This Tale of the Shadow Forest was the result. You may recognize some of the characters from my Cauldron at inspirationcauldron.wordpress.com and preludes to Stealing Myself From Shadows I've been posting there.
Sometimes, it’s just a pond with cattails.
That’s all most people ever see. It’s all Map ever wanted to see.
“Come away from the pond.” She tugged at my arm, smelling of earth, stewed onions, and the cauldron she’s always trying to get Ashleigh and me to eat from. “It’s not healthy, sitting there, gazing at it without moving for so long.”
“Yes, it makes me wonder what’s worth gazing at.” Ashleigh fixed her bright eyes upon me, waving a hand in the direction of the water.
The surface rippled in reaction to her movement. The pond was very sensitive to outside motion and moods, not that this would stop Ashleigh.
I decide to tell her the truth.
“A tower filled with Doors, each one leading to an entire world, shaped by a dreamer’s desire.” I glanced out from beneath lowered eyelids from Ashleigh to Map. “A staircase, winding upwards towards anyone lost you long to find.”
Map started at this, furrowing her brow into a wreath of troubled wrinkles. Shifting her face looked awkward and uncomfortable. If only she’d let herself wear her true form. She’d be so much more relaxed, but she forced herself into human skin, making herself think human thoughts.
Not that Map saw it that way. In her practical, single-minded perspective, she was the only one in our little triumvirate grounded in reality. If Map didn’t tether herself to home, hearth, and the garden’s earth, she’d lose her grip on this world and us. The moment she did that, Ashleigh and I could float off to worlds unknown, losing ourselves in their mist.
She was probably justified in her fears. I wasn’t sure that it was a bad thing to let go and drift off.
There was a chance I might find myself, rather than lose any more pieces of myself.
I could tell by the sparkle in Ashleigh’s eye and the impatient twitch in her foot that she wasn’t sure, either.
“Where are you hoping the staricase will take you, Christopher?” Ashleigh ignored Map’s sharp jerk of the head, a silent cue to stop questioning me.
There’s no point in trying to stop Ashleigh from doing anything.
“Whom are you hoping to find?” Ashleigh cocked her head at me, undeterred from her curiousity. “Did you lose someone?”
An image bloomed into my mind, as sharp and clear as a memory. A dark curl slid over a rose purple eye, a secretive smile spread across full lips.
The owner of the eye and smile lifted a slender finger to his lips, only to change. His hair lightened to a silvery gray, although his face remained young. His cheekbones elongated into something quite different, making him quite different.
Only the finger remained the same, touching his mouth in a suggestive manner.
The young man doesn’t speak, shrouded in mist and clouds. Only he stands at the top of a winding staircase, watching me.
Waiting for me.
“I don’t know.” I forced my vision past this image back to Ashleigh, tapping her foot at the bank of the pond, crushing a cattail.
The sight made me sad, but I couldn’t expect Ashleigh to be anything other than what she was. Impulsive and careless, she moved forward to face challenges with a boldness I could only envy.
She never thought twice on anything she might have trampled in her bravery.
I couldn’t be that brave. I constantly worried about whom I might be warning or harming by anything I did.
Even if it was something as small as looking into a pond.
“I just know that someone is trying to summon me.” I let that truth fall from my lips, unsure if I’d regret it later. “From another place waiting in the watery depths.”
“Summon you?” Ashleigh leaned forward to inspect my face, her own contorting into a frown the very twin of Map’s. “For what purpose?”
“I don’t know that, either.” I glanced down at the tiny wavelets dancing across the water. If I kept staring at them, I’d see the tiny scenes playing within the reflected light, dappling each crest. “I have the strangest feeling I should, though.”
“Beware of your feelings.” Map shut her eyes and shook her head, refusing to look at the pond. “They have a way of robbiing you of all common sense.”
“Maybe Christopher doesn’t want to be common.” Ashleigh raised her chin in a direct challenge aimed at our sensible, unadventurous third. “What’s wrong with indulging in an uncommon dream or two?”
“There’s always a price for such indulgences.” Map opened her eyes to meet Ashleigh’s stare with one of her own, her eyes gleaming with a hard darkness. “Consider that before you give into them.”
My two companions locked their eyes with each other, deep brown meeting silvery violet blue. The air between them tingled with unspoken things, which nipped at my cheeks and ears.
I felt like a ghost, a shadow which had passed between them, chilling and calming these things.
I cleared my throat.
Both Ashleigh and Map jumped and blinked at me.
The air cleared as well, once they did.
“I’ll consider myself warned.” I wished I could have said something more coherent, which would have explained my attraction to the pond.
It had never just been cattails and shimmering water. I saw far more than simply towers, staircases, and silent staircases in its depths.
It was as if a part of myself was waiting for me in that pond. If I allowed myself to lean forward and let go of the bank, to truly sink into its wet embrace, I’d find that missing piece I’d always lacked in this lifetime.
I couldn’t voice this hope, not in a way that Ashleigh wouldn’t laugh at. Even worse, it would scare Map.
Only he understood, the silent watcher at the top of the staircase with the changing face. Only he could restore me to whatever I was meant to be.
After all, I’d once been part of him, if I could trust his silent whispers in the wavelets and on the wind.
If I could believe in his promises of happily ever after.