“Josie Anderson was running away from something unimaginable. She was running away in the Smith Forest, North of Elf Creek. She was running and running and then… splash! She fell into the river. She swam and swam for days. She didn’t know where she was going. She was hungry and cold… but she did not care at all. All she felt was the rumbling of it coming. She felt it stop, so she came out of the lake — a creek now, a creek that was labeled on all the maps.”
Josie Anderson was running away from something unimaginable. She was running away in the Smith Forest, North of Elf Creek. She was running and running and then… splash! She fell into the river. She swam and swam for days. She didn’t know where she was going. She was hungry and cold… but she did not care at all. All she felt was the rumbling of it coming. She felt it stop, so she came out of the lake — a creek now, a creek that was labeled on all the maps.
“Elf Creek,” she whispered, and sure enough, as she turned around, she saw little people with sharp, small teeth in sky blue and plum purple dresses and shirts. “Something is wrong here,” she told herself. The faces, well… They, well, when I say this none of you will believe me, but they did not look real…
As she looked around, the elves evaporated into little pieces of dust. The thing that she was running from — it was back. She had no feeling in her legs, but she ran into the dark woods anyway. The thing she was running from — it gave her a toothy grin with its fangs exposed.
The witch walked into the sunlight and pushed Josie to the ground. As she bent down to take Josie’s soul, Josie slipped out of her daze and kicked the witch in the face. Scarlet red blood slithered down her face.
“Not just yet will I leave this world,” Josie whispered to herself. The witch glared at her with so much loathing that it could boil a soup. Josie took one step closer to the witch. “Why are you doing this, Mother?”
The witch looked at her. “So you recognize me, Josie. I knew my girl was smart but not this smart.”
Josie wanted to see her mother the way she had been when she was normal, before she ran away, before the incident. And then the memories flooded back. Her parents were fighting. Her mother was very violent. Well, for a long time it was just that, and then something changed. It happened when Mother was studying her little animals and one bit her. She stayed cooped up in her room. When she came out, it was only to eat and drink water. When she came out, she barely spoke to them.
Then Father stood up at dinner. “What is happening, Izzy? You have been like this for one month, and you haven’t told us anything about what is happening.” Worry struck Father’s face. Father was always mad, and his face never changed, but this look that Father gave Mother was something different, different from anything else. He was worried and something else… Something I can’t put into words, but the look was still something.
“Nothing,” Mother mumbled. Her voice was different — it was gruff and raspy, and Josie did not like it. Then, flash! She saw Mother and Father fighting, and Mother had a trunk and a bag. She was about to leave when father found out, and then it struck Josie.
“What if… I go into Mother’s room? Then I would find out what happened, right?” she asked herself. Josie gasped! She had a good idea… I know this does not seem like a lot, but for Josie, it was something new. What was happening to Mother had taken a toll on the entire family, so just thinking straight was a challenge. Josie darted into Mother’s room. It was… well… dark. The stained glass windows were completely covered by vines, the walls were covered with vines, and there were maps with animals, but something stood out: a shining silver coin. Josie turned the lights on and off, and the coin was still shining.
“What in the — “
Mother’s glare was unmistakable, Josie felt it from a mile away.
“I see that you are poking around in my room, Josie.’’
Josie, for the first time, was scared of her family — no, her mother — but instead of walking to her, she walked right to the coin, which turned red. Instead of running away, she inched closer, but when she looked at mother, her skin turned white, and then Josie ran.
Ann was having a nice dream, but when Aunt Josie was making breakfast, nothing was quiet. So, Ann woke up early just so she did not have to wake up to the sound of banging pots and pans. Ann opened her eyes to the hot, sticky summer air. Aunt Josie was making her bed. Ann heard that only because of one thing: Aunt Josie was singing. Ann decided to make some oatmeal.
“Aunt Josie?” Ann asked. “Do we have anything other than oatmeal?”
“Well,” Aunt Josie said, “We have eggs from your grandmother’s recipe. I always liked it when I was a — ” Aunt Josie was interrupted by a loud mouse. Aunt Josie hated animals. Something had happened to her when she was a kid, but Ann was not sure what it was…
Aunt Josie took a broom and smashed the mouse. Ann flinched in her chair. She was an animal lover. Aunt Josie was panting — she never successfully killed anything. Ann was still standing there in shock, and then an idea hit her. What if she went looking for Grandmother? Surely, she knew why Aunt Josie hated animals so much?
Aunt Josie was still thinking back on that one day — the image of a cursed wolf’s insides was stuck in her mind. The only thing that kept her distracted from it was thinking about Ann, but Josie remembered that night like it was yesterday.
She had been carrying a basket of apples down the road to the expecting mother of a girl. The mother had just learned that her husband had died in the war of the goblins. Josie entered the house. It was odd. She closed the door… It was also odd. The room was a circle with paintings of fish and water. There were photos of the mother and her husband. Josie went into the only room with a rectangular door frame, and there the mother was, lying in her bed.
“Trudy?” Josie called down to the low bed.
The woman woke up with a start. “Is he home?” She jumped out of bed. When she remembered that her late husband wasn’t coming home, her eyes swarmed with tears. She sat back down and cried, “How will I take care of my baby?” she sobbed.
Josie had an idea, “I can take care of her, Trudy!”
Trudy gasped. “Really? THANK YOU SO MUCH!”
The next week, out came Ann. Josie moved away from Trudy’s house and Trudy, just for Ann, so she could have a better life. That was all that Trudy wanted, so Josie did it.
Ann always wanted a friend, but the town was all the way on the other side of Wispy Hollows. Lova was what the town was called. The Mayor was called Mina. They called her that because her eyes sparkled like gems, but she was the most bossiest person in the WORLD! But her adviser, Jacob, was always wearing black. He had a hunchback; his hair was long, greasy, and black; and his skin was white like a ghost. The only thing that stood out were his bloodshot, red eyes. He was very sinister, but the only thing that paid off for that was that he opened an orphanage!… Next to a power plant… How about helping the poor people by giving all of them money?… But the money was stolen from people’s bank accounts… Welp, now you can understand that this guy was a BAD one. Everything that he tried to do was ruined. But the only way to get to the shops was by going into the town, so…
“PLEASE, can I go to the farmers’ market? I just want to see what is going on… and make some friends?” Ann’s voice broke. The tears dribbled down her face. Her brown eyes were attacked with emotion.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table: “I said no! There are adults there that take kids, and, and, and, well… ” Josie was about to confess her deepest secret. Her voice broke. “Well, you are all I have left.” Josie ran over to Ann and held her tight. “I am keeping you safe.”
Suddenly, Ann understood why Aunt Josie was so strict all the time — she was making sure that Ann lived a happy and safe life. But Josie was flexible, so the next day, Aunt Josie took Ann to the market. But when they looked around, it was crowded with people.
“What is happening?” Josie asked a shopper right next to her.
“Well, today is the freedom parade,” he answered like it was obvious.
“Are the shops still open today?” Josie asked.
“Of course! They are in Westwind! Just take the train to Redmaw, then walk to the Map seller, and he will take it from there.”
Aunt Josie was so perplexed that she almost fainted. “Um, WHAT?”
Ann was also bewildered. What were all these towns?
“Here, let me take you to the train station, okay? Then you will get what I am talking about.”
Ann glared at him. How was she supposed to trust him if he didn’t tell them his name?
Aunt Josie was reading her mind. “What is your name?”
“Max. My name is Max.”
Ann gave him a dirty look. “Why didn’t you tell us?” she scowled at his weak figure.
“I do not trust all people…”
Of course, because Aunt Josie was Aunt Josie, she stared daggers at him and asked him for proof. While he was rustling around in his battered pocket, she slapped him across the face, and a trickle of blood went down his cheek. She pulled out a flask that she carried around. The things I live with, being the niece of a scientist, Ann thought. Josie put his blood in the flask, and it turned black. Ann rolled her eyes, and sighed. Not this again.
“Who are you?” Max asked.
But Josie muttered under her breath. “I’ve never seen this before…” She quickly smirked. “Okay, fine, you can take us to… what, Westmaw?”
Yes, thought Josie, the capital, where the Red Tavern is, where that mayor lives, where I can take the beacon to get home.
Little did Josie and Ann know, the market was not in Westmaw. It was in the stronghold.
So, they got on the train. The train conductor was going to stop at Redmaw last. Finally, after a long time, he announced, “Next stop, Redmaw.”
Even though Ann was expecting the voice to come, it never failed to make her jump. When she looked around, she saw Aunt Josie sleeping. When she shook Aunt Josie, she woke up with a start.
“Huh? Where am I?”
Meanwhile, in the backseat of the train, Max was very quiet reading a book. Aunt Josie nudged him to follow them, so by the time they were at the map seller, it was dusk, and the stars were as bright as the sun against the navy blue sky. Ann was immersed in her thoughts — the ones that bothered her the most, about her parents. Aunt Josie never told me about them, who are they? I call her my aunt, but I don’t even know if we are related. I mean, she is old enough to be my aunt… I have to find out. Oh! I remember Aunt Josie never talks about Grandma Izzy… Maybe I can talk to her?
Aunt Josie was fighting with Max for, like, the fifth time this hour.
“I told you, the map seller was closed! What do you have? Oh I know, a bad memory.” Max smirked. He enjoyed making people feel bad. That Josie woman only has a suspicion of who I am and what I am capable of…
Aunt Josie was still mad at him, and when she was mad, nothing good came after. “Listen here you toad sack. You just let me get some food, and then leave me and my family alone… okay?”
Toad sack! Max thought. She drew the line right there.
This was where Ann decided to speak up. “Stop, Aunt Josie! He is trying to help us and get us food.”
Ann did not even understand why they were even going with Max. Or why this was important to Ann or Aunt Josie, or why they were taking this so far. She just was getting sucked into the abyss of obedience.
Josie was determined to find out who Max was and what he wanted. While Max and Ann were sleeping, Josie went into the woods near the campsite. They were sleeping next to the road. They were at an old camping site and were renting a rickety cabin that swayed with the slightest movement and creaked with the smallest breeze. They were not allowed to use anything that had anything to do with fire because the cabin was made out of old oak wood and bark. It had been left behind a long time ago. Now, time to get to the exciting part…
When Josie was walking in the forest, she heard whispers. She turned her head. No one there. Pull yourself together, Josie. Who would be awake this late? She hesitated. Someone that’s not me. She went deeper into the woods. The second she went to the woods and saw the trees turn a darker shade of green, she saw a clearing. In the middle of it was a little gold coin. She picked it up, and it had the same markings of the coin from her mother’s room. When she saw it, some memories flashed in her mind, and then she heard howling in the wind. She rushed back to the rickety cabin where she found everyone lying and sleeping silently on the dusty ground.
When Ann woke up, the sun peeked into the window. Ann walked to the plain of daisies and saw Aunt Josie fighting with Max on the riverside, so she stepped closer to hear what they were saying. They were just talking about what to have for breakfast. When she inched closer, she saw a little glint in Aunt Josie’s pocket — a coin. When Ann went to touch it, Aunt Josie tried to slap her hand against Ann’s… But it was too late.
TO BE CONTINUED…