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Absence of Something
Eerie pale light lit up the forest floor. The night lived quietly, like a sleeping animal. Aria didn't hear the noises she usually heard. She was never terrified of the forest, not until now. She felt a strange presence in the atmosphere, equally mysterious and terrifying. Her eyes, now adjusted to the light, saw dark needles and leaves against the indigo velvet sky. The air was cold and still. It seemed like nothing was alive, just her, and the forest.
Aria did not even remember why she wanted to go out at such a late time. She couldn't sleep for hours, and the forest's call pulled her to where she was now. In the forest. In the dark. It must be at least midnight, she thought. I should head back home and get some sleep. She turned around and walked in the direction she came from. A shadow slid along behind her as she sleepily walked home.
The next morning she had vague memories of her midnight walk. She stretched and rolled over to get out of bed. She made her bed, folding the lavender sheets. She walked over to her dresser and grabbed a brush. She roughly tugged at her honey-brown hair. The clock said 8:57. "Shoot," she whispered to only herself, and quickly ran downstairs, pulling on a shirt as she ran to the kitchen.
Her parents must have left already, and they probably figured that she was already at school, like all other days. They wouldn't think she was still at home. It wouldn't hurt to be a little late, she thought as she grabbed the cereal and poured herself a bowl. She grabbed the cold, wet milk carton from the fridge, saw the expiration date, and dumped it down the drain. Sighing, she had a couple dry bites of the cereal, and went over to get her backpack.
Stuffing in her textbooks and notebooks, she pulled the faulty zipper closed. She gathered up her pencils and pens, and stuffed them frantically into her black pencil case with 'Aria' written in metallic silver pen on the cover.
Opening the door, Aria realized it was pouring. Squealing, she dove back inside. "I can't bike to school in the pouring rain!" she yelled aloud. She picked up her phone and called school, telling them that she was sick and wouldn't come to school today. The lie burned in her throat and after hanging up, she looked outside the window again. She almost screamed when she saw a dripping wet face outside, a wolf's face. She looked back and it was gone. Stumbling up the stairs in shock and fear, she fell back to sleep in her bed. Now, what she told the school wasn't a lie anymore.
Sweating when she woke up, Aria tried to remember what had disturbed her. She remembered seeing that face one time before.
Aria was seven years old. She had a sister named Shelley. She was four years older than her. Shelley was a perfect sister to Aria at that age. She would play with her and was never mean. Her hair was the same shade as the sun as Aria's was, but her eyes were topaz yellow, unlike Aria's gentle green ones. Aria had always asked her parents why Shelley's eyes were that way. They had no explanation.
One fine summer night, Shelley was going out with her friends. Their parents strongly opposed them going alone, because they were all only 11. Shelley had told them that they weren't going alone, one of her friend's moms was going with them. Aria worried that night even though she knew that Shelley was safe. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't fall asleep. She stayed like that well past midnight, when she heard frightening cries and wails. Terrified and shaking, yet having no reason why; she finally fell asleep.
The next morning for her was blurry; her parents were crying being given the news that Shelley and her group of friends had gone missing overnight. None of the friend's worried parents confirmed that they had supervised the girls. Aria had remembered crawling under the house, her face wet with tears of fright, graying from the dust.
After what seemed like eternity to Aria, one day the girls had been confirmed dead after endless search parties had gone out into the deep pine forests. Everyone who knew the girls went to their funeral. Outside the creaky old church, Aria had wandered away from the food and the whispered conversations down to the creek, dry and dead as the children who wandered away. Her eyes slipping tears; she remembered it clearly; she had seen the same creature that was at her door only hours ago. Its eyes were a penetrating golden and it was rather wolf-like, with dirty snow colored fur that appeared silky and smooth. It had loomed on the other side of the creek, watching her intently. She had ran back immediately, and told her parents. They thought she had fallen asleep and dreamed it.
Now, eight years later, as Aria pressed her nose against the glass of her window, her shallow breaths fogged it up. It was still raining and the trees were dripping with water. A gentle breeze sent the drops falling down. Her heart was filling with loneliness. Aria walked over to her closet and pulled out her rain jacket. She pulled it on over her clothes and put on her sneakers.
Only when she realized that her shoes were squeaking on the tile floor did she see that the floor was wet. Shocked, she looked closer. The floor was slick with rainwater and mud. She grabbed a towel and got down on her hand and knees to clean it up. Where did this water come from? she thought. While she was crawling across the floor with the towel, she noticed a trail made with the mud. A trail of paw prints.
The prints were about the size of her hand, and worry filled her when she remembered the wolf-creature she saw outside the window earlier. She stood up and followed the tracks. They lead to the dining room and went to the back door. Confused and scared of what could possibly be in the house, she searched all the rooms. No paw prints were anywhere else besides the clean line that appeared to lead out the door. Sliding it aside, she walked out into the rain.
Aria smelled the cold, crisp smell of the rain. Gazing off into the forest beyond, she was determined to find this wolf that had haunted her for years. What she would do afterward she did not know.
She stomped her way through wet, dirty puddles filled with pine needles and leaves. The wood on the trees was dark with wetness. Drops landed on her head from the tall evergreens. She stumbled and slid over exposed roots and rocks. No birds called in the coming storm. Hearing a rustle in the bushes much too big to be anything than what she was looking for, she ran after it. Muddy water splashed her bare legs. While she ran she felt a feeling of adrenaline building up. She ran faster than she had ever before, and began to see the dirty shape of the animal that she was chasing. It suddenly stopped and she slipped and fell into the mud. Now on the ground, she looked at the beast perching next to her.
Anthropomorphic in shape, with jeweled, wet eyes, it stood there. Aria gasped at the size of the creature. Crouching, she was around four feet at the shoulders. Her face was so detailed, it looked like an artist had crafted it. Aria was filled with terror and awe in the same moment.
She lifted its dampened head and cried out, equally terrifying and beautiful. Inside her mouth were ivory-colored teeth and a long pink tongue. Her fur had clumped together from the water. Aria stood back as she stood up, now over seven feet tall. When she had finished her mournful sounding cry, she looked Aria in the eye with a penetrating gaze. Seeing the depths of her eyes, Aria felt emotion wash over her like the heavy rain that was pouring on her. This creature was Shelley.
"Sh-Shelley?", Aria said to her. The beast smiled like a dog and reached out her hand-like paw. Aria's eyes welled with tears when she remembered that same cry the night Shelley had disappeared. This must have been where she'd gone. Aria carefully grabbed the paw. It was cool and wet, and the paw pads were rough and dark. Her sharp beige-colored claws were gentle on Aria's fragile skin. Shelley helped her up. The towering wolf of her sister ran off on four legs. Aria ran hard after her. When they stopped together, they were at a lake, rain splashing and making small ripples. They both slid down to the bank. Shelley crouched and Aria sat right next to her. She hugged Shelley's alien-like new body. She gazed at the water with Shelley, and what she saw startled her for a moment. Her reflection was no longer human, it was lupine. Tawny and gray fur with emerald raindrops for eyes stared back at her.
Aria thought of leaving her parents behind, even though they had already lost one child. No one felt the freedom that she felt here with Shelley. Using no words, but still communicating with her sister, she indicated that she would stay with her. She would get a fresh start.