Hazel and Holly — Dark Deeds, Part Two

Previous: Dark Deeds, Part One

 

Hazel’s breath quickened, echoing through her chest and ears as if she had been hollowed out like a harvest-time gourd. Alone, alone, dead and alone. The thought echoed in her mind along with her breath, and she grabbed hold of her head and bent over in an effort to quiet them.

Silence. No, a heart beat, fluttering and florid. Like a butterfly trapped in a jar, wings singed by searing sun. When had she become like sand, dissolved by wind and whisked away by the rapids of a rushing river? She opened her eyes, looking for an anchor, letting the pale wispiness of the world wash over her like shimmering sunlit water.

She calmed, and the room came back into focus. Hemlock was there, kneeling in front of her as she sat on the ground. But it wasn’t him—it was only a pale shadow, an outline of a mirage that shimmered and pulsed like a heart with a beat of its own. Hazel reached out to him, but her hand passed through where his face should be. Her movement displaced the shadows, only to congeal back into place as soon as she withdrew.

The rest of the room looked much like Hemlock—bleached and bland, a shimmering, tenuous echo of what had once been there. Hazel got to her feet, and the room shifted. It was like the room moved along with her, though for some reason Hemlock’s shadow remained fixed in place.

She walked to the table, feeling as if she had to go much further than was necessary. The stone floor became like sifting sand, pushing her back even as she struggled to move forward. Yet still she managed, coming to stand before a table, pale and wan that seemed to disassemble itself and then reform every time Hazel blinked.

The table looked much the same as Hazel could recall through the haze of her mind, almsot as thick as the shifting haze around her. There was the clean white bowl and neatly folded cloth; the herb box and wine and mortar and pestle. There was even the goblet—with its dregs of wine and silt of bone dust drying along the silver edges of the cup. The bone dust gleamed like crystalline snow or beveled glass.

Hazel looked up and out beyond the room, beyond the shifting hollow mist and looked for the same sparkling gleam out there in the world. And there, beyond the shivering, shadowed stones that served as a wall, a glimmering that matched the cup winked in the distance.

She held her breath, wondering if it were true or if she had only imagined it. How could she be sure of anything here, a world that refused to solidify into color and bone, stone and blood? There had to be more than shifting mist and pulsing mirages; she needed to be sure.

Hazel passed through the table, sending it to ripple in her wake as if she walked through water. She made her way to what served as a wall, and then she walked through that as well. The city of Sarnum rippled into being before her, like mist dissipating in the morning sun. It was neither night or day, everything was equally wan and devoid of color. She fixed her gaze on the glimmering point of light, winking through the haze like a candle in a distant window. But where was it? She had no bearings. There was no sun to tell her east from west, no stars to tell her where the north lay. It was all just haze and fog, shimmering heat and rippling water for air. She tried to focus through it all, the same way she had when the room had coalesced from the mist. Again she let it wash over her until, in the distance… was that a hill? There was something on it—a house, or maybe a mill. A structure of some kind. Hazel narrowed her eyes, trying to see, but then her stomach cramped and she grabbed her abdomen as she doubled over.

“Hazel?”

The voice boomed in her mind, making her wince even as acid and bile rose in her throat. She swallowed and inhaled a deep breath, relaxing with momentary relief before she doubled over with another sickening cramp. This time she retched, and the mist cleared and she was back on the floor in the cellar of the abandoned house.

The solidity and vivid color of her surroundings were jarring. Hazel could only blink before she doubled over again, vomiting onto the floor.

Hemlock grabbed the ceramic bowl off the table and set it on the floor in front her. Hazel continued to empty her stomach into it—purple-brown sludge peppered with bits of desiccated leaves. She closed her eyes, not wanting to look, worried of getting sick all over again.

A minute or so passed and, realizing she wasn’t going to throw up again, Hazel spit the acid from her mouth and pushed the bowl away.

Hemlock handed her a cloth—the neatly folded linen square he had procured from the table. Hazel gave a wan smile. She had been right about the puzzle of items—though it was difficult feeling particularly pleased while her nose and throat stung.

“Are you all right?” Hemlock said.

Hazel wiped at her mouth with the cloth. “Yes.”

Hemlock, crouching on his haunches, moved his legs out from under him and sat on the floor in front of her. He let out a heavy breath as he ran his hands over his face. “What was that, Hazel? What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking I was trying to find my father.”

“By performing necromantic magic? Do you understand what you’ve done?”

Hazel stiffened her back. “I’m not a fool, Hemlock. I know what I’ve done.”

He stared at her, his brow furrowed and mouth hanging open. “Then how can you sit there and pretend that it’s all right?”

Hazel tightened her jaw. “I’m not pretending anything. I did what I needed to do!”

“Do you hear yourself? Do you even recognize yourself? Because from where I’m sitting, I’m not sure I recognize you at all. Maybe you’re right—maybe you are just like your father. Maybe I’m the fool for not listening.”

Hazel swallowed and looked away, feeling as if he had wrenched a knife in her gut—wishing his words hadn’t held so much truth.

Hemlock sighed. “I’m sorry. That was unworthy of me.”

She shook her head. “No, you’re completely right.” She made herself look at him. “I am undoubtedly just like him. How else can you explain what I’ve done? I know how to work necromancy, Hemlock. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I doubt it’s a coincidence.”

They fell into silence.

“What do we do now?” Hemlock said.

“I… saw a light, after I drank the potion. I think that might be where he is.”

Hemlock frowned. “A light? What kind of light?

She shook her head. “It’s hard to explain. But the bone I ground up, after I drank the potion, it’s like it glowed. I saw the same light off in the distance. I think it might be him.”

Hemlock stared at her and Hazel had to keep herself from shifting her gaze to the floor. Then he said, “How far was it?”

“I don’t know. The world looked different. I couldn’t say how far. I don’t even know where it was. A building, maybe, up on a hill.”

He nodded. “Well, then. I suppose that means we’ll have to find the hill.”

“You don’t have to come along.”

“What?”

“I know you’re not comfortable with this. I’m not comfortable with it. But I need to see this through. You don’t.” Hazel caught him in a level gaze. “I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to leave.”

Hemlock shook his head and took her hand. “There’s no turning back now, Hazel. For either of us.”

 

Next: Helpful Hostility


6 Comments

  1. Lori Wing

    Wow! By far my favorite chapter so far. What wonderful illusory descriptions! Tangible and visible, yet somehow not. The story line has done that hard turn left that I love about your writing. We are getting into the meaty bits! Delicious!

    • Sara C. Snider

      Wow, that’s great! I always love hearing how others perceive my writing. Like the hard turn left–I never realized that. 🙂 Thanks, Lori!

  2. Michelle Morrison

    Powerful. The description of what Hazel is seeing and experiencing is excellent. I am glad Hemlock wants to hang in there with her. 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Michelle, and me too about Hemlock! 😀

  3. Glad that everyone is okay! Sorry for not visiting for a while…I’m looking forward to catching up. 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      No worries, Sue. Glad to have you here (whenever you’re able). 🙂

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