She could see them approaching, stumbling over the unfamiliar terrain. She had known they were coming, had known since the second they had climbed over the wall that severed the city from the forest.
No, she revised, my forest. This forest, and everything in it, belongs to me. I decide who goes in here. Those two will be punished.
Almost ready to fall upon them, a snippet of conversation reached Istra’s ear.
“We’ll be caught you know. I told you we shouldn’t have done this!” A figure whispered harshly.
“Maybe if you were actually quiet, an animal would actually think to come over!” The other snapped.
Quietly, Istra transformed into a flamefox. In her flamefox form, she could feel the glow of the lustrous inner light under her skin, throbbing. Bleeding through her skin, the light played off the trees and lit up night creatures that had previously been engulfed in the darkness.
While the two argued, she trotted out, making sure she stood right in front of them.
Once they were illuminated, their odd features appeared. They looked like marble statues, without a smidgen of hair. Though their voices clearly labeled them as male, they wore dresses woven from some sort of extremely coarse material. Dirt had bored holes into their once milky white feet. In their hands were makeshift clubs, drooping by their sides. Along their forearm, one could see scar tissue forming random patterns, which Istra knew to be unique to each and everyone of her kind. She herself had a pattern along her forearm when she was in their shape.
One of them looked familiar, the one with amethyst eyes, a strong upper body, and a permanently set jaw. The other had wide, sandy taupe-colored eyes and an equally strong upper body, though he was about a head shorter.
The shorter one finally spoke up, exclaiming, “Look, flamefox!”
“Thank you for stating the obvious!” The other replied. Istra just shook her head. Any normal flamefox would have been scared away by now, and they would still be arguing, blaming the other for the escaped flamefox. She had planned on actually having some fun with this Transition, giving them a bit of a chase, prancing around with the path ahead being lit up as bright as day, and the slow beat of light that came from within, but Istra was done with waiting.
She stood on her hind legs and slowly grew into a similar shape as the two that were arguing.
There were a few differences between Istra and the two though. Her skin for one was as black as the forest that extended past their circle of light, and her eyes shown a lucent, chartreuse green. Also, instead of the woven dresses that the other two wore, she donned a cloak of golden feathers that seemed to have a flamefox sort of inner light. Her face was child-like, though her height seemed to suggest that she was in her late teens. With her nostrils flared and a sneer on her lips, she looked down upon them with clear disgust.
There was no sound for a moment, as if everyone was frozen on the balls of their feet, their breath stuck in their throat.
“Why are you here?” Istra asked, her voice cutting through the air with a deafening ring. Neither of the two answered. “Why are you here?” She repeated, her voice sounding as loud as a bullet racing by one’s ear.
“Why are we here?” The violet-eyed one echoed. “We are here because we are hungry. What did you expect us to do? Our family is starving.”
“Yes. I would expect you to do that.” She said, unsympathetically. “Because now your family will have to live without you. Maybe they’ll finally get some peace and quiet.” She swiped her hand across the air in front of her. They both immediately dropped.
With her hands behind her back, Istra strolled over toward their bodies. Staring down at the two, one could see no wounds, no blood, only mouths agape and pained eyes, petrified by some invisible force.
As they lay there, their bodies began to lose color, turning from opaque to translucent. Soon, they resembled glass rather than the marble they once had. All that remained the same were their eyes, though now glowed brighter than ever.
But suddenly the eyes darkened, without any apparent influence from the outside world. An orb of light formed behind their eyes and slowly sunk through the body and into the ground.
With the transparent view into their body, one could see a substance flowing throughout, the same color as their eyes. At first glance, it appeared to be a liquid, but with a blink of the eyes, the substance took on a gaseous appearance.
Through invisible cuts, the strange substance floated up, wrapping and coiling around Istra, until she drew a deep breath. Inhaling the substance brought instant relief and girlish pleasure to her childlike face. She continued to consume it in until the last wisps disappeared.
She turned transparent for a second, just like the two splayed out on the damp forest floor, and in that second, you could see the gas that she had consumed mingling with her own, some of it as viscous as honey, other parts as light as air. But by the next second, she became as she once was.
“Goodbye,” She finally said, smiling. The light in her cloak had dimmed, allowing the blackness of the forest to envelop her. With this new light, her child-like face suddenly appeared bony and gaunt.
The glass bodies slowly disintegrated, not a single part remained to show that they existed, except their dresses.
With the dissonance of night coming back, Istra turned into a crow and gathered up the clothes within her beak. Soon she was in flight toward the wall that separated her from the city Biana. They needed to know that someone had left their world.
Her dream crumbling around her, Aria, shaken out of the abyss of her dream, woke up quickly, breathing heavily.
Her thin, dirty blonde hair, tangled, greasy, and mangy from days of not brushing or cleaning it in any way, refused to get out of her eyes no matter how much she waved at it.
Though it was mid-summer, she shivered furiously.
She rolled out of bed quickly, tripping over floral sheets. She swiped at her closet, grabbing the fluffiest, warmest things she could find. Stuffed with misshapen t-shirts, oversized hoodies, and faded sweats, it wasn’t hard to find a hoodie advertising her favorite football team, the Bears, and some lint-ridden sweat pants. Her unkempt hair was quickly smothered with the hoodie, and Aria pulled the strings tightly around her face.
She shuffled toward her window, stumbling over even more laundry and sheets. Using the obnoxiously pink walls of her room to prevent herself from falling, she managed to make it to her bedroom window, where she could see car headlights swoop by the cul-de-sac that her house rested on. As one car turned in, it spotlighted Aria, blinding her. She turned away from the window, and squinted at her luminous clock, which reported the time to be, well, too early.
No way could Aria go back to sleep after her dream. And she couldn’t stay in her room, since just being in the small, gaudy room (designed by her mother) made her feel out of place. And instead of going out into the “Hall of Rose”, as she had christened it, where her little sister’s face smiled down from fifty pictures, of her in recital costumes, of school pictures, of her blowing out candles of birthdays long gone, and more, she decided to open the window and shimmy out onto the bit of roof that stuck out.
Soon she hit the ground, the crunch of sun-scorched grass scratching at Aria’s bare feet. Aria curled and uncurled her toes, her feet attempting to get used to the ground’s cool temperature.
Turning toward the street that her bedroom faced, the glaring streetlights made the pocket of her face that stuck out of her hoodie illuminate with a ghostly light.
After a moment, Aria turned on her heel and sped toward a giant tree that dominated the backyard, grass browned by sun pricking her feet, bugs chirping loudly and cars in the distance zipping down streets.
When she had made it to the backyard, and more specifically, the squat, but wide tree that occupied at least a quarter of the space, Aria reached up and held onto the lowest branch. As she did this, she pulled herself up the tree, climbing, and soon, she reached the top of the tree. She set herself down slowly into a cradle created by the branches.
She had stopped shivering, and had instead begun to sweat. Dragging off her hoodie and laying it upon the branches, she tried to balance while rolling up her sweats, revealing her snow-white skin.
Once finished, she leaned back against the branch, taking a deep breath.
She had been having a series of rather odd nightmares. They all included people she had never seen before, people that didn’t even seem like people. They were humanoids with no hair and skin as pale as Aria. In all of her nightmares, she felt like she was outside of the body that she occupied, making no decisions, only watching a movie play before her eyes and hearing the thoughts of one of the characters acting it out.
All of her nightmares were the same. A girl, who Aria knew to be named Istra, would morph into some sort of animal (many of which Aria had never heard of) and when she turned back into a humanoid, she would wave her hand and anyone in front of her would drop, and then slowly disappear.
Aria didn’t want to think about the things that were keeping her up at this time of night. Instead she wanted to relish in the cool wind that seemed to be getting up here. The only thing that could ruin it was the branch that ran up her butt. She didn’t care though. She was just happy to be in a place that she hadn’t been in at least a year, and it brought back nostalgic feelings.
She could throw herself back to when she started to climb this tree. Her dad helping her lift herself up onto the branches, she would end up clinging to the branch for dear life, worried she would slip and break an arm. Her mother would stay at least five yards away, keeping Rose from going any further. She would always tell Rose, don’t go to the tree. It’s dangerous. But, she never stopped Aria. She was always more protective of Rose. But, that allowed Aria to eventually be able to nimbly climb up the branches with a swift ease.
When something was ever not going well in her life, Aria had always escaped to the tree. When her mother signed her up for dance and gymnastics without asking her, she retreated to the tree. When she had been told that she would have to wear a dress to a dinner, she returned to the tree.
It was amazing that she hadn’t come to the tree yet. It wasn’t like her summer had been a great one. It had been dominated by oversleeping, TV watching, and laying in bed, not doing anything. She hadn’t talked to Dara or Nikki for over a month. She hadn’t even left the house for at least two weeks. Aria didn’t even want to think about the last time she showered. Her hair was practically turning to dreadlocks.
But it wasn’t like her school year had been much better. She had turned 15 in October, and she had started her first year of high school. She had been so excited to have her life going on to its next chapter and all that other stuff that people say comes with high school. It did not take her long to realize that her life was not going to get any better. She didn’t make any of the sport teams, and since she had no other skills (or maybe she had no skills at all), her freshman year had felt like a waste.
Dara, Nikki, and Aria had begun to drift apart, like sticks on a river being pushed into different tributaries. Dara had joined cheerleading (which had felt like a betrayal, since they had talked scathingly about those who liked to wave poms around in other peoples faces). Nikki had joined debate team, math team, and science club, alienating herself from Dara and Aria. And, of course, Aria just felt like she was stuck, not knowing where to go.
Aria stopped that specific train of thought. Nothing seemed worth thinking. Not her mother, who wanted her to be like her little sister. Not Rose, who was the perfect mold of her mother. Not a single aspect of her life. So instead, she tried her hardest to get into her full Buddha, not thinking about anything.
Something like a great gush of wind sounded below.
Aria looked below, trying to see what could have made the noise. But, the sound stopped before she could get a good look.
Well, wasn’t that odd, was all Aria could think.
But then she could hear what sounded like a giant inhale, as if the ground were taking a deep breath.
Again Aria looked below. Again the sound stopped. It was like playing wax museum, a game where one had to move, but could not be seen actually moving, and she felt like the person trying to catch someone moving, where you knew that something was moving, but they stopped the moment you looked.
As she looked away, the ground exhaled. The ground began to crack, and peeking through was a bright light. The crack continued to illuminate like a fluorescent light.
Certainly grabbing her attention, she looked down through the crisscrossing branches to see the light, so bright, she needed to squint. The crack soon expanded to a hole big enough for even her to fit in.
All that could be seen was a flat light. For all Aria knew, it could have just been a light implanted into the ground.
Deciding to check it out, she unrolled her pants and put her sweatshirt back on (she had never been fond of the tying around the waist method), and began to climb down, slowly, but steadily.
But, as she did so, she suddenly heard a sucking sound. Air was reaching up like fingers, pulling her in. No matter how much she clung to the tree, she could not prevent the inevitable. She was forced to release. And she was falling, falling into a bright nothingness.