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Flower Girl (revised)
As soon as her bare foot hit the lush grass, she felt every inch of her anxiety slip away with each step she took. Turning around, she quickly slid shut the glass door with one hand and in the other held a thickly woven picnic basket.
Sarah breathed in a huge gulp of air and surveyed the expansive surroundings before her, which told that winter was swiftly fleeting and spring was soon emerging. She walked farther and farther away from her house down the sloping hill towards the massive oak tree that humbly wait for her just on the edge of her plantation. Bright patches of colorful wildflowers surrounded the oak's gnarled roots which stretched out then sunk deep into the rich soil.
At last Sarah reached her sacred spot, tossing her picnic basket onto the ground and collapsing onto a bed of blooming white peonies. As much as she loved these magical spring days, she loved the land even more. Her sole passion was gardening. She loved the feel of her gloved fingers through the rich soil and the ability to cultivate the land and reap it for all it was worth. A connection that had been inherited from her mother, who years ago had started a community garden for their small Southern town. This of course was her favorite place in the world with its wrought iron fences, tall looming trees that provided the shade and most all the gorgeous flowers.
For the longest time she only gazed up at the clouds floating lazily in the baby blue sky above as they morphed and transformed into odd shapes. As she squinted up at a particular pelicular cloud that appeared to be something like a duck riding in a spaceship, Sarah's stomach rumbled like an engine being brought to life with unmistakable sounds of hunger. Sighing, she hoisted herself up and grabbed her picnic basket.
Sarah gently picked up her weathered, dog-eared copy of The Secret Garden and as she devoured her meal, read over the yellowing, brittle pages for possibly the hundredth time. As the favorite and one of the only books she'd ever read, once was not enough to quench her desire for the beloved story. Lying back on the finely-cut grass, her stomach full of her meal, Sarah became entranced in the pages once again when something made her freeze.
It was a voice. Soft and fleeting it almost seemed like nothing more than gentle breeze whispering past her ear. Still, she was certain that she'd heard it. Either that or she must've been hallucinating. She slowly lifted herself up and hesitantly peered around the tree finding no body attached to the voice in sight. In fact if anything the voice almost seemed as if it was beneath her.
Cautiously, testing this theory, Sarah left her right ear lay flat against the cool ground until she heard it. Her eyes widened in surprise as they called out to her once more.
The flowers. They were talking to her. The flowers were talking to her. Their voices, one dull incessant hum were something that she couldn't believe she'd never noticed before. And when they came together, a solid tone of a unified mass it sounded clearer, sharper like someone speaking right in her ear.
Still slightly amazed and dazed, Sarah sat up blinking. Nervous laughter suddenly bubbled up inside of her and tumbled out in a tidal wave of choking sound. What was going on here? Was this some kind of joke? We're the peonies actually speaking to her? In all her years of gardening as much as she'd like to hope that the flowers she cared for would one day speak to her she’d never actually thought that it would happen.
"Sarah, Sarah," the peonies spoke drifting in the breeze as they called her name out like a sweet siren song, "Sarah....."
“What do you want? What's going on?” she questioned. She no longer needed to rest her head onto the ground to her them; their voices as clear as day.
"You. We need you," they answered before ominously whispering," Sarah, save them......."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Later that evening as Sarah was finally coming back inside, she caught her mother in the kitchen making cookies. The incident with the flowers still plagued her mind and she was in need of a major distraction. The whole afternoon they kept on insisting that she needed to save a mysterious ‘them’ until she’d decided to go back inside. She had no idea who ‘them’ was but she had heard of something happening at the towns annul Flower Day parade last Saturday.
“Can I help?” Sarah offered her mom, going over to the kitchen sink and washing her hands.
“Sure, come help me with this,” Mrs. Malbury replied gesturing to the tub filled with chocolate chip cookie dough that she was digging into and tearing into chunks.
Sarah joined her mom placing circular mounds onto a tray and arranging them in silence, before asking, “So exactly who are these for?”
“I was thinking that it would be nice to bake some cookies to give to the families of those poor children,” Mrs. Malbury answered, a tinge of pity in her voice. A loud beep signaled that the other cookies were done and Mrs. Malbury opened the oven to get them. The kitchen was immediately filled with the homey scent of warm chocolate chip.
“The ones that are missing. You remember the Smith’s twin boys right?”
Sarah’s face scrunched in confusion, “The Smith twins are missing? When did this happen?” She remembered the two five year old terrors she’d often have to babysit but she wasn’t aware that they were missing.
“They’ve been missing since Saturday along with some others. Alyssa Haralson, Samantha and her little brother Matt Davis, and Tommy Hazard I think.” Mrs. Malbury told Sarah with a frown.
“Wait, Saturday? The day of the Flower Day parade?” Sarah asked the wheels of the machine of her mind turning. A series of newscasts that she’d barely watched this past week flickered through her mind. In all six children had been missing for three days and the theory was that the kids had gotten lost in the thick crowds of the parade and had never made it back home.
Mrs. Malbury nodded. “Since all of the children were missing during the parade around the same time and their families all been in around the same area they think that the incidents may be linked. Though, it’s very rare for a kidnapper to take six children all at the same time like that. What’s worse is that all of the families reported last seeing their children in the garden.” The Flower Day parade was the annual celebration held in their town to herald the coming of spring. People from all over came to see the parade and part of its route was in the town garden her mother had founded. The fact that two children had been reported missing there wasn’t exactly the best publicity.
“Wow, that’s awful,” Sarah said with a frown as she watched her mother place the second round of cookies into the oven.
Mrs. Malbury sighed and gave a stiff smile, “I feel for so sorry for the Parks and those other families. Tomorrow we’ll deliver these cookies and maybe some flowers to make like a little gift basket to give the families." A genuine smile planted on her face at the thought of someone being her next charity case. She then offered Sarah a cookie but Sarah suddenly didn’t have an appetite.
“Its okay mom I’m fine,” Sarah said, giving her mom a hug, “I’ll be in my room.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Mrs. Malbury asked her daughter worriedly.
Sarah nodded but her thoughts were a million miles away as she pulled away from her mother's frail arms and slowly walked back to her bedroom. There was something about these kidnappings that plagued her mind. Even as she snuggled into the covers of her bed ready to go to sleep that night she couldn't help but let herself think back to that afternoon. The flowers had mentioned something about saving ‘them’, the mysterious people who were in desperate need of her heroism but who was that exactly? It would’ve almost seemed like a floating daydream, some lazy afternoon hallucination if it hadn't been for those haunting words that kept ringing her head like a continuous echo of the past: save them, save them, Sarah, save them.....
The rest of the week passed by fleetingly, an army of thundering storms causing the late afternoon lunches to come to a halt until another one of those bright spring days finally came again.
If she thought that she would have been able anticipate the next time the flowers spoke and not be the least bit surprised, she was wrong.
"Sarah... help us”, the words made her nearly jump up in shock, the way they crept into the air so anticipated but yet unexpected. It made her shiver.
"Help who? What do you want?” Sarah answered, apprehensively. She wasn't laying back against oak anymore instead she was sitting up alert, tense. Her body ready for something unexpected to happen but then again maybe that didn't make it so unexpected.
A hot wave of wind brushed against her cheek as the flowers spoke, almost as if they were caressing her, “You have to save them...the children...you have to save the children...from the bone witch."
"What?" Sarah asked but her voice sounded faint, far away. If they had told her any of this information the week before she would’ve immediately jumped up and fled the scene but her mind flashed back to her mother talking about the kids that’d been taken recently.
"The bone witch....she'll kill them...help the children....save..... them.....soon...,"their words seemed to be coming in short fading frantic bursts now, something that made her anxious.
Sarah’s mind was spinning now, beginning to connect what the flowers were saying to what was going on in the real world. Could it be possible that the flowers were referring to the missing children and that they knew where they were? And if so would Sarah actually go and try to save them like they kept insisting she had to? But that really wasn’t a question was it? If the flowers were telling the truth and they did have away to save the children, Sarah knew that without a doubt she wouldn’t let them die.
Sarah’s intakes of breath began to speed up even more, coinciding perfectly with her rising anxiety levels as she began to think about it more and more. This was really happening. This was really real. They needed her for something. This couldn't be hallucination, could it?
"How?" Suddenly the question hadn't been what is going on? And this really can't be happening, can it? But rather, if she really was going to save these kids then how? How would she even be able to locate them or even rescue them or----
Before she could even begin conjure up another panicked thought or say anything really, there was a loud whooshing noise that filled her ears. And then Sarah wasn't there anymore.
Sarah felt herself imploding; exploding into a billion particles then being suddenly rearranged and shuffled then rearranged again. A kaleidoscope of color from strange places and past times blurred around as she shot like a rocket across time and space. Then a loud pop filled her ears like a bubble bursting out of -or in her case into- existence and she reappeared.
Opening her ice blue eyes, she came to in a large field. No, not a field but a bed of soft flowers; white peonies to be exact. She was still slightly shocked that the flowers had actually teleported her here, but then again if they were somehow able to communicate with her then did that make teleportation so unbelievable? Sarah felt a tiny bit woozy as she picked herself up and surveyed the area around her.
A wave of familiarity washed over Sarah as gazed upon the long, immaculate rows of blooming flowers, the fading black wrought iron fence that surrounded the place and the tall looming trees that provided a cool treetop of shade but yet let just the right amount of sunlight filter in. She instantly recognized it as the Jasonville Community Garden. Memories of planting beds of new flowers in the spring with her mother and frolicking in the beautiful grass lawns on lazy Sunday afternoons filled her mind as she asked, “Why’d you bring me here?"
Amazingly she could still hear the flowers breezy whisper all around her, maybe because they're we're so many of them, “The Bone Witch lair is somewhere in the garden… find the children before it’s too late…”
“Are you guys planning on explaining to me who’s the Bone Witch and why exactly does she want the children?” Sarah inquired, still slightly surprised that they’d said more than the same five words to her. She had so many other questions bouncing around in her head such as most importantly: why her? Why couldn’t they bother some other fifteen year old girl who just happened to be lying on a bed of flowers? Also, she still wasn’t sure if this was some hallucination or not. For all she knew the kids could just be kidnapped by just some old creeper and the Bone Witch probably wasn’t even real and she was having some weird dream that she’d wake up from in any minute.
The flowers slowly replied, “The Bone Witch needs only seven innocent souls before she can come fully into power and harm the town with her army of the dead…Stop her before she can kill the children and eventually us all….”
Whoa. That seems like a lot of responsibility to put in the hands of teenage girl, Sarah thought with fear and uncertainty.
“So you just expect me to go into the Bone Witch’s lair and save them like it’s nothing?” Sarah questioned the flowers. The idea of saving the children seemed less and less appealing by the moment.
This time though the flowers didn’t answer and until after some time they uttered the same three words they’d been saying since the beginning, “Sarah, save them….”
Sarah pouted, grumbling about there lack response but if the flowers trusted with such an all important mission than she figured that she had to at least try. These were kids after all and she couldn’t imagine seeing their little lives being cut short. Using as much determination as she could muster, Sarah took at deep breathe and surveyed the area around her.
Turning around, Sarah noticed that she was in the end of the garden and that the iron fence was surrounding her. Though before she turned around to go back up to the main part of the garden she noticed small opening that cut right through the middle of iron fence. A long spotty trail of suspicious crimson liquid stemmed from the opening and it was just large enough for her to go through. Without another glance behind her, Sarah crawled through the tight space and into the unknown.
She followed the trail of blood into what looked like a long forgotten extension of the garden. Cold, chiseled stone statues sprang out from the ground and ancient slabs of marble---tombstones----were infested with twisting grass proving that maybe that this wasn't a garden after all but a forgotten cemetery. A weathered small house stood at the end and in the middle a battered marble fountain stood crookedly. Broken pieces of glass and crushed colorful stone surrounded the ledge of the fountain. Along with the odd symbols etched into it, the scene suggested that some ritual had gone wrong. She walked over towards the edge to find not water flowing at the base but blood and in the center of that a small child.
Sarah rushed over the aid of the child, pulling him out of the fountain and setting the boy onto the soft grass. Her hands bloody, she checked feverishly for a pulse only to be met with silence and a stone cold body.
Too late. She was too late and now there was a dead toddler in her arms. Before a choked sob could escape her lips she remembered the news report claiming that this hadn't been the only one. There were five others, hopefully alive and waiting. Suddenly the flowers words resonated in her louder than ever. She would save them. She had to.
Gently letting the boy fall from her arms, Sarah proceeded towards the small abandoned house instantly sure that that was where the Bone Witch’s lair was. Her bloody fingers pried open the weathered door as she slightly feared for what lay beyond. She prayed for the rest of the children, well and breathing to behind the door and not the horrible bone witch come to offer the same fate as the little boy.
The house was as unappealing on the inside as it was on the outside. The smell of decay filled her nostrils as she wandered inside the tiny house. Spider webs, termite infested wood, and a thick layer of dust had all made their claim in each room of the house but unfortunately none of those rooms included the kids. Finally, Sarah was forced to venture into the one place she hoped that she wouldn’t have to – the attic.
As she marched up the rickety stairs a new wave of fear and uncertainty flooded her senses. How did she know that the Bone Witch wouldn’t kill her on the spot? But as she remembered the dead child that she’d found and what she felt as she held him in her arms, she knew that it didn’t matter. There were five little lives on the line. She had to try.
Finally, Sarah reached the door of the attic. Cautiously, she opened the door and
to her relief and joy she saw five children huddled in a corner. Their faces dirty and eyes round with terror and pure fear. Week old clothes hung loosely over their unwashed, unfed bodies and coughs racked the bodies of the older ones and tears ran silently down the faces of the younger ones.
Sarah ran over to children wrapping them up in a huge hug overcome with relief and joy, "You’re safe now, you’re safe...,"she murmured.
"Or are they?” A sinister voice cackled behind her and Sarah turned to see her worst nightmare.
A woman, or rather a skeleton of a woman stood over them. Her green, decaying, drooping skin sagged nearly off of her frail figure and black hollow eyes stared blankly like she didn't have a clue at what she was looking at. Her features were pulled back into a tight grimace that bared her sickly yellow teeth in what some would describe as a "smile". She wore a long dress of assorted bones that clanked when she moved and had a slender femur bone lodged between her nostrils. There was no doubt in Sarah's mind of who she was. The Bone Witch.
“Now, child I will consider not hurting you if you would just step away from the other children,” The Bone Witch offered with a warm smile.
“Never,” Sarah replied, giving the Witch a defiant glare and managing to put more courage in her voice than she felt.
“Then I guess you’ll just have to die along with the rest of them,” The Bone Witch responded lifting her hands above her head.
“Wait!” Sarah cried out, knowing that if she died then so would the children and if the flowers were correct so would the whole town. She stalled, “Answer me this, why did you only kill the little boy? Why not the others as well?” The questions were legitimate ones and something she had been wondering ever since she’d found him.
The Bone Witch gave an amused grin, “The boy was behaving badly and I needed to test out the ritual I was planning to use to capture the souls. It didn’t work so I killed him. No matter, I don’t need him anyway now that you’re here.”
“What do you mean? I thought you needed seven souls to gain all of your power.” Sarah asked remembering what the flowers had told her.
“Yes, that’s true. I need seven unwilling innocent souls to command my army of the dead but one willing souls can do wonders. Someone who would be brave and selfless enough sacrifice themselves to me will give me more power a hundred souls ever could.”
The Bone Witch flicked her wrist and suddenly a magical bubble encased the children behind Sarah. Sarah turned around and began pounding at the force field that trapped them. “Offer up your soul willingly Sarah and I’ll let them go back to their families.”
“What have you done?!”Sarah cried out in rage. Her plans of saving the children had been thwarted and now she felt angry and extremely helpless. A strong urge to hit something overwhelmed her and suddenly she felt herself charging at the Bone Witch.
Like a football linebacker, Sarah tackled the old hag down the ground. This caused whatever magic the witch had used to encase the children to sever letting them out of their imprisonment.
"Run!” Sarah barely choked out before the bone witch's arm shot out and she began to mutter her evil curses.
The children didn't need to be told twice. They all scrambled out of the attic with Sarah at the back left to fend off the Bone Witch's attack. One of the bones on her dress flew out to meet Sarah, missing her head narrowly. She sped out of the house as quickly as possible, the witch hot on her heels.
"Go! Go!” she frantically urged the children, “Through the opening!"
The Bone Witch smiled evilly as Sarah scrambled away from her reach, “Don’t think you just escape me, girl! You will be mine!” she rasped, hurling more of her bone arrows in Sarah's direction.
At last Sarah squeezed through the opening, joining the children and commanding them to gather around the flowers. She was only a step away from the bed of peonies when the Bone Witch aimed a sharp bone straight for her heart.
A loud whoosh resonated in her ears as she gripped the children feeling her self being sucked into a warping black hole. A pop cracked the air and Sarah found herself alive on a mat of soft familiar grass with the five children next to her.
She stood up, her breathe ragged and hitched and her mind still reeling over the past events. She had no idea what to do next - tell her mother? Deliver them to their parents? - but she decided all that didn't matter because they were safe. And most importantly alive.
And if anyone asked her how she found the children, she'd just crack a wry smile and tell them that the flowers had told her.