East of the hostel, far from the sea and the sand and the promontory, lay a small forest. The trees were surprisingly tall and broad. Once past the sentinel trees on the perimeter, the air was cooler, the world a little dimmer, but the sun was high in the sky. While there were shadows, there still was much brightness.
Until Wander passed a tree, and emerged from the forest into a strange grassy clearing, ringed by trees.
Empty except for the center, where two trees stood. Though the other trees in the forest were in full leaf, these trees were bare. Where the other trees were reddish-brown, the bark of the two trees was silvery gray, and the trees were much shorter than the other, perhaps only twice as tall as Wander. Their branches were gnarled and knotted, like hands reaching, and the branches pointed upward, clawing at the sky. The trees tapered into sharp points at the top. Wander wondered how many inattentive birds must have been impaled on those false perches.
From each tree, a little above the top of Wander’s head, one branch rose like an outstretched arm, the only branch on each tree to have grown outward instead of upward. Each branch ended in a simple point, so that the two trees seemed to be pointing at each other.
Though the surrounding trees were dimmer here, sunlight filled the clearing and covered the two trees.
Yet a shadow hung beneath the outstretched branches. It almost seemed to ripple, to flutter even. A strange hum filled the air, along with a scent and taste like blood and iron, like lightning and that moment of absolute everything that you can feel only at certain times, like your first kiss or the first time you think you’re going to die.
Part of Wander’s mind screamed for turning back, for running back to the hostel. It was like the promontory all over again, only no heights and no falling, yet the same fear—
But birthdays were days when anything could happen.
Wander stopped. Breathed. And remembered.
Weeks before this day, Wander had gone to Thailand. There, Paithoon had taken Wander back into lost teenage memories, on a dream quest to fully recall the day the fiery tornado had destroyed Wander’s world. But the tornado had also left a message. That message, above all, was what Wander had needed to remember. Once Wander knew the message, Wander had made a promise. Wander would live the truth, no matter what. Wander would choose.
Wander wondered if the choice was here. If the choice was now.
Wander approached the strange shadow, hanging from the branches like a dark doorway.
Wander stepped through the shadow—
And at that moment, everything changed.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish