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Fantasy Friendship Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

 “Listen!”

The word jostled Sofia awake. The forest, like a catacomb, enveloped them. Night had come, the world dark, only a thin sliver of moonlight cast a beam into the murky river at Sofia’s feet. “What am I listening for?” She thought to Hira, who paced nervously within Sofia’s mind, the tapping of shoes on a tiled floor echoing in her chambers within.

“There was a rustle behind us.” Hira’s thoughts came across as a voice bolstered with the strength of motherhood: a role that had never applied literally, but one she had grown into with time.

Suddenly alert, Sofia jolted into a crouch, dead leaves and dried twigs clinging to her cloak like burs. “Any idea what it was?” She scanned her immediate surroundings, the ocean of darkness rendering it nearly impossible to see farther than a few feet.

Hira paused, her rhythmic pace quelled. Sofia could feel Hira’s apprehension bleed through. “That bad?” she asked.

Hira nodded. The understanding of the action more of a sensation than actual visualization. “Vine ghast.” The words hung in their shared mind like a carcass abandoned on a limb by a leopard.

“A vine ghast?” Sofia rushed to clean up their camp, feeling her face blanch. She scattered the ashes, dousing them with water.

“A vine ghast.”

Sofia cursed. Why would a vine ghast be after her? She hadn’t forgotten something, had she? She probably had. She always seemed to be forgetting things. Beating herself up, she found the nearest rock and leapt onto it.

“If we leave now, we should be fine.” Hira said, reassuringly. Sofia landed on the rock, ensuring her entire foot planted itself in the jagged stone’s center, keeping as far away from the foliage underneath as she could.

Sofia sighed. “Unless it’s already found our trail.”

Hira started pacing again, tapping her finger against her arm thoughtfully. “We did clean out the campsite before sleeping, right?”

Sofia thought, trying to remember that evening, then nodded. It was a habit she’d not broken when speaking with Hira, despite having had her around for years. “I’m pretty sure we did.” She landed another jump, wavering only slightly.

Hira raised a finger. “Did we lay down a bed of dead leaves?”

“Yes.” Sofia picked out a dead leaf from her hair.

“We were on a rock when we woke.” Hira said mostly to herself. “Was it the pack?”

Sofia nearly tripped and her heart skipped a beat. Her eyes widened, feeling for the pack on her shoulder and finding nothing. “I-” She started, but the emotion had already slipped through to Hira.

Hira sighed. It was a long one as she momentarily stole control of their eyes and focused on a new rock: somewhere solid, away from vegetation. “We’ll figure it out. Just get over there for now.”

Deflating, Sofia leapt and scrambled onto the rock. How could she have been so stupid? She must have left the pack on the ground while she slept. She was useless. Her eyes narrowed at the weight of her mistake.

“Hey, maybe it isn’t a vine ghast.” Hira said reassuringly, pressing an emotional strength outward. Sofia felt it, but pushed it away.

Sofia stopped for a moment, turning her focus outward. The creaks and groans of trees bending, shifting under the weight of a passing mass, still invisible pulsed out from the deepness ahead. The vine ghasts were guardians of the forest. It would not harm the plants. “See?” Sofia said, eyebrows furrowing.

Hira sighed again. “Maybe it is, then. But right now, we need to focus on getting away.” In the distance, the trees moaned as they were stretched to accommodate their protector. Leaves rustled and water lapped, but not a single branch cracked. “Okay. For sure it is. Still, let’s get out of here.”

Sofia took a deep breath and Hira held hers. “Alright.” she said, hurling herself from rock to rock, praying to whatever gods were out there to stop her body from trembling. As she fled, silence choked the forest. The tiny scuttling of small creatures had faded out with the impending threat. Only the whispered scraping and slithering filtered through the mesh of the trees and foliage. For the time being, at least, the creature did not seem to follow.

“Do you think we lost it?” Sofia asked, crouching on their stone platform.

“Lend me our body.”

Sofia obliged, pulling herself into her own room within the wonderland—a simple cottage in a green field—and felt Hira take over like a wave.

Hira scanned about, pressing her palm to the rock. The vibrations were distant. They should be safe for now, unless it happened to travel in their direction or some other catastrophe occurred. “I think we’ll be fine for now, but it wouldn’t hurt to go farther.” She stood up on their island of safety. “Mind if I keep control a bit longer?”

With nothing more than a simple thought, the hearth in the cabin ignited, emanating the feeling of warmth to contrast the terrors of the world outside. “Please.” Sofia said, slumping up against the windowsill, watching the happenings outside.

“Are you okay?” Hira asked, finding her new target and leaping.

Sofia nodded inside, eyes glazed over as she stared outward. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. Just a little shook up is all.”

Hira leapt again. “I’m still here if you need anything.”

“I know.” Sofia sighed. “Thanks for asking anyway.”

Several yards away, on a square-ish rock, just smaller than she, Hira sat. Her legs pulled up so they wouldn’t dangle off the edge and potentially alert the ghast. She breathed out a sigh of relief; her muscles relaxed just slightly. “I will double check, but I think we’re officially safe now.” She pressed her hand to the hard surface just to be sure.

Sofia echoed Hira’s sigh. “No vibrations?”

“There are none.”

“Good.” Sofia paused. “I’m sorry.”

Hira settled herself into a groove so she wouldn’t slide off and turned her attention inward. “What for?”

Silence.

Hira exhaled, taking a moment to herself before appearing next to Sofia, leaning up next to her against the window. She placed a hand on Sofia’s shoulder. “What’s up?”

Sofia shook her head. “It’s nothing. You don’t need to worry about it.”

Hira gave her a flat look. She knew it probably had to do with the pack, but it worked better if Sofia brought it up herself.

“I’m fine. Really.” Sofia turned away, marching back into the middle of the room.

The flat stare softened like the earth after rain. “Sofia.” She said with the tenderness of the sun’s embrace. “I can feel your pain. You’re not fine.”

At first, Sofia didn’t reply. She stood there, tugging on the fringes of her hair. The fire crackled, lights playing off the walls as Sofia’s shoulders began to heave. “It’s my fault.” She finally said, her lips quivering.

“Are you talking about the pack? You made a mistake, it’s—”

“No.” Sofia interrupted. “It’s not just a mistake. I messed up! I could have killed us! I’m forgetful. I’m clumsy. You’re the competent one here.”

“Sofia.”

“Don’t ‘Sofia’ me.” Her words came through sobs in broken sentences. “Just go make sure we’re safe.”

Choosing her words carefully, Hira stepped forward, placing a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “That’s what I’m doing, Sofia. Keeping you safe.”

Sofia pulled away. It wasn’t a violent movement. It was quiet and subtle, almost hesitant. “I’m fine. I’m just down. I’m—” she paused, looking away and huddling down into a ball in the center of the room.

“Sofia. It’s okay if you’re struggling. Let’s work through it. What can I do?” Hira crouched down and tentatively touched Sofia on the back. She didn’t pull away.

The ball of tears and anguish took a deep breath. “Just talk to me. Tell me a story.”

Hira nodded in silence, a common request. “Have I told you about my early days?”

Sofia nodded. “Yeah. But you can tell me again.”

Hira smiled a little, pulling herself in to hold Sofia. “During our first months, everything was fuzzy. A lot of it was you talking at me.” She let herself chuckle. It was a simple one, but Sofia relaxed. “Your voice was a comfort and I tried to reply as often as I could. It didn’t work as much as I’d wanted, though. When you finally did reach through and I reached back, magic happened. We touched and you brought me to the light. I could think and see the world around us.” She tightened her grip on Sofia and looked up at the ceiling with a smile. “Now, I’m here and I’m going to help you see the same light. We’re in this together.”

Sofia took a deep breath and her muscles loosened somewhat. “I know.” She said, still trembling.

 Hira hugged her tight. “How about I keep watch tonight? You can rest.”

Sofia took a long time to respond. “Just don’t stay too far away.”

Hira chuckled and Sofia joined through a sniffle. “I literally can’t.” They said in unison and Sofia gave a single laugh, but remained huddled on the ground.

“I’ll be fine for now.” Sofia said, unmoving. “Go watch. Make sure we’re safe. And maybe tell me another story?”

Hira nodded, smiling and letting herself drift outward into the dim forest. The breeze blew calmly as she watched the shadows above dance and the fireflies start to flicker back on. “Well, Sofia.” She said, waiting until she could sense Sofia’s attention. Once she knew she had it, Hira began her story. “Back in my youth, my father was a mean man…”

November 13, 2021 03:12

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