The decision to leave was Molly’s. A mysterious predator stalked the town and she argued that we could lead it away. At first the good citizens of High Hill rejected the idea of sending two young girls down the Old Road with such danger lurking, but as the midnight slaughters of livestock went on, they grew into the idea. We’d never completely dispelled the suspicion that our arrival had brought on the other attacks, after all.
So it was that once again Molly and I walked the Old Road. We were much better supplied this time, pulling a cart laden with food and bedding, not to mention carefully drawn maps lining our pockets to prepare us for the towns we could expect to find along the way. The going was slow. Molly, only six, didn’t move very fast and spent half the day riding the cart while I pulled. At the end of each day my shoulders and feet burned, and it was the last scraps of my strength to build our small shelter. One would think sleep would come easily after so much exertion, but I laid awake those first few nights, listening.
“It won’t hurt us,” Molly assured in the darkness, sensing my ill-ease.
“What won’t hurt us?” I’d press. Molly knew things, and I’d learned long ago to believe her. Still…
I could hear her small shoulders shrug. “The thing that hunted High Hill. It won’t hurt us,” she’d repeat.
There was something extra in Molly’s gaze during the day that kept me unsettled, despite her confidence in our safety. Her prediction proved true, of course. Nothing harmed us as the days and nights rolled by. But the worry didn’t lift from her eyes. If anything, it grew. I caught her watching me as we walked.
The high plains grew spotted with low trees as we headed south, and wild flowers began to compete with gnarled shrubs. Life emerged with them. Small animals darted away, gazing at us suspiciously as we passed from the safety of these shrubs and trees. I could hear them everywhere. There was so much movement in this marvelous southern world! I learned to differentiate the varied sounds they made, and the scents and trails they left behind. I shared my thoughts with Molly but she didn’t contribute. The farther we got from High Hill, in fact, the more withdrawn she became.
It seemed we’d been weeks on the road when the first town finally came into view. It was late morning already and the town was a distant rumple of color crowning the straight line of the road at the horizon. It would take us all day to reach it and perhaps half the night, if Molly rode in the cart and I pressed, but it’d be worth the push. We’d been given names of people to ask for, who’d provide us hospitality. A warm fire and proper bed was the thing Molly needed to shake her out of her private thoughts. Molly slowed to a stop.
“Let’s not go there until tomorrow,” she suggested.
“We can reach it by midnight,” I encouraged. “Hop in the cart. I’ll pull you.”
A warm meal and pillow beckoned to me.
“We can’t go there yet,” she declared, planting her heels and wearing her unbudging face.
“Why not?” I scoffed.
“We’re too close,” she said, more to herself than me. “We need to turn back.”
“Don’t be silly!” I laughed. “We can sleep in beds tonight.”
“We won’t be sleeping tonight,” she said. “And if we’re not far away from there, they won’t either.”
“Molly, what’s going on?” I demanded. She wasn’t the only one capable of an unbudging face, and I gave her my best one. “Tell me now, or I’m going to that town without you.”
Molly’s eyes widened with fear.
“Do you remember the last full moon?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. I had an excellent memory. “I stayed in that day to catch a mouse. Mamsa made pheasant pie that evening and you and me played in Simeon’s new house after supper.”
“And that night?” she pressed. “What do you remember from that night?”
“You’re not still going on about that labyrinth, are you?” I sighed. “I told you, it was just a drawing. Nothing bad happened.
“Something bad did happen,” she insisted. “Lots of bad happened.” Her little fists were clenched tight.
I sighed. “Nimsa’s goats went missing,” I said. We’d been over this.
“What did you dream?” she pressed.
“Dream?” I searched my memories. I’d had those ridiculous dreams inspired by Molly’s worries over the maze I’d drawn while hunting the mouse. Those had been during the day. That night I’d had a strange continuation of the dream. I was being chased still, but I was no longer boxed into a labyrinth. These dreams had me running all around High Hill, and into the plateaus near the old forest. “I was being chased,” I said.
“Were you… you?” she asked.
“Of course I was me,” I laughed.
“Did you look like you?”
I frowned. “I… I looked like… I was running on four legs, like a dog,” I remembered.
“You remember; you just don’t believe,” she said.
“Believe what, Molly?” I was beginning to tremble.
Molly turned away from the town. “Let’s walk this way for a while,” she said. “I’ll tell you about it if you’re listening.”
Evening descended around our small camp and I shivered with trepidation. I could hear everything. All of the tiny creatures bedding down for the night; all of those waking to begin the hunt. We were well away from the road. Well away from everything.
“You’re certain?” I asked Molly.
She was a tiny shadow on the other side of the fire. “We’ll find out,” she said, gazing at the bruising sky.
The sun was sinking, giving way to the moon’s pale kingdom. The moon was perfectly round, shining gloriously over the dotted plain, kissing silver over every surface. There was a tone to the light, like distant singing.
“Can you hear that?” I asked.
Molly shook her head. That sensation came over me as I considered again what she’d suggested; like spiders climbing over your scalp. My skin felt tight.
“If you’re right, how will you be safe?” I thought to ask.
“I have tricks,” she assured.
I moved away from the fire to pace the shadows. The sun lost its final slim hold on the world and there was a swell of triumph as the moon claimed dominion. The night felt dangerous suddenly. I could feel the small hairs of my arms and legs standing on end in anticipation of… something. The moon’s song was filling me. Calling to me. I felt like running. I felt like answering.
I raised my voice in answer, and I knew. My senses told me everything I’d hesitated to believe. Molly was right. And in the distance, a far, far distance, other voices joined in the song.
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!