1.18: The Festival, part 2

There is no place safer that you could be, than here at the Anderson with me.

Henry hadn’t meant to fall asleep. At Kara’s insistence he sought out the makeshift bedroom in the guttyworks of the Anderson Warehouse, dried himself off, and pulled on a baggy change of clothes. Then he sat on the cot, and found that he could keep his eyes open no longer. No matter what is chasing you, it won’t be able to find you here.

Now he rose, disoriented and exhausted. The rain had stopped, but not more than a couple hours could have passed. There was a tiredness in him that went beyond the physical constraints of his body. Magic was real. It flowed through the village every month. Clair knew how to fly. Kara made charms that actually worked. The crimson brand on his clavicle bore witness to that truth. How much deeper did it go?

Henry stepped out on the scaffolding, beside the wall-length mural of the boy smoking a cigarette, and surveyed the empty floor below. Kara’s voice trailed down to him from above. She sounded weak. “Up here.” 

He followed her voice to a ladder against the wall that led him onto the roof. Dawn was fresh outside. Milky yellow clouds covered the sky, pushing back the fledgling purple of night. “How long was I out?”

 “Not long.” Kara sat on the edge of the building, her back propped up against a length of ventilation, looking out at the village. The bags under her eyes were darker than ever, and her skin shone nearly translucent in the yellow light.

“Did you haul yourself up here?”

“I’m not as bad off as I look.”

He sat down beside her. “Didn’t you sleep at all? Aren’t you tired?”

“Exhausted. But every time one of my charms activates, I can feel it. I won’t be sleeping today. Nor will I be leaving the warehouse,” she said, nodding toward the horizon,” and I recommend you follow suit.”

Henry followed her nod, and realized that he’d been wrong about the sky. It wasn’t a case of dawn’s light pushing out the darkness. The sun was fully risen, but it did not shine down on the park. There, and only there, was something that he could only think to call a storm, swirling like a tornado, blotting out all light in its vicinity. “What is that?”

“Nothing natural. I’ve been watching it for a while now, and all I know is that it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before.”

A looming sense of dread settled over him. What were the chances that something like that would just happen to occur over the park? What had Clair been mouthing to him, only a few hours before? “So this is weird, even by your standards?” he asked.

“Weird, and getting bigger.”

And it was. Even as he watched, the edge of the black cone—the storm—reached out to cover a few more trees. Beyond the park, the wind scattered garbage and detritus down the vacant streets of Tortus Bay. “Kara, why are we the only people watching this thing? Where is everyone else?”

“Folk stay inside on festival day. It’s an old tradition. They have their own things to do, or else they’re frightened of what they might see.”

Henry thought that wasn’t entirely unreasonable. “Isn’t there someone we can tell?”

“There are no people left who would come.”

“What’s going to happen? Will it just keep expanding?”

“I’m afraid it might.”

There were a thousand questions he wanted to ask. A thousand things that he needed to know. The storm raged on, expanding, its interior hidden by obsidian gusts of wind. “Clair can fly,” he said.

“I know.”

“I think she might be dangerous.”

“I know.”

“And she broke out of jail last night.”

Kara looked at him. “She did?”

He did not return the look. His eyes were locked on the vortex. Every now and again, it cast out sheared leaves and shorn branches as evidence of the veiled damage it wrought on the park. “I stole the locket she had hidden there. One with the name ‘Emmaline Cass’ inscribed on the side.”

“I see.” She breathed out one long, slightly uneven breath. “When an object becomes strong enough, it can come to belong to a certain person or place. I imagine that necklace I made you wouldn’t fit so comfortably around another’s neck. It knows you well enough, by now, that it would try to find its way back. And perhaps if you lost it, you would try equally as hard to reclaim it.”

“I have to go in there, don’t I?”

“You have to make a decision,” Kara said. “Keep in mind that people can just as easily belong to their places. You were brought to Tortus Bay by feelings that you couldn’t fully understand. I was the same way. Now, I belong to this village so deeply that I think the leaving might kill me. If you go into that park today, the same will happen to you. This village will become a home to you like a prison is to others. So you have to choose—but whatever you do, do it quick.”

***

Henry wasn’t sure if he was going in.

For as long as he’d held onto an inkling that there was something different, or bigger, about the world than what he’d ever known, he never once imagined anything as different or as big as what loomed before him. The storm of obscuring darkness now encompassed the entirety of the park. It blotted out the sun, and scattered larger debris than ever: bushes, stones, and a small tree complete with upturned roots. Up close, the sound of the howling wind was deafening. So close, the black of the impossible storm was impenetrable and complete.

Nothing would stop him from leaving. He was alone; there was nobody to see his cowardice. Thousands of other similar villages existed, and they would all be blessedly bereft of reality-shattering weather anomalies and magical jewelry. But he remembered, with perfect clarity, the sense of unshakable unease that had followed him on his journey away from home. He remembered the pain in his shoulder steadily growing worse, as the wound widened and bled. All of that stopped in Tortus Bay.

Henry wasn’t sure if he was going in, but like that day in front of Frida Middle School, his feet moved faster than his brain. Wind whipped his clothes against his body and stung his eyes. Dirt and leaves plastered his body. Then he crossed the threshold of the storm, and everything stopped.

The wind died. Everything stilled. There was no storm here, wherever he was. It was dark, but he could see the towering trees which stood before him. He turned, and there was the village behind—but somehow muted. The yellow of the sky became a light grey, the facades of the buildings all uniform black. All was calm. Simple. Then, the howling of wolves rent the silence.

First one, then another, and another, until the trees sang with the sound. They were too far away, for the size of the park. Henry shut his eyes and told himself that there couldn’t be wolves, until their howling trailed off on a single, mournful note.

It was like a dream. The wilderness rung in the silence left by the distant wolves. He walked through dense undergrowth until he was certain he would have passed through the length of the park twice over, but no matter how deep he went there was ever only the endless forest ahead. The leaf-strewn dirt underfoot shone grey in the faded sun, and none of the trees cast a shadow. He thought he might be going in circles. Then, another strange sound.

Metal displaced air, followed by a faint grunt. Henry turned toward it, and the howling resumed. Louder. The wolves were close.

He ran. The noise of swishing metal continued, but it was quickly overcome by the howling and the bone-chilling noise of claws ripping through dirt. When the first wolf leapt from the shadows, he broke into a sprint. The first one missed him. The second did not.

White fur and yellow fangs hit him, but did not take him down. A powerful maw wrapped around his arm, and pain coursed through his body, but after a frenzied moment the wolf dropped back. His shirt, and flesh, were left intact.

Again and again wolves leapt out at him, fur white and black and grey, tearing in turns at his throat and his legs. Angry red welts sprang up on his skin. A burning sensation radiated out from the marks, leaving him shaking and stumbling, but still he did not stop. One foot in front of the other. He slowed. The wolves cried. His saliva ran thick, dribbling out of his lips. 

With a furious coordinated attack on his hamstrings and red-raw throat, the wolves reached their crescendo. Henry took another step, and half fell out of the vast sea of trees into a small clearing.There, the world resolved slowly through the tears in his eyes and the ringing in his ears. 

A great old oak stood in the center of the clearing, a section of displaced dirt at its base. Beside the tree, Clair swung a metal pole wildly through the air. Two lumbering wolves snarled at her, haunches raised, ready to strike. But when she swung her weapon, they leapt back from its arc. Something at the tip of the pole glimmered, a light unlike anything else in the grey landscape, and the wolves treated it like fire.

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