rushing at me.

"Grab that girl!" he yelled.

"No, stay away from me, beasts!" I didn't know if I screamed aloud or in my head. A hand was on my hair. I clawed the flesh without thinking. I got the door wrenched open and dived inside, slamming it shut and knocking a shelf down in front. The chaos on the other side of the door dimmed immediately and I grasped the tapestry. Flinging it aside, I saw a wall being sloppily constructed in front of the door. Some heavy piece of metal found its way into my hand and I began slamming the thing into the bricks. Mortar tumbled away as the door behind me was slowly slammed in. I barely waited for the wall to tumble enough for me to climb over it before I was knocking away the newly nailed boards on the door, still using my metal hammer.

Then, the door was free and I was diving inside. Without a lantern, the labyrinth beyond sat in perfect darkness. I considered slowing my run, but I could hear the shelf being shoved out of the way and continued. I'd walked this maze in my waking and sleeping hours and even when I wasn't sure of the way, the wind continued to guide me. I stepped on the lost lantern from yesterday, but ignored the pain from the broken glass.

"I'm coming! I'm coming, my love!" Exhilaration filled my blood as laughter bubbled out of me. Running these forbidden halls always made me this way, but today I felt higher than ever.

Left and right and circling around, back and forth through the maze I ran. Finally, my beloved doors loomed in front of me. Just like in my dream, they were flung open wide. I nearly dropped to me knees in front of them from exhaustion and relief.

Goosebumps ran up and down my body as I reverently stepped inside. The smell of old fire assaulted me again along with the other smells. I was surprised to find the carpet soft and dry. Without any light, there were no twinklings to greet me, but the caressing wind still drew me closer. I could hear tinklings though, the sound of metal moving against itself. A bit like bells; it was such a pleasing sound.

"Hello?" The wind was all around me, blanketing me with its force and gentleness. The pulling was insistent. Before I realized it, I'd staggered inside the circle of pillars. I tripped over a chain, knocking it loose in the process. As it tumbled to the ground, I could hear many other chains fall like dominoes after it. I didn't feel like standing up again. It was just too warm. So quiet and dark, like peace itself resided in the circle. My limbs curled in on themselves. The carpet under me was too soft.

"I'm here, are you?" I muttered drowsily. The thought repeated a few times in my mind because I couldn't quite keep hold of it. I'd forget it if the repetition stopped. The last thing I heard was the door booming shut, then I slipped into a deep sleep.

* * *

Someone was petting my hair. The hand felt cold and rough, pulling strands though it moved softly. My already open eyes focused straight ahead of me, taking in a fire lit scene. Trees stood in a circle, and beneath my legs, I could feel soft but soggy leaves. The rest of me was supported on something cold, but subtly moving. A someone. I tried to turn around to see who it was. I tried, then tried again. None of me would move, and not in the way of being restrained, but as if the message simply got lost between brain and muscle. My heart beat faster. My eyes, even my eyes did nothing.

Shush, my love. It's all right, a soothing voice whispered against my ear. It was my beloved, familiar voice, but deeper and more gravelly than I remembered. The cold hand continued to pet my hair. I couldn't move. I wanted to, so why why couldn't I? Tears rose up in me, but my non-responsive eyes refused to cry them.

The man holding me seemed to sense this. His hand tangled deeper in my hair, fingers rubbing soft circles in my neck. It was as if he were rubbing away the tension, but my unnaturally relaxed body held none.

It's okay, he whispered again, lips brushing against my skin. It sent a shiver through me from fear and pleasure. But why is it okay, I wanted to ask.

You're a puppet now. But you don't have to worry. I'll take care of you. I'll love you. An unspoken 'forever' hung in the air. Puppet? Panic seized me, overtook my mind with no physical outlet. I couldn't do a thing even though every part of me fought for it. I could feel my body straining against whatever magic held it, but there was not even a tremble within. No matter how painfully I fought to turn my eyes, it was only painful.

I'm sorry! I'm sorry for not listening, for running. Woody! Help—Save me!

The man tsked at me and I felt the brush of long hair against my shoulders as he shook his head.

You're upset now? But didn't you say you love me? Right there my heart stopped its desperate thudding. Fingertips tenderly touched my chin and my head turned into the touch of its own accord as if it were his fingertips that pulled my action. I could almost see Woody, hand outstretched toward me. Then he stretched out his hand as if I could reach out and take his. But I could reach for neither hand.

You're the one who wanted this. I stared into his handsome face, ageless with beauty, framed in ebony curtains. His head descended toward me so slow I feared even time was messed up here. But it sped up again and lips pressed against mine, startlingly warm lips unlike the rest of him. Lips warm enough to melt away the panic inside me. I took his hand.

And silently I cried inside my heart because he was right. Puppet or not, I asked him to take me away. Whether I was loved or not, I had flung myself in his direction. Even now, I truly loved him.



2013 Kat Dysart

Bio: Kat Dysart is a student at Santa Fe University of Art and Design where she studies studio art and creative writing. Check out her website.

E-mail: Kat Dysart

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