I join the party later than expected and Baxter is nowhere to be found. The music has dropped by leaps and bounds in volume and many people have moved off to the side to talk. Their eyes seem heavier and the crowd seems thinner. I did expect the party to slowly fade off eventually but so early on in the middle of summer?
I go out into the cool air where moonlight pierces morning-glory walls. A cool breeze drifts through the warm air bringing with it a slight chill. The yellowish-green twinkle of fireflies still flickers throughout the fields yet to return to the woods. Even with the stars and moons now consuming an even greater portion of the sky, the only good thing living so far from others, it is still relatively early. Inside the crowd is pretty thin but beyond the walls of vines absolutely no one is around; its barren.
Glancing through the dim light I can make out a golden blaze in the far distance. Mom must have every light in the house on likely going through old photos or other pieces of the past. I`ve never really seen her cry; she`s never let me see her with the tears really running, but I know how she gets when I am out of the house. My stomach clenches at the thought of me sneaking in at two in the morning, snotty tissues dotting the living room and mom all curled up on the couch surrounded by photos and the box containing the last of dad`s belongings. When mom falls into the past she really falls in. One topic leads to another and soon her heart is torn apart once more. I think she loves everyone a little too much and holds on a little too long for her own good, but I guess that comes with such a big heart.
I debate heading back in when I hear a quiet sound in the night air. The light tings drift smoothly in a slow, sorrowful tune. I know the sound well, the bending tips of a metal comb after brushing along the bumps on a cylinder; it’s the sound of a music box. I follow the sound to the back of the house. Perhaps due to some gut feeling or the thin hopes that Baxter is the one with the music box I snag a yellow and pink carnation before winding around back. I hug close to the house where the grass isn`t so long and thorns don`t coil so tight.
Before I am even around the corner I can make out the willow tree, long, low sweeping branches brush the ground ever so softly. The twisted trunk and swaying, vine-like branches are silhouetted like a painting. The leaves are a silvery green and beckon me closer with their waving. I keep my steps light over the sharp, browning grass and rich topsoil. I break the small curtain of leaves. On any other night I would barely to make out shapes under the tree cover, but tonight the silver glow streams right through catching upon thick waves of dark hair spiraling like a waterfall down the female`s back.
“Hey.” I call to her in the softest voice I can muster.
Initially she pays no mind to me. It isn`t until the music fades away leaving us only with the rustling of leaves that she angles her head ever so slightly towards me. The thick mass of hair pours away from pale, sharp features. I take another step towards her, but in a single fluid motion she rolls against the trunk to the other side of the tree, disappearing from my sight. I see her once more as she breaks the barrier of leaves to depart from the willow as the chiming music begins its sweet melody once more.
More curious than annoyed by her lack of response I begin to pursue her. Soon we are no longer under the silver light but rather bounding through the dappling shade of the forest. The trees are wide and set far enough apart that I can keep easy sight of her. Her fluid motion is graceful as she slips past logs, branches, and brambles with ease. The music follows her only feeding my curiosity and enticing me further. I am not so graceful darting between the underbrush especially as we pick up speed and the foliage grows increasingly thick. I crash through low hanging branches and stumble past sticker bushes that tear at my skin and lock into my clothes. Vines snake around my ankles and shrubs seem to just appear before me right when I think I have a clear path. I end up hoping most of the way.
The further we get from the party the clearer my senses become. The air no longer smells of booze and a mingling of cheap perfumes and colognes. The scent of soil and decaying leaves dances around that of sweet flowers and damp trees. The wind is passing in hushed whispers that dance with the leaves above in louder rustling. I can also make out the cracks and thunks of my stumbling travels.
The babbling of water soon breaks in among the sounds and a new, sharp sent permeates the air. I skid to a stop inches from a deep ravine cutting deep through the forest. Tall grass sprouts along the sides. The soil is soft beneath my feet, a few chunks tumbling into the glittering stream bellow with a plop. The young woman stands on the other side of the bank free of scratches, leaves, branches, mud, or really any sign of our run through the woods. My chest is heaving yet here she is not even breathing heavy. I wipe away the sweat starting to trail down my forehead.
The shadows are heavy on either side from the massive trees stretching up towards the sky, but around the ravine is a glow with the silver light. It takes me a moment to realize that the only sounds are the rustling leaves and babbling of the brook. Isn`t this a great area for insects? Why isn`t the nocturnal life buzzing about where conditions are beyond preferable? Before I can look around the chiming of the music box begins once more.
My head snaps over to the young woman. Her skin is pale like the moonlight raining down upon her. Her hair falls unnaturally down her back not brushing her, but flowing freely around her in the opposite direction of the breeze. Her features are sharp and elegant and unrealistically perfect. Her eyes shimmer from a warm brown into a more purplish color as she stares intently at me. Garments of shadow cloak her body, a silk river running smoothly over her flesh the deep black contrasting her nearly white skin. Her full lips curl into a smile that is somehow both inviting and malicious.
In her arms the woman cradles glimmering glass smoothly curved into the top of a heart. Grandma`s snow globe.
“How did you get that?” My voice is colder than I mean it to be, a harsh demanding sound. “Give it back this instant. That snow globe belongs to my grandmother.”
The woman tilts her head ever so slightly, raising her chin to me. “So you are the relative of the thief.”
Her melodic voice nearly calls me across the ravine. The way she talks seems to make the entire forest bow closer to her, a radiance of power, gentleness, and beauty. She commands the air with the way she talks.
“The grandson of the thief is also a thief I see.” She coos to me. “What do thief`s know of hearts?”
A sharp gust of wind burst through the clearing making the scent sharply distinct and nauseating. Copper fills the air, but it is not the sole force in the perfume of death and blood now bathing the clearing. I hunch over and fight the urge to fall into a gagging fit even as my stomach shutters and my throat clenches.
“But at this age aren`t most of you twisted thief`s, all ungrateful.”
The wind picks up once more and a flurry of black and brown feathers dance down around me. They brush against my nose and tickle my skin on their slow descent. I lift my head enough to see the woman through the flurry though not as I recalled seeing her moments before. Rather than a goddess of inhuman beauty a monster stands before me.
The skin has drawn in tight on her face making her features ever sharper, unnatural angles stretching down into a long, hooked beak. The razor edges glisten in the moonlight. The waves of glistening dark hair smooth back into velvet feathers molting in place to reveal dry, grey skin. Massive wings wrap around an oddly angled body in place of silk garbs and black talons dig deep into the earth at the end or grey, speckled feet. The moon catches upon the sharp hooks which hold the small snow globe delicately.
I nearly slip into the ravine, stumbling back upon the damp earth. My hand brushes across a sun bleached bone that catches my eye. Deep gouges run across the white surface. Several more similar bones dot the grass and even more cover the ground around the stream in the ravine. The sharp shriek of a bird slices the air.
“Thief! Thief!” The sharp sound shrieks, tearing through my eardrums.
I pick myself up off the ground and turn tail to run. I dart through the trees foliage smacking my face and thorns tearing through my skin. I stumble over vines and logs, slamming into trees with enough force to gain some instant bruises. I don`t feel any of it as the screeching echoes out behind me.
“Thief! Thief!” The cries echo sorrow and rage and a plethora of emotions I cannot name.
I continue my mad dash blindly through the woods looking for patches of silver or flashes of light. I listen for the thrum of music and chatter but I can barely hear over the pounding of my heart and sharp intakes of breath. Something warm and soft catches my foot sending me tumbling to the ground. My heart racing and adrenaline pumping I barely feel the branches digging into my hands or the harsh ground as my head bounces off of it. I dare a glance back to see a limp body curled up in a deep stain.
The creature launches itself over the form in a flutter of massive, air stirring wings. Massive talons dig into soft, dead flesh as a massive tail fans out in a light consuming patch. I stare in horror at blonde curls streaked with red.
“Thieves know nothing, nothing!” Hiss the beast in another sharp screech.
I peel myself off the ground knowing there is no more I can do. My moment’s pause allowed the adrenaline to start to fade and the aches start to pulse through my body. I can feel the bumps and bruises speckling my skin as well as the thrumming ache of pressure in my head. My vision swims in the already dim light so I trust my gut and bolt as fast as I can from the creature. I break the tree line, moonlight bathing me in its protective glow. I do not stop and grandma`s old house. I know that the lights are off and music no longer fills the air with life. The place is abandoned by this point.
My house flickers like a candle in the distance with its warm yellow glow. I wrestle my way through brambles and tall grass towards the safety of home even as my chest heaves and my legs scream for a break. I glance over my shoulder at the blurry world to find nothing in the dim moonlight besides the ancient house.
I stop inches from home swathed in the yellow glow from the lights leaking from inside. I pant in desperation to regain my breath and focus my vision. Sweat runs like rivers across my skin soaking my shirt through and through. The summer night warmth feels more intense now making the gentle breeze brushing my skin feel even better. I straighten out my rumpled clothes and make my way into the safety of the house vowing to leave the night behind me and to avoid grandma`s house.
I try to stick to my vow. I hold no more parties and spend most of my days with mom. She is starting to smile a bit more again. I admit though that from time to time curiosity builds up enough to outweigh my fear and I dare to venture close to the morning-glory house. I never go inside or even get too close for that matter but sometimes, when the sun starts to sink and the world is bathed in the colors of honey and lilac I spot an elderly man rocking slowly on the porch. His skin is wrinkled and dappled with age spots. His eyes are a faded blue, hollow and distant and hair sticks out in white tufts about his head. His most notable feature is the set of wings, small and misshapen upon his back encased in a heart of glass. I stare at him most time and he stares right back at me in silence and I wonder if perhaps the creature residing in the house stole something itself.
Fall is starting to sink in and school has begun. I sit at my desk with the first stack of homework before me. Turns out no one else at school can remember Bax all that well. No one talks about her or mourns her absence yet when her name is brought up a shutter runs through them and for a moment, even if only very brief, sorrow registers in their eyes. Now I choose to leave the topic alone. The only reminder reserved for me is the sorrowful chiming sound of the snow globe echoing outside my room on clear nights and the single black feather caught between my window and its frame.