By the time she stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Brilliant golden blazes danced toward the ground as the wind swept them off branches. The forest floor was covered in a carpet of orange that protested Margo’s heavy boots with a crunch as she ran from the cabin to the back of the yard with the small metal gate stitching across the grass and poking up at the sky.
“Agnes!” She called. A giggle came from the pile of bushes that Margo had raked up earlier. She sighed, walking up to the leaves. She hesitated and smirked, picking up a stick. She poked it into the leaves. The giggling stopped and the leaves rustled before Agnes popped out of the top gasping.
Agnes jumped out and ran around Margo, she was covered in leaves and dirt. She stopped in her tracks, reaching up to scratch her head and pulling a spider out of her hair. Agnes plopped onto the ground, letting the spider crawl on her hand. Margo sighed and sat next to her.
Margo took off her jacket, sprawling it out in the grass and laying her head down. She watched as clouds rolled lazily above her and the wind prodded and pushed the leaves around in the sky. In the distance, the chimney of the cabin let out puffs of smoke, and a couple of ravens settled onto the roof as if they were in a fairy tale and they were just waiting for the first page to be flipped open.
Agnes was being quiet, a rare occurrence, and Margo closed her eyes as her hair swept onto her face. Even while relaxing, there was a subconscious worry in the back of her mind.
“Agnes will need a bath when we go back inside which I’ll have to facilitate,” Margo thought. “Bath. Shower. Eat. Escape to room… Then what? What do I have to do? We only have two more days here and I... need... to...”
Margo’s hands unclenched and a weight pressed down on her skull until she drifted off.
Giggling followed by small footsteps echoed in the yard. Margo’s eyes fluttered open to see the sun was settling into the sky for the night and she felt a chill that raised goosebumps. She rubbed her eyes and blinked looking around.
“Agnes,” she croaked standing up and dusting herself off.
A rabbit hopped through the fence, practically running into Margo. It looked up at her and froze on its haunches. Margo was confused, she must not have shaken off the sleep. The animal looked terrified, the fear in its eyes translating to something more than a rabbit freezing for a human. A pitter-patter sound could be heard beyond the iron fence. Margo scanned the trees but couldn’t see anything. When she looked back down the rabbit was gone.
Margo swung open the little gate, pulling on the rusted latch. She wandered into the forest, the gate swinging as she wandered through, calling after her with each creak.
“Agnes?” She called again as the shade of the trees swallowed her and crept behind her as she moved.
There was a shadow and she saw something out of the corner of her eye move. “Agnes?” She yelled chasing it. She circled the trees around where the movement had been. Leaves rustled behind her, she whipped around and ran searching for her sister. Margo stamped her foot into the ground after turning another corner.
“You are in such big trouble if you do not come out right now!” She yelled, only for the forest to seem to stop moving and rustling all together. Then the hum of wind and the trees came back sharper as if they were whispering about her. Margo tugged on her own long sleeves wrapping them around her knuckles.
“Agnes,” She said, her voice giving her away with a tremble. “This isn’t a game anymore.”
“Margo!” Agnes’s voice chirped from up ahead.
Margo felt a sense of relief wash over her, leaving her in a puddle of silly worries. She ran forward and further into the forest.
This felt too far. Agnes should have been around here. Margo sped up and she tripped on a tree branch that was snaking up from the ground.
“Ow,” she grumbled to herself, coming up on her hands and knees and looking up.
Margo gasped, fingernails digging into the solid ground beneath as the world tipped.
Agnes’s eyes lit up at the sight of her sister, her stubby hand waving above her head., Margo couldn’t rip her eyes away from Agnes’s wide brown eyes. The only human part of Agnes was her eyes, the rest of her body was a shadow as if she had dipped in ink and she had shut her eyes and opened them again after being submerged.
She wasn’t alone either. She sat on the one large shoulder of what Margo could only describe as a silhouette. It was darker than any shade of black she had ever seen. It wasn’t the dark she was used to, like a light-polluted night sky or a room without a window. It was the kind of black that she had imagined when teachers had told her about black holes that could rip anything into oblivion. It reminded her of falling into a heavy sleep.
While Agnes looked like her own shadow, the silhouette’s limbs concluded into wisps and it hung in the air instead of standing on two feet. Its eyes were what made it hard for Margo to breathe. It only had two holes in its head that showed whatever was behind it, like holes punched out of the world.
Margo was terrified when it seemed to look at her, it felt like she had been removed from the night and was now trapped in the eyes of something unknown. Usually, Margo’s thoughts bounced around her head all day long. Now, there was nothing but fear that wrapped its hand around her throat and pushed on her every muscle as she sat frozen.
“Come on, Margo,” Agnes said as the silhouette turned around. “It’s fun down here.”
“Agne- Agnes-” Margo rasped, too low for anyone to possibly hear.
The Silhouette walked ahead and stopped at a hole in the ground, jumping in and taking Agnes with it.
Silent tears slowly dropped onto Margo’s hands as her jaw twitched and her body shivered. She crawled on her hands and knees toward where they both had fallen into the earth. She looked down into the hole. It was the same kind of darkness. Eternal. Blinding.
Margo dropped a leaf into the hole. It floated and winked out of sight. She laughed a panicked, throaty laugh. She sat up, swinging her legs into the darkness. It was oddly warm which made the sweat lining her forehead feel freezing.
Margo closed her eyes and tossed herself in.
Margo couldn’t hold her breath any longer as she fell for what felt like minutes. It was too slow, in the way you sink or dip on a swing as if gravity didn’t follow the regular rules here. She reached all around her and felt nothing. She flipped in the air and for a second could not tell which way was up and which was down.
A warm light opened up beneath her and started approaching fast. She braced herself as she seemed to slip through and fell to the ground with a light thud.
Margo was in the same position as before, nails scraping up the dirt. She looked up and around her. It was no longer night. The world was cast in a dull orange glow and the colors seemed tinted. There was no wind here and no clouds. The bushes that should have been green seemed a velvety yellow, and flowers that normally bloomed purple were stained red. The leaves were on fire, but here they were the last embers slowly losing their light in the fire pit.
Astonished, Agnes sat back, head tilting toward the orange sky, and a dark figure bounced up to her. Her eyes met Agnes’s and she was once again panic-stricken. Agnes reached out her small fingers for Agnes to grab on to.
“Come on,” She said motioning toward the silhouette. Agnes skipped towards it and scrambled up chasing after her. It almost seemed to bow when they approached it.
In horror, Margo watched as more silhouettes poked out, emerging from behind trees and standing from shadows, their eyes glowing with the orange world behind them. Margo tried to pick up Agnes who wouldn’t let her and Margo slowly backed up as more creatures eased out and joined them.
“What are you doing?” Agnes demanded with a huff. Margo backed up to where the hole in the sky had dropped her, but it was gone now.
“He’s my friend.” Agnes looked up with a frown.
“Agnes,” Margo said, her voice still raspy. “I don’t know where we are but we need- we need to get out of here- to go home.”
Agnes rolled her eyes and whined, “We can go home later Go-go. I want to stay here and play.”
Margo felt a blush creep up her face at the sound of her nickname, but then looking at Agnes’s black frame it was immediately replaced by panic.
She tried to grab her again, but Agnes ducked and dodged, running behind the silhouette and giggling. Its body stretched upward and its arms raised. Margo stopped, unsure of how to get her sister. The figures began to close in on Margo, reaching incomplete arms towards her. Margo screamed.
The figures retreated back into the shadows as if they were animals who had been frightened away. The original retreated, but only until Margo stopped screaming. It then cautiously came back toward Agnes. Margo felt sick. She had no idea what it was going to do.
Margo paused in her state of fear. The silhouette was… stroking her sister. No, it was petting her. Margos unclenched her fists and she watched as other silhouettes came back out and proceeded to pet Agnes, who stood laughing, trying to shake hands with the creatures and bowing for them.
The same wonder that she had first felt came back to her and her fear resided. She walked up to Agnes when suddenly the silhouette stroked her arm and her skin turned as black as its body. She wanted to scream again as her shadowed hands flew up to her face, but she clenched her jaw. She felt warm. She drew her hand in a sweeping motion out in front of her and it trailed like mist before settling back into the shape of her arm. She laughed, something between that of a crazed person and a delighted one.
It wasn’t torture it was play. The silhouettes' shapes bent and stretched as they picked up Agnes and let her run around their legs. Margo looked up at the sky. It was a never-ending sunset, a light that cascaded over the underground and made the world calm. It was the most beautiful thing Margo had ever seen. She drew a shaky breath.
When she looked back at Agnes she saw she was dancing, and she let out a laugh when the silhouettes tried to copy her. Agnes clapped her hands when Margo moved closer in both defeat and acceptance, and both of them began to dance with no thought of the unmoving sky and the passage of time.
Margo was still worried.
“What if we never get home? What if we are this way forever? What if it's only a dream? The thoughts bombarded her, but they became less frequent until she was finally just playing with Agnes and this strange world her little sister had somehow discovered.
One by one the silhouettes either disappeared or turned and simply walked away, seeming to do their own thing. Eventually, the original took Agnes’s hand and led her to a tree, gnarled and bent so that one could walk up it like stairs. Either Margo hadn’t noticed it before or it had appeared when she wasn’t looking. The silhouette seemed to point up to the stairs, which had no direction in sight, all Margo could see was the sky and a bright light. She took Agnes’s hand and they silently walked up the stairs, Agnes turning back to wave to the silhouette, who waved back at her.
As soon as Margo felt the crisp night air brush against her, her skin turned to its normal color. She looked down at Agnes who had also turned back to normal. She breathed a sigh of relief.
This time Agnes didn’t protest as Margo picked her up, carrying her back to the cabin by the way of the smoke rising from the chimney.
“That was fun,” Agnes said with a yawn, drooping her head onto Margo’s shoulders.
“Yeah, I think it was,” Margo said.
“Do you think we can ever go back?”
“I’m not sure,” Margo said as she felt Agnes drift to sleep on her shoulder, “But I think it’s ok if I can never go back.”
Margo swung open the little iron gate with the rusty latch.
“I think… I think it’s ok if I can’t go back.” Margo said, a small relaxed smile spread across her lips. She felt only warmth as the chilling night air wrapped around them.