Hazel and Holly — Odd Possibilities II
Previous: The Sea of Severed Stars
Ripples warbled across the walls of Holly’s room. It was as if the sea on the wall bearing the pirate ship of cats had spread itself beyond the confines of its painted surface. Concentric lines extended and then contracted across every visible surface, again and again, hypnotic yet strangely anchoring.
She leaned back on her bed, nuzzling down in the covers as she tried to get more comfortable, when the rippling walls stilled for a fragile moment before they shattered.
She was back in the Grove, lying in a patch of grass outside their cottage.
“Holly!” came her mother’s voice from inside the house.
Holly’s breath caught in her chest. She sat up and the world rippled again. In the corner of her vision, a little girl ran by. Holly turned, but the girl wasn’t running. She was just blurred, as if constantly in motion even though her pace to the cottage was measured and even.
Holly followed her inside, her throat constricting when she saw her mother alive and well, and as beautiful as Holly remembered her.
Willow folded her hands as she looked down at the little girl. “We will be going to the Circle soon. Have you decided on your discipline?”
“Hearth,” whispered Holly. She remembered this moment, when she had picked her first magic discipline upon her first visit to the witches’ Circle.
But the little girl said, “Weaving.”
Holly frowned. She had been so excited in the weeks prior to her first visit to the Circle that she hadn’t been able to decide on her first discipline. Hazel had become a Weaving witch, and for a while Holly had thought she’d do the same. But when her mother had asked her, she had blurted out “Hearth,” surprising herself, though perhaps not her mother.
Willow’s eyebrows arched upwards at the little girl’s response, but she simply nodded and said, “Very well. Be ready to leave within the hour.”
The walls rippled like a rock thrown in a pond, and then Holly was in a grove of trees. Another version of her stood nearby, a little blurry like the little girl had been, but not so much that Holly couldn’t see that it was herself—a little younger than Holly was now. This Other Holly held hands with a freckle-faced young man, and Holly gasped.
She narrowed her eyes as she came up to him for a closer look. He didn’t react to her in any way; his attention remained fixed on the Other Holly who shifted between solidity and impermanence like crystalizing clouds.
She recognized the young man—a warlock named Oak who practiced Weaving and Wild magic. He wasn’t conventionally handsome—like Hawthorn was—but he had a strong nose and kind eyes, and when he smiled his face would flush that made his freckles stand out in a curiously endearing way. Holly had never noticed that about him before. She only knew him as a quiet and somewhat awkward young man. She’d never spoken to him—never saw a reason to.
But now he held Other Holly’s hand and said, “It’s terrible, what happened to your mother. We can postpone the wedding if you want.”
Wedding? What wedding?
Other Holly shook her head. “No. I want to get on with my life. I need to get on with it.”
He nodded, then leaned in to kiss her.
“Hey!” Holly shouted. “Stop it! There is no wedding!”
The blurriness of Other Holly intensified, and then she split into three different people. Each form wavered as if about to dissolve, only to coalesce together again like flesh-bound smoke. Each form then walked in a different direction. Oak faded into nothingness, and Holly felt a stab of panic on which form she should follow. Each figure looked the same, and none seemed to be headed anywhere specific. So Holly picked the closest one and followed.
The sky clouded over, and the air in front of her rippled and Willow’s decrepit cottage came into view. Holly cried out and stumbled back. She didn’t want to be there, not now. But her blurry reflection kept on walking, until she rounded a corner and came upon Hazel who sat upon a pile of collapsed stones that had been overtaken by vines.
The Other Holly solidified again, so much so that she looked just as real as Holly herself. “Don’t blame yourself,” she said. “You did everything you could.”
“It wasn’t enough,” Hazel said. “It’s never enough.”
“You’ve done more than anyone would dare ask.” Holly’s counterpart smiled. “I heard you were invited to the warlock brothers’ Mid-Ascension party. Hemlock and Hawthorn. Did you go?”
Hazel snorted. “Why on earth would I ever go? I’m only thankful you weren’t around to drag me to the nonsensical affair. I heard everyone had to wear masks. Can you imagine?”
“I bet it was magical.”
“I bet it was headache-inducing.” She eyed Other Holly. “Don’t tell me you’re bored with married life already?”
Other Holly beamed. “Of course not. But that doesn’t mean I’m still not fond of a good party.”
“Well, I’m fond of a quiet evening alone. And on that thought…” Hazel rose. “I should get home.”
“You should come by for dinner sometime. You’re little Willow’s only aunt.”
Hazel gave a tight smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I will. Soon.” Then she left.
Other Holly’s form wavered again. The sky continued to cloud over until there was only darkness. Holly’s own breath rattled in her ears, thunderous like a roiling storm. Wisps of breath plumed from her lips, the only thing visible in the blackness that surrounded her. The breath clung to her, then spread out into the shadows, turning the darkness into light, and then fading into a snow-wrought world.
Holly stood at the cottage she shared with Hazel in the waking world. But the windows stood dark, the chimney cold despite the freezing air. Holly walked up the steps and through the door, and the air inside was just as frigid as the air without.
Sheets were draped over the furniture; a thin layer of dust coated the floor. Holly walked into the kitchen, but the table stood empty, the oven cold and unused for some time, given the layer of dust that coated it just as everything else.
She headed upstairs and to Hazel’s room, but Hazel wasn’t there. Instead, a woman sat on the edge of Hazel’s sheet-covered bed. At first, Holly thought it was her mother, but this woman was a little too old. Then the familiarity crashed into understanding: this was the Other Holly–some future version of herself that she had yet to live through.
Downstairs someone came through the door.
“Mama?” called another woman’s voice.
Footsteps came up the stairs, and a young woman walked through the door. She looked to be around the same age as Holly was now—the real Holly watching these events unfold—new to womanhood and all its complications. She looked a lot like Holly; she had the same golden hair and round, rosy cheeks, though this girl had freckles dotting her fair complexion that Holly lacked.
And Holly knew, without hearing her name, that this girl was Willow—her daughter in another life she had never lived. A daughter she had named after her mother. And as she looked upon this girl that looked so much like herself, and yet so different, Holly felt a tightening in her chest that she couldn’t explain.
“Mama,” Willow said. She knelt down next to Other Holly as she sat on the bed. “You need to stop coming here.”
“I dreamed about her last night,” Other Holly said. “I dreamed that we were young again, and that we still lived here. Everything was like it used to be, when we would stay up all night to watch the summer sun rise, or drinking spiced tea by the winter-side hearth. I thought… I thought maybe she had returned.”
“She left, Mama. She’s not coming back.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know she turned to necromancy,” Willow said, her voice tinged with harshness. “I know you think she had her reasons, and maybe she did. But whatever those were, she can’t come back. She just can’t, Mama.”
Hazel turned to necromancy? Even here, in this otherworld where everything was different? It all seemed to settle over Holly like an invisible weight. It all felt so pointless—no matter what they did, Hazel would become a necromancer and then nothing would ever be the same.
Why had she even come here? What was the point? To witness a could-be life that ended in ruins for Hazel and, in some ways, for Holly as well? She wanted to leave, to go back to where things were real instead of wallowing in fruitless possibilities.
As soon as the thought entered her mind, the world around her began to dissolve. The walls gave way to snowy forest, and the snow, in turn, gave way to nebulous mist. It was all about to shiver away into eternal nothingness when a thought entered Holly’s mind: what was she supposed to change?
Odd had said she’d see the decisions she did not make, and maybe even be able to change the ones she did make. Well, that’s what she needed. She needed to change something, but what?
The mist solidified once again and took on the form of a great wood-paneled hallway. Portrait frames hung on the walls in between candlelit sconces. But instead of paintings, within the frames were fragments of her life.
In one she and Hazel sat on a log next to a pond while eating honey with their fingers as the sun set. In another, Holly was making the dress she had worn to Hawthorn’s and Hemlock’s party. She walked on, cringing as she watched herself act like a complete fool in front of Hawthorn and everyone that day Rose came to tea. And there, further on, she did it again as she kissed Hawthorn in the graveyard. Part of her wanted to stop and change those events. They made her cringe just to think about them; how nice it would be if they never even happened.
But that’s not why she was here; they weren’t what mattered. Holly kept on walking until the candles lighting the hallway dimmed and fell into shadow. She turned and looked at one of the smaller frames—one showing how she went to sleep that night when Hazel had left.
What if Holly had never slept that night? What if she had taken the tinctures they’d taken from Emmond’s home and fashioned a potion that would make Hazel sleep instead? More than that, what if Holly had gone to the Shrine instead? Hazel always took it upon herself to do everything. But what if Holly had gone there, convinced them she was destined for necromancy instead of Hazel?
The last of the candlelight guttered and died, and Holly was plunged back into darkness.
Whispers rasped within her mind, like bees in a hive hibernating for winter. She tried to listen, but couldn’t make out any words. Then, further on, a light appeared–soft and blue like twilit water. Around the corners of her vision other blue lights appeared that vanished as soon as she turned to look at them.
She kept on, until the lights vanished and she came to a heavy black door. She pushed it open into a room. Most of the room was consumed in shadows, but on the furthest end she could make out the silhouette of a man. She walked towards him and, as she did, he turned and looked at her.
Holly froze. His eyes met hers, registering surprise. But he couldn’t possibly be as surprised as she felt. How could he see her? None of the others had. More than that, though, there was something about him that looked distinctly familiar.
He looked a lot like Hazel.
“Holly,” he said.
Holly started at his voice, and then she woke up.