Hazel and Holly — Shadowed Depths, Part Two
Previous: Shadowed Depths, Part One
The water surrounded Hazel, cool and and comforting like a chilled feather-down blanket. The shadowed forest stretched down around her from a watery sky, though they remained translucent. Impermanent, like coiling mist.
Hazels booted feet scraped along the stony bottom of the pool as she walked through the water. Then her body became weightless as the floor fell out from under her, and the trees melted into the shadows of the pool. All became black; Hazel lost all sense of direction. Before she had time to orient herself, or to panic, her head broke the water’s surface, and she took in a deep, steadying breath.
The night sky loomed overhead, dotted with pale blue stars that floated lazily through the sky like candles on water. Tall pine trees surrounded a dark lake in which she found herself. The air smelled new, like rain before dawn and freshly cut wood.
Hazel swam to shore, her heart pounding as she worked against the heavy weight of her sodden dress with ample skirts. She pulled herself atop a rock and lay there with her eyes closed as she caught her breath. The weight of her soaked dress pressed on her as if made out of iron. She needed to dry it, yet she couldn’t bring herself to move.
A breeze brushed against Hazel’s cheek, so warm that, for a moment, she believed a fire burned nearby. She opened her eyes. There was no fire, but her dress had dried.
She sat upright as curiosity mingled with concern. But as she ran a hand over her dry skirt, the sense faded. Everything was as it should be. She got to her feet and headed into the forest.
The stars followed her, bobbing and weaving around each other as if pulled along on invisible strings. Hazel quickened her pace and then slowed, but the stars matched her movement. She smiled and started to run, but then forced herself to a sudden stop.
Her sister’s name came from the wind rustling in the trees as much as from within her own thoughts. The stars wavered and descended from the sky to float around her and among the trees. One broke away from the others and hovered next to a hollowed oak with a fat magpie sitting in the branches. The magpie squawked and flew away, and from within the hollowed trunk a bright light glinted. Hazel walked up to it and found a silver coin, burnished to a high shine that gleamed like glass.
Hazel took the coin and pressed it against her palm as she followed the wayward star. It led her out of the trees to a wide open field washed in moonlight. A single road cleft the field in two, winding through it like a dried-up river. A woman stood alone alongside the road.
Hazel walked up to her, but the woman gave no indication that she knew Hazel was there.
“Holly?” Hazel said. The woman kind of looked like Holly, with her golden hair and round cheeks, but also not. She looked older, more severe. A wreath of ivy leaves crowned her brow, but when clouds passed over the moon, the wreath disappeared.
“Holly,” Hazel said again, this time with conviction. This was her sister, it had to be so.
The woman turned to look at her, and Hazel’s conviction wavered. Holly had never looked at her before with such… coldness. Not knowing what else to do, Hazel offered her the silver coin. The woman looked at it a moment, and when she took the coin from Hazel’s hand, her aged severity softened, and she looked more like Holly.
“What’s happened to you?” Hazel said. “Are you in trouble?”
Holly ignored her as she examined the coin. Hazel waited but grew impatient. She pulled down one of the star-like orbs from the sky and sent it near Holly’s head. A wreath returned to her brow, this time made of elm leaves. Holly looked up at Hazel, and for a moment she looked like her usual self again. Then the clouds over the moon thickened and plunged the field in an impenetrable darkness. The air grew warm and stuffy, smelling slightly of pine, but mostly stagnant and stale like old sweat and unwashed laundry.
The ground beneath Hazel’s feet turned uncertain, swaying beneath her as if she walked upon water. A flame flared alight in Holly’s cupped hands and, with an expression that shifted between elation, confusion, and fear, she looked Hazel in the eyes.
Hazel grew uncomfortable, feeling exposed and vulnerable. No one had ever looked at her the way her sister now did. Had Hazel been naked, she would have felt less exposed. It was like Holly looked into a part of Hazel that Hazel herself had never known existed. All her strengths and weaknesses, her frailties and fears; the dreams she had dreamt in a lifetime of nights that had long since been forgotten. She felt as if Holly saw all of it, and Hazel couldn’t bear the inadequacy of her own being before her sister’s shrewd eyes.
Hazel jerked back, but a force hindered her movement as if she had run into a wall. She brought down the stars from the sky and pushed back the darkness. The wall behind her gave way and Hazel stumbled before she regained her balance.
The starlight washed out Holly’s form. The wreath on her head changed to oak leaves and mistletoe, even as her body began to fade like morning mist. Hazel started to reach out to her, but pulled back. Holly shouldn’t be there. Neither of them should. And so, when Holly faded from the lonely, winding road, Hazel turned and headed back to the lake.
Next: Shadowed Dreams